Over 25 years ago, the Rev. Bill Thompson wrote an article titled “Catechesis: The Quiet Crisis.” He pleaded for a re-examination of our practice regarding instruction in the faith. In the intervening two decades, there has been a wealth of material produced for teaching the faith. Some of it has been very good. But aside from a handful of lectures and papers delivered at conferences, and a few short monographs, there has been no large-scale attempt to step back and look at this thing called catechesis. No one has asked (or at least, no one has publicly answered) what is perhaps the most important question of all regarding catechesis: What on earth are we doing?
There are numerous curricula; they approach catechesis in various ways. But little is available that takes a close look at the process of instruction itself. What is available tends toward collections of essays that focus on a professor’s particular field of expertise. A complete look at the process is absent. And what one thinks of the process, and what goals and aspirations one has for it, will color the instruction. A curriculum reflects the preconceptions of the author regarding the process. This is not bad in itself, but too often the preconceptions and assumptions go untested. The time has come for the church to examine those preconceptions—or at least admit what they are. What is needed is a thorough look at the process we call confirmation. There is much out there to help the pastor but sifting through the material can be difficult. A recently released translation of Albrecht Peter’s Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms had to come with a theological disclaimer. And even books such as that, as valuable as they are, do not presume to examine the process of instruction itself.
Such examinations have been done periodically through the church’s history. But the last exhaustive treatment was J. Michael Reu’s monumental work Catechetics, now a century old. While masterful, it is obviously dated. Reu was writing for pastors who would instruct the young in cohesive communities where the Christian faith could be assumed, and in parishes where long-standing Lutheranism was the norm. None of that is true today…
More to come.