Philip Harrold, associate professor of church history at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, recently wrote in Christianity Today (cf. the link to the article below) about the decline in biblical literacy, the loss of the younger generation and the growing need for new resources for discipleship. He refers to a survey done over a decade ago by Gary Burge, New Testament professor at Wheaton, in which “one-third of the students tested could not put the following in sequential order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost. One-third could not identify the Book of Acts as the location of Paul’s missionary travels; half did not know that the Christmas story was in Matthew.”
Harrold has a growing sense of the need to catechize: “I believe we need to resurrect this old word – catechesis – and the big idea it encapsulates.” As he has pondered the use of catechisms, Thomas F. Torrance’s The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church has proven to contain excellent insights. Torrance delineates the purpose of a catechism and the relationship of the teacher (the catechist) and the learner (the catechumen), with both of these latter two in relation to Truth, who is a Person. Torrance, a Scottish theologian and pastor, focused on Reformed Catechisms and addressed both where they succeeded and failed in the disciplemaking process. Harrold adds that catechesis will fail if it not grounded in a relationship with Christ, union with Christ is foundational, and a relationship between those in the body of Christ. If these personal relationships are missing, the benefit of a catechism will be lost.
One of the helpful aspects to Torrance’s work is his introductory chapter in which he spells out “seven dimensions of a truly biblical catechesis.”
- The message of Christ is communicated first and foremost in personal relation to Christ.
- It takes a church.
- Catechesis requires a response of self-awareness and self-denial.
- Revelation and reconciliation are inseparable.
- You must be born-again.
- Catechesis is a work of the Holy Spirit.
- Intake (reception) of the Truth leads to out-take (witness).
One of the most important principles/reminders Torrance gives to this process, according to Harrold, is “that the building-up of believers into the fullness of Christ must always be grounded in who he is as much as what he has accomplished for us, in a dynamic, personal relationship with him as well as an intellectual grasp of his work for us. This is what catechesis has done at its best in church history. It is indeed the path—the way of the Lord—that is a truly biblical school of faith.”
Philip Harrold, “Getting to Know Him: Catechesis at its best is a very personal ‘school of faith,” Christianity Today 56/8 (September 2012)