A Catechesis Manifesto: Five Reasons Why It’s Imperative

The Catechesis Task Force (CTF) of the Anglican Church in North America recently published To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechismwith J.I. Packer serving as the General Editor.

In the catechism’s vision paper, the CTF mentions a “catechesis manifesto” they wrote called “The Time for Catechesis Is Now!”

The manifesto centers around five key points:

  1. People are yearning for a compelling faith;
  2. Bible studies alone aren’t enough;
  3. You can’t have evangelism without catechesis;
  4. The status quo isn’t working, and our churches are dying;
  5. The time has come for families to embrace their God-given catechetical vocation.

The manifesto is currently unpublished, but the Task Force is allowing me to post it on my blog while they work on a final copy.

Read “The Time for Catechesis Is Now!” here.

The New City Catechism: A Birthday Celebration

Not every birthday is cause for raucous celebration.

But today’s an exception.

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On October 14, 2012, The Gospel Coalition, in partnership with Redeemer Presbyterian Churchannounced the New City Catechism (hereafter NCC), a church-wide teaching tool primarily covering The Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. Created by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas, the NCC met a few predictable minor quibbles (e.g., “Why are they messing with the old catechisms?” “The sacraments don’t receive enough attention!” “Only 52 questions?” “There they go with their ‘city = better’ schtick again,” etc.) But on the whole the NCC was widely welcomed as a timely tool in the catechetical arsenal.

If the idea of tackling the esteemed Heidelberg or Westminster catechisms are daunting (for my money, the best edition is this for the former and this for the latter, and for family devotions this set is indispensable), then the NCC is for you. It’s the gateway drug of catechisms. And I mean that as a compliment.

It’s difficult to measure a catechism’s immediate impact, and it will likely take a generation to ascertain lasting effects on individuals, families and churches. But two years since its release, it seems like the NCC is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

I contacted Collin Hansen, TGC’s editorial director, and asked for some internet stats for the NCC. Here’s the lowdown:

  • On an average day, around 500 people visit the New City Catechism website.
  • The iPad app has been downloaded over 30,000 times.

I’m no web metrics guru, but I’d call those decent numbers, especially for something containing the word “catechism,” a word that sounds stodgy, archaic and quasi-Roman Catholic, striking fear and triggering spontaneous nervous ticks for the uninitiated.

But fear no more.

Here’s where to begin with the NCC:

  • Tim Keller’s introduction, where he clearly and simply explains catechism, offering a convincing polemic for the NCC.
  • The iPad app (free). TGC’s web team is nearing a fix for the iOS 8 bug, so stay tuned.
  • Droid user? This app’s for you. (Also free)
  • Luddite? Download the PDF here.
  • My personal favorite? This tabletop version…

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…and it’s available here for a paltry $6.00. It’s a beauty.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church and The Gospel Coalition deserve hearty thanks for producing such a deceptively simple yet essential 21st century teaching tool covering the basics of the Christian faith. And although it’s not groundbreaking, if it helps create a catechetical revolution (as I think it is), J.I. Packer would be glad. So would Calvin, Luther, and a host of other notable committed catechists.

So happy 2nd birthday, New City Catechism! You’re looking pretty stout for a toddler. And to think you’ve only got 449 years to go till you reach big brother Heidelberg’s age.

May God grant you—and your older siblings—bigger and better birthdays to come.

Catechizing for the 21st Century: John Murray Article Refreshed, Repurposed, and Republished

Former Westminster Theological Seminary professor John Murray the Scottish theologian who wrote Redemption Accomplished and Applied (a book that deserves multiple readings), also wrote a little-known apologetic called “Catechizing: A Forgotten Practice” in 1962 for the Banner of Truth Magazine.

While the content is the same, I reformatted the article for readability and received permission from Banner of Truth to publish it.

In the article Murray, with frequent nods to Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Baxter (and others), covers a lot of ground:

  • The Origins of Catechizing
  • The Development and History of Catechizing
  • The Need for Catechizing
  • Catechizing and Preaching
  • Difficulties of Catechizing
  • Difference Between Catechizing and the Use of a Catechism
  • Catechizing and Catechisms Not for Children Only
  • The Case for Catechisms
  • The Benefits of Catechizing

May Murray’s retooled article find new life amid today’s growing catechetical renaissance.

Read, print, or download on your e-reader Murray’s “Catechizing: A Forgotten Practice” here.

