Another Commercial

My posts the last few days have been generating a lot of FB discussion about catechizing. The most common one I hear from pastors is, “Why don’t we just use the LC to teach the SC?” That was my question. It’s why I wrote Teach These Things. And, it’s why I have spent the last decade working on Catechetics (Help bring that to market HERE!)

The kids who take catechesis from me can’t list the attributes of God. We barely even mention them. My older members remember having learned them, but they can’t list them either.

But what my catechumens can do is consider their place in life according to the Ten Commandments. This my older members can not do. The old system (1912, 1943, 1992, 2017) taught all sorts of technical detail about the commandments – details which were eminently forgettable. By following the outline of the Large Catechism, Teach These Things helps children relate the commandments to their lives. Having been at it for a little over a decade, the difference is stunning. My young adults have the ability to think about what God’s Word says they should do, and then compare it to their own conduct. Even if they forget the order of the commandments, or can’t recite them as well as they once could, they remember the content.

The genius of the Large Catechism is that it takes the word of Holy Scripture, and instead of trying to instill it in the head, it instills it in the heart.

If you’d like to try teaching scripture and the catechism the way Luther did, why not try Teach These Things?

And, once you fall in love with it, consider clicking HERE to support Catechetics: Fixing Confirmation. Together, we can make things better.


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That Time Again

It’s the time of year when curricula begins arriving in the mail. CPH’s Sunday School materials are being shipped. There are ads in my inbox for various Catechism teaching materials, etc.

And so, it’s time for my annual commercial.

Do you say to yourself, “How about instead of teaching all this other stuff, we just teach the catechism?”

Are you dissatisfied with the overly academic nature of other materials?

Are you wondering how your parish will afford all the materials, and the health insurance increase that is also being mailed out?

Have you found good materials that are designed for day schools, buy you only have an hour one day a week?

Well, my friends, I would encourage you to give “Teach These Things” a try. I’ve heard from pastors in Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, and they’ve all said that it was really great. (Ok, would you believe, Wyoming, Indiana, and Illinois.)

It’s an all-in-one package. Nothing more to buy ever. Only $19.99.

It works with any version of Luther’s Small Catechism you like. (1943, 1992, 2017, ELS, WELS, Triglotta, etc.)

It teaches via scriptural narratives, catechism recitation, and theological discussion, instead of memorized lists containing the word “omni”.

It follows the pastoral pattern of instruction in the Large Catechism, not Melanchthon’s academic treatise “Loci Communes”.

If you click any of the links above, you can sample or order Teach These Things.

You can also look at other resources that are available, including a defense against the dangers of evolution, a book about Christian Living that clears up a lot of confusion about Law and Gospel, a biography of Luther

PLUS, the following FREE resources:

Catechism Review Game Show

The Promised Savior: A Christmas Program for Small Parishes (YES! FREE!)

Luther’s Latin Litany, IN LATIN (It’s harder to find than you might think!)


Check out my companion site, Teach These Things, TODAY!


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Catechetics Update: Ever Closer… and Funding

I have Catechetics back from a pastor who agreed to read it and informally review the doctrine presented therein. I’m now going over those notes, and the notes of other reviewers. I’m also removing most occurrences of “that” – a word I tend to overuse.

So what’s the timetable? I’m hoping end of year. It’s very close. The only substantive change is to add a section about the new catechism. (I discuss the previous two in detail.) After that, I turn it over to the professionals for the final polish. Once I get it back, it’s should be ready for layout and artwork on the cover, and then, to the printer!

Reading through it again, after so long away, I’m actually re-learning a lot of things I had forgotten. It’s been a long and crazy journey. It’s helped me refocus my teaching patterns in the church, it’s improved my sermons, it’s altered how I do a lot of things. I’ve grown a lot with this project. And it’s nearly over.

Now, I need to ask for help. I wish I didn’t. I was hoping to raise enough with other books to cover the final costs. But it didn’t work out. And this one is different. Bigger. More expensive. And it won’t earn back the cost. It’s too niche a topic. I’ve learned and grown. It’s been a great journey and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But to share it with the world, I need your help.

So, I’ve started a gofundme to help with final costs. If all goes well, I can get the final edits done quickly, and move this into production before the end of the year.

Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Head over to my gofundme page, and you can help make sure the church teaches the faith to the next generation.


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Unintentional Lessons

More bells and whistles than you need in a car. It’s a parable.

