Paul Poppe wrote why he likes catechisms. There is much to commend in what he writes. I especially appreciate the four reasons that he lists that favor the use of catechisms in the training of our children. However, though Paul rightly corrects some of the common objections to catechism use (e.g., “Isn’t this indoctrination?”), perhaps some will be unclear where they are to begin. This is probably especially relevant for those who come from a theological tradition that does not make use of catechisms. So where should you turn if you are interested in using catechisms?
I want to recommend two resources that I believe are equally helpful in thinking through whether or not you are going to make use of a catechism with your children (or in your congregation). The first resource is written by Tom J. Nettles – Teaching Truth, Training Hearts: the study of catechisms in Baptist life. Nettles essentially offers his readers an introduction to the various catechisms that Baptists have used and offers helpful guidelines on the proper use of catechism.
The second book that I think would be helpful has little to do with catechisms, but has challenged me in many ways regarding the training up of children in Christian homes. It’s Karl Graustein’s Growing Up Christian. This excellent resource tackles the issue of “growing up” in a Christian home without actually having a saving relationship with Christ. I believe Graustein is helpful in pointing out to young people (and adults) the dangers that need to be addressed.
Here’s why these two books are helpful: First, this probably goes without saying, but not every catechism communicates the same thing. The Westminster and the London Baptist are very similar in certain areas, but take radically different positions concerning the subject of Baptism. The same would be true when comparing catechisms from within the Protestant tradition with those from the Roman Catholic. Nettles’ book will help you think through the differences. Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to create your own hybrid (something I’m currently working on). Second, it is extremely important for parents to understand the limitations of catechismal training. Memorizing dogmatics will not necessarily produce regeneration. There are dangers that Christian families must be aware of and there tends to be a great deal of assumptions that take place in the thinking of parents and children alike. Thus, we have a great deal of children who think they are “saved” and parents who assume so as well. Graustein’s book would be a great compliment to parents who are considering the use of catechisms and would be a great read for teenagers and young adults who have grown up in the church.
Paul is 100% correct. Catechisms are not a replacement for knowing God through His word; rather, it’s a supplement. He is 100% correct to note that it’s a practical way of organizing doctrinal truths and an excellent way to provide continuity between the historic orthodox church. His last point, that catechisms are the right indoctrination only applies if the right catechism is being used. Hence, I would concur with my good friend Wayne Conrad who suggests that we baptize the Heidelberg! I would also argue that we correctly clarify the discontinuity/continuity issues that arise in how we work through the Law and the 10 Commandments, as many catechisms tend to err in this area. Furthermore, why not dip these catechisms into the waters of the Third Wave Movement!
Great thoughts, Paul!