by Chelsey Gordon
One afternoon as I rushed my crew through the aisles of Aldi, hoping to get in and out without a small child throwing a tantrum or requiring a bathroom break, my two-year-old looked up at me from the front of the cart with a grin. “Momma?” she asked. “Yes, baby,” I absentmindedly replied. “What is our only hope in life and death?” Caught off guard and needing to finish the task at hand, I simply threw the question back at her. “What do you think the answer is?” She smiled with pride, answering, “That we are not our own but belong to God!” My heart swelled, surprised by the reminder of such profound truth in the middle of grocery shopping mundanity. “Yes, ma’am. That’s absolutely right.”
Now, before you become too impressed with my child’s theological acumen, realize this interaction didn’t occur in a vacuum. This conversation, and others like it, was not truly spontaneous. It was the result of previous catechesis using The New City Catechism.
If you aren’t familiar with this idea, to catechize means “to instruct systematically especially by questions, answers, and explanations and corrections.” A catechism, then, is “a summary of religious doctrine often in the form of questions and answers.”
The New City Catechism, published by Crossway, is one such tool. This fantastic resource, available in book form as well as in a free mobile app, consists of 52 questions and answers to help children and adults methodically learn the core doctrines of Christianity. Each question and answer set is accompanied by a corresponding Bible verse, short commentary, and an optional children’s song to assist in memorization.
While adults and children alike will benefit from catechesis, I’d like to highlight three ways in which children particularly benefit from this practice.
Catechisms provide children with theological vocabulary
Anyone who teaches God’s word to children quickly recognizes how difficult it can be to explain complex theological ideas to small humans with equally small vocabularies. While it is the responsibility of any good communicator to adapt their language to suit their intended audience, sometimes there is no appropriate substitution and the listener is required to expand their own vocabulary to better understand the subject matter being taught. By engaging in catechesis, children, through repetition, expand their theological vocabularies. When learned early and reviewed often, these terms will remain on reserve for later use as those children have opportunities to grow in spiritual and intellectual maturity.
Catechisms provide children with theological frameworks
By engaging in catechesis, children learn to systematically build truths, one upon another, in a way that doesn’t result in merely an increase in biblical factoids but rather a slow, steady construction of theological frameworks through which they will, over time, learn to view God, themselves, and the world.
Catechisms provide children with opportunities for spiritual formation
By engaging in catechesis, children are able to learn and grow in the spiritual disciplines of meditation and memorization. In a world that places a high value on immediacy, the act of catechesis teaches our children the value of faithful diligence in the Christian life through regular acts of spiritual formation.