Doctrine Still Matters

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We need a theological key to open up the treasures of the Bible.

Having worked for Faith Alive for six years, I was drawn to the news story on faith formation resources after the break-up of the Faith Alive denominational publishing agency a few years ago.

Last month, in my first editorial, I wrote that during this year I wanted to help us rediscover our common identity as a denomination. Knowing who we are is essential to finding our way forward. One of the important markers of our identity is, I believe, our commitment to our Reformed doctrinal heritage and teaching it to our children and youth.

Many of us grew up going to weekly catechism classes in which we studied the Heidelberg Catechism, sometimes from 3rd grade through high school. While the methods of teaching may not have been very exciting or effective, generations of CRC members grew up with a basic understanding of Reformed theology.

Why is that so important? Isn’t it more important to just know the Bible? Of course, and the news story indicates that our new Faith Formation team plans to roll out new Bible study materials, which I’m sure will be very helpful.

But the Bible is not enough. From the earliest days, our Christian ancestors understood that we need theological keys to open up the treasures of the Bible. We can’t understand it apart from such keys as the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, providence, atonement, and divine sovereignty. Of course, these doctrines are derived from Scripture, but, in turn, they provide the keys to unlocking its truths.

But this is exactly what has been effectively eliminated. A caller who reached out to churches on behalf of the new Faith Formation team was quoted as saying that her contacts indicate a clear call from the churches for catechism materials for youth.

A lot has been written about the trend of young people leaving the church as well as the vague and shallow theological concepts many of them have. Numerous studies have shown that the answer is not more mission trips or more active youth groups but deeper involvement in ordinary church activities—and a more thorough theological understanding of the Christian faith.

All of this indicates to me that this is not the time to pull back on producing educational material for youth. Our Faith Formation team needs to be on the lookout for good catechism material already out there, and, as I expect will be necessary, begin developing new materials for our churches.

Traditionally we have used the Heidelberg Catechism as our default curriculum model. It would be wise to create a curriculum that covers the three elements common to all catechisms: the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. The church has always considered that these three elements provide the basic knowledge every Christian needs.

However, the Catechism, for all its solid truth and beauty, employs an outdated question and answer pedagogy that tends to inhibit the creativity necessary for teaching today’s youth.
I think we need a brand new approach that offers the same basic material without using the Q and A methodology and sophisticated theological language of the Catechism.

Or we could use the Contemporary Testimony, our beautifully written, almost poetic confession of the faith that follows the biblical story from creation to new creation. It deals, biblically and imaginatively, with all the major Reformed doctrines, while also touching on many of the moral issues that we face in our time.

This is precisely the moment when solid new catechism materials are needed more than ever. If you agree, you can help by contacting the Faith Formation team and encouraging them to develop these materials. This is one of the most important ways our denomination can serve its churches. And I’ll bet our churches are willing to pay for it.

About the Author

Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.