Tim Keller, “Catechesis Miscellanies,”(October 29, 2012)
As we have mentioned in a number of previous posts, a new catechism has been written by Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian, and its scope has been broadened and its use encouraged among Evangelicals. Recently Keller includes two final introductory thoughts regarding the New City Catechism.
First, it is important to understand the purpose of NCC—its goal is to introduce the almost-lost pedagogical method of catechesis to a new generation, and to direct and motivate far more people to study and learn the longer and historic catechisms than are doing so now.
Second, to appreciate NCC it will be critical to remember that catechisms are primarily instructional instruments, not creedal standards. So it shows no more disrespect to the Westminster Catechisms to write a new catechism than, for example, to write a new Sunday school curriculum. In the centuries after the Reformation in Britain hundreds and hundreds of catechisms were produced. While the Heidelberg and Westminster catechisms were intentionally written to be confessional documents, binding doctrinal standards, the vast majority of catechisms were designed to do Christian formation.
Keller concludes that the “educational genius of catechesis is largely lost today.” However, he states that “those who use catechesis have come to see the enormous benefits.” Here are some of Keller’s stated “enormous benefits” for the Christian, including the individual and the community. (I have restricted the benefits into bullet form.)
- Catechesis teaches basic mental discipline. . . . of practicing the reality that God’s truth is true whether it is personally fulfilling at the moment or not.
- Also, catechism teaches a lost art—the art of meditation and slow reflection. Memorization requires you to pay attention to every word, even every comma. The slow turning over of every word leads to depths of new insight.
- Another powerful feature of catechesis is that it teaches us not only the right answers but also, more fundamentally, the right questions.
- Last, it would be helpful to understand that NCC is written with a view to 17th-century British pastor Richard Baxter’s vision for the role of catechesis—as not something only for the ambitious few or for children but as a normal feature of Christian life.
Keller concludes with a story from the pastoral ministry of the Worcestershire association of pastors, which included Richard Baxter. They lamented that after many years of faithful preaching of the Word of God, there was very little that was remembered by the people of God. This led Baxter to engage in catechetical instruction with the members of the local church where he served. It is an amazing story of how God used a faithful pastor, the weekly preaching of the Word and the regular catechetical instruction of God’s people in their homes to transform a people. Certainly Baxter’s personal approach need not be replicated. But some of his methods and his goals for God’s people ought to be.