August 20, 2003

Sandlin on Catechesis

Category: Catechism :: Permalink

In a recent article, Andrew Sandlin discusses some potential problems with the use of catechisms. His first point is something I’ve thought about, too. When we catechize, we tend to focus on definitions (“What is justification?”) whereas the Bible focuses primarily on the story.

First, catechizing may easily become a substitute for knowledge of Biblical history and its narratives. Certain Christian children know (or at least can recite) the meaning of regeneration and justification and adoption, but know nothing of Shamgar, Jonah, Zacchaeus, Samson, and Priscilla and Aquilla. It is astounding how many children in intense doctrinal churches have an extensive (though rote) knowledge of soteriology but not of Samuel and Saul; of eschatology, but not of Elijah and Elisha; of ecclesiology, but not Matthew and Andrew.

This has things just backwards. Biblical doctrine has significance only because of the history that it interprets (though the Bible itself is, or rather can be, an aspect of a redemptive event [1 Pet. 1:23]). As George Eldon Ladd once wrote, the Bible is not so much a Book of religion as it is a Book of history. He goes on to write in the same essay: “The bond which holds the Old and New Testaments inseparably together is the bond of revelatory history. Orthodox theology has traditionally undervalued or at least underemphasized the role of the redemptive acts of God in revelation.”

We can understand little of the Bible, and almost nothing of the Christian Faith, if we lack knowledge of the Bible’s history, no matter how much theology we may know. So, before we catechize children, we need to teach them the stories of the Bible —┬áthe Creation, Cain and Abel, the Great Flood, the calling of Abraham, Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus, the wilderness wanderings of Israel, the conquest of Canaan, David’s and Solomon’s and their predecessors’ reign, the minor prophets, covenant judgments, right on through the New Testament. The history, not the doctrine, always comes first. And the history should precede the catechism.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:37 pm | Discuss (0)

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