A Case for Rediscovering Catechisms by Tim Cantrell

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John Calvin once wrote:

Believe me…the Church of God will never preserve itself without a Catechism, for it is like the 
seed to keep the good grain from dying out, and using it to multiply from age to age. Wherefore, if you desire to build a work of continuance to endure long, and which should not shortly fall into decay, cause that the children in their young age be instructed in a good catechism.

Yet an honest look at today’s evangelical church doesn’t exactly reveal a work that will “endure long” and not “fall into decay”. Instead, statistics show that the majority of youth raised in Christian homes will have nothing to do with Christ by the end of their university years. Most mainline denominations that once stood firm have now departed from the truth. What is clearly in greatest demand in churches, Christian bookstores, and on Christian radio and television, is predominately a man-centred, prosperity gospel that is ravaging the church.

The awful sentence once pronounced upon Israel is coming true again today: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that He had done for Israel” ().

How can we halt this decline? As Calvin urges, a biblical catechism can be a powerful tool in preserving the faith in future generations. But what happened to catechisms? Why don’t we use them anymore?

Ignorant of our ignorance

One reason is that we live in an age that celebrates ignorance and calls uncertainty a virtue. The ‘proud’ man is the one who claims to know. In contrast, our spiritual ancestors were humble enough to be bothered by the problem of spiritual ignorance. They realised the extent of human depravity, including how sin has infected and damaged our minds. Scripture repeatedly exposes the profound and deep-rooted ignorance, folly, darkness, and futility of the fallen mind (; ; all of Proverbs, e.g. 1:22; 8:5; 9:4-6; ; ; ; ; ; ).

Our tendency is to think that once a person gets saved they just need to grow in their relationship with Christ through emotional experiences and nibbling on Scripture. We think that all we need are some daily devotions, a Sunday sermon and small group relationships. We don’t realise the extent to which our relationship with Christ feeds on indepth biblical knowledge.

Scripture shows that the problem of ignorance does not disappear at conversion or through a few crisis experiences or weekend events. Believers are forgiven but still war against their own ignorance and spend a lifetime climbing the steep mountain of wisdom and knowledge. Though we are now illumined by God’s Spirit, the battle rages on as we seek daily to overcome the darkness in our own minds and renew our thinking with the light of God’s truth (; ; ; ; ; ; , etc.).

But in our age of self-esteem and evolutionary ‘progress’, we easily underestimate the lingering powers of ignorance and the educational challenge that we’re actually up against. Meanwhile we don’t realise that, compared to ordinary Christians in previous generations, we’re still infants in biblical literacy and spiritual knowledge. There are no shortcuts in the competition against our own ignorance and that of our children and others we disciple. The only weapon for defeating darkness is biblical knowledge, the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (). Download the book to read more…


10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. (ESV)


The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (ESV)


The Fool Says, There Is No God

To the choirmaster. Of David.

14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

Psalm 92:6

The Fool Says, There Is No God

To the choirmaster. Of David.

14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

Psalm 92:6

The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this: (ESV)


They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction of idols is but wood!

Jeremiah 10:14

14 Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them.

Jeremiah 51:17

They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction of idols is but wood!

Jeremiah 10:14

14 Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them.

Jeremiah 51:17

17 Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them. (ESV)


19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (ESV)


24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? (ESV)


The New Life

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (ESV)


21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

Romans 3:11

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

Romans 3:11

11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God. (ESV)


Christ the Wisdom and Power of God

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,

1 Corinthians 2:14

Christ the Wisdom and Power of God

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,

1 Corinthians 2:14

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (ESV)


‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (ESV)


22 I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you. (ESV)


Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man. (ESV)


Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)


23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (ESV)


14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,

1 Peter 1:18

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,

1 Peter 1:18

18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, (ESV)


For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,

2 Peter 3:18

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,

2 Peter 3:18

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (ESV)


17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (ESV)