Andy Davis’ office has two of four walls filled with books stretching almost from floor to ceiling. They range from biblical commentaries to pastoral counseling to church history and many more.
But there is one book that has captured the heart of this pastor at First Baptist Church in Durham (FBC Durham). It is the Bible. This desire to know God’s Word has led him to memorize 35 of its books.
“I have seen many folks join the church because of Andy’s memorization practices,” said Nathan Finn, member at FBC Durham since October 2005 and associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“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. I know we have many members who are strongly committed to extended scripture memorization because of Andy’s influence.”
Davis said that 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. But what I really want to know is, ‘Why are you memorizing?’ The goal should be: life transformation by comprehension of God’s perfect Word.”
He is currently memorizing book 36: Zephaniah.
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.
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.
He began memorizing scripture through Navigator’s Topical Memory System. During his senior year at MIT, he said he remembers 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 had to wait for a bus that wouldn’t arrive for hours, so while he waited he decided to memorize his first book, Ephesians. “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, and I will never forget the joy of getting to the Great Commission in Matthew!”
It took Davis a year to memorize the Gospel of Matthew. “It is absolutely essential to the Christian life to have a daily quiet time, and I believe we should follow Jesus’ example of having it early in the morning. … Really no culture makes much of a claim on the individual early in the morning,” he said.
Davis desires for Christians to have both a knowledge in depth and in breadth of the Bible. The former is done by memorizing scripture 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,” Davis said. “In those ‘dead spots,’ I suggest memorizing a few verses a day for 15 minutes a day.”
Davis never intended for An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture to be published.
“So when people asked about scripture memorization, I gave the booklet to them not as something publishable. I just would say this is what I do,” he said.
“Years ago, I went to the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors with John Piper, and I have him a copy [of the booklet]. I don’t even know why I did it. … In many ways, he is such a humble guy; he is willing to read whatever is helpful.
“At the time, memorization was a big part of his ministry … but extended memorization of scripture was something new to him; he read it, liked it and then referred to it in the book, When I Don’t Desire God. This work gave my work a global scope.”
As for a choice in translations, Davis recommends any reputable, committee translation. “All of them have strengths and weakness,” he noted.
Extended Bible memorization “gives me a tremendous leg up on sermon preparation,” emphasized Davis. He reminisced on his extremely busy schedule during his Ph.D. years at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
He was working and in school full-time while also helping raise a family. During that time, he said, “I would take my daughter on walks while also memorizing Hebrews. About a year ago, I finished preaching through the book of Hebrews.
“So that was basically 16 years of reviewing and meditating on the book of Hebrews. 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 also affirmed its importance in other areas of his ministry such as marital counseling, evangelism and prayer. “My ‘trade,’ if we were to use that language, is the Word of God. That is what I have to offer. … I cannot overstate what scripture memorization has done to prepare me for ministry.”
Davis does not consider himself as a proselytizer for extended Bible memorization; rather, he preaches the value of it.
If there’s any requirement for spiritual health 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’ intention is not to memorize the entire Bible. “The scriptures don’t stick to me like they used to. Why? Because 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.”
Printed and laminated on a sheet of paper, he memorizes scripture for five to 10 minutes a day and 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 discover of insight and of illumination by the Holy Spirit that you didn’t get from a commentary or book,” Davis 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 even name the first five books of scripture.
Much of the biblical illiteracy in America comes from a failure of feeding on God’s Word, said Davis.
“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.
“For now, we have nouns and verbs. It’s jots and tittles,” Davis said. “That’s exactly what Paul meant when he said that we ‘see through a glass darkly than face-to-face.’ It will be better to see Jesus face-to-face than to read the Gospel of John. … The Bible is inerrant, perfect and is everything it needs to be, but it is less than the best. The best is face-to-face fellowship, and 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/.
Ambassador International also has free printable resources: http://ambassador-international.com/memorization/.