This week at our church group one of the members mentioned a debate she had observed between a Christian scholar and a Muslim scholar. One of the things that came out of the debate was the comment that Muslims are far better educated in their holy scripture (The Koran) that most Christians are in theirs (The Bible) and thus it creates an impediment in some circles to discussion and debate - after all, went the argument, how can I take you seriously when you do not even know your own holy book?
It was a thought that gave me pause. It has mirrored some of my own thoughts in the past (in different ways) and gave me a chance to revisit it in a new one.
The Christian, at least in Western culture, finds themselves in a curious position. On the one hand they are encouraged to seek out knowledge and become experts at something and understand what they believe and why; on the other, the Bible (and I choose it here specifically - I perceive this is not an issue with other scriptures) is not considered something that is worthy of that level of study and knowledge. Western culture has reduced "religion" to the equivalent of "culture", thereby dividing in their mind what others study and take seriously versus what they can dispense with.
You could make, I think (as Os Guinness did in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds) the cogent argument that the Christian Community in the West - well, perhaps at least the U.S. - does not value the intellect or study of almost anything and thus the Bible falls into that realm. This is also a fair argument, although I suspect somewhat overstated (I have plenty of highly educated, believing friends and acquaintances where this argument is quietly overlooked - after all, such "uneducated believer" arguments fade away in the face of a engineering/scientific Ph.D. or a legal J.D.).
But I think it is a fair statement to say that, on the whole, Western Christians do not know the Bible as they ought. Oh, we know of it, know there is an Old and New Testament, know perhaps even that it has 66 books and maybe even that it was written in a number of languages, but we do not really know it. We do not know that actual words of it - we may know concepts or themes but not the actual chapter and verse (thus, the phrase "Chapter and Verse") where things appear. We build apologetics and arguments based on feelings, not on the foundational beliefs of our faith.
I concur that there is nothing magical to complete memorization. The Pharisees memorized the Old Testament and still missed the point of it. Rote memorization without application will accomplish no more than not knowing at all. But not knowing at all is no better.
I defy those that say such deep knowledge - indeed, such memorization - is no longer possible. The reality is that we live in an age that glorifies physical achievement and finding the ever expanding limits of the human body. And we glory in the minds of the young which have the ability to apply themselves beyond their years. We know that in times past people have done such things, that the entire database of a culture existed in the minds of its people - it really more a question of the will and time than it is of what is possible.
I find it interesting that the the stereotypical "wise religious" that exists in our culture is the rabbi or ascetic (even a priest or pastor, I suppose) that has the ability to call up not only the holy Scripture but application of that Scripture. Sadly, we miss the part that what we value about this is just as applicable to ourselves.