Evangelicals, Kids, and Catechism

April 24, 2017

Evangelicals, Kids, and Catechism

Even with my daughter’s due date now eight weeks away, there remain countless plans to finalize. Natural birth or medicated birth? Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding? To vaccinate or not to vaccinate our child?

But, if I’m honest, these questions pale in comparison—considering the amount of sleep I’ve lost—to worrying over the best plan to train and equip my daughter to live as a Christian disciple in a hostile world. After all, it’s our job as parents to teach our little girl how to love God and her neighbors, uphold Scripture and tradition, and discern truth from deceit well.

The weight of responsibility is enormous.

As someone who drifted away from traditional Christian teaching during the latter half of college and now works for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, I’ve seen the wolves in sheep’s clothing that Evangelical kids encounter. We know they exist. So what do we do about it?

In a recent post, “The Twisted Gospel,” I shared my own story of being duped by revisionist theology. I talked a lot about how this happened, but one judicious reader wanted to know why I was duped. In Juicy Ecumenism’s comment section the reader asked, “Thinking back to your Christian upbringing, what would have prepared you to face the leftward cultural pressure you encountered in the campus Christian group?” He went on, “To put it another way, what should parents, Christian school leaders, church youth group leaders be doing differently?”

The reader’s questions tugged at my looming parenting fears. Over the weekend I stewed over my answers to his questions. While I answered briefly in the post’s comment section, I’d like to flesh out more of my thoughts here.

1.) How do we prepare Christian children to face the leftward cultural pressures?

My first thought is that I grew up in the Evangelical community and therefore missed out on catechism. From what I hear from my liturgical friends, catechistic lessons might have provided the deeper theological education I lacked, leaving me vulnerable to distorted theology.

My parents decided to follow Jesus Christ when I was eight, so they were basically learning about the Gospel alongside me. My family depended largely on our local church for instruction. Unfortunately for me, my early ‘90s children’s church education looked like “The Donut Man” videos and dancing around to Carman’s “Who’s in the House?” pseudo-rap song.

As you can imagine, I lacked an understanding of the Gospel in its totality. While I learned to love Jesus, my pop Sunday school lessons and piecemeal Bible stories were ineffective in training me to discern truth and uphold Scripture’s authority.

Thankfully Evangelicals are recognizing strengthened theological content is necessary for disciplining our children well. LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, now produces ParentLife magazine to help equip parents to build godly families. There is an excellent article within the May 2017 edition of ParentLife instructing parents on how to have deeper spiritual conversations with their children.

Author Jennifer McCaman reminds Evangelical parents that raising godly kids is more than teaching good behavior. She writes, “Often we’re tempted to make Bible stories about self-earned morality. This character disobeyed God, that character was nice to others. Instead, emphasize that no character was ‘good’ without Jesus. The ability to obey, love others, and choose wisely all comes from Christ. We can’t manufacture it in our own strength.”

The author cautions parents and children’s ministry leaders against reward systems and telling kids their actions make God happy or sad. Instead, she encourages adults to share their own testimonies in an age-appropriate way and always make the Gospel the center of Bible stories.

Updated materials and serious precepts for children within the Evangelical community in America are refreshing. But I must ask: is strengthening the content enough to train faithful Christian disciples?

2.) What should parents, Christian school leaders, and church youth group leaders be doing differently?

While I want to believe age-appropriate introductions to catechistic lessons and apologetics will thoroughly equip my daughter to encounter a broken world, I should know better.

Several of the mainline denominations uphold Protestant catechism in tutoring young congregants. Yet these denominations’ leftward drift and decline are cautionary signs that something is missing.

Perhaps there’s a cost to catechism without sentiment. That is to say, a child given head knowledge of Christian principles without an emotional attachment might lack a loyalty to Christ and His authority in adulthood.

On the other hand, it seems the Evangelical community has relied too heavily on sentiment. Sure, many Evangelical kids feel warm and fuzzy when talking about Jesus. However, they don’t know enough about His teachings and ethics to defend them from distortions. Or, in some other cases, their parents walled them off from the outside world and they’re biding their time until freedom.

Talking with other Christian parents, it seems a child needs both a head and heart connection with Christian teaching. A colleague noted it’s helpful when kids feel called to be heroes to a broken world on behalf of the faith. “Kids want to be summoned to heroism – so why not challenge them to be moral or intellectual heroes?” asked George Weigel, theologian and IRD emeritus board member, in a recent address.

Parents can help train this hero mentality by encouraging both emotional loyalty and the theological foundations necessary to contend for the Gospel.

If I have learned one thing from being an expectant mom over the last seven months, is that the journey of parenting is filled with potholes on paved roads. I’m going to make mistakes. But as a mom I’m also going to do my best to learn from past mistakes and avoid old pitfalls.

Raising kids to be different from the world is a big job. I’m thankful Christ doesn’t leave me to do it alone.

4 Responses to Evangelicals, Kids, and Catechism

  1. Patrick98 says:

    I would suggest teaching your child either Luther’s Small Catechism or the Heidelberg Catechism. If you can do better than either of these I haven’t found it yet.

    Many non-denominational churches think they have to reinvent the wheel, and come up with “what we believe” statements that are rewordings of the Apostles Creed, with a sentence or two about the Bible. Yet they seem to shy away from the great creeds of the church (Apostles and Nicene) for apparently no good reason. There is a reason these have stood the test of time: They teach Biblical truth.

  2. Dan says:

    I agree with Patrick98. From what I have seen the Lutherans (Missouri Synod), and the Presbyterians (ECO & PCA) take catechesis of their children very seriously, convey orthodox Christian doctrine through the historic confessions and creeds, and take the time and effort required to make sure these teachings are thoroughly understood.

  3. Channon says:

    I agree, Chelsen, and would look into New City Catechism. Wish I had it when my children were young and voraciously memorizing.

  4. Michael Bates says:

    Thank you for this follow-up article, Chelsen. In it I hear echoes of two great books: C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, with its emphasis on the training of sentiment (“men without chests”), and Douglas Hyde’s Dedication and Leadership, in which he contrasts the self-sacrifice to which the Communists of his time called their followers to the pittance of commitment requested by the Church of his day.

    Is Mr. Weigel’s speech that you cited available online? I’ve found a couple of First Things columns by him in which he points to Pope John Paul II’s unapologetic call to heroism as the source of his appeal to Catholic youth.

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