When people hear that I write books, they often ask where I get them published. I tell them I self-publish. “Oh.” They say, “Well, that’s nice too.” My books are so distinctively Lutheran that only a Lutheran would be interested in publishing them. Of course, there are Lutheran publishers. My own synod has a very nice one. So why not there? They would handle all of the technical details, pay for proper editing, take care of marketing, and I would actually make a small profit on my books, instead of taking the occasional loss, or having to do gofundme campaigns. (Click HERE to help get Catechetics published.)

Two reasons, really. One, I have the copyright. Because I use print-on-demand services, the book need never go out of print. That may be a bit arrogant. After all, I’m a country parson publishing some little books, not a sem prof translating Luther’s House Postils.  But I want the books to be available. It is important to me. And it’s my book.

But there is a more significant reason. I sent an early draft of several chapters to a theological leader in our synod – he has since taken up residence at the IC in a very public support role in President Harrison’s administration. He recommended that I not use our synod’s publisher, because there are a lot of entrenched interests when it comes to catechism instruction, and my book places some of them in the crosshairs.

Today on FB there was a good example of that.

Let me begin by saying that I really wanted to love the new catechism. Friends were warning against certain things, and I brushed off their concerns. The new catechism has fixed certain Aristotelian/Melanchthonian weaknesses, choosing instead to follow the outline of Luther’s Large Catechism. That was such a welcome change that I was willing to overlook a few quibbles. But eventually, even I could no longer overlook them.

There is a difference between what the teacher thinks he is teaching, and what he actually teaches. I’m not a big fan of post-modern hermeneutical methodology. Words have inherent meaning. But method can send messages that the catechist is not even aware of. Worksheets means “This is academic. Fill in the correct checkboxes because I told you to. Don’t worry, this doesn’t really apply to your life, and once the worksheet is done you can forget about it.” (As Kenneth Korby used to say, “From the mouth of the teacher to the pen of the student without entering the mind of either.”) Allowing children to miss catechism class for sporting events lets them know, with crystal clarity, which god they really should worship.

There are subtler lessons.

This morning, I saw a post with a quote from the new Catechism:

What is Christianity? A Christian is someone who, by the power and work of the Holy Spirit through the word of God, believes in and confesses Jesus as Savior and Lord. Through Baptism, a Christian is adopted into the Father’s family, the Church.

It was in a brightly colored picture. Brightly colored pictures are usually for short slogans, easily remembered. This has four prepositional phrases in a row, modifying and limiting the verbs. One is nested. It doesn’t exactly flow from the tongue.

In my review of the field test, I said:

The answers in the introduction alone have ballooned from 35 words per answer to 76. The grade level of the answers for this section is now 10.4, according to the Flesch-Kincaid scale. Exactly who is this catechism for? … How are fifth-eighth grade students expected to read prose written for high school juniors or seniors?

I stand by, and reiterate that criticism. My writing tends to be a bit dense, usually about 9th grade level. But my books are for teachers. My sermons clock in somewhere around a 5th grade level. That matches the Small Catechism itself.

My major complaint about the new explanation is the complexity of language. Too often, it sounds as if it is a legal contract. In a world defined by 140 or 280 characters, the answers are just monstrously long, and the grammar is difficult to decipher. The question asks about Christianity, and the answer is about the Christian. I was in a debate this morning about what the section even means.

But I don’t think there is a debate about what it teaches. And sadly, what it teaches has little to do with the meaning of the words themselves. “What is Christianity? Christianity is hard and confusing, and only really smart people understand it.” I am certain this is not what the authors intended. But it is the meaning that will be remembered. Because the definition will not be.

Luther says the church is “The sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” That’s written at about a second grade level. Luther said a child of seven could understand it. 500 years of science later, and it turns out, he was right.

The new catechism fails in precisely the thing it is needed to do: Teach the faith to children.

That’s a problem. And all the fancy graphics in the world won’t be able to solve that. There are some really good things about the new catechism. But as a tool to teach the faith, it is not useable. I know many  have enthusiastically embraced it. I know many will think I’m just complaining because I don’t like change. But change is only useful if it improves. And in the thing for which this exists, it does not. It will yield a generation of people who know even less what we believe teach and confess. They will come out of their catechesis thinking that the faith is strange and obtuse, entirely unconnected to daily living. This was, of course, the same problem Luther faced. In his day the church was for the monks and priests. The people didn’t really need it. It appears we have not learned well the lesson of Luther’s Catechisms. “They would need to become children, and begin to learn their alphabet, which they imagine that they have long since outgrown.”

Let’s get back to ABC’s, and leave the court theology for the court theologians.

