A Bite-Sized Theology

Jun 27, 2023 | by Guest Writers

An Appeal for Catechesis for Communion With God

“Dead Artifacts”

Catechesis is dead. The catechisms of the Reformation have become like bookholders that point us to a past time. They have become like trophies that symbolize the Reformed tradition’s past theological discipline and distinctions. They are historical artifacts that we appeal to for theological superiority and to boast of our tradition’s historical legacy. But we rarely view these catechisms as helpful instruments for congregational discipleship and family worship. Our churches may give lip service to the use of catechisms, but practically, many of them doubt their legitimate use.

Even those outside the Reformed tradition view catechisms as a dead and decadent way of teaching theology. Modern evangelicals have little place for catechetical training in the church or the home. They assume that catechisms emphasize a theology of the mind over a theology of the heart. The assumption is that catechisms, by necessary consequence, teach, “Learn this theological formula,” or “Memorize these theological distinctions, and your soul will be well.” In this negative view of catechisms, there is both an unhealthy view of theology generally and an ahistorical view of the purpose and use of catechisms. The former will be treated first.

“Theology as Living for God through Christ”

Theology does not end in the mind. Theology is not simply an intellectual endeavor in which you can fill the inputs of your mind with the right doctrinal formulations and the result will be godliness. Theology requires the mind, but theology does not end in the mind. Theology is preeminently practical and doxological. In other words, theology is oriented to and finds its terminus in the practical. True theology leads us to a true knowledge of God that results in growing in communion with God (John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 13:14).

The scary reality is that we often find ourselves content in filling up our minds with sound theology, but that sound theology never fills our hearts in a way that results in sound practice. Or we commit the opposite error when we give way to experientialism devoid of sound doctrine, which is like a ship in a sea without a rudder. We pursue emotional experiences and are tossed from one subjective emotional experience to another without any direction being given by the rudder of sound theology. The world is filled with “Christians” who are emotionally excited about Jesus but have no theological knowledge of why. Other Christians are full of theological knowledge and are emotionally dead in their affection for Jesus.

The aim of theology is growing in communion with God. True theology accords with godliness and godly living is produced by sound theology. Share on X

Both errors stem from the same root. They divorce the means (theology) from the ends (doxology). They see knowledge and experience as enemies. Ironically, true theology is simply “living to God through Jesus Christ” (John 15:5; Romans 6:11; Galatians 2:20).[1] The aim of theology is growing in communion with God. True theology accords with godliness and godly living is produced by sound theology (1 Timothy 6:2-3; Titus 1:1; 2:1-12). If theology does not produce this result, then the theology is wrong or the theologian has given way to rationalism and/or theologian pride which severs doctrines from the object of doctrine, the triune God who we are called to grow in communion with.

“A Bit-Sized Theology”

None of the great Reformation catechisms were written with the assumption that theology is principally about correct doctrine in the mind to the exclusion of that doctrine penetrating the heart and being used in the hands. While some of the catechisms of the Reformation are more explicitly practical, such as the Heidelberg Catechism, catechisms as a whole were written to instruct the church in sound doctrine that accords with godliness. To put it another way, catechisms were written as bite-sized pieces to feed the church correct theology to nourish her into godliness and communion with God.

Imagine putting before a toddler a whole ribeye steak. What a spectacle it would be to watch that toddler figure out what to do with food that large. But if you gave a toddler bite-sized pieces of a medium rare ribeye steak, they too could savor every small bite-sized piece of glory. In many pulpits and many homes, rather than giving the children appropriately sized pieces of steak, we instead give them bologna. But we do not have the prerogative as ministers or parents to change the theological food. Rather we are called to package and cut the theological instruction in a way that is appropriate for our congregation or children. The Baptist Catechism gives us a bite-sized theology of the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, a faithful summary of what Scripture teaches, by distilling those rich truths into a sweet and robust catechetical structure.

This is not to say that the Baptist catechism is an automatic plug-and-play for children of all ages in the home without some modification or help. Nor am I arguing that catechesis is the only viable option for family worship. But I am saying that catechisms in general and the Baptist Catechism, for those who are “Particular Baptists” reading this, is an invaluable tool for theological formation in our homes and in the church that is aimed at doxological fellowship with the Triune God.[2]

[1] Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology: Prolegomena, ed by. Joel R Beeke, trans by. Todd M Rester, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 66, 73, 98. Van Mastricht strenuously emphasizes that true theology is theoretical-practical. Ibid., 73. Van Mastricht, later on, seems to stress that true theology is preeminently practical because it must terminate in the practical, “We therefore, just as we deny that theology is entirely productive, also deny that it is merely theoretical, because all its contents, by their own nature, demand activity with respect to the object… Rather, we call it practical, and even preeminently practical.” Ibid., 107 He contrasts his emphasis on this matter with Aquinas and Scotus. Ibid., 106.

[2] The practical use of the Baptist Catechism, along with various resources that supplement its use, will be unpacked in a later article.

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