Is Your Bible Big Enough? Part 2
My first engagement with the Scriptures came in my pre-literate days when my church friends and I absorbed the stories of the Bible. We heard them in Sunday school from faithful, 48-Sundays-per-year teachers who used flannelgraph representations so that children could visualize biblical characters and places. One week the cut-out figure stuck to the flannel surface might be Joseph of Egypt. The next week he was Elijah, and the third week he was Stephen on his way to being stoned. Somehow our imaginations were able to make the leap from character to character each week even though he always looked the same.
Sometimes the Bible stories were dramatized with each child in the class playing a role. I particularly liked being Jesus in the storm-scene and learned to speak with great authority when it came time to shout (King James version), "Peace! Be still!"
Mine is a story-driven faith. Those stories drilled into my life from ages 2-9 are a large part of the formation my life and thought. While those who first come to faith in Jesus as adults usually define their converted life on the basis of thematic Bible verses (1 John 1.9 teaches us confession of sin), I am one who primarily relates his life to stories (David's brokenness before Nathan the prophet informs my view of confession of sin). I connect thoughts on God's power to the story of Moses at the Red Sea, thoughts on gratitude to the nine unappreciative lepers who forgot who healed them, and thoughts on courage to the story of Gideon or of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail.
My second connection to the Bible has come through memorization. "Thy word have I hid in my heart … thy word is a lamp unto my feet" were the pieces of Psalm 119 committed to memory. These lines became part of the case for committing large portions of Scripture to memory, and my generation of church kids stored hundreds of Bible verses, even entire chapters in our heads. I managed to memorize the entire book of Philippians and can still quote large pieces of it given time and grace.
Fifty years ago the King James Version of the Bible made memorization a much easier challenge. The KJV text was constructed in short burst phrases (reflective of Shakespearean English) and it was the ideal literary structure for memorization. Not so the more recent translations that use much longer clauses and sentences. I do not write this to promote a return to the King James. But one cannot miss the fact that there has been a remarkable diminution of Bible memorization since the new translations emerged. The law of unintended consequence, perhaps?
Along with verse memorization was the required memorization of the names of all 66 books of the Bible. You could identify real Sunday School champions by the speed and accuracy with which they named the books in their serial order and then do it backwards … just as fast. Going through the minor prophets backwards at warp speed without a pause was comparable to being an all-pro football player.