Last week we quickly raised the issue of the public reading of Scripture and the importance of Christ’s body to hear the Word of God in its entirety! Knowing the Scripture is of importance, yet pure knowledge of the Bible is not sufficient for piety (i.e., a godly living). Thomas à Kempis in his famous work The Imitation of Christ (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996) warns along those lines and writes:
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone. (pp. 1-2)
I do agree with the saint of old and take him seriously on such. As I have quoted earlier in “The Dangers of Studying Theology,” Bray (“Rescuing Theology from the Theologians,” Themelios 24 [February 1, 1999] pp. 48-57) writes that “[a]n illiterate grandmother in New Guinea who has met with Jesus is a greater theologian than a university professor of the subject who has not” (49). To which Thielicke (A Little Exercise For Young Theologians. Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1962) eloquently adds the possibility of spiritual death of an orthodox theologian “while perhaps a heretic crawls on forbidden bypaths to the sources of life” (37).
Yet, we do need to stress the other side too (and here I suspect à Kempis and the authors quoted would also agree). The other side of the coin is the un-knowledge of Scripture (i.e., the ignorance of such). But we see that out of Gospel-centrality, the church is to teach what Parret and Kang (Teaching The Faith, Forming The Faithful: A Biblical Vision For Education In The Church. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009) call “the Faith.” While our job as educators is to nurture individual faith, we are “also obligated to pass on the Faith faithfully, to defend it against the threat of encroaching heresy and perversion, to proclaim it and teach it with diligence, and to teach the kind of life that properly adorns it” (87). This then is the ministry called catechesis. The essential features of catechesis are (according to these authors; 89):
1) relational – interaction between teacher and student
2) liturgical – “occurring chiefly in the worship of the gathered community”
3) holistic – engaging the entire person (mind, heart, and body)
4) culturally responsive – paying attention to the context
5) pedagogically strategic – process and methods
6) content rich – focusing on the essentials of faith
Seeing these features we ask: How will we in our teaching ministry incorporate these, so that we are faithful to the commission and authentic to the culture we live in? Educators in the church need to wrestle with that question. But not only “educators” but the church in general is called to discipleship.
I often do wonder however, how such catechesis is practiced – if it is at all! Here we need to lean from other traditions (maybe the Greek Orthodox or Roman Catholic) as well as other historical catechisms stemming from Protestants (e.g. Luther’s Smaller Catechism, Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Catechism). My concern is that we are often satisfied if someone signs a statement of faith (after having spent 1-2 Saturdays in a membership class) and then becomes a “full-blown” member of the church. The process of such a membership took up to 2 full years of instruction in the Faith in the early church.
We as Christians need to be educated and taught in our Faith and be diligent to share the Christ we adore – the Trinity we worship.