How Memorizing the Bible Empowers Us for Discipleship and Mission Part 2


More than fifty years ago, The Navigators released the Topical Memory System (TMS). It offered a simple system for memorizing Bible verses that help you live a new life, proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, rely on God’s resources, be a disciple, and grow in Christlikeness. A sibling edition would focus on life issues: dealing with anger, sin, sex, money, suffering, and more. The verses chosen for memorization encouraged Christians to experience victory over sin, overcome fear and worry, enjoy boldness in witness, discover fresh depths of discipleship, and move from egotism to humility.

Every Tool Has its Limits

The TMS has a great story— decades of Christians whose faith lives have been enriched by its focus on divine love, transformed hearts, and foundational texts for an evangelical theology. But every tool has its limits, and we and others have observed that the verses included in the TMS don’t touch on the more communal, social, and missional implications of the gospel. It is possible, then, for someone to do the good work of memorizing Scripture through a system like the TMS and come out on the other end assuming the gospel to be entirely individualistic, even egocentric.

This is not to say that the verses commended by the TMS are unimportant— they are the Word of God,  after all— but there are many sections of Scripture also worthy of memorization that the TMS doesn’t touch, and those sections can expand our Kingdom vision to include a life of justice and mercy, peacemaking and reconciliation.

Memorizing Scripture Should Lead Us to Whole- of-Life Discipleship

Memorizing Scripture shouldn’t just help us internalize the key themes of our faith or overcome personal difficulties. We need an approach to Bible memorization that helps us embrace a Kingdom and missional theology, that leads us to whole- of-life discipleship, and that aids the Jesus- reflecting and activist Christian life. This book offers such an approach to Bible memory. It immerses you in many of the great (but often forgotten or neglected) themes of Scripture. These include hospitality, reconciliation, justice, peacemaking, compassion, love of enemies, sentness, and more. As you memorize (and visualize) and learn (relationally and through practices) key verses related to these biblical themes, you are empowered to live a surprising, “questionable” life.

In Surprise the World, I (Michael) wrote,

“The fact is that we all recognize the need to live generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike lives as missionaries to our own neighborhoods. We want to live our faith out in the open for all to see.”

That’s where the five habits in Surprise the World come in (Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent— BELLS), as well as this fresh approach to Bible memorization. Together, these habits and this new commitment to Bible memorization “equip believers to see themselves as ‘sent ones,’ to foster a series of missional habits that shape our lives and values, and to propel us into the world confidently and filled with hope.”

Radical Christian Faith

Scripture memorization can help us develop a radical Christian faith and an activist spirituality. Our approach to Bible memorization uses the latest science about how the brain works, how relationships form us, and how habits and practices shape us. Our method moves us away from an individualistic and intellectual form of Bible memory to one that aids us to be agents of reconciliation, prophets of justice, people of peace, and disciples who join with Jesus in his mission.

Many cultures commit their sacred, foundational texts to memory. For centuries in China, for example, boys were required to memorize the Dao. How important it is, then, for Christians who believe their texts to be the very words of God to do the same! Our hope is that instead of being easily able to draw to mind lyrics like “Oh I think that I found myself a cheerleader / She is always right there when I need her,” you’ll take verses like the following inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and know them at a deeper, bodily level:

“Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.”

PSALM 36:5-6

Check for Part 1 of “How Memorizing the Bible Empowers Us for Discipleship and Mission” tomorrow!

Taken from Hide This in Your Heart by Michael Frost and Graham Joseph Hill. Copyright © 2020. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.

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