Last week we ended our discussion on the notion of “catechism,” the whole idea of a deliberate, institutional, organized effort to impart the faith to the rising generation or to new believers. When I hear the word “catechism” I think “Catholicism” not only because the words sound a little alike, but because when I was growing up my neighborhood was full of Roman Catholic kids who went to catechism and considered me lost because I didn’t.
Catechism was a word that I never heard in the life and liturgy of the Protestant church I attended as a kid. I don’t ever remember hearing it here, either. But catechism is a part of the historical, Protestant church. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism was written in the sixteenth century for the purposes of:
guiding pastors; and
encouraging unity within the Protestant churches in that area that is now Germany.
Kevin DeYoung has recently written a book on the Heidelberg Catechism, suggesting that it is still a valid and effective means of educating believers in the substance of the faith. To take a look at the book and some customer reviews, click here.
It may be that the Evangelical Protestant church, with its emphasis on personal experience and “relevancy” could gain some depth by exploring the idea of catechism. Remember what our friend Timothy George said of the evangelical church:
Evangelicalism is best understood as a renewal movement within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Across time, evangelicals have drawn deeply from four wells of Christian wisdom: the christological and trinitarian faith of the undivided church prior to 1054; the Protestant Reformation, especially its emphasis on the authority of the Bible and justification by grace alone through faith alone; the transatlantic awakenings exemplified by Whitefield, Edwards, and the Wesleys; and the missional stirrings of the Spirit throughout the globe, including puritanism, pietism, and pentecostalism.
Most American evangelicals are not aware of this rich heritage, and that makes them vulnerable to the idolatries of the present moment. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “people who have no past, have no future.” The thinness of American evangelicalism—short on doctrine, worship as entertainment, little or no catechesis—stems from spiritual amnesia (“we have forgotten who we are”) and results in ecclesial myopia (“at least we’re not like them!”).
Your friend and mine, Rod Dreher, spoke this past week to some evangelical leaders in Colorado Springs. Here is a little bit of what he heard from them:
. . . what I’m hearing is serious concern from these Evangelicals that their churches are failing the younger generation by
- not grounding them seriously enough in the Bible
- making worship all about entertainment, thereby cultivating in them the idea that church is all about avoiding boredom
- failing at discipleship
This is real food for thought for us here in Saint Albans. One of the things he notes in the article is the idea that the “megachurch” moment has passed and people are looking for something else now.
Here’s the link to the Dreher post. It’s well worth your time. It’s like he’s been reading our mail.