Getting to Know Him
Getting to Know Him
The decline in biblical literacy and the loss of a "faith culture" is no longer news, but it is somewhat shocking. Twelve years ago, New Testament professor Gary Burge reported the results of a survey given to students at Wheaton College, the premier evangelical higher education institution. He found that one-third of the students tested could not put the following in sequential order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost. One-third could not identify the Book of Acts as the location of Paul's missionary travels; half did not know that the Christmas story was in Matthew.
Many studies since have only confirmed these findings. Combine this with increasing anxiety over the church's loss of the younger generation, and we can understand the church's growing need for fresh resources to disciple not just youth but Christians of all ages. To put it in terms that feel a little old-fashioned, at the core we have a growing sense that we need to learn again how to catechize.
I believe we need to resurrect this old word—catechesis—and the big idea it encapsulates. The word has too long been associated with the more formal and liturgical traditions, and has been more or less ignored by evangelicals. But according to the New Testament, to catechize is more than just a matter of passing along essential information about the good news of Jesus Christ. It is instruction in the "way of the Lord" (Acts 18:25). As suggested by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett in their book on catechism, Grounded in the Gospel, this means aiming at "sound workmanship, thoroughness of construction, solidity, stability, and utility," producing the "living stones [who] are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5, ESV).
Catechesis has waxed and waned throughout history, but today many evangelicals show a growing interest in the biblical origins of catechesis. More and more are looking to the catechetical work of the early church fathers, its recovery among the Protestant reformers, and its renewal among leading evangelists and pastors like John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards.
We are also rediscovering some not-so-distant pearls of wisdom, like the little-known The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church, by Scottish theologian and pastor Thomas F. Torrance, first published in 1959 and now reissued by Wipf and Stock.
Truth Is a Person
This book is clearly Reformed in its framing, combining all of the classic catechisms of the Reformed tradition, from Calvin's Geneva Catechism of 1541 to the Larger Westminster Catechism of 1648. But the book is useful for those in other traditions mainly because of its provocative introductory essay, which, among other things, explains how these Reformed texts have succeeded and failed in making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Torrance, who died in 2007, deeply appreciated this Reformed heritage, but thought it needed a theological check-up. He wanted to examine the historic catechisms in light of both his work in the Church of Scotland and his broadly ecumenical work. Torrance wrote with penetrating insight on how to set forth Christian teaching so that it would be comprehensive, compelling, and transformative for all Christians. He called for an exposition of the gospel that is locally adapted, yet consistent from age to age and for the whole "communion of saints." This meant that instruction had to serve the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" and the one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For this reason, Torrance praised the catechisms of Calvin, John Craig, and others, which follow the ancient pattern of the Apostles' Creed.