by Michael McEwen
DURHAM, N.C. (BP) — Andy Davis’ office has two of four walls filled with books. Most of them — Bible commentaries, books on counseling and church history and more — nearly stretch from floor to ceiling.
|Memorizing Bible verses, passages and whole books takes hard work, said Andy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham. The John Leadley Dagg Chair of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Seminary is held by John Hammett and is in honor of Davis. SEBTS photo|
But Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., will tell you there is one book that has captured his heart; it is the Bible. And his desire to know God’s Word has led him to memorize 35 of its books.
He noted he’s never claimed to have been able to recite in detail each of the 35 books he has memorized. “There is a limit to memorization,” said Davis, who is currently working to memorize book 36: Zephaniah.
“But what I really want to know is,” he said, “‘Why are you memorizing?’ The goal should be: life transformation by comprehension of God’s perfect Word.”
Nathan Finn, a member at First Baptist since 2005 and a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, said Davis’ love for Scripture memorization has inspired some people to join the church.
“Some have come across his booklet [“An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture”] on the topic, while others read about Andy’s approach in an article in the Raleigh News & Observer several years ago,” Finn said. “I know we have many members who are strongly committed to extended Scripture memorization because of Andy’s influence.”
Davis came to Christ through CRU (formerly Campus Crusades for Christ) while a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.
He began memorizing scripture through Navigator’s Topical Memory System. During his senior year at MIT, he said, he began thinking that “it might be better to memorize an entire book of Scripture” as opposed to just memorizing topical verses.
While on a mission trip in Kenya in 1986, Davis decided to start memorizing his first book, Ephesians, as he waited for a bus. “When I returned from Kenya, I was committed to continuing so I then began memorizing Philippians and then book three was the Gospel of Matthew….”
It took Davis a year to memorize the Gospel of Matthew. “I will never forget the joy of getting to the Great Commission in Matthew,” he said.
It is essential to the Christian life, Davis said, for believers to have a daily time of prayer and reading God’s Word.
“I believe we should follow Jesus’ example of having it early in the morning,” he said. “… Really no culture makes much of a claim on the individual early in the morning.”
Davis said he desires for Christians to have both a knowledge in depth and in breadth of the Bible. The former is done by memorizing scripture, he said, whereas the latter is a steady intake of scripture.
“There are always dead spots in your day where you don’t have to do any verbal work,” he said. “In those dead spots, I suggest memorizing a few verses a day for 15 minutes a day.”
Davis reminisced on his busy schedule during his Ph.D. years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He was working and in school full-time while also helping raise a family.
“I would take my daughter on walks while also memorizing Hebrews,” he said.
Extended Bible memorization, he said, “gives me a tremendous leg up on sermon preparation.” He said this helped him finish preaching through the book of Hebrews about a year ago.
“I used three commentaries when I preached it…. But none of them helped me as much as my 16 years of reviewing it just for myself,” he noted.
He also affirmed its importance in other areas of his ministry such as marital counseling, evangelism and prayer. “I cannot overstate what scripture memorization has done to prepare me for ministry,” he said.
If there’s any requirement for spiritual health it is “that you have some Bible intake and prayer everyday…. I would never say that about Bible memorization, that if you’re not memorizing Scripture you are sick spiritually or you’re not a Christian, but it is very helpful … in your marriage, in your parenting and in your evangelism.”
Davis said he does not intend to memorize the entire Bible.
“The scriptures don’t stick to me like they used to,” he said. “The Bible says that ‘all men are like grass and all of their glory is like the flower of the field.’ That includes the glory of really being able to memorize a lot of Scripture.”
Davis said he memorizes Scripture — that has been printed out and laminated on a piece of paper — for five to 10 minutes a day. He takes a few extra minutes to go over older material.
“Memorization is going to be hard work, but what saves it is the joy of … insight and of illumination by the Holy Spirit that you didn’t get from a commentary or book,” he said.
Barna Research recently released a study showing that 90 percent of Americans own a Bible, while 82 percent of American adults consider themselves somewhat knowledgeable about it. Yet, according to the study, 43 percent cannot name the first five books of scripture.
Much of the biblical illiteracy in America comes from a failure of feeding on God’s Word, Davis said.
“If people are biblically illiterate, it is likely that they are not ‘born again.’ And if they are ‘born again,’ they are grossly, spiritually immature [and] susceptible to temptations … susceptible to prosperity gospel teaching or cults or to new religious thinking.
“The Bible is inerrant, perfect and is everything it needs to be, but it is less than the best,” Davis said. “The best is … when we see [Jesus] we will instantly be transformed and be like Him.”
To download Davis’ book, it is available at http://ambassador-international.com/books/approach-extended-memorization-scripture/.
Michael McEwen is content editor for the Biblical Recorder, where this story first appeared.