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“Catechesis,” says the Wikipedia article on the subject, “is basic Christian religious education of children and adults.” This is often carried out with the help of a “catechism,” a resource designed for this purpose, but catechesis can happen without a catechism. And non-Christians too can catechize children and adults by drilling them in a nonreligious education.

The Reformation has given us some classic catechisms that for centuries have effectively taught the Christian faith and the biblical worldview. These are in the form of questions and answers, corresponding to the “dialectical” method of teaching and understanding as practiced in classical education.

Today our contemporary secularist culture also offers answers to these questions, though we might not notice the extent to which we are being catechized.

Here are some questions from the Reformation catechisms and other documents, giving both the answers from a faithful biblical perspective and the implicit answers from the perspective of our secularist postmodern culture.


QUESTION: What is the chief end of man?

CATECHISM: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

SECULARIST CULTURE: People’s chief end is to glorify themselves, and to enjoy themselves until they die.


QUESTION: Who made you?


SECULARIST CULTURE: I made myself through my own choices.


QUESTION: What is the work of creation?

CATECHISM: The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good.

SECULARIST CULTURE: The work of creation is the construction of my own mind as I deconstruct the oppressive “truths” imposed by those in power.


QUESTION: How did God create man?

CATECHISM: God created man male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.

SECULARIST CULTURE: God did not create “man”; rather, people created God in their own image. No one has an innate gender. “Knowledge, righteousness, and holiness” are all masks for “dominion”—that is to say, power—over other creatures.


QUESTION: What are God’s works of providence?

CATECHISM: God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving, and governing all His creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to His own glory.

SECULARIST CULTURE: Though truth claims are merely human constructions, the physical world does exist. It seems to follow scientific laws, but physical reality is essentially random, undirected, and meaningless.


QUESTION: Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?

CATECHISM: The moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.

SECULARIST CULTURE: The moral law is summarily comprehended in the slogan “pro-choice.” Whatever I choose is right for me.


QUESTION: What is justification?

CATECHISM: Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

SECULARIST CULTURE: Justification is an act of mine, wherein I justify my actions, giving a persuasive excuse whenever I am accused of doing something wrong.


QUESTION: What is justifying faith?

CATECHISM: Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner, by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and His righteousness therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of His person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

SECULARIST CULTURE: Justifying faith is the sure and certain belief that I have done nothing wrong.


QUESTION: What is your only comfort in life and death?

CATECHISM: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.

SECULARIST CULTURE: That I am my own. That because of my autonomy I do not need anyone else. That there are no absolutes for me to offend against. And that death is oblivion, so that I need not fear any judgment.


Whereas “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), secularist culture is always changing. A few decades ago, the secularist catechism might have emphasized naturalistic materialism and scientific rationalism. (Who made me? No one made me. I evolved through random processes.)

Catechesis can happen without a catechism. And non-Christians too can catechize children and adults.

Though one can still find this “modernist” perspective, rationalism and appeals to physical nature have been pretty much thrown out the window in our “postmodernist” age, with its transgenderism, identity politics, and mental constructivism, all of which defy science far more than Christianity ever supposedly did.

A good way to get one’s mind around today’s secular catechesis is to contrast it with yet another classic Reformation catechism: Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.

Luther built his textbook for religious education around passages from the Bible—the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and texts about the sacraments and vocation—plus the great summary of the biblical narrative known as the Apostles’ Creed. Catechumens would learn these texts and then respond to the same question that the Small Catechism repeats over and over: “What does this mean?”

Luther thus pointed children and adults to the source of the Christian revelation: the Word of God. But they needed to understand that Word. Toward that end, Luther supplied sample answers to this question that unpacked the text and applied it to one’s life.

Each answer typically begins with “What does this mean?” and ends with “This is most certainly true.” This impresses on the catechumen that what God’s Word teaches is objectively true. And that we can be certain of that truth. This is to teach not just doctrine but faith.

This is from Luther’s explanation of the Apostles’ Creed:

The First Article: Creation

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. . . . All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

The Second Article: Redemption

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord . . .

What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.

The Third Article: Sanctification

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. . . .

This is most certainly true.

To the question “What does this mean?” the secularist catechism answers, “Whatever I want it to mean.” Referring explicitly to the meaning of the Bible, the progressive theologian answers, “Whatever I need it to mean in order to make it conform to contemporary thought and culture.” Thus, today’s progressive Bible scholars construct tortuous “explanatory paradigms” to argue that the Bible teaches feminism, the social gospel, or “queer theology.” Other secularists, perhaps more honestly, answer the question “What does this mean?” by saying: “Nothing means anything. Life, the universe, and everything in it are meaningless.”

The culture is catechizing us every time we access social media, watch television, go to a public school or university, or surf the internet.

As for the conclusion, “This is most certainly true,” the secularist catechism says, “There is no truth and there is no certainty.” If we must create our own truth, our own morality, and our own meaning, then we are claiming to be gods. But we make pathetic deities, lacking righteousness and bound for death.

Many churches do not do much with catechesis anymore. Others devote an hour a week teaching the catechism in a confirmation or adult membership class. Some Christians do more than that, using the catechism in their personal devotions and drilling their children in what it says.

The secular culture, though, is catechizing us every time we access social media, watch television, go to a public school or university, or surf the internet. The average adult spends seven hours a day looking at a screen. The average teenager spends eight hours. They are being drilled in the secularist culture’s catechism.

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From the December 2023 Issue
Dec 2023 Issue