In the fall of 1956, I began my final year at the Stony Brook School, then a boys college preparatory school in New York. Among the required courses that last year was Senior Bible, taught by the school's headmaster, Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein.
Dr. Gaebelein was the quintessential prep school headmaster, somewhat eccentric and extremely cultured. We thought he talked funny. What we didn't yet realize was that his "funny talk" was actually a magnificent command of the English language. Only later we would all realize that "the Gabe" was what they call a renaissance man.
Perhaps it is worth noting that, in his later years, Frank Gaebelein became a major player in the development of Christianity Today and served as one of its senior editors.
But most important, Dr. Gaebelein was a deep-thinking, devout Christian. It speaks to the kind of man he was that, for almost four decades, he insisted on teaching the last Bible class most of the boys at Stony Brook would ever take. His core passion was to prepare boys like me for the upcoming university world.
To be candid, I have often wondered why he gave his time to a bunch of over-hormoned boys who had little appreciation for what he offered us. Looking back, I think we squandered our privileged exposure to him, and most of us probably never said thank you at the end of the year.
Part of Dr. Gaebelein's regimen for us in that class was Bible memorization. He required us to memorize 300 verses of Scripture over the course of that year. Some verses were in chapter size chunks such as Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 13, and Matthew 5:1-16. Oh, and there was one other chapter I must mention: Psalm 46, the most difficult of them all. Then there were dozens and dozens of single verses from both testaments on the King James Version of the Bible, with its Shakespearean English.
Dr. Gaebelein took Scripture memorization to a new level. If he met a student on the pathway from the class room to the dining hall, he might say, "Gordon, give me John 13:34 please." The headmaster expected a boy to summon from memory one verse out of 300 others (maybe more) already memorized and to launch into its recitation without faltering,
Many a student in Senior Bible took circuitous pathways around the campus during those times of the day when Dr. Gaebelein was expected to be walking from one place to another. You can understand why.
But you couldn't avoid Dr. Gaebelein when class began. We learned to anticipate Dr. Gaebelein's entrance into the class room and the words, "Boys, with your Bibles closed, write out for me Ephesians 6." That meant a handwritten copy of Ephesians 6 with perfect spelling, perfect capitalization, perfect punctuation. To make any kind of mistake meant recopying the passage five or ten times.
We seniors learned to write out our verses on index cards and to review them at every possible moment during the day. Often, we tested one another to make sure we'd mastered all the details of the verse. It was not unusual to hear someone begin: "Big R Romans 5 colon 8. Big B But big G God commendeth his love toward us comma, in that comma, while we were yet sinners comma, Big C Christ died for us period."
We actually talked like that. And did we complain about this exercise? Of course we did. To anyone who would listen. Even the campus dog. We muttered our feelings to everyone but Dr. Gaebelein.
Which brings me back to Psalm 46 period.
Big G God is our refuge and strength comma, a very present help in trouble period. Big T Therefore will not we fear comma, though the earth be removed comma, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea semicolon; big T though the waters thereof roar and be troubled comma, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof period. Big S Selah period.