This Fall at Mercy's Door our school-age children will begin a new curriculum during our Sunday morning worship gatherings. After a year of walking through the scriptures (with the help of the Jesus Story Book Bible connecting the creation, fall, redemption, and restoration of the world to God's great grace and the amazing life, death, and resurrection of Jesus), we are transitioning to a new curriculum based on a fairly ancient method of teaching children (and adults) about the Christian faith. The New City Catechism is an effort by the Gospel Coalition and several partner churches to reintroduce the concept of catechesis as a way to introduce the core doctrines of the Christian faith in a fresh and conversational way.
What in the World is Catechesis?
Depending on your church background the word catechism may immediately bring up vivid memories (whether positive or negative) or it may be utterly unfamiliar and sound like a word lifted out of a Harry Potter novel. A catechism at it's most basic level is a collection of statements about the tenants of the Christian faith including the nature and character of God, the position of man, and our hope in this life and the next, set in the form of a question and answer. For example:
Question - How and why did God create us?
Answer - God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.
While a catechism may seem simple, the complex nature of God and the varying view of Christian denominations and other religions makes it important for us as followers of Jesus to be able to clearly define who God is, what He has done, and what that means for us. The answers to catechisms (including the New City Catechism) have been labored over by pastors and theologians, built upon the historical doctrines of the church, and pulled straight from scripture.
Dr. Timothy Keller (an author of the New City Catechism), expands on the historical use of catechisms:
Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—-not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church's communal life.
Why are we using a catechism for our kids’ curriculum?
Our children, just like us, are daily confronted with differing views about the purpose of life, the nature of the world around us, the value of human life, and where to find hope in the midst of difficulty. While a thorough understanding of the story of scripture is critical to their foundation as ones (by the grace of God) that will spend their entire lives worshipping and following Christ, so is the ability to clearly communicate the “why” and the “therefore” behind the story. For instance, while it is critical our children know that the Lord created the world, it is also imperative that they understand why he created the world (from what scripture tells us) and how the Lord would have us to respond in light of his glory and grace. A catechism helps us to introduce these concepts in a way that is both easy to understand as well as (through memorization) easier to communicate. Dr. Keller gives a great personal example and sums up the use of a catechism to train up our children well:
“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?
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.”
So what will this mean for me as a parent?
Each Sunday your children will be introduced to a new question and answer from the New City Catechism. During their class, this question and answer will be unpacked, tied to scripture, and practically applied through stories, games, and crafts. After Sunday morning through the use of either the print edition of the New City Catechism or the free online app, you can engage with your children throughout the week with the truths they have learned and help them to further memorize and better understand the beauty and good news of what they’ve been taught. Our hope as a church is that this curriculum will not only teach your children needed truths but also lay a foundation for you as their parents to further disciple them inside the walls of your house and out in the world they experience on a daily basis.
Pray with us that the Lord will use this new curriculum to inflame the hearts of our kiddos as well as engage us as parents and church members in raising up the next generation of Jesus followers.