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Home > 2013 > August Online Only > When the Doctor Calls

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."

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Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

Posted: August 14, 2013

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James Prabhakar Gsc

August 31, 2013  8:41pm

Wonderful story by Dr Gordon. It reminds me of my childhood (10 yrs old),after every Sunday Service when we were back home , my mother used to instruct me to memorise Psalms 1, 23, 46,91,103, 1 cor 13 , etc every week one passage before I can sit for Lunch. By this I have memorised many portions of the Bible in my childhood. It helped me a lot to think and meditate on the memorised verses on my later years. My Prayers to Dr.Gordon .

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CHRISTOPHER J HARRIS

August 20, 2013  1:05pm

Also, we are praying for you Dr. Gordon! You're an amazing jewel to all of us!

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CHRISTOPHER J HARRIS

August 20, 2013  1:04pm

I'd love to know what those 300 verses were! Could someone provide?

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Marshall Shelley

August 19, 2013  12:58pm

A powerful word from the midst of the storm.

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Paul Pastor

August 16, 2013  10:26am

Praying for you Gordon, and grateful that you've continued "the Gabe's" spiritual legacy.

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