Discovering Yesterday’s Tradition For Today’s Family

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Have you ever heard the word “catechism” (kat-e-kism)? Neither had I until fairly recently. Catechisms were a form of discipleship especially popular among groups such as the Puritans.

In short, a catechism is a series of questions and answers designed be memorized in order to help children and adults learn the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. These questions are a great tool to help you and your family to begin thinking in more biblical categories. You might be thinking that such a method is too simple to be effective. But I think that this perceived weakness is actually its greatest strength. The profoundly simple nature of catechisms can easily meet the needs of families with a variety of schedules.

To get a clearer picture of how this works check out this testimony from pastor and writer Tim Keller as he recounts his own family’s experience in using catechisms for family worship and discipleship:

When my son, Jonathan, was a young child my wife Kathy and I started teaching him a children’s catechism. In the beginning we worked on just the first three questions:
Question 1. Who made you?
Answer. God
Question 2. What else did God make?
Answer. God made all things.
Question 3. Why did God make you and all things?
Answer. For his own glory.

One day Kathy dropped Jonathan off at a babysitter’s. At one point the babysitter discovered Jonathan looking out the window. “What are you thinking about?” she asked him. “God,” he said. Surprised, she responded, “What are you thinking about God?” He looked at her and replied, “How he made all things for his own glory.” She thought she had a spiritual giant on her hands! A little boy looking out the window, contemplating the glory of God in creation!

What had actually happened, obviously, was that her question had triggered the question/answer response in him. He answered with the catechism. He certainly did not have the slightest idea what the “glory of God” meant. But the concept was in his mind and heart, waiting to be connected with new insights, teaching, and experiences.

Such instruction, Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander said, is like firewood in a fireplace. Without the fire—the Spirit of God—firewood will not in itself produce a warming flame. But without fuel there can be no fire either, and that is what catechetical instruction is.

This is a practice that I hope to begin to implement with my own family and I sincerely hope you will consider using it in yours. Tim Keller and other folks from the Gospel Coalition have developed the New City Catechism. You can download it as a pdf. or as an app on your phone completely free. This catechism has both an adult and children’s version complete with 52 questions (1 per week), as well as an accompanying passage of Scripture, a brief commentary, video from well known and trusted pastors, as well as songs for children to help them remember the truth learned from each question.

So please take some time, check out the link above, and prayerfully consider the potential blessing that catechisms could be for your family. This old tradition is one I pray will find its way back into today’s family.

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