By Edward Murray
For families, political engagement is a battle fought on two fronts. On the one hand, we see the battle to engage personally. On this front, we take in the twenty-four-hour news cycle and consider the best way to engage with our given sphere of influence. However, often neglected is the second front, where we aim to raise children who will one day engage in policy as adults.
To simplify this endeavor, I urge you to consider that their foundation for better political engagement is not history, civics, or political theory (although these are imperative!) but rather a well-developed, biblical worldview. Such will not only aid their foundations for a deeper relationship with God but will also help them attain theological categories for future eschatology, cultural engagement, and a proper relationship between church (or the Kingdom of God) and state.
In this last category (the Kingdom of God vs. the Kingdom of the State), many Christians have erred without a robust biblical worldview. To help our children grow, I propose we get back to catechizing our children.
How We Learn Big Topics
When studying any great topic, a student must constantly focus his attention on two perspectives: the forest (a broad overview)and the trees (the finer details).
For the Christian, his goal is to learn the whole counsel of God—contained in the sixty-six books of the Bible—for his own devotional growth as well as for the purpose of making disciples of others both inside and outside of his immediate family.
The two disciplines of Christian study that approach these ends are called systematic theology (the forest) and biblical theology (the trees). The Bible is a big book, and in order to completely learn what God has spoken to us in it, Christians are called to bounce between the two disciplines (the forest and the trees) in order to grasp “the whole counsel of God.”
For many, biblical theology (examining doctrine at the text level) comes naturally and is more easily integrated into family life. Many find much joy in reading Bible stories during reading time or before bed and hearing them in children’s church.
However, integrating systematic theology (examining doctrine at the whole-Bible level) proves more difficult—especially doing so in a way that every member of the family can benefit. One option would be for the entire family to sit down and work through massive academic volumes such as Grudem’s, Berkoff’s, or Bavinck’s systematic theologies, but this would be unreasonable on many levels.
On the other hand, families may get a forest view of the Bible by incorporating the historical practice of catechesis. In short, catechesis is the practice of teaching doctrine at a systematic level through the structure of questions and answer responses.
We currently find ourselves amid an increasingly pluralistic society in which basic assumptions regarding God, man, and creation are regularly taken for granted. For instance, take the statement: “God loves you and offers you salvation through his son Jesus.” We often miss that many parts of this sentence are loaded concepts, each requiring a deeper biblical understanding in order to fully grasp what we mean by this statement:
Who exactly is God? What do we mean by God’s love? What is salvation? Why do we need salvation? Who is Jesus? How is he both God and God’s son at the same time? And so on.
Consider this: the doctrine of the Trinity has been the de facto “line in the sand” for historic orthodoxy since the birth of the Church! How many of us can articulate Trinitarian doctrine?
All of this to say, given the theological confusion of the day, today’s climate presents not less but more justification to take up the practice of catechesis.
A Suggested Resource: The New City Catechism
Throughout history, the church has given us a great deal of resources to choose from for our instruction, including many great catechisms. For instance, at our disposal are Luther’s Catechisms, Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, Owen’s or Baxter’s Catechisms, and even the more popular Westminster Catechisms or London Baptist 1677 Catechisms. Many of these are good resources to glean from; however, for many, their theological nuances are very narrow and punctiliar in scope, often taking hard stances on issues we would consider to be “Doctrines of Scriptural Latitude,” as well as antiquated in how they are worded.
In line with the theological streams of the great documents listed above, this FREE resource offers systematic training that enables us to affirm the broad stroke of historic evangelical doctrine (major doctrines) while allowing freedom on doctrine that warrants scriptural latitude. Regarding format, the NCC summarizes basic tenets of the Christian faith in fifty-two questions, with answers for both adults and children, each including a scriptural supporting text. In addition to this, there are several other resources available to assist the catechism, including devotional studies, smartphone apps, and recorded songs to aid in children’s memorization.
Also, did I mention it’s FREE?
What a Catechism Does Not Do
Last, it seems important to close with some perspective regarding what this or any catechism does not do.
Nothing can be more off-putting to true faith practice than placing our hope in methods or legalistically binding people’s consciences to secondary resources (as if they are scripture, as great/ important as they may be!). Of course, I think confessions and catechisms are great and important, but they are not scripture. They are tools used to aid us in the devotional lives of our people and our children. They have no supernatural converting power in themselves, and at the end of the day, they will not guarantee the conversion of our people or our children, especially if they are divorced from the personal commitment to day-in/day-out discipleship.
Having said that, I still believe that the practice of catechesis will help us not only evangelize our children but will also help us train them to systematically digest the whole counsel of God. Moreover, connecting ourselves with external, pre-written confessional documents allows us to not only identify with the church universal but also aids in training our people to humbly see themselves as connected to that great body.
Teach Them the Whole Counsel of God
We are called to be whole-Bible people, and we are called to train our disciples and children in all that the scriptures teach us regarding God, Man, Christ, and salvation. On the road to Damascus, our Lord expanded our narrow purview on this to convey that this included all the scriptures, and later in the book of Acts, we see the apostles boldly shepherding their people in “the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:26-27).”
As we fight to make sure that all our teaching is “gospel-centric” and “Christ-centered,” let’s be sure to avoid falling into the error of “gospel reductionism.” Moreover, let’s help our families develop a healthy understanding of the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the State by developing these whole-Bible categories.
Without a systematic commitment to teaching our children (and everyone!) the whole counsel of God, then at the end of the day, a truncated gospel message may end up becoming a pseudo– or even false– gospel in the ears of the ill-informed.
Will you join me in using this time to catechize our children? In doing so, I pray that this will help them learn the whole counsel of God to the end so that they may personally know the God of the whole counsel.
Edward Murray currently serves as Manager of Special Projects & Research for Classical Conversations’ Strategy and Corporate Affairs Team. He is a native of Augusta, GA, and an alumnus of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, where he earned his MDiv. He currently lives in Newport News, VA, with his wife and three children.