Catechetics Preview Part 4 – Identifying the Problem.

Only three more days!

Today’s preview lays out some of the challenges in even discussing the problems we face. As one pastor noted to me, we don’t just have a crisis, we have a catastrophe! (The explanation point was his.) Catechetics: Fixing Confirmation proposes specific solutions, but here is a bit of the discussion regarding problems. It ends with one of my favorite lines from the book. I think it states the problem in a nutshell.

No problem can be solved without first acknowledging the problem. But additional steps must also be taken. The lack of training in this regard makes taking such steps difficult because there is no common frame of reference for discussion and so no mechanism for implementation. Why is this? Because of the second problem. Pastors, ill equipped to discuss catechesis on its own terms, must turn to education specialists. But education is not at all the same thing as catechesis. Education is concerned primarily with instruction; catechesis is primarily formation. This does not mean there is nothing to be learned from the field of education. But the lack of training regarding catechesis has made such discussions rather one sided. How is the pastor even to evaluate what is helpful and what is not, what can be useful for catechesis and what should not? How is he to counter the modern educational models which dominate and distract from true catechesis?

As an example, Matthew Harrison, President of the LCMS, has stated there is a crisis in preaching related to the Law. He summarized the problem by saying pastors too often use the generic ‘we,’ instead of the more pointed ‘you’ when preaching the law. Lutheran pastors can understand and analyze this argument. Has the preaching of the law become toothless and unproductive? With no specific conviction of the individual according to the Law, the Gospel can be only generically applied. But when speaking of the catechetical crisis, he noted half of Baptized infants are not confirmed and half of confirmands are no longer active as adults. What are we to make of this? What does this say about the catechesis? Is the instruction itself the problem? Is it the manner of presentation, the age at which it is presented or some other problem? Does the problem arise because of the pastor, the parents, or the catechumens themselves? We can not even speak specifically regarding the catechetical crisis, beyond saying there is one. Pastors of good conscience recommend opposite courses of action, and the only question other pastors ask regarding their practice is, “What are the results?” This is because there is not even a regularized vocabulary for the topic. Exactly what does the word formation mean, as opposed to education? As previously noted, the bad habit of referring to catechesis (instruction) as confirmation (rite) makes it difficult to even discuss the process.

Most pastors and congregations are keenly aware of the terms and concepts of Law and Gospel as they relate to preaching. To say our Law is toothless has a specific meaning to pastors, and the problem can be discussed at pastors’ conferences in an attempt to find a solution. But with no common way of speaking regarding catechesis, and no way of speaking from a technical standpoint, catechetical problems can not even be discussed. We are stuck continually recognizing a problem which we can not even define. In this context solutions do become impossible. The lack of formal training in catechesis has ill prepared pastors to address problems, or even to understand what the problems truly are. This is not a new problem. The topic of ‘confirmation instruction’ is often neglected at the synod level. At the 1953 convention of the synod, the report of the Board for Parish Education filled 101 pages. Confirmation instruction received four sentences.

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