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Jonathan Master (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of theology and dean of the School of Divinity at Cairn University. He is also director of Cairn’s Center for University Studies. Dr. Master serves as executive editor of Place for Truth and is co-chair of the Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology.

Article by Jeffrey Waddington

Catechizing: Killing Two Birds With One Stone

October 29, 2015 •

No doubt you have heard the expression “killing two birds with one stone.” The point of the cliché is that it expresses the desire to achieve two results with one act. It could be understood as a colloquial way of saying “work smarter, not harder.” Some years ago I learned the truth of this expression as I was endeavoring to memorize the Westminster Shorter Catechism for my licensure exam, one of the steps on the way toward ministerial ordination in Presbyterian and Reformed churches.

How was I, in my early 30s, to memorize the lion’s share of the catechism when I had not been raised on it? Many of my fellow ministerial candidates had been raised in a Presbyterian or Reformed church. But in God’s providence that was not my experience. I am thankful for my Christian upbringing. But catechizing was not a part of my childhood heritage. On top of memorizing the catechism I needed to also memorize two Scripture passages with each question. This seemed to me like an impossible task.

I committed to simply writing out five questions and answers and two Scriptures for each question every morning without fretting about my ability to memorize. I found this to be a useful way to get the material into my head. I was not the most exciting experience I ever had. It was rote memory. But I also wanted to review the material every morning as well. Enter the breakfast meal with my two daughters. Each morning I would review catechism questions and answers drilling them into my head, but also teaching them to my girls.

The girls were especially excited when they began to get the answers to the catechism questions correct. Having young and agile minds, my daughters were able to pick up on the catechism material much more quickly that I could. The catechism review time at breakfast became an enjoyable time when we learned the basics of Bible teaching. We not only believed that the Bible was God’s perfect and authoritative Word. We also were learning the specific content of Scripture as well as learning how biblical the catechism in fact was by memorizing Scripture passages, which support the catechism’s teaching.

I never thought that memorizing a catechism guaranteed that my daughters would come to faith in Christ. However, how could they come to Christ in faith without knowing something about him? Why would they trust a Savior who was not inclined to exercise gracious mercy towards them? What was the Christian faith really all about? Who is the God of the Bible? Why is Jesus important? What is faith? Why aren’t we saved by the quality of our repentance or its sincerity? The catechism provided thoughtful, biblical answers to these and many other questions.

As it turned out, the boring rote memorization of the Westminster Shorter Catechism paid significant dividends. I was able to wend my way through the various examinations toward ordination and my daughters professed faith in Jesus Christ, which they owned as their own. My wife and I are grateful to the Lord for giving us to two young ladies who love the triune God of the Bible. Our breakfast catechism sessions were one ingredient in the strengthening of my faith and the creation of the faith of my daughters. The Holy Spirit used both the memorization of the catechism and Scripture passages. The Holy Spirit killed two birds with one stone.

Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.

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