Five Essential Gifts to Give Your Kids: (2) A Basic Theological Framework through Catechization

Imagine your son or daughter sitting at the lunch table with friends at school. The conversation moves from the weekend movie release to first-period health class to religion. One kid is an atheist who says he believes in science. Two kids admit they’re not sure what they believe. Two more admit they go to church but have little more to say. One girl is into meditation and crystals. Then, the atheist kid turns to your child and asks, “What do you believe?” Eyes shift from tater tots to your child. Your child’s heart races. In that moment of opportunity, does your child know what they believe? Can they verbalize it? Are they ready for follow-up questions?

There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. It’s pretty difficult to summarize all that and hit the most important points, especially for those who haven’t been taught how. Despite the sizeable amount of Bible heard in countless Sunday schools, worship services, youth groups, and VBSs, many children, and even their parents, can’t give an organized and competent summary of what they believe. They lack a good blueprint for a good answer.

As parents, we need to teach our kids the basics of the Christian faith, how to think about them, and how to communicate them. This is more than throwing Bible verses at them. We need to teach them how the essential doctrines of Scripture connect. And this brings us to our second essential gift to give our kids. The first gift was our prioritization of their discipleship. The second gift is this: we need to teach them a basic theological framework through catechization.

First, what do I mean by a basic theological framework? Think in terms of building a house. The basic truths of the Christian faith are like the wood framing of a house. Like two-by-fours, basic truths are nailed together to form a framework that gives shape, strength, and stability to the faith of our kids. The problem is, many Christian parents simply throw two-by-fours at their kids. They make sure their kids hear God’s Word, but they don’t help their kids assemble the two-by-fours into a framework. Therefore, many kids from Christian homes have a lot of two-by-fours lying around, few of which are nailed together. Many children lack theological structure which leaves them confused and uncertain. Sure, they know some Bible stories and truths but not really how those stories and truths fit together and shape their thinking and living. Without a theological framework, kids are left confused about the Bible and how it applies to them and everything else in the world. But when kids have a solidly constructed theological framework, they will better see how the truths of Scripture connect to everything. Additionally, they will be positioned for increasing strength, comfort, and joy in Christ as they grow in knowledge and experience God more. As parents, we must construct a basic theological framework for our kids early in their lives through catechization. Catechization is a time-tested blueprint for building a strong theological framework. As a parent, are you building from a good blueprint?

Catechization is a fancy word for teaching students the answers to the most important questions. A teacher asks her kindergarten class, “Name all the vowels in the alphabet?” The students respond, “A-E-I-O-U, Mrs. Leatherman.” That’s catechization. As Christian parents, we use catechization to teach our kids the answers to the most important questions of the Christian faith. Who is God? What does God’s law require? What is sin? What is the gospel exactly? How are people right with God? What is faith? What is conversion? What are good works? We need to teach our kids the most important questions, then give them the best answers. Do you know the most important questions to ask? Do you know the answers to those questions? Don’t simply chuck Bible two-by-fours at them expecting them to build a house. You need to help them build those truths into a strong framework upon which they can build more.

How do you do it? You may not know. I hope these four easy steps help you. I strongly recommend you do each step. They’re not complicated, but they are effective.  

STEP ONE: Buy a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC) for everyone in your family. The HC is the blueprint. It shows how the Bible two-by-fours are nailed together. The HC is a short, beautiful, time-tested, comforting, and practical Biblical-theological blueprint for you and your kids.

STEP TWO: Teach your kids the structure of the HC, namely guilt, grace, gratitude. Q & A 1-2 summarize the entire catechism. Learn 1-2 well. Q & A 3-11 explain our guilt under the law; 12-85 explain the grace of God in Jesus Christ; 86-129 explain how to express gratitude for God’s grace through joyful obedience. Behind the words guilt, grace, and gratitude are tremendous truths, and the HC explains them. Learning what guilt, grace, and gratitude mean and how they apply to every situation in life will be extremely helpful to your children.

STEP THREE: Begin to learn through the HC as a family. I say “learn through” instead of “read through” because it’s more than reading, it’s comprehending and applying. The HC is helpfully organized into 52 sections or Lord’s Days for the 52 Sundays throughout the year. Each week, your family can focus on the questions and answers for that week. I recommend you start at the beginning. Review that week’s questions and answers throughout the week during meal times, car rides, and bedtime routines. Use family worship time to learn the HC. We’ll get to this in another episode. Each of the 52 Lord’s Days will help solidify the most important doctrines of the Christian faith into the minds and hearts of you and your children. This is the most important step.

STEP FOUR: As you learn through the HC as a family, commit three things to memory: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. The HC is organized around these. The Ten Commandments do two helpful things for your children. One, they define sin and help expose your kids’ sinfulness and need of Christ. They constantly drive your children to Christ for his mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Two, the Ten define righteousness for your kids; they tell them how to love and obey God by the Spirit. The Apostles’ Creed is a historic summary of the gospel. It gives your children the major points they must believe to be a Christian. They must know each part, each doctrine, well. Prayer is the most important part of our gratitude to God, and Christ taught us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is a God-given outline to help you and your kids pray thoughtful prayers. The HC unpacks each of these basics.

There are other good blueprints. I’m not sure there’s one better than the HC. Keep it simple. Start with the HC. It’s the fourth most distributed book of history behind only the Bible, The Imitation of Christ, and Pilgrim’s Progress. [1] Historian Dr. N. R. Needham commented:

Marked by a moderate but lucid expression of Reformed theology and a warm evangelical spirit, the Heidelberg Catechism became arguably the most important of all Reformed confessions, gaining acceptance across the entire Reformed world . . . [2]

The more your children learn the HC, the more equipped they will be to hear, comprehend, and be comforted by Scripture, and the better their lunch table answer will be. This second gift connects with the last three, so stay tuned to better understand how to do it. The Spirit will help us.  

[1] Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson, eds., Reformed Confessions Harmonized with an Annotated Bibliography of Reformed Doctrinal Works (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), x.

[2] Dr. N. R. Needham, 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power – Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation (London, England: Grace Publications Trust), 341.

About the author

Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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