A Review of “Teach These Things”
This common — and legitimate — question arises with the publication of each new catechetical book. Many such books add lots of extra material apart from the Small Catechism, which has the effect (even if unintended) of diminishing the role of the catechism, and subtly teaches catechumens that the Small Catechism is insufficient on its own. Catechists like me understand that Luther’s Small Catechism is a resource so rich and beneficial that one could hardly improve upon it. And this is why “Teach These Things,” a catechesis recently self-published by the Rev. Lincoln Winter of Wheatland, Wyoming, is an outstanding and beneficial resource for the catechist who wants to teach from the Small Catechism.
As any catechist or teacher in general knows, one certainly can pull out a source book like the Small Catechism and start with Page One. However, having a plan in place for each lesson and for the whole year will make teaching much simpler and help ensure that the whole Catechism gets covered in the year. “Teach These Things” includes a plan for each week, including a hymn to sing, a short bit of the Small Catechism to memorize, Bible readings from both the Old Testament and New Testament, a psalm, and a lecture outline based on Luther’s Large Catechism.
I have used these materials for the past two years in my own parish. This is how I used them: Catechesis was held in the nave, with catechumens seated in the pews. This had the advantage of subtly reminding them (the educational term is “schema activation”) that we are doing churchly things and churchly attention and behavior are expected. We then used the Service of Prayer and Preaching from Lutheran Service Book p.260. This had the advantage of having catechumens recite the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord’s Prayer each week. Instruction took place at the point in the service marked for catechetical instruction and we closed with the prayers. Using the hymnal gave the catechumens more familiarity with this book which is so important to the Christian’s devotional and worship life. Also, we read the catechism from p.321 in the hymnal, which eliminated the cost of purchasing the standalone book and also eliminated the so-common confusion that the questions in the back of the book are properly part of Luther’s Small Catechism.
There is a great deal of wisdom in simply teaching from the catechism. After all, Luther’s Small Catechism was designed for the very purpose, and has served the Church well for 485 years. Also, every Lutheran pastor and every Lutheran congregation must subscribe to the Small Catechism (plus the rest of the Book of Concord) in order to be Lutheran pastors and congregations. In the Rite of Confirmation, confirmands vow to remain faithful to the Christian faith as they have learned it from the Bible and the Small Catechism. The advantage of “Teach These Things” was that one could do just that — teach from the Small Catechism — while using outlines from the Large Catechism to follow Luther’s thinking and to make sure each topic is covered thoroughly.
The Scripture readings assigned for each week are long. In many cases, an entire chapter is read. This allowed me as a catechist to help the catechumens learn to read Scripture in its own context, rather than teaching them to quote small portions of prooftexts from all over Scripture. It certainly aids them in Biblical literacy, a skill which is lacking in pretty well every part of the Church.
The sermon notes in the appendix change as the year goes on. At the beginning of the year, catechumens are observing the colors and images that accompany the texts. By the midpoint of the year catechumens are trying to identify Law and Gospel in each sermon, and this becomes their task for the rest of the year.
One of the gems for me was the hymn selected to accompany each lesson. I can’t play piano or organ or guitar or accordion or even bagpipes to accompany the hymns, so we sang them a capella. Our youth are immersed in a culture where the only time that singing is done socially is when it is accompanied by music so loud that no one can hear the singing (think rock concerts and clubs). If we Lutherans are to continue to be “The Singing Church,” we would do well to teach good hymns to our children and also be found singing them often. The hymn list for “Teach These Things” comes from the best of our heritage — no Methodist clunkers in the bunch!
If you’d like to learn more about the ideas behind these catechetical materials, Rev. Winter was recently a guest on Issues, Etc. and gave a brilliant interview about catechesis, which is a worthy listen for any Christian. There are also sample materials available on the Order page of the “Teach These Things” website, and the materials are available either as a PDF file or as a printed and bound book. Either way, the catechist only need buy one copy for himself and use it from year to year without any additional spending. I highly recommend these materials for use in parish catechesis and hope that many more find them to be as helpful as I have these past two years.