My wife and I have started going through a catechism with our three year old daughter Lydia. When we’ve told people this, we’ve usually been met with one of two reactions. People who have used a catechism are excited and encouraging. People who haven’t used a catechism are confused and maybe concerned. Since most of the Christians in our church contexts aren’t familiar with what a catechism is or why it would be useful, I’d like to share why we’ve decided to use one and how we’ve found it helpful so far.
A catechism is a list of questions-and-answers that summarize what we believe as Christians. One famous catechism begins: “Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Another begins: “Q. What is your only comfort in life and death? A. That I am not my own, but belong, with body and soul, in life and death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” Most catechisms walk through questions on major categories like God, the Bible, humanity, sin, Jesus, and salvation, and then many will walk through the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.
We are using a simplified catechism for toddlers and have found it to be extremely helpful for two reasons.
1. A catechism helps you to weave biblical truth into daily life.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7
I pray for Lydia every morning. I have a list of things I pray for her, and one of these is that she would be formed by a biblical worldview. An important part of our growth as the people of God is to grow in our ability to see the world the way that God sees the world. As Lydia’s parents, Amanda and I try to weave biblical truth into her daily life in the way that we are commanded to do In Deuteronomy 6:6-7. When Lydia scrapes her knee we tell her that God will make it better. When someone knocks on our door to ask for food, we share with them and explain to Lydia that we help them because God takes care of us and wants us to help others. We hope that our home will be one that is rich with biblical, gospel truth.
A catechism has been incredibly helpful as part of this process. It provides content for God-centered discussions throughout the day—during dinner, while getting dressed in the morning, during family worship. Because Lydia has the first ten questions memorized, we can ask her about them at any time without needing to “ramp up” to the discussion. She just fires them off as easily as she knows that she is three years old or that Ariel is a mermaid.
More importantly, we build on the catechism as a way of weaving biblical truth into her real life. One of our questions is “Q. Why should you glorify God? A. Because he made me and takes care of me.” When she hurts herself and is scared, we have always comforted her and told her that God will make it better. But now that we have begun using this catechism we can tell her, “Remember, God made you and He takes care of you. He’s going to take care of you and make it better.” This comforts her in the moment and then also enriches the catechism question the next time. Today when she says, “he made me and takes care of me!” she will have a dozen past experiences of being reassured that God will take care of her and then actually watching her body heal as God takes care of her. She runs up to us occasionally to announce, “Mama, Daddy, look! God is making my arm better!”
We hope to weave biblical truth into her daily life so that these truths shape the way that she sees the world. A catechism has been really helpful to us in this regard.
2. Knowing Bible verses is important, but knowing sound doctrine is more important.
“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” – Ephesians 4:14
The Bible is the Word of God and the foundation for all that we believe. Everything that we need to know about God and for faith, life, and salvation is either clearly written in the Bible or can be clearly determined from the Bible. So in a way, no knowledge we could have could be more important than our knowledge of the Bible. But there is a difference between knowing the Bible and understanding the Bible. The prosperity gospel preacher who says that Jesus came to give you “life more abundant” and promises financial riches if you’ll just give money to his ministry—he has knowledge of the Bible, but his knowledge does more harm than good. Knowing Bible verses is important, but knowing sound doctrine is more important.
This is one of the biggest advantages of using a catechism. Trusted catechisms have been carefully constructed by wise and godly believers to summarize the most important truths of the entire Bible. Many of these truths do not exist within any single Bible verse, and so even Bible verse memorization would fail to teach them. The most obvious example of this would be the doctrine of the Trinity—that there is one God who exists within three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a clear biblical truth, but no single verse alone contains this truth. But even the Children’s Catechism teaches this in three simple questions:
Q. Are there more gods than one? A. There is only one God.
Q. In how many persons does this one God exist? A. In three persons.
Q. What are they? A. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Catechisms help us (1) to focus on the most important truths from the whole of Scripture, (2) to avoid taking verses out of context, and (3) to recognize false teaching when we hear it. At three years old, there will be concepts in even a basic catechism that Lydia will not understand. But as Tim Keller says, catechisms create “buckets” in the minds of children, which help them to understand future verses in context. For example, Lydia knows that God made her “for his glory.” She doesn’t understand what God’s glory is, but she knows it’s important because we talk about it every day, and when she hears about it one day in a church class or sermon she will immediately have a “bucket” to put that teaching in.
A lot more could be said, but I will leave it to the resources I’ve linked below. We have found a catechism to be extremely helpful in our role of discipling Lydia even at three years old. I hope some of you will find it helpful in your parenting as well.
- Someone Will Catechize Your Kids in 2021. Don’t Outsource It. by Colin Hansen, editor-in-chief at The Gospel Coalition
- Why We Should Catechize Our Children interview with Tim Keller
- Should We Memorize Catechisms or Scripture? by John Piper
Catechisms to Consider
- Westminster Shorter Catechism – incredibly rich and precise, packing a lot of truth into short answers
- Heidelberg Catechism – warmer and more personal than Westminster, focusing more on the application of the teaching to the answerer than on general truths
- New City Catechism – Produced by Tim Keller as a more modern catechism. Based heavily on the Westminster and Heidelberg but much shorter than they are. Also provides mobile apps, children’s songs for easier memorization, and a curriculum for further learning.
- Children’s Catechism – adapted for young children from the Westminster Shorter Catechism
- Robertson Family Children’s Catechism – adapted for toddlers from the Children’s Catechism