The Brookside Institute is all about helping build and reinforce foundations of the Christian faith. A key part of this is championing evangelical catechesis, intentional teaching in foundational areas of the Christian faith, for the formation of individual believers and the building up of the church of Jesus Christ.
On this blog I've posted more on what catechesis is, on why catechesis is important, and on the biblical basis for this sort of instruction. I've included many other posts broadly related to this idea that you can find under the catechesis category. And I want to keep producing posts that champion catechesis, and collecting great stuff from other places that lines up with this value.
That's why I'm so grateful for what Kevin Vanhoozer says about catechesis in a book he's co-authored with Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Follow along with me as I take us through some of what Vanhoozer says and provide some of my own comments:
First, Vanhoozer highlights the purpose of catechesis
There is nothing particularly valuable in learning complicated theological terms or formulas for their own sake. Greek and Latin terms like homoousios and extra Calvinisticum seem far removed from the everyday concerns of most local congregations. Why, then, did the early church insist that new believers undertake a one- to three-year period of catechesis (from the Gk. katecheo, 'to instruct orally') before their baptism and develop instruction manuals for this purpose? The short answer: sacred doctrina ('teaching') exists for the purpose of building up disciples in their knowledge of what is in Christ" (pp. 161-62).
Next Vanhoozer underlines the importance of catechesis
He shows us that everyone is being "catechized" into something. The question isn't, "are people being formed?" but "what are people being formed into, and what is forming them?" Here's what Vanhoozer says:
The sober truth is that some kind of indoctrination is inevitable. During the course of our lives, we are all filled with various doctrines - economic, political, ideological, as well as theological. Doctrines - opinions, beliefs, and teachings - are ubiquitous: they are taught formally in schools but also informally in the home, neighborhood, athletic field, and workplace. Television educates or indoctrinates too. Whatever doctrine we imbibe - communism, capitalism, consumerism, or something else - we live out what we believe to be true and right. To think wrongly about reality is likely to lead to foolish living. Theology - living to God - is the lifeblood of the body of Christ, and the present book aims both to stop the bleeding (i.e., theological illiteracy) that is draining the life out of the church when nonbiblical doctrines (e.g., selfism) lead us to live not to God but to oneself" (p. 162).
Two More Quotes that are Worth Including Here
As Vanhoozer continues on catechesis over the course of a few pages, he includes two more quotes that I wanted to capture here. The first reinforces what we've already seen about the purpose and importance of catechesis - listen for what catechesis DOES and the VALUE it adds:
[The Apostle] Paul does not commend doctrine for the sake of doctrine, but he does urge Timothy and Titus to teach sound doctrine (...1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). Sound doctrine is good for the health of the body of Christ; unsound doctrine (toxic teaching) leads to poor health, leaving the body of Christ unable to function rightly. Significantly, Paul uses 'sound doctrine' as a contrast term not to ideas but to practices, like striking one's parents, lying, homosexual behavior, and kidnapping (1 Tim. 1:9-10). 'Sound' doctrine, by way of contrast, is healthy in the sense of giving health" (p. 162).
The final excerpt I'll quote gives us a brief snapshot of how a program of catechesis might be implemented:
Just like disciplined expository preaching, either book by book or following the lectionary, is the best way to foster biblical literacy, so disciplined expository teaching, either of creeds or confessions, is the best way for a pastor theologian to foster theological literacy in the local church" (p. 163, bold emphasis added).
In other words, the sort of catechesis Vanhoozer is advocating for here should be intentional, systematic, and relatively comprehensive. Vanhoozer goes on to briefly mention how catechesis took shape under the ministries of Augustine and John Calvin, and continues to be advocated by such evangelical leaders as J.I. Packer. This vision of catechesis propels so much of what the Brookside Institute is about, and takes shape most fully in the classes we offer.
The bottom line? Catechesis is important. For this importance to be appreciated, we must always keep both the WHAT and WHY of catechesis firmly in mind, as we faithfully and creatively implement the HOW.
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