Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Catechism and Children: Lifetime Rewards

Terry L Johnson, Catechizing Our Children: The Whys and Hows of Teaching the Shorter Catechism Today, 2013. 87pp. Paperback.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

Catechizing is one of the great missing ingredients in the discipleship of covenant children today. Many parents reject catechizing by pitting it against Bible memorization. Yet those making this objection fail to realize that the catechism is often the best tool to help us understand the Bible. Our present generation has largely lost the knowledge of the vast benefits of the practice, which we can know by experience only. Terry Johnson’s Catechizing our Children shows us the blessing of catechizing in promoting a vibrant biblical Christian faith in our churches.

Johnson’s book is persuasive and clear. The greatest strength of his approach is that he sets catechizing in the “environment” of personal holiness in private life, in the family, and in a vibrant church (Chapter 1). He notes, “Without the daily domestic example of Christian lives being lived with integrity, we have little hope of catechetical usefulness” (4). He then addresses the history of catechizing in Protestant churches and the peculiar strengths and advantages of the Westminster Shorter Catechism as a culmination of the best of Reformed theology and catechesis (Chapters 2 & 3). His fourth chapter addresses the structure of this catechism in terms of an extended trinitarian gospel-tract. His last chapter (5) presents a suggested course of catechizing, both in the home and the church, followed by an appendix detailing how his congregation implements these suggestions. While recognizing that catechizing should neither replace the Bible nor automatically secure the salvation of covenant children, Johnson concludes rightly, “Given our commitment to the well-ordered family, the well-ordered church, and prayer, we think that with catechizing we have the best method of indoctrinating our children, and the best hope of transmitting our faith to our children” (72).

Johnson’s book has minor deficiencies, many of which are historical. He states that the Westminster Shorter Catechism “was not suitable for younger children” (11) and that Puritans, such as Thomas Vincent, recognized this by writing commentaries on the catechism. However, this assumption contradicts both the original preface to the catechism and the preface to Vincent’s “commentary,” which notes that while the younger children in his congregation memorized the Shorter Catechism, the older children memorized his “commentary” on it. Johnson also makes the common mistake of elevating Calvin to demigod-like status by acting as though he almost single-handedly developed doctrines such as Christ’s threefold office, the Reformed doctrine of the Spirit (34), and the Lord’s Supper (59). This neglects both the Medieval and Reformed precedents for such teachings. Yet these, and half a dozen or so other deficiencies, do not detract from the overarching purpose of his work.

A good catechism, such as the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives you the categories needed to understand the Bible in light of the work of the Triune God and Christ and His gospel. Catechizing our Children speaks to the need of the hour. Take the couple of hours needed to read this book and you may reap rewards for a lifetime.

The preceding was published in New Horizons.