It's no secret that Christianity is becoming increasingly marginalized in the western world. Basic Christian truths we could once assume are deteriorating, evacuated of any substantive meaning, or simply forgotten. More and more, Christians are losing touch with what historic, orthodox Christianity even is.
We try to pass on the faith to the next generation, but too often by buying into contemporary culture’s methods for teaching the faith, we inadvertently smuggle in that culture’s ideas about God, personhood, morality, and even truth itself. In what Charles Taylor calls "a secular age," belief in God is but one option among many. Now it is that larger pattern that sets the terms for how Christians hand on the faith.
But by mining the depths of the Christian tradition—by recovering what the church has long known about how to teach the faith—pastors, teachers, parents, and mentors can begin to create pockets of faithful Christian witness. This is what we propose in recovering the ancient art of catechesis.
What is catechesis?
Catechesis refers to the practice of instructing Christians in the faith in a way that is basic yet comprehensive. It is simple but not simplistic, intellectual but not abstruse, practical but not pragmatic.
Catechesis involves a period of time, from several months to several years, for learning the essentials of Christian belief, spirituality, and ethics—primarily, through expounding the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. It's a time to learn the Gospel and the basic narrative of Scripture, a time for learning how to love God and neighbor. Catechesis is a converting education—a school for shaping our desires and loves.
Catechesis, in short, is a unique practice of teaching Christians, new and old, the basics of the faith. It shares certain features with Bible study, adult education, Sunday School, or other forms of discipleship, but none of these quite capture what catechesis is about. Catechesis aims at passing on the faith in a way that not only informs us about the faith but also seeks to inculcate us into a changed way of thinking, feeling, and living as Christians. Catechesis is about learning to walk anew in the way of the Lord.
What we do
The Institute for the Renewal of Christian Catechesis (IRCC) is a research and educational non-profit that seeks to promote the practice of catechesis in local churches. It is a meeting ground for pastors, educators, historians, theologians, and anyone else who desires to see Christians formed in the faith in a robust way.
At present, the primary way we accomplish this is through providing print and digital resources that aid the work of catechesis. For the future, we also plan to host conferences and lectures, connect those involved in catechesis, and offer distance and on-site coaching aimed at helping churches implement catechetical teaching.
Above all, the Institute seeks to serve churches in building up believers in the faith so that "we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
The IRCC is an ecumenical organization, which seeks to promote catechesis across denominational lines and to learn from different traditions. This is not to downplay the real differences that exist. In fact, good catechetical instruction ought to make it more clear where and why they exist, and so lead to more productive disagreement. In this we strive for what Richard Mouw calls "convicted civility"—holding together truth and charity.
Of course, talking about a renewal of catechesis among Roman Catholics might sound strange, since from this perspective, it's been in use since Vatican II's implementation of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). So in that sense, the Institute is aimed more towards a Protestant and evangelical audience. Nonetheless, it's our hope that Catholics will find much to learn from the Protestant traditions, and vice versa—and both Protestants and Catholics learn much from the Eastern Orthodox.
The director's affiliation is with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), and so much of our work serves that tradition. Anglican at its best is a kind of "mere Christianity" that seeks to hold in common what the church has "always, everywhere, and at all times" believed. There is an ecumenical impulse there that is neither sentimental nor naive, but historically and theologically rooted in the Great Tradition.
About the director
My interest in catechesis began nearly ten years ago, when one of my first roles in church work entailed teaching an adult education class in a large non-denominational church in North Carolina. Through teaching and writing curriculum, I was made profoundly aware of (a) how little integration there was between Christian belief and practice, and (b) how great of a need there was for basic instruction in the Christian faith.
I then set out for Regent College in Vancouver, BC, where I obtained a Master of Divinity degree (2016), while continuing to teach and serve in a local congregation. It was under the luminous shadow of J. I. Packer, a long-time professor of Regent College, that I became acutely aware of the contemporary church’s need for catechesis. It was particularly instructive for me that Dr. Packer, a self-described “latter-day catechist,” had chosen to dedicate the majority of his efforts in the final years of his career to the work of catechesis.
At Regent I also came to love the Great Tradition—that beautiful, flawed testimony to God's faithfulness throughout the ages—and to appreciate the study of historical theology and its relevance to the church today.
I am now working on a PhD in historical theology at Baylor University in Waco, TX, particularly conceptions of ecclesiology, spirituality, and biblical exegesis in the early Church, especially in Augustine.
My wife and I, with our two young boys, are members of Christ Church Waco, part of the Anglican Church of North America. At Christ Church, catechesis is integral to our church's life and mission. Seeing catechesis done well, and realizing its potential to renew the church today, has been one of the greatest joys of my Christian life.
Despite a lifetime in the church, over three years of graduate theological education, and beginning a doctoral program, I've come to realize that no amount of church attendance or higher education can substitute for the value of sound catechesis. It's with this conviction that I hope the work of the Institute will be of service to the many faithful and diligent pastors out there who desire to see more people come to deeper knowledge and love of Christ.