“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.)