Catechism: An Exercise in Reflective Practice

Recently, I’ve been rereading Kevin Vanhoozer’s 2005 tome, Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology. Throughout the book, Vanhoozer makes a habit of emphasizing the value of propositions and passions in the Christian life. By doing this he pushes back against problematic tendencies in the Christian tradition that tend toward either over-valuing or undervaluing one category or the other. As he reflects on the necessity of this integrative enterprise, he ponders what tools the church has at her disposal that allows her to properly carry out both the cognitive and expressive practices that the church is called to. One of his most practical examples is Catechesis. The following are a couple of thoughts that I have as I’ve begun to adopt the reading of the Westminster Catechism into my weekly studies.

To learn one’s catechism is to be instructed in the subrange of faith (viz., reflection) and in how the catechumen himself or herself is to participate in and engage this substance (viz., practice).

—Vanhoozer, Kevin J. 2005. The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 103.

Catechism become the catalyst through which the believer both cognizes the faith, that is the form and systematize the extent of their beliefs in such a way that they can be believed and understood. Yet, this process of understanding is not merely intellectual, nor is it a spectator sport. Rather, catechesis is framed as a lifetime project that is, Vanhoozer says, “to be believed by me, done by me, hoped by me,  sung by me.” This idea is not new. Duns Scotus describes this reflective and practiced project “doable knowledge.”

This idea of “doable knowledge” is immensely valuable in a world in which thought and action can be so easily untethered from one another in the endless internet debates and conversations that we can become involved in. Daily practice has an incredibly affect on both piety and ethical decision-making. I propose that catechesis could be used partly to center the mind of a believer for proper living in pluralistic society. Alongside a consistent interaction in the scriptures,  interaction with systematic question/answer systems engage the believer in both the propositional content of the faith, and invariably in what that faith looks like as it is worked out in daily life.Lastly, the value of catechism as a historical pattern cannot be overlooked.

Follow the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me.

—2nd Timothy 1:13. RSV.

Beginning with scripture, various Christian have wrestled with how to practice the faith in the context in which they live. To borrow from those who have come before is a valuable tool as we reflect on the best practice for our current situation. To do so enables us to both preserve the faith as it has been handed down to us while simultaneously giving us authority to reflect and adapt to the world as we live in it.

If you would like to join me, I’ve been reading from here.


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