Sunday, January 8, 2012

Your teens are capable theologians...

One of the ever present sources of angst is the catechism curriculum and the constant need to invent new resources to teach the same old stuff.  Lutherans seem to have an epidemic of self-loathing when it comes to what we do to prepare our young people for first communion or confirmation.  A friend sent me this link to an article on the reform of confirmation.  You can read it for yourself.  I know nothing of the source but suffice it to say it was being read in the Augsburg Fortress offices and the President of AF liked it a lot.  Not so much for me.  Let me just pick on one point...

According to the author, we can improve confirmation [instruction] if we acknowledge -- without fear that even teenagers are capable theologians when given the opportunity... and that your students will not be prepared for life because they have prepackaged answers to the hot topic questions but because you are willing to ask questions for which you do not have the answers... 

That would certainly seem to preclude use of the Catechism (a book which teaches through the use of questions and answers -- prepackaged ones from nearly 500 years ago!).  It would also seem that the purpose of instruction is not to impart knowledge [answers] but rather to teach them to think for themselves.  Now I would agree that thinking for themselves is a good end but without the tools you have placed within them (the knowledge of Scripture and the Catechism, the use of the hymnal, and an understanding of the way of worship in the liturgy), I cannot for the life of me figure out how they are supposed to think for themselves.

The author concludes with the question Did the hair on the back of your neck stand up?  My goodness, she is psychic! How did she know her words were doing just that?  I once thought alone the lines of this author -- don't teach the children, just lead them and show them how to think them through for themselves.  Thank goodness a concerned mentor had the sense to tell me to stick with the catechism first and see if they learn to the use the tools before handing them a rough piece of wood to make something of.

It would seem that this is exactly the wrong thing -- to give our kids permission to explore on their own without warning them of the dangers or giving them the tools to help them arrive at the right destination.  Memorized answers are no substitute for well thought out answers but if we could get there on our own God would have no need for His Word or the Spirit which enlightens us with respect to the Word.  Before you think them through, memorized answers give you the framework to make the jump between question and answer.

BTW, since Augsburg Fortress press is drowning in red ink and had to let go curriculum writers and editors due because the sales of adult faith formation resources have been disappointing... [their own words]...  maybe it could have something to do with the screwy ideas about what constitutes faith formation resources.... ya think?


Anonymous said...

CPH has a winner in PathLight series
for 7th Grade "Faith For Life" and
8th Grade "This We Believe". It
covers Luther's Six Chief Parts with
meaningful application to the lives
of our youth. This workbooks are
excellent in helping youth understand
the basics of Christian faith from
Lutheran perspective.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: When we learn the words after, “What does this mean?” and repeat them, do we really know what it means that we are saying? I suspect very often we do not. For instance, when we memorize, “Thy kingdom come.
What does this mean?--Answer.
The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself; but we pray in this petition that it may come unto us also.
How is this done?--Answer.
When our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead a godly life here in time and yonder in eternity.”

So when does our heavenly Father give us His Holy Spirit? I think I can assert without fear of contradiction that, according to Scripture, this happens when we are baptized. Acts 2: 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." So, do we then receive the Holy Spirit each time we pray this petition, and do we “get a little more” of the Kingdom each time, or are we in the Kingdom by virtue of Baptism, as the Apostle says in Colossians 1:13, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.“ My guess is that many adults will have difficulty answering this question. Should we insist that our children memorize this without really understanding it?

It is absolutely true that everyone needs tools for understanding. But it is also possible to supply the wrong tools, and sometimes we may think we have supplied tools “because this is the way it has always been done”, when we have supplied no tools at all. I am not suggesting that we throw out the Small Catechism, but that we do not treat it as the unerring Word of God. If we can bring ourselves to admit that the Small Catechism is not perfect, we may come a long way toward helping our children to understand what “what does this mean” means.

The author of the article added “when given the opportunity” to “your teens are capable theologians.” I think she has a point.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

7th and 8th Grade Confirmation
Classes in the LCMS are a time to
give our youth a doctrinal basis
on which to solidify their beliefs
as Christians who are Lutherans.

As they enter high school and college
they can continue to grow on their
confirmation instruction foundation.
This happens by attending weekly
Sunday Bible classes as well as
Divine Worship services.

Haleigh said...

