Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: Catechism

A Gospel Worth Sharing

In advance of the release of Something Worth Living For Matthew Barrett and Credo blog asked me to write a series of blog posts touching upon the value of a catechism. With their permission I am reposting these here for those who did not see them there.

Imagine an evangelistic conversation that goes something like this:

“Man, I just don’t know why I get out of bed any more.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, the world is such a mess and I feel such stress at work and at home.”
“Wow, I get it! It’s the same with me. Life is so confusing. But God has given me a way to see a path through it all, at least.”
“Yes. I suppose. But that religious stuff never made sense to me.”
“I know. But I’d love to talk about that. Have you heard of the 107 spiritual laws?”

Clearly there was a good reason that Bill Bright chose just four spiritual truths to make his evangelistic appeal. And yet, every time Christians encourage non-Christians to consider Christianity, they are inviting them to embrace something larger than can be expressed in four, or eight or ten statements. In a day when the very word “God” is understood, if at all, with rambling diversity, the way we communicate the gospel requires breadth and clarity. And though I’m not suggesting we see the Westminster Shorter Catechism and its 107 questions and answers as a gospel tract, the theology it unfolds is, in its heart and essence, the gospel. It is not simply a tool by which others come to know religious stuff. It is a doorway inviting them, and ourselves, to come to know, and to love, God.

As any good presentation of the gospel will do, the Catechism begins with the questions people themselves are asking. People wonder why they exist. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What’s it all about? That is, the Catechism begins, “What is the chief end of man?” People have tried money and sex and everything else Solomon bemoans as meaningless. The question, “What is there worth living for?” is an urgent question for all, Christian and non-Christian.

Of course, the answer the Catechism gives, that we are to live “. . . to glorify God and enjoy him forever” challenges our treasured human self-centeredness, among other things. The Catechism grounds this claim in the fact that there is a God who has spoken. This God has given us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments a call and reason to glorify and enjoy him, and a rule by which we are guided in our response.

Many, of course, struggle to believe the Bible, even those sitting in our pews. And yet Christianity is a complete package. To believe in God is to believe that he is and that he has spoken. We believe the Bible because it is the word of God, and we know God by the word he has given. These things are to be taken as a whole.

And so the Catechism invites us to understand the two primary things the Bible teaches: what we are to know about God set side by side with the response God expects of us. To put it another way, the Catechism outlines how we are loved by God and how we love him in return.

Questions 4-38 introduce us to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are shown our sin in all its misery and God’s wonderful provision of a redeemer. The redeemer’s person and work is shown and the fruit of his work outlined. That is, we are shown why people need salvation and how God provides it. This is how God loves us.

Then beginning with question 39 we are shown how one responds to this provision. We learn of the law God has given, of the nature of faith and repentance, and of the value of the church and her sacraments and of prayer. Here we are shown, in response to who God is and what he has done, how we live for his glory and enjoy him forever. This is how we love God.

The Catechism, in other words, paints the full gospel picture by which we can tell the whole truth to a world aimlessly trying to find its way. It reveals the beauty of the gospel, something we all need to hear.

French Philosopher Blaise Pascal noted that in persuading others of religion we must “. . . make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Penses, 12). The Catechism makes all of us once again wish that Christianity were true, especially those of us who have lost sight of the beauty of salvation and the hope of our “full enjoying of God to all eternity.” (Q/A 38)

It gives us a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. It reminds us that we have something worth living for. It is a gospel worth knowing, and sharing.

A Faith Worth Learning

In advance of the release of Something Worth Living For Matthew Barrett and Credo blog asked me to write a series of blog posts touching upon the value of a catechism. With their permission I am reposting these here for those who did not see them there.

Charlie Mora was one of the finest and most solid men with whom I’ve ever served in the church. He was an elder in the congregation to which I was called out of seminary and he taught me how to be a pastor. But as a commercial fisherman with no more than a high school education, Charlie was an unlikely mentor.

As a young man, during a downturn in the fishing industry, Charlie moved from Cortez, Florida to New Jersey to find work. There he met Marge. He was so taken by this young woman that he was willing to attend her small Orthodox Presbyterian Church in order to date her. There Charlie heard the gospel. As he fell in love with Marge, he came to love Jesus as well.

Charlie was hungry to learn about this new faith, but the church had no adult classes for men like him. And so Charlie, revealing a deep humility that would stay with him his entire life, asked if he could attend the youth class. There, huddled in a room with teenagers, Charlie learned the theology of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He emerged with a broad, deep, and profound love for God which would later have such a profound impact on me.

Charlie’s story reveals the beauty and mystery of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. It also reminds us of the power of a well ordered, systematic teaching of the Christian faith. That is, it points to the value of a catechism.

A what?

A catechism is an ancient pedagogical tool that systematically presents a broad body of knowledge in small interrelated units. Using a question and answer format, catechisms have been written to serve well-seasoned theological meat in bite sized pieces for those hungry to know God and his ways. Particularly, the theology of the Protestant Reformation rode across Europe and sailed into North America in vessels of beautifully crafted and carefully framed catechisms by which one generation instructed the next. One of these, the last and most concise of these, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, was used to pass this faith worth learning on to my friend Charlie.

Published in 1647, the Westminster Shorter Catechism has had a wide influence. It was the product of 120 seventeenth-century theologians and pastors from England, Ireland, and Scotland meeting in assembly in Westminster Abbey in London (hence the name) over a period of four years. The products of committees and assemblies are usually bland. Not this one. The Westminster Assembly found a way to distill essential theological truth into memorably precise and matchlessly profound language. Its words have become widely known even to those unable to name their source. That our chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever” and that “God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” are ideas that have lodged in the hearts of many even outside those Reformed and Presbyterian Churches which claim the Catechism as one of their confessional documents.

Of course, the very idea of theology is daunting to many Christians. The word conjures images of big books and fine and incomprehensible distinctions. Theology is imagined to be something boringly peripheral to the living of a full life. But a moment’s reflection suggests that we all embrace a theology of some sort. It may be poorly developed and it may be absolutely wrong, but we have a theology. And too often the theology we are give is couched in negative terms.

The acquisition of theological knowledge in our day is often erratic, spotty, and cloaked in controversy. We learn a bit about eschatology to counter the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come knocking at our door. We ponder how to understand God’s law only because we want to find a way to better argue our case against big government on Facebook. Rarely do Christians enjoy, and I choose that word purposely, the opportunity to consider a positive presentation of the beauty and breadth and practical relevance of our historic Christian faith. The Catechism offers that opportunity.

There are many Charlies in our churches, people curious about Christianity and hungry for some guidance. The Catechism is a good place to begin to satisfy that curiosity. To support this process is why I’ve written Something Worth Living For.

As pastors and churches we may not be able to help our Charlies fall in love with our Marges, but we certainly can use the rich tools of our heritage to help them fall in love with Jesus

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