“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). With these words, the Apostle Paul encouraged the Christians of his day. This wise counsel spurs us on at Providence, as we work with students throughout their years here in the careful, by-heart learning of broad portions of Holy Scripture—that the word of Christ may dwell in them richly.
The Goal: A Life-long Gift for Our Hardworking Students
Memorizing is hard work! What is the point of it all? Our goal in Scripture memory at Providence is not just to exercise our children’s minds, nor is it merely to inspire them (momentarily) with beautiful passages. Our goal is greater; we want to give students a life-long gift. We aim to thoroughly and repeatedly familiarize our students with key Bible passages so that they leave Providence with a precious graduation gift: a book of God-breathed prayer and comfort, inscribed in their hearts.
[quote style=”boxed” float=”right” source=”— OUR VISION for a Classical Christian School”]The Christ of the Scriptures shapes all aspects of our lives and learning. Our teaching, culture, activities and discipline are consciously brought under the lordship and grace of Jesus… We memorize and recite Scripture and creeds, and we…discuss material from the confessions and catechisms of the Reformation.[/quote]To that end, last year Providence established a comprehensive K-12 memory program which has been revised and updated for the 2014-2015 school year. Once the current plan has been in place for several years each Providence graduate will be able to recall and recite:
- Seventeen complete psalms (1, 2, 19, 23, 46, 51, 73, 84, 90, 100, 103, 121, 130, 133, 139, 145, 150)
- The complete epistles of Colossians and 2 Timothy
- Key portions of five Bible chapters (Gen 3, Isa 11, Matt 2, Luke 2, John 1)
- Thirty-two key Bible passages, accenting the following themes:
- Jesus saves us from sin and death
- God’s Word is sure
- God calls us to a holy life in Christ
- God hears our prayers
- God’s comfort in trouble and persecution
The Revisions: Adjusting our Bible Memory Plan to Better Fit Our Goals
The comprehensive memory program instituted at Providence during the 2013–2014 school year was an excellent starting point. Based on feedback from teachers at the end of the first year, two changes have been made and implemented for 2014–2015 to allow for greater mastery of the material and a sequence that progresses in difficulty as children grow in age and comprehension.
First, our initial plan included the entire book of Romans, but starting this year we have decided to replace it with two of Paul’s shorter epistles: Colossians and 2 Timothy. This reduces the total amount of text to be memorized, which leaves more time for ongoing review, study of the content, and attention to smooth, clear, meaningful recitation. The goal is lifelong memory, not just “getting it checked off.” However, Colossians and 2 Timothy were not selected only for their relative brevity. Each contains clear teachings of the person of Christ, justification by faith, and the nature of Holy Scripture. Each beautifully encourages a life devoted to Christ, warns against false teachings, and holds forth God’s eternal promises.
Second, we have changed the sequencing of our memory program. Replacing Romans with the shorter Colossians and 2 Timothy, enables us to delay the memorization of more difficult “epistle language” until seventh grade and higher. Last year, second- and third-graders were asked to memorize the material in Romans 1 and 2, with Paul’s long sentences and complicated arguments. The new configuration allows the grammar school to focus on memorizing psalms while the upper school focuses on memorizing epistles.
The long-term effectiveness of our memory program depends especially on three factors: prioritization, repetition and consistency.
First, teachers, students, and parents will all need to value and prioritize this important shared task and give it regular, sustained attention. If we work together consistently and tirelessly, we will build something beautiful in the hearts of our children.
Second, since “repetition is the mother of learning” and regular review of texts already memorized is built into the curriculum, it is essential that our K-12 Bible memory plan take a final shape and be allowed to function unchanged. We regard the changes made this year as necessary front-end tweaks to a permanent framework. Moving ahead, we will seek to avoid further changes.
Third, consistency is vital, and consistency in the English translation used for memory is especially vital, as students review previously learned passages year after year. Our current use of the New King James Version is under review this year. It is likely that no change will be made, but if Providence decides to adopt a different translation (e.g., NIV or ESV), this decision will be made at the end of this year and implemented next year. At that point, the chosen translation will become “the” translation for Providence Bible memory work until the Lord returns!
Bible memory will flower into a gift for our students as their years at Providence unfold. Eventually, as the K-12 memory program hits its stride, Providence sixth grade students will hold a public recitation of fifteen Psalms! (They will learn two more in upper school.) Providence tenth-graders will hold a public recitation of Colossians and 2 Timothy, proclaiming Paul’s inspired message with understanding and eloquence!
Repetition, repetition, repetition! During morning prayer, students routinely read a psalm (or two) from the memory list of 17 psalms, so that students who have not yet learned a psalm are already becoming familiar with its language and flow, and students who have memorized it in years past are constantly reviewing. Repetition is also designed into the curriculum with the 32 selected Bible verses. Each year students learn 8 of these, and, after four years, the cycle of these same 32 verses is repeated. This means that the same verses learned in first grade will be re-learned in fifth and then again in ninth. While a great deal of Scripture is being memorized, the goal is not to maximize quantity but rather to see key portions of God’s Word planted firmly and permanently in our children’s hearts.
The Prayer: Students Who Are “From Childhood…Acquainted With The Sacred Writings”
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (3:14–17). In the years ahead, Providence students will be memorizing these words as they memorize 2 Timothy. Our prayer to God is that these words will not only be memorized by our children, but that they will be true of our children as well!
Rev. Thomas Egger, Member, Providence Board and Curriculum Committee