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  • Betsy James

The Comeback of the Catechism


If working through a catechism hasn't made your growing list of new year's resolutions, it should. Here's why...

Over the holidays, my family sat around and discussed church culture and focus over the past few years and how the pendulum swings back and forth between "sinners in the hands of an angry God" and "Jesus is my homeboy." (We also discussed head coverings for a ridiculous amount of time, because we obviously know how to party...) My parents became Christians during the "Jesus Movement." This movement focused on the beautiful truths that Jesus is our friend and our personal Savior and our loving Companion. During this time, the music and the liturgy (or lack thereof), the church buildings, and the overall ethos became very "accessible." Jesus was for everyone - the common man - just come as you are.

And unbelievably, all of those wonderful teachings are TRUE! It is amazing that Jesus loves ME and is with me and for me. These truths awakened many people to the personal relationship that God offers us through Christ, but unfortunately many believers never learned much beyond that in regards to who God is and what He is like. It seems that every generation sinks its teeth into certain truths about God while failing to grasp the whole. And perhaps this will forever be our cycle this side of heaven.

1 Cor. 13:12

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

I'm no theologian, but it seems that while the "Jesus Movement" introduced us to a Savior who is kind and merciful and friendly, there was very little focus on harder-to-understand truths about God's holiness and righteousness. In an effort to make Christianity accessible to the masses (which it absolutely should be!), we avoided "churchy" words like "propitiation" and "sanctification," but without these meatier truths the church has grown anemic and hungry. We see more and more young people leaving the church, and more and more churchgoers walking with the weak faith that comes from only drinking milk - never graduating to the richer foods! Of course, we cannot place the total blame on local churches since each individual who has access to the living Word of God has been given all they need for life and godliness. And yet, good teaching is a helpful part of God's design for discipleship, both in the church and in the home.

So now the pendulum is swinging back toward liturgy and theology, and we welcome this as a healthy shift. (Sometime in the not too distant future, church will grow too dry and rote, and things will head back the other direction...to err is human.)

And all of that brings me to catechisms and why they are coming back, and how we should jump on board. A catechism is simply a summary of beliefs in question and answer format for the purpose of instruction. Most people assume catechisms are only for Catholics, but this is not true. There are a variety of catechisms available, and I will link to a few of my favorites at the bottom of this article (including a great new app).

The beauty of a catechism is that it walks you systematically through the foundational doctrines and truths of our faith. This forces us to think through the sum of our faith (and not just the parts to which naturally gravitate). This also helps to make sure we aren't leaving any gaps when teaching our children. And speaking of children: a catechism is a wonderful teaching tool, because not only does it ask the right questions, but it also provides the right answers! No prep work required! Plus, the question and answer format is less of a lecture and more of a conversation, which works well around a table with kids of all ages.

But do our kids really need to know theology? YES!!!

In a world that is increasingly anti-Bible, we must be intentional to teach our children the whole truth about who God is and who we are in relation to Him. We must also show our kids a God that is big enough to take with them into the real world! If we only teach our children that God is loving and kind, then they will be confused when God allows or causes pain. If we only teach our children that God is merciful and forgiving, will they be prepared to face their Judge?

Our children need the WHOLE gospel, as do we. A catechism is one way we can rediscover the fullness of His glory and the beautiful riches that are ours in Christ. The more we know God, the more we love Him.

Out of the many options available, here are a few we recommend:

The Heidelberg Catechism

The nice thing about this catechism is that it is organized into 52 days, which means you could read one each week as a family. And I can't tell you how many times I have thought about this opening question and answer throughout the past few months. I devoured this entire catechism over a weekend and loved it!

Q. What is your only comfort

in life and death?

A. That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Westminster Catechism

This is a fairly popular catechism perhaps most known for its opening question and answer:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Even if you only memorize the first day of the above catechisms, you are already deep into the core doctrines of our faith!

Catechism For Young Children

We used this with our kids one year and really enjoyed it. We also enjoyed Songs for Saplings which helped us to memorize these truths faster.

And last but not least, I am most excited to tell you about this last option, which is a mixture of the Westminster and Heidelberg in an interactive, digital format!

New City Catechism

Tim Keller's church recently released this catechism as an app. This app allows you to see 52 questions and answers in modern language, with supporting scriptures AND kid friendly versions of the same truths, PLUS really cute songs that help with memorization!

I plan to go through this with our kids this year. We will probably read through the weekly question and answer as a family on Sunday evenings, and then listen to the corresponding song at the breakfast table each morning so that we will have it memorized in time to learn the next truth.

Here is a 3 minute video from Tim Keller about the benefits of going through a catechism with kids.

May your new year be filled with the WHOLE gospel! It is such good news and worth reviewing on a regular basis individually, around your table, and with your church. Check out one of the above catechisms and let us know what you think!

Hebrews 5:12-6:1a

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity

You May Also Enjoy:

Answers to Life's Major Questions - brought to you by Psalm 100

It Smells Like Something Died in Here - a guide to living with other humans

Teach Your Kids to Fight Fear With Truth


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