Note: After this post was published, I discovered there are two John Murray’s—both Scottish, both of whom also had writings published via Banner of Truth. The John Murray who taught at WTS was simply John Murray, while the John Murray who wrote the above catechetical apologetic is John J. Murray. The former is deceased, while the latter is very much alive. My apologies for the unintended confusion.

“A Catechetical Revolution of the 21st Century”? J.I. Packer Explains

In this live-streamed video from an Anglican conference held June 2014, J.I. Packer practically explains the why and how of modern catechesis, including in a church planting context.

In a Packer-packed ten minutes (from the 27th thru 37th minute), Packer issues a call to both clergy and laity (i.e. pastors and congregations) to embrace “a catechetical revolution of the 21st century.”

Watch, think and prayerfully dream how such a revolution might begin in your life and church:

 

Creeds, Kids and Cash

This summer I’m encouraging my kids to learn the three basics of catechism, i.e. The Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer and The Apostles’ Creed. For all of July they must memorize—verbatim—all three essentials of the Christian faith.

I culled from various renditions, scrupulously edited them for content and punctuation, and printed them on card stock and gave a copy to each of our children. I aimed for one essential catechism for everyone (i.e. one not just for children while a different version for adults, but one singular catechism for everyone).

As an incentive for memorizing them (when I was a younger parent I would have disdainfully called it bribery), we put out a monetary award, as well as a family celebratory breakfast at our favorite breakfast haunt.

So far this morning, while listening to some upbeat bluegrass music, one of my daughters was speed-rapping to The Apostles’ Creed. Disturbing combination but I’ll take it.

Download the PDF here.


The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17)

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below—you shall not bow down to them or worship them.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony.
  10. You shall not covet.

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day he rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

The “Missional” Apostles’ Creed?

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The Apostles’ Creed used in missional contexts?

Yup.

In ByFaith (the online magazine of the PCA) Ray Cannata and Joshua Reitano, two pastors in urban church planting contexts, share how they use The Apostles’ Creed within a missional setting.

A brief summary:

  • The Creed is Accessible
  • The Creed is a Story
  • The Creed Clarifies
  • The Creed Unifies
  • Creeds are Inevitable
  • The Creed Gives Hope

Read their story here.

Buy their book Rooted: The Apostles’ Creed.

Subscribe to ByFaith for free here.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Prove J.I. Packer Wrong

J.I. Packer, in a rare extended lost-and-found interview from 2008:

I produced a catechism book of a different sort titled Growing in Christ, published by Crossway. Once it was called I Want to Be a Christian and was published by Tyndale, but Tyndale couldn’t sell it because the title—so they assured me—misled people about what sort of book it was.

It’s actually a catechism book and gives 800 words on each clause of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ imgres-10Creed, and each of the Ten Commandments, and general stuff about Christian obedience and on the baptismal covenant. I go over all the New Testament teachings on that standard. There are biblical passages to study and questions with which to work. It would be very straightforward for clergy to use it as a course for people who want to join the church.

And it’s still available? Yes, it’s still available from Crossway and it’s not sold very well, because this type of instruction doesn’t ring bells with the majority.

“…it’s not sold very well, because this type of instruction doesn’t ring bells with the majority”??

Let’s prove Packer wrong.

Through tomorrow, Growing In Christ is available (e-reader only) for $1.99.

Don’t own a Kindle?

You could still get the app. on your smart phone for free, as well as read it on your computer.

It’ll be among the best $1.99 you’ve ever spent.

 

 

Heidelberg Help at Home

“Hey kids! For family devotions we’re going to start going through the Heidelberg Catechism!”

[Insert quizzical expressions, glassy-eyed stares or defiant exclamations.]

Thank God for Starr Meade.

Meade, a modern-day champion of catechisms, wrote a great resource for families, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the jpegHeidelberg Catechism.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Every Sunday you focus on two or three of the questions and answers from the HC.
  2. Monday though Saturday that week there is a brief devotional unpacking Sunday’s Q and A.
  3. After (or sometimes preceding) the devotional, there are accompanying Scripture passages to read (usually just a few verses) that relate both to the Q and A and the devotional for that day.

We have children in our home ranging from 8-17, and the devotional has enough depth combined with brevity that it strikes a nice balance. Simply put, it’s a nicely written and well presented book on the HC for families, especially families with little to no prior exposure to the HC (like mine). The book could even be a helpful devotional for couples without kids.

