By Anna Ilona Mussmann
In Teaching the Faith at Home: What Does This Mean? How Is This Done? DCE David Rueter explains that after years of seeing the majority of teens quit church immediately upon confirmation, he has “spent the last few years in doctoral study on the nature, history, and models of instruction or confirmation.” He argues that the Church must move away from a model in which confirmation is often perceived as “graduation,” and instead focus on a lifelong catechesis anchored in Baptism.
After discussing current problems in the way we teach youth (including the effect that postmodern culture has had in shaping our kids), he provides a range of suggestions. He believes that we must make use of educational theories and knowledge of child development. He suggests that we introduce memorization of the catechism at a younger age so that the instruction of middle school and high school youth can focus more deeply on wrestling with theology, applying beliefs, and delving into life as a Christian. He wants young people to be able to challenge the faith in a safe environment that encourages deep thinking. He would like to see families and youth mentored in structured ways. In the second half of the book, he walks through the Small Catechism and gives detailed examples of how parents can understand and teach its contents to their children.
I applaud the author’s call for the Church to reawaken to the need for lifelong catechesis. I also appreciate his perceptive chapter on postmodernism as it relates to teaching today’s youth. He says,
“Rather than thinking through the moral implications of a position, young people have grown up learning to empathize and formulate their position on that basis. So for example, it becomes increasingly hard to talk through confessional doctrinal positions on the role of women in the Church or any number of topics related to sexual ethics. . . . [W]e instead work with students who are more inclined to take positions based on a desire to see all people feel affirmed, regardless of the personal choices of those individuals. Thus, they end up accepting only the teachings of Jesus that they are comfortable with.”
In another passage, he adds, “Teaching doctrinal truths changes if there is no longer even a concern with whether they are right or not, but only whether one likes what they say or not.” Because truth no longer matters, “[W]e end up with a Christianity of practical atheists. We might believe in God, but functionally we do not act as though He truly exists.”
This reality is discouraging, but it is easier to combat once understood. Mr. Rueter’s discussions of the “coherence view of truth” and of moralistic therapeutic deism is clear and enlightening. He points out that when dealing with kids who process truth claims through their feelings, we must reach their hearts before we can teach them better thinking skills. Stories can play a large role in this. For instance, we can teach the story of Christ as it is woven through all of Scripture. Postmodernism would have them believe that they cannot identify any overarching meaning to life, and the author points out that by “Presenting often-isolated biblical stories without much in the way of drawing the whole into a larger metanarrative, many of our churches play further into this disjointed understanding of the world and the place of faith within it.”
I also appreciate the author’s respect for youth. He is right that we must let kids think through and engage with church doctrine, and that they must be allowed to ask questions that are hard to answer. Although he does not mention Higher Things, that organization provides a great model of this.
However, some of the author’s ideas for providing church members with life-long learning are clearly based on his experience with what (from my perspective) is an enormous congregation. Mr. Reuters seems to consider it inevitable that children will often be segregated from the adult members and that age-based programs are needed to keep individuals from falling through the cracks. None of the churches that I have attended could run separate classes and programs for each age group, nor do I think they should try. I would rather see all ages learning together. To do so shows our children that Scripture and the Catechism are truly worth studying throughout our entire lives. It also allows all ages to learn from their pastor, rather than sending children off to spend most of their instructional time with other staff members.
The second half of the book provides commentary on Luther’s Small Catechism. I have had the privilege of learning from excellent, confessional pastors who review the Catechism nearly every Sunday, and I found this section a bit simplistic. I was leery of some of the analogies which the author suggests as teaching tools for doctrinal matters, not because they are bad analogies, but because analogies are necessarily incomplete and can sometimes be misleading. However, some parents, especially those who did not receive particularly good confirmation instruction themselves or who attend a congregation that does not emphasize the Catechism, will no doubt find it a helpful starting point.
This book is a worthwhile resource in the conversation about catechetical teaching. I recommend it to parents, pastors, and Sunday school teachers who are pondering the ways we teach our kids. I doubt that all readers will agree with all of the author’s suggestions, but we should absolutely heed his central thesis that the Church’s focus must be on lifelong catechesis instead of the ceremony of confirmation.
After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their two small children. Anna's work can also be found in The Federalist.