Dr. Timothy Tennent’s book 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith is available for purchase from our store. This resource makes for a great teaching tool in local churches. From now on we’ll feature a chapter from his book each week in hopes of encouraging you to pick up the book and share it with others as well.
The Changing Cultural Landscape
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.
Today, Christianity in the Western world is in the diminishing sunset of that kind of 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.” 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 which 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 which emerged in the sixteenth century produced catechesis manuals. John Wesley’s first encounter with the Christian faith would have been through an Anglican catechism which he learned from his mother, Susanna, who became widely known for her deep commitment to the catechesis of children—not only her own children, but many others as well.
Today, the pace of contemporary life, the exponential rise of time spent in entertainment, and the “light-weight” relational-oriented format of many Sunday school programs, youth groups, and worship services has left us with a whole generation of Christians who have only the vaguest idea as to what Christians actually believe. When pressed by an increasingly skeptical, even hostile generation, Christians are often unable to articulate their faith. Furthermore, because the church itself has not been immersed in a Christianworldview, the moral and ethical life of the church is slowly beginning to conform to the surrounding culture.
Thirty Questions to Better Understand Our Faith
The purpose of this meditation is to provide a thirty-day short course in the Christian faith. Like traditional catechesis manuals, it is organized in a question-and-answer format. The questions can be used as a morning or evening devotional during any month of the year. Alternatively, a church or small Bible study group can use the manual over an eight-week period as follows: Week 1, questions 1–3; Week 2, questions 4–6; Week 3, questions 7–11; Week 4, questions 12–15; Week 5, question 16; Week 6, questions 17–20; Week 7, questions 21–25; and Week 8, questions 26–30.
Traditional catechesis manuals pose a question and then provide a short, pithy one-sentence reply. In this catechesis a more lengthy explanation is given which invites discussion, reflection, and interaction. The Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer are included in this manual’s appendices. These three selections should be memorized by the individual or the group during the month meditation or during the eight-week study. It is recommended that each day or session begin with a reading of the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments and close with the Lord’s Prayer.
Throughout the meditation there are passages of Scripture which support the answer. These texts can be read to supplement the meditation and aid discussion as an integral part of the study.
The church has been sustained for nearly two thousand years through a careful commitment to catechesis. By engaging in this study, you are joining with millions of Christians over the ages who not only believed the faith, but learned it, remembering the final command of Jesus to “teach them everything I have commanded you” (see Matt. 28:20), as well as the words of Peter who said, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).
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