Finally, I purchased individual copies of the HC to give to everyone to review during the week. (Meade chose this version of the HC.)

Here’s the book’s trailer:

 

Download a sample of the book here.

 

 

 

New J.I. Packer-Led Catechism

 

There’s a promising new contemporary Catechism now available.

From the Anglican Church in North America:

Led by the Rev. Dr J.I. Packer, the Task Force has developed a unique and powerful resource for helping inquirerscatechism-sidebar3-2 come to an understanding of the Christian faith, and for helping disciples deepen their relationship with God. Written in a “Question and Answer” format, this Catechism, in the words of Packer, “is designed as a resource manual for the renewal of Anglican catechetical practice. It presents the essential building blocks of classic catechetical instruction: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue). To these is added an initial section especially intended for those with no prior knowledge of the Gospel; as such, this catechism attempts to be a missional means by which God may bring about both conversion to Christ and formation in Christ.

For non-Anglicans (such as myself), this new Catechism could be a great template for other church and denominational settings to create their own catechism, or simply modify it, easily omitting the distinctly Anglican aspects (which comprises a small part of the Catechism).

Also, the new Catechism should be a wonderful tool in church planting contexts, effectively addressing spiritual nurture and formation (church) and mission (evangelism) from the plant’s very beginnings.

Download the Vision Statement explaining why the contemporary Catechism was created, and download the Catechism here.

Confessions of a Lapsed Lutheran: An Appreciation

My nearly 102 year old grandmother died last week.

The last time we had regular conversation was 10 years ago, before she began losing her memory. She often asked me if I was going to be a Lutheran pastor. My answers repeatedly, and resoundingly, disappointed her.

imgres-3Some context: my grandmother was baptized, confirmed and raised Lutheran, married a Swedish immigrant in a Lutheran church, was involved in various women’s circles, and finally had her funeral in the same Lutheran church. For my grandmother, when Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) those three things were found only in a Lutheran church, and none other. A Christianity outside of the Lutheran church? Unthinkable.

As I grew older, I eventually shed the Lutheranism (ELCA) of my youth. It was increasingly theologically liberal, socially progressive and seemingly devoid of an explicit gospel message, often displaced by fuzzy theology and entertainingly cute stories. This was the Lutheranism I remember—“Luther-lite,” one that Luther himself would scantly recognize. The years have taken a greater toll on the ELCA, and I have little hope things will improve.

But however valid my concerns for the ELCA, my grandmother’s passing provides fitting occasion to articulate what I did appreciate from my Lutheran heritage:

  • Liturgy: Every week out of that forest green hymnal we had a rhythm of corporate confession of sin and pardon, affirmation of the faith, etc.
  • Creeds: Every week we corporately recited the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed.
  • Hymnody: Instead of singing contemporary praise songs (quite popular in the 70’s with the Jesus Movement), we sang traditional and well-known hymns, many of them with theological fiber.
  • Weekly Communion: The significance of the Lord’s Supper was unmistakable. I even took a class on Communion’s importance, albeit from a distinctly Lutheran perspective.
  • Catechism: I was taught the essentials of the faith in Sunday School and Confirmation. Here is where I learned the biblical narrative rife with compelling stories, along with core biblical content.

I did these things weekly. Yes, at times they became rote. And I’m unsure how many of the congregants really believed what we were doing, saying, singing and praying. However, in hindsight I see how the Lord used my growing up Lutheran, even with all of my present misgivings, to lay basic yet crucial building blocks that would later be honed and refined.

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And even though I’m no longer Lutheran, many of the above attributes are things I highly nvalue today, albeit from a (chastened) Reformed perspective: liturgy, creeds, hymnody, weekly Communion and catechism. Indeed, many evangelical churches would do well to incorporate the best of these aspects into the fabric of their church life, without fearing that they will end up Lutheran or like any of the other liberal mainline denominations. (With due apologies to any Missouri Synod readers, who are screaming “Don’t forget about us! We’re Lutheran too!”)

So as I lay down to bed for the night, with my Luther bobblehead doll keeping watch on my burgeoning bookshelf, I thank God for my grandmother and for the best aspects of Lutheranism she embodied.

And I also pray that the Lutheran church she knew and loved will remember, repent and return not only to Luther’s primary tenets of justification by faith alone by grace alone, in Christ alone and the primacy of the Scriptures, but to Luther’s Christ, who is the only way, the truth and the life—for all of us.

Even for this former Lutheran.