A New Resource for Catechesis and Disciple-Making

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Christians in the Western world have enjoyed a long sojourn at the center of cultural life. For hundreds of years we could expect that, broadly speaking, Judeo-Christian values were held up as worthy of emulation. People may not have followed the Ten Commandments, but they believed that they were true and that they reflected how people should live. Christianity was widely regarded as setting forth the proper moral standard for society. Christian values were generally defended in the church, in the home, and in society.

But today, the Christian faith is in a diminishing relationship with the surrounding culture. Christian values are no longer defended in society, are not taught in most homes and, surprisingly, are even being questioned in some churches that have lost the courage to teach the Christian faith with reasonable clarity. Our society increasingly doubts that truth is even knowable or that ultimate truth exists. The Bible is viewed as an antiquated and contradictory book with a questionable moral framework.

There is a growing distrust in institutions and authority, whether the government or the church. Religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is often viewed as a shrill, disruptive voice in society, associated more with bigotry and anger than sound values, godly character, and wise counsel for life—not to mention a message of forgiveness and eternal life. A recent national campaign by atheists produced billboards across the nation with a picture of Jesus and the words: “Sadistic God, useless Savior, 30,000+ versions of ‘truth,’ promotes hate, calls it love.” Such a reversal of cultural attitudes toward the Christian faith couldn’t be more striking. We also live in a period of skepticism about the reliability of historical narratives, whether the iconic account of George Washington crossing the Delaware or Luke writing his gospel. As Christians, we must recognize that the Western world is entering a post-Christian phase that requires a far more deliberate effort to pass down the faith in an intentional way to our children and, indeed, for all of us to understand the basic framework of Christian thought better. In short, we need a rebirth of catechesis.

The word catechesis means “to sound down.” It refers to a teaching exchange between a seasoned, secure Christian and a new believer. The church has invested enormous time and energy into catechesis all through history. Small manuals were produced which were used to teach the basics of Christian faith. They were often in question-and-­answer format and generally covered the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the nature of the church, and the sacraments. There were longer manuals which were used by the church in confirmation classes and shorter manuals which were used by parents at home. All of the Protestant churches that emerged in the sixteenth century produced catechesis manuals. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, likely experienced his first encounter with the Christian faith through an Anglican catechism, which he learned from his mother, Susanna. She became widely known for her deep commitment to the catechesis of children—not only her own children, but many others as well.

But catechesis, or the oral instruction that a new Christian receives, is sometimes wrongly understood as focused only on the key doctrines or beliefs of the church. While it is true that it is essential that the church protect itself against false teachings and preserve the apostolic witness, this is not the sole function of catechesis. Historic catechesis has always been like a three-legged stool; the loss of any part results in the collapse of the whole. The three legs of catechesis are doctrine, ethics, and ordinances (or beliefs, holiness, and practices). In other words, the church has not been satisfied that the faith has been passed on until the new believer is shaped and formed in what he or she believes (doctrine), how he or she lives (ethics), and what he or she practices (ordinances). Simply put, catechism is about initiation into the Christian journey of discipleship.

A survey of catechesis over the centuries shows a remarkable agreement that the core doctrines of the church are best captured in the Apostles’ Creed; the core moral or holiness code is best captured in the Ten Commandments; and the core spiritual disciplines are best captured in the Lord’s Prayer and the sacraments. The material that follows is a collection of an expansive project to help lay a foundation for Christian catechism and discipleship. While each part includes the traditional sources, they also expand into other core areas that will help create a more robust ecosystem of Christian belief and practice. Under Part I: Beliefs, in addition to the Apostles’ Creed (“This We Believe”), I have included a resource with thirty short question-and-­answer entries that fill out the order of salvation and touch on other key biblical themes and Wesleyan distinctives (“Thirty Questions”). “The Fulfillment” also focuses on the central figure of our Christian faith, Jesus Christ, and seeks to demonstrate how he uniquely fulfills our Old Testament Scriptures. Under Part II: Ethics, I have included commentary on the Ten Commandments but expanded this with teaching on holiness and the entire sanctification (“The Call to Holiness”). This brings the ethical dimension of our faith under the new covenant and orders our lives to love of God and neighbor. Finally, Part III: Ordinances offers basic commentary on the sacraments of baptism and Communion, as well as commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, which is a core spiritual practice of the church—both corporately and individually. The section titled “For the Body” teaches on the significance of our bodies and is included because it emerges out of a sacramental view of the human body. Though there are ethical dimensions to this content, it lives here naturally as its primary argument is that our bodies are signposts of Jesus Christ, the gospel, and our ultimate reality as defined by the Trinity. The larger book from which this content emerges is For the Body: Recovering a Theology of Gender, Sexuality, and the Human Body (Seedbed/Zondervan 2020).

The journey of Christian discipleship can only be embarked upon with a sure foundation under foot. For ages the church has provided a tool set of basic doctrines, ethics, and ordinances through which a child or convert could be initiated into ever increasing Christlikeness. This process is called “catechesis” (to sound down, or echo) and it has traditionally been a teaching exchange between a seasoned Christian and a new believer.

Working its way through doctrinal affirmations like the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and other foundational content on the means of grace, this collection of writings by Timothy Tennent forms core material that may be used by leaders and laypeople alike. Scripture references, notes, and suitable hymns highlight key concepts and provide additional value that can be engaged at varying degrees.

As Christianity in the Western world experiences a diminishing influence upon its surrounding culture, and as Christian families struggle to effectively pass their faith onto children, the rediscovery of catechesis will serve God’s people as they and future generations reinherit the treasures of biblical faith, or, the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). This work will prove to be an indispensable reference for those charged with teaching and modeling Christian faith to others. Get it from our store here.

Perfect for:

  • Christian students
  • New converts or catechumens
  • Discipleship directors
  • Confirmation leaders
  • Pastors’ reference desk

In these pages you’ll:

  • Learn the key doctrinal affirmations of the historic Christian faith
  • Engage our moral inheritance defined by Jesus, Scriptures, and the early church
  • Discover spiritual rhythms and means of grace that grow Christians into the image of God

PREVIEW THE BOOK HERE

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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