Growing up in an Alliance church setting, catechisms (like hymns), were old hat, so I didn’t ever hear of them. The only knowledge I had about them was from the disdain my mother had for The Catechism of the Catholic Church. My wife also had a distaste for the liturgical monotony of her Lutheran past, so catechism was suspected to be dead religion. Then I was awakened to the Reformed world of family worship, which included…catechism.
My appreciation for such a method of instruction grew overnight. What theologically profound and accurate truths! What wholesome doctrine in one sentence! Then I tried doing it with my first and second children. What I ran into was the difficulty of remembering complex sentences. My children were 5 and 3 years old at the time, trying to memorize A Puritan Catechism by Charles Spurgeon. We had experimented with John Owen’s catechism before, and I tried to make Spurgeon’s more in line with the particulars of my theology, but they were really struggling with the complexity.
One night after trying to recite the answers, my wife “bared her heart” to me about trying to do something simpler. That night I faced the fact that I had to accommodate their age and level of reasoning. I worked on a catechism that not only suited my theological convictions but also capitalized on the natural ability to remember things better through rhymes. I had already written a nursery rhyme that we had all pretty much memorized word-for-word and my kids loved it. This we could call a shorter catechism and the other would be a longer catechism. It goes like this,
God is good, God is great,
let’s dig in and cut it straight.
A Trinity, infinity;
no body, just divinity.
The holy, wise, just, and loving
Father, Son, and Spirit sovereign.
God’s image, and likeness,
to rule for His Highness;
created right, they then did fall:
male and female, soul and all.
Original, and actual,
so freewill isn’t factual:
thru fallenness we do what pleases
us so we don’t look like Jesus.
The God-Man, Redeemer:
one Person with two Natures.
He came in flesh to die for sin,
and rise again for the chosen.
Believers, in Jesus,
picked out before the ages:
to have new life, from foe to friend,
God will keep them to the end.
The end is…
Already, but not yet,
through all that Christ accomplished.
He reigns on high, from there He’ll come,
to raise the dead and judge evr’one.
Repent and believe in
the name of His Son Jesus,
and love one another just
as He commanded us.
new covenant signs of union.
Saved by grace through faith alone,
we serve God till He calls us home.
The longer one took some time and adjustments, but the struggles are nowhere near as prevalent as when we used a non-rhyming catechism. Our two oldest girls, now 7 and 5, have now memorized (albeit imperfectly) 45 of the 80 answers!
How Do We Catechize?
The beginning of the week is the Lord’s day, and though we aren’t Sabbatarians yet we want to be prepared for corporate worship. So, we review last week’s catechism question by me asking, for example,
“What does it mean for God to be Triune?”
Sometimes it will take me just saying the first word or the first syllable of the first word of the answer and then they both respond,
“Though we can’t understand by tryin’,
God is three Persons, no logic defying.”
If they get it, which they usually do, then I express to them in my words, tone, and facial expression my appreciation of them and the good job they did (praise God!). Then I open up the prize box (that my wife keeps stocked). In it are girly things, treats, and drawing stuff.
Ideally we start our new catechism question that day, but if not, then Monday…sometimes because of my work, Tuesday(!). Through the week, before bed, I will say, “I have a question for you.” Then I will ask, for example,
“What is justification?”
Then I will coach them through each half of the couplet (unless its a singlet) in a repeat-after-me fashion,
“We receive the righteousness of God’s Son
awaiting judgment day for vindication.”
We will all 6 of us be in the room repeating this phrase over and over in a normal, slow, rhythmic voice… then a high-pitched voice, then a low voice, then a sideways(?) voice to help shmush it into their brains. All of this has really made the experience of catechism less daunting and more fun. The first fruits of it right now is basic theological literacy. We hope and pray that it will be used by a sovereign God to create a heart’s trust on Christ with depth of understanding, a guide to understanding Scripture, and an answer to opponents and critics.
Some may be critical of me for writing another catechism, but they have to see that many reformed, godly men have done the same. Some may think my poetry is not that pro, but they have to appreciate that the children get it and like it. Some may think that theology is sacrificed for brevity or for the sake of a rhyme, but I assure them that I am very conscientious of these things and would point them to a better catechism if they like. Some will doubt such a method will get to their heart, but understanding will come with thinking (2 Tim 2:7) and we’re putting it into their thinker!
Others may still think that this method (or mine at least) is still too daunting. Well, there are shorter rhymes in here, for example,
Q. What is Christ’s exaltation?
A. His resurrection and elevation.
What if they don’t know what “elevation” is? Teach them. Tell them. Don’t just memorize, but offer some explanation. Help them understand (and teach yourself). Plus, you will be surprised by what your children can remember and what long ones they might like. Because of how fun it is, when I ask “With whom did God make such [covenant] relationships?” my children love saying,
“Himself, Adam, Noah, Abram, Israel, Levi, David,
and the church, which is Israel’s restoration.”
But their all time favorite is when I ask “How is the word of God to be rightly divided?” They look at each other, smiling, and say,
“Scripture interprets Scripture like a diamond cuts a diamond.”
After a couple weeks of them memorizing new ones I will go over the whole thing with them, so that they don’t lose it along the way.
Well, hopefully this helps you fathers and single mothers to “bring [your children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 5:4). Both catechisms are at the back of my book The King and His Kingdom so that its easy to get to and hold a finger there whenever it works for you to do so.