Andy Crouch, a senior editor at Christianity Today, was at Asbury last week. What a great blessing he was to our community. I first encountered Andy Crouch back a few years ago when he published his book, Culture Making. One of the insights in that book is that it is not enough to simply critique culture, we have to make culture. Crouch argues that it is important to be able to articulate and identity what features of a particular culture need transformation. However, he argues we will never turn things around by simply criticizing. We have to actually create new culture. We must insert “New Creation” into the present creation. Amen, Andy!
I am convinced that one of the best ways to create culture is through catechesis. The word ‘catechesis’ refers to a form of religious instruction, often oral, which allows the essentials of Christianity to be passed down to a new generation. The word catechesis comes from the word ‘echo’ reminding us that it is our duty to echo the Apostolic message. One of the great losses in today’s church has been the collapse of catechesis, both in the church as well as in the home. The faith is not being passed down, so the next generation often does not “echo” it. We are left with an increasingly domesticated gospel which is far less reproducible than the gospel of the New Testament.
If you look down through the history of the church you will discover many rich traditions of catechesis. In the New Testament we find catechesis central to the Apostolic message (See 2 Timothy 2:2). The period after the close of the New Testament, known as the Patristic period, had a rich tradition which put catechesis into two parts. Part one stretched from Lent to Easter whereby the catechumen was instructed in the basics of the Christian faith. The instruction culminated in the catechumen’s baptism at Easter. Part two, known as mystagogy, stretched from Easter to Pentecost. During this period the newly baptized believer was instructed into the mystery of the church. Later, we discover the Celtic model of catechesis which was less individualized and more communal. The monastic tradition became an important model of catechesis. The Celtic Christians also infused their catechesis with active service of the poor. The Reformation produced some excellent catechisms which parents used with their children. They typically focused on several key areas such as the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sermon on the Mount. They were often set up in Question and Answer format for memorization. The Westminster Shorter and Longer Catechisms are among the most famous in history. You may recall the famous first question. What is the chief end of man? The answer: To love God and to enjoy him forever. And so it continued with nearly 100 additional questions. Surely, one of the great legacies of the Reformed tradition has been their ability to pass down their doctrinal heritage to the next generation.
When I look back at these catechisms I am impressed how each one provides great insights into the the art of transmitting the faith. John Wesley was acquainted with all of these traditions, as well as a few others I do not have space to mention. John Wesley drew from the best of all of these and created one of the best models of catechesis in history. In an upcoming blog I will share a few more thoughts about Wesleyan catechesis.