In the past I wrote a series of post on the subject of Christian catechesis (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7). After writing several posts on the subject, why would I want to take the time to do so again? I guess the answer would have to be because the training of children, teens, and all Christians in the faith is biblical and important. Some of Jesus’ final words to the church make it extremely clear that it is tasked with “mak[ing] disciples of all nations” by “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19, 20). These would be disciples include our children, and I would argue, all disciples of Jesus Christ. The making of disciples does not end when some one walks an aisle, fills out a response card, is plunged in the water’s of baptism, becomes a church member, or even completes a “discipleship class.” The most seasoned Christian is to continue to grow in their relationship with Christ; to grow in their discipleship with the master teacher.
So what has prompted me to address Christian catechesis again? I recently read a post by Will O’Brien on why his church is utilizing catechism in their youth ministry. In the post he provides five reasons the use of a catechism is essential for youth ministry. While I would want to temper his language a bit (“essential”), I do believe he rightly recognizes the need to actually teach teens the deep things of God from Scripture and resources that assist in this process (like a catechism). Of the five reasons he mentions, three in particular stood out to me.
- “It is crucial that teenagers learn systematic theology and doctrine.” I think it’s actually pretty important to get one’s children thinking in the categories of systematic theology well before their teenage years. That’s why our family has utilized Kenneth N. Taylor’s Everthing a Child Should Know about God. (Here’s my review of the book.) The categories of systematic theology (God, Humanity, Sin, The Person and Work of Christ, etc.) are extremely helpful with regards to organizing the content of Scripture. And this is something one can begin to imprint on one’s own children, even at a young age. I don’t say this to neglect things like biblical theology, which I believe has more to do with understanding how the storyline of the Bible is put together. Both are important to teach one’s children, and all Christians. If someone objects that a teenager is not able to handle a subject as weighty and systematic theology, then what is that same teenager doing studying biology, or algebra, or physics, or whatever other difficult subject they’re tackling in school. If your student can learn geometry, then they can learn Christian doctrine. (I do wonder if parents who object to their children learning such things says more about them than it does about their child.)
- “The Great Commission places a heavy burden on the church to ‘teach them everything.'” I’ve already commented on this in the first paragraph of this post.
- “Catechisms provide an excellent opportunity and resource to help parents in their call to disciple their kids.” This was one of the reasons why Luther wrote his Small Catechism. Most parents do not have advanced theological degrees. A catechism is a tool they may use to instruct their children, to pass on the faith, and, in the case where their church may utilize a catechism in their instruction, the use of a catechism at home serves to reinforce what one’s student is learning at church. Parents need help, and a catechism that aligns with one’s doctrinal convictions, is help indeed.
There was an additional comment that struck me as I read through O’Brien’s post. It had to do with a quote from Michael Horton’s book, The Gospel Commission: “It’s possible to have ‘head knowledge’ without ‘heart knowledge,’ but it’s impossible to have the latter without the former. We have to know at least some things in order to be moved to praise, maturity, and obedience.” This is spot on. I think some of us tend to distance ourselves from catechesis because we see it used in what we believe to be religious institutions that put greater weight on the intellect and less on cultivating one’s affections. But Horton is precisely correct. How can one begin to have one’s heart filled with love for Christ and a desire to joyfully serve him unless one first begins to explore the depths of what he has done for us, from his perfect life, to his sin atoning death. While I acknowledge that an emphasis on doctrine may lead to cold religion, this need not be the case. One must also realize that an emphasis on stirring one’s emotions may very well lead to an anemic faith at best, and possibly no faith at all.