Catechism Christianity

When I was a boy, growing up in the Presbyterian Church, I used to study a pink paperback children’s catechism that was full of questions and answers about God, the church, and the Christian faith.  Here are some examples:

Q1: Who made you?
A1: God.

Q2: What else did God make?
A2: God made all things.

Q3: Why did God make you and all things?
A3: For his own glory.

Q4: How can you glorify God?
A4: By loving him and doing what he commands.

Q5: Why are you to glorify God?
A5: Because he made me and takes care of me.

Q6: Is there more than one true God?
A6: No. There is only one true God.

Q7: In how many Persons does this one God exist?
A7: In three Persons.

Q8: Name these three Persons.
A8: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I would study these questions through the week and review them on Sunday mornings, so that when my Sunday school teacher asked, “Who made you?” I would be ready with the answer.  And let me just say: it’s a very satisfying thing to know the answer to such a big question.  I can’t remember that I ever graduated to the grownup version (the Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1674), but imagine how satisfied I would have been to know the answers to these questions:

Q1: What is the chief end of man?
A1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.

Q2: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?
A2: The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.

Q3: What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A3: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Q4: What is God?
A4: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Q5: Are there more Gods than one?
A5: There is but one only, the living and true God.

Q6: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A6: There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

There are 107 questions and answers altogether, and in some churches they still give a Bible to the person who can answer every question in one sitting.  I think it’s a wonderful way to teach the basics of Christian theology, and I’m not the only one.  Baptist versions of the catechism have been produced through the years that are very similar to the Presbyterian version except (as you might expect) for the section on baptism.

But there is this danger: the danger of thinking that theology can be reduced to a number of questions and answers, and that once you know the answers your theological education is complete.  

I knew a man who graduated from seminary pleased with having stored his knowledge in what he called “logic-tight compartments” (which I was only able to imagine as Tupperware containers inside his head, no disrespect intended).  Have a theological question?  No problem.  He could give you an answer.  He could give you THE answer.  The problem came when you asked him why that was the answer.  He would look at you as if you had asked him why 2 + 2 = 4.

But there is such a thing as thinking theologically, of wondering why things are the way they are.  There is a kind of intellectual curiosity that drives people to know more, and I think that’s a good thing.  Anselm, one of the early church fathers, said that theology is “faith seeking understanding.”  He didn’t make any promises that we would find understanding but he seemed to think that the seeking itself was a good thing: it kept people’s minds turned toward God and the ways of God; it kept them searching the pages of Scripture, looking for the answers to their questions; it kept them engaged with their teachers and peers, asking, “Why are things the way they are?”  People like that might actually grow in their faith, and not just keep the tops on their Tupperware containers.

Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you”? (Luke 11:9).  Don’t you think he would encourage our faith to seek understanding?  Didn’t he say that eternal life is getting to “know the only true God” and Jesus Christ, whom he sent? (John 17:3).  How do you do that if you stop asking, seeking, and knocking?  How do you do that if you lock the answers up in logic-tight compartments, and fold your arms across your chest, and refuse to wonder why?

4 thoughts on “Catechism Christianity

  1. Good post. I recently started to post things from Luther’s Large Catechism. It is more than Q&A, and I am not posting his entire writings on each subject, but I think I get the gist of what he’s saying across. I was inspired to do this when I saw an atheist’s blog post about how he compared to the ten commandments. He posted each commandment and gave his commentary on what it supposedly means (what he thinks Christians take it to mean) and then how he measures up to it. I was stunned at how wrong he was about every single commandment. Thus my endeavor now to post what Luther had to say about them on my blog.

  2. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

    Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

  3. Jim, this blog reminded me of a student at Southern Seminary 25 years ago (yikes!) who went back home to his home church after several weeks on campus and lamented to his pastor that he was learning things he had never heard of before!

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