Stop Memorizing the Bible

Youth minister Matt Cleaver has a provocative post up called "Against Bible Memorization Programs in Youth Ministry."  Here's the bullet point headers:

  1. Memorization does not equal maturity or discipleship.
  2. Memorization elevates certain kinds of students over and above other. 
  3. Memorization is not equivalent to “hiding your word in my heart.”
  4. Most memorization programs are reward-driven competitions. 
  5. Memorization is not a historical spiritual discipline. 
  6. Memorization removes scripture from historical tradition and literary context
To Matt, scripture memorization programs are counter to true discipleship, and I'm in the same boat, having written before about the detriments of competition in "What the Church can Learn from Wikipedia."  To be clear, Matt is talking about memorization programs that make a competition or requirement of youth participants to memorize scripture.  Memorizing scripture is just fine; just don't make a game or "who can memorize these 10 disconnected out-of-context verses this week?"

I've written before about "The Slow End to Scripture Memory" where knowing where to find scriptural inspiration seems to be replacing actually memorizing what it says.  While there are definite advantages to scripture memory, the lack of context or connection often does more harm than good (especially when you use them as weapons against people).

So, what do you think?  Is Matt onto something about competition and commodification of Scripture being detrimental to discipleship?  Or is memorization and internalization by whatever means necessary for ministry?



pastorbecca September 30, 2009 at 2:36 PM  

Of all the reasons, I think 6 is the most important. Memorization of biblical *verses* removes verses from their *passages*. I'd rather a teen be able to say something like "hey wasn't there a story about a rich man asking Jesus what to do and being told to sell his stuff?" rather than "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle..." The former shows an ability to contextualize and put in one's own words. The latter demonstrates a good memory that could be equally applied to any text.

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