If you agreed with this post, you might want to check out Teach These Things. It is an ABC approach to teaching the faith.


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A Sermon and The Preachers Life.

Normally, the life of the preacher should not overly intrude into the preaching of the Gospel. We preach, not ourselves, but Jesus Christ crucified. In the words of the unnamed rector in The Hammer of God, “One ought not talk about oneself, it may hide Jesus from view.” But pastors are human – we also have eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions. And so, the sermon will reflect the personality of the preacher, and the experiences of the preacher will affect how the sermon is written.

In seminary, we are taught that there will be a final sermon we preach. We may not know when it is. There will also be a final sermon that parishioners will hear. I have seen it often – parishioners unknowingly attending church for the last time. Age, incapacity, tragedy: they all intervene. Some more suddenly than others.

Something they did not tell us about, but which I suppose I should have known, is that at some point, my own children will hear a final sermon before heading off into the wide world. Two nights ago, that happened. My eldest daughter, who until this point lived under my roof, has now moved on. She will return occasionally. But only occasionally. We will see her again for a few more days of family vacation this summer. After that, every family gathering becomes contingent.

And so, below is the final sermon preached to my daughter before she left. She has faithfully attended my parish and endured me as her pastor for almost 18 years. She has served as associate organist for the last three. Now, I must entrust her to the care of others. A brother pastor will watch out for her in college, as much as he is able. He’s a good man. He’ll faithfully watch over her soul. As for me, I pray for her. I check her travels on the “iFind” app – much to her annoyance. I already miss her. But it was time. She has grown, and now she is off on her own adventures.

All of this was in my mind as I wrote this sermon. I didn’t want it to be there. The sermon isn’t about me, and it isn’t about her. It’s about Jesus Christ and him crucified. The topic is our Baptism into Christ Jesus and his death. But when I was done, I noticed a bit of a “sending” character to the end. I left it in, because, being human, I couldn’t take it out. I managed to preach without tears. At the end of the service, I thanked her for serving as organist, and invited her to come back anytime. She’ll always be welcome.

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Sermon for Trinity 6

Lots of people say they are “spiritual but not religious.” Today we prayed that God would “increase in us true religion.” Turns out, being religious is a good thing. Listen to more:

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Put Not Your Trust in Jurists

With the announced retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy – the swing vote on numerous social-issue cases, some are anticipating the end of Roe v. Wade. I think we may finally see the court move toward a more consistent jurisprudence – one where there is not one set of rules for abortion legislation, and another set for everything else.

But beyond that, I think  many will be disappointed. Chief Justice Roberts has shown an aversion to interfering with the status quo. His rulings in the Obamacare cases have shown that, when push comes to shove, his judicial philosophy is primarily, “Don’t rock the boat.” I can envision a court that slowly undoes some of the damage – not of Roe, but of Casey. But it will likely be slow and incremental, and will be based on a series of very narrow rulings that continue to insist that nothing is being overruled. Otherwise, I could see CJ Roberts becoming a swing vote on occasion with the liberal bloc in very narrow rulings that have stinging dissents from the four conservative justices for upholding abortion/gay marriage, etc, and concurrences that complain that the CJ did not go far enough in endorsing those things.

Since the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, there was hope that perhaps the court would be more amenable toward strict constructionist/limited government/pro-life/pro-family causes. But Roberts has not been a reliable vote for those things, and Kennedy seemed to enjoy the last decade of being the “swing vote” with the four more liberal justices. I can see a Roberts court with him as the new swing vote, saying that it would be inexpedient to overrule long established precedents, even if the reasoning of the original ruling has been criticized by those even on the far left (as Roe has been).

Is this the moment when we as a nation finally step back from the brink, and admit that all human life is precious, made male and female in the image of God and worthy of protection of both under the law and in society from cradle to grave? I’m not sure we’re even on the brink anymore. I think the culture has jumped headlong into the abyss. It will take catching a hanging branch, and then clawing our way slowly back to solid ground before we hit the bottom and fall apart as a nation and culture. In other words, it will be a long, hard effort. It will be a battle for hearts and minds, and it will take decades or more to reclaim what has been lost. One new person in one third of the government is hardly a moment that will turn the culture away from death, and toward life. It may be one small step along the way. Perhaps we will finally grab the branch. Perhaps not. But if we do grab hold, and finally stop our descent into madness and dissolution, that’s when the hard work really begins. The fall is easy. Scaling the cliff to get back to where we were – that will be real effort.

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