When our children are young, we teach them to recite the ABC's by rote. We do not believe that these children understand in a complex fashion the alphabetic principle of the English language or how this will proceed to reading. We teach them to perform the conventions of polite behavior such as saying please, thank you, and referring to adults with deference (ma'am, sir). We do not believe that at the time of this instruction these children understand why this is done. Input always comes first, well before output or understanding. This is basic educational theory, is it not?

Pastor Peters said...

George, I do not dispute that "when given the opportunity" teens can become capable theologians; what I dispute is that we assume this before catechesis and we skip the questions and answers (catechism) in order to let them stumble upon the answers themselves. Theologians are schooled and schooled in the basics before anything else.

Anonymous said...

Before you can think about stuff, you have to know at least something. I agree with Haleigh, input first. That means memorizing some stuff first. For example after memorizing the Ten Commandments and what they mean, it is fine to ask questions or give situations for students to think how to apply them, but they have to know what they are and what they mean before you can start analyzing and synthesizing the application of them.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Peters: my point is that those who teach the Catechism better know what it means, beyond knowing the memorized meaning. If we cannot allow ourselves to believe that there can be something wrong in the Catechism, then we cannot give our children the tools they will need for the future. Because when the teenagers begin to think for themselves, any inconsistency will create a loss of confidence in the entire faith. Whether for this reason or not, but this loss of confidence in the faith is something you yourself have pointed out on numerous occasions.

Put another way, does the explanation of the Second Petition reflect a correct understanding of the Doctrine of the Kingdom of God and of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit? What happens when our youth find out (some Lutherans go to their graves not knowing it) that they have only learned 9 commandments?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

"Because when the teenagers begin to think for themselves, any inconsistency will create a loss of confidence in the entire faith."

This is not true. Plenty of us reasoned that things we could not reconcile seemed inconsistent due to the limits of our own reason. We are limited. God is not. It does not shake our confidence but further inspires our wonder and awe. The faith of teens is not somehow inferior to that of others whether older or younger.

Lee said...

Ya I do think. We stopped using the Here We Stand Confirmation from AF last year because it was expensive fluff with not a great deal of substance. We are only using the Small Catechism and the Bible now and the students have been much more engaged and inquisitive that before. Sometimes, simplifying and going back to the basics are best.

Terry Maher said...

Luther had quite a bit to say about those who fancy themselves above or beyond the Catechism and need not bother with it.

Which he concluded:

Das sage ich aber für mich: Ich bin auch ein Doktor ... und muß ein Kind und Schüler des Katechismus bleiben, und bleib es auch gerne.

This I say for myself: I too am a Doctor .. and must remain a child and student of the Catechism, and remain so happily.

Terry Maher said...

And I say this for myself -- me bloody too.

Janis Williams said...

Amen, Terry.

If catechesis weren't allowed to dwindle down to nothing with adults, they might teach their own children. If they taught their own, then the pastor's job would be supplementary, not primary. If they taught their own they'd be refreshing their own memory.

I grew up Baptist, being catechised in that sect. I could tell you all 66 books of the Bible. I could quote you verses. We did 'Sword Drill' (who can find a passage fastest from a closed Bible).

Now that I am Lutheran, all that background has placed me in good stead. I am relearning the right doctrines and theology. However, the underpinning of the unchanging Word, and parents who took time to teach us apparently help, even if you are heterodox? (See Fr. Peters' post including Mormons' community attractiveness - Sense of Community)

Anonymous said...

"If catechesis weren't allowed to dwindle down to nothing with adults, they might teach their own children."

Parents would be well served if they got some support in the form of expectations. Pastors need to teach parents that they need to teach their kids. Parents need to be reminded that Johnny needs to memorize x in first grade, y in second grade, z in third grade and that it is dad's responsibility to git 'er done.

John said...

Funny, but my copy of Luther's Small Catechism says nothing about how the Pastor or Congregation should teach a household.

Terry Maher said...

This is precisely why in the original tablets of the "Ten Commandments", there are two tablets with five commandments each. That is how ancient covenants were written, a tablet for each side. Here, one tablet is God's, the other Israel's (not all Man). The five commandments on God's side all have promises attached to them, the five on our side are simply commandments. The fifth on God's side is what Gentiles generally number fourth, and abbreviate too, leaving out the promise. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land I am giving you. It is on God's side because it relates to God, father and mother being His first representatives and teachers to their families.