“If Jesus made everything but He was born as a baby, who made Joseph and Mary?” That was the question from my five-year-old daughter, Lucy, at bedtime a couple of weeks ago. We had been talking about the Christmas story.
She’s heard us say again and again in her short life: Jesus made everything. “Lucy,” we’d ask, “who made the trees and the penguins?” “Jesus!” she’d reply. “Lucy, who made you?” “Jesus!” But recently Rachel, my wife, gave birth to our son, Graham. And Lucy understood clearly there was a time when Graham was not here. She’d watched as Rachel’s pregnant tummy grew larger. She’d been there the day we brought Graham home from the hospital.
Now we are talking about the Christmas story: “Mary gave birth to Jesus,” we tell her. And her mind starts working: “Wait a minute??? If Jesus made everything but He was born as a baby who made Joseph and Mary?” Good question, Lucy.
For centuries, churches have used a tool called a catechism to help Christians of all ages internalize basic biblical truths about who God is and how He is at work in the world. The word catechism comes from a Greek word that means “to instruct or teach.” For example, in Acts 18 when we are introduced to Apollos, we read:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. (Acts 18:24-25)
That word translated “instructed” is the root of our English word “catechism.” From the earliest days of the church, leaders developed methods of instructing children and new followers of Jesus in the faith.
The catechism was one of those methods. Usually arranged in a question-answer format, a catechism enabled a believer to be instructed (catechized) in biblical responses to questions like: “What is our only hope in life and death?” or “ How and why did God create us?”
However, this tool has been forgotten in many contemporary church traditions, which is why a group of people came together to create The New City Catechism. The introduction explains:
“The New City Catechism is a modern-day resource aimed at reintroducing this ancient method of teaching to Christians today.”
It is a fantastic resource, whether you are new Christian, have been a Christian for a long time, or are parent or caregiver trying to help the children you love to know and love God.
Comprised of 52 questions and answers, The New City Catechism is designed so that you can work through it over the course of a year, memorizing one question and answer per week. For each of the 52 questions, there is a shorter answer for younger children and a longer answer for adults or older children.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed using this tool personally and introducing our 2 ½-year-old and five-year-old to it. But even though it is designed for modern audiences, I have found that at times the language can be a bit cumbersome. However, I do appreciate that they are drawing on the linguistic riches of the historic catechisms of the faith.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the purpose of a catechism is to introduce us to the mysteries of the Christian faith, not to explain them away. Catechisms at their best are gateways into the glorious wonders and mysteries of God and His salvation. Russell Moore put it well in a blog post on teaching children about the Trinity:
….we ought to boldly say to our children, “God is One and God is three. I can’t fully explain all of that because that’s how big and mysterious God and his ways are. Isn’t that wonderful?” When your child says, “That boggles my mind,” don’t respond with a worried handwringing but with a twinkle in your eye. “I know!” you say. “Me too! Isn’t that wild, and great!” That doesn’t end the conversation, of course. It only begins it. [But] learning of God’s oneness and threeness in terms of wonder and awe is a good place, I think, to start vaccinating our children from the kind of sterile rationalism, Christian or atheist, that can lead to a boring, despairing, tragically normal sort of life.
I love that! So what do you think? Are you ready to step through the gateway of a catechism into the wonders of the God who made us and is redeeming us?
And maybe make this year “the year of the catechism” for you. Find a group of friends and do it together. Or do it with your family or small group.
It won’t answer all your theological questions, of course, but it will give you the basic building blocks to begin forming answers to good questions from young theologians like, “If Jesus made everything but He was born as a baby, who made Joseph and Mary?”