With COVID-19 social-distancing - and given that summer is right around the corner - […or is it? Who can tell me what day it is? ...it seems a bit colder outside than usual for this time of year…?] - we all have more time with our kids in the house. Moreover, since it usually takes a little over a month to get into any good rhythm, a lot of us are likely just now getting use to operating as a real family again with breakfast routines, family devotionals, and hopefully various nights of singing with the kids. With all that being said, I propose that we also use this divinely-gifted family time to help our kids develop a framework that will help them interpret the entire world around them, as well as better digest the already intimidating Bibles that we want them to learn. I propose we get back to catechizing our children.
How We Learn Big Topics
When studying any great topic, a student constantly focuses his attention between two perspectives: the forest (a broad overview), and the trees (the finer details). For the Christian, his goal is to learn the whole counsel of God - contained in the 66 books of the Bible - for his own devotional growth as well as for the purpose of making disciples of others both inside and outside of his immediate family. The two disciplines of Christian study, which approach these ends, are called Systematic Theology (the forest) and Biblical Theology (the trees). The Bible is a big book, and in order to completely learn what God has spoken to us in it, Christians are called to bounce between the two disciplines (‘The forest and the trees’) in order to grasp ‘the whole counsel of God.’
For many people, Biblical Theology (examining doctrine at the text level) comes natural, and in many, this form of study is more easily integrated in the family life. Many find much joy in reading bible stories during reading time or before bed, and hearing them in children’s church. This is the approach we primarily take in teaching your children the scriptures each week in KidzMin with the Gospel Project curriculum. However, integrating Systematic Theology (examining doctrine at the whole-Bible level) proves more difficult – especially dong so in a way that every member of the family can benefit. One option would be for the entire family to sit down and work through massive academic volumes such as Grudem’s, Berkhof’s or Bavinck’s Systematic Theologies, but this would be unreasonable on many levels. On the other hand, families may get a forest view of the Bible by incorporating the historical practice of catechesis. In short, catechesis is the practice of teaching doctrine at a systematic level through the structure of questions and answer responses.
We currently find ourselves amidst an increasingly pluralistic society in which basic assumptions regarding God, man and creation are regularly taken for granted. For instance, if you say to a person, “God loves you and offers you salvation through his son Jesus.” we often miss that many parts to this sentence are loaded concepts, each requiring a deeper Biblical understanding in order to fully grasp what we mean by this statement. Who exactly is God? (e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity has been a de-facto ‘line in the sand’ for historic orthodoxy since the birth of the Church), What do we mean by God’s love? What is salvation? Why do we need salvation? Who is Jesus? How is he both God and God’s son at the same time? etc. All of this to say, given the theological confusion of the day, today’s climate presents not less, but more justification to take up the practice of catechesis.
Enter the New City Catechism
The church throughout history has given us a great deal of resources to choose from for our instruction, including many great Catechisms. For instance, at our disposal are Luther’s Catechisms, Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, Owen’s or Baxter’s Catechisms, and even the more popular Westminster Catechisms or London Baptist Catechisms. Many of these are good resources to glean from; however, for many, their theological nuances are very narrow and punctiliar in scope, often taking hard stances on issues we would consider to be ‘Doctrines of Scriptural Latitude,’ as well as antiquated in how they are worded.
Enter the New City Catechism (NCC). Still in line with the theological streams of the great documents listed above, this FREE resource sevesr in systematic training that enables us to affirm the broad stroke of historic evangelical doctrine (major doctrines), while allowing freedom on doctrine that warrants scriptural latitude. Regarding format, the NCC summarizes basic tenets of the Christian faith in 52 questions, with answers for both adults and children, each including a scriptural supporting text. In addition to this, there are several other resources available to assist the catechism including devotional studies, smartphone apps, and recorded songs to aid in children’s memorization. Also, did I mention it’s FREE?
What a Catechism Does Not Do
Lastly, it seems important to close with some perspective regarding what this or any catechism does not do. Nothing can be more off-putting to true faith practice than placing our hope in methods or legalistically binding peoples consciences to secondary resources (…as if they are scripture, as great/ important as they may be!). Of course, I think confessions and catechisms are great and important, but they are not scripture. They are tools used to aid us in the devotional lives of our people and our children. They have no supernatural converting power in themselves, and at the end of the day they will not guarantee the conversion of our people or our children, especially if they are divorced from the personal commitment to day-in/day-out discipleship. Having said this, I still believe that the practice of catechesis will help us to not only evangelize our children, but it will also help us train them to systematically digest the whole counsel of God. Moreover, connecting ourselves with external, pre-written confessional documents allows us to not only identify with the church universal, but aids in training our people humbly see themselves as connected to that great body.
Teach Them the Whole Counsel of God
We are called to be whole-Bible people, and we are called to train our disciples and children into all that the scriptures teach us regarding God, Man, Christ, and salvation. On the road to Damascus, our Lord expanded our narrow purview on this to convey that this included all of the scriptures, and later in the book of Acts we see the apostles boldly shepherding their people in “the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:26-27).” As we fight to make sure that all of our teaching is ‘gospel-centric,’ and ‘Christ-centric,’ lets be sure to avoid falling into the error of ‘gospel-reductionism.’ Without a systematic commitment to teaching our children - and people! - the whole counsel of God, at the end of the day a truncated gospel message may end up becoming a pseudo- or even false- gospel in the ears of the ill-informed. So will you join me in using this time to catechize our children? In doing so, I pray that this will help them learn the whole counsel of God to the end that they may personally know the God of the whole counsel.