Deep Church Catechesis (2)

Leicester R. Longden

In the penultimate chapter of their challenging book, Deep Church Rising (Cascade, 2014), Andrew Walker and Robin Parry develop a series of proposals for the kind of catechesis that will be required for their vision of “Deep Church.” This is one of the best accounts I have seen, in brief form, of how to equip the church’s pastors and teachers for the staggering task of forming Christians who are not “squeezed into the world’s mold.”

Building on the concept of paideia — the formative means by which ancient Greece transmitted its cultural heritage through the schooling of virtue and the cultivation of character — the authors sketch out eight dimensions of a “kingdom paideia” that is necessary to the formation of a deep church living in creative opposition to the principalities and powers of contemporary plausibility structures.

“Dimensions” is the right word for these tasks of formation. Taken as steps or mere resources they would be reduced to educational “tools,” thus robbing them of their power as interpenetrating realities in which the church must live if its life together is to be transformative. The authors periodically make this point, but I think they should have been even more emphatic.

Here and there, the authors clarify the deep reality of the catechetical tasks they identify. For example: “Conforming our lives to the pattern of Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit but it is a divine work that we are called to co-operate with, in community. It is a long journey with twists and turns and ups and downs, with periods of radical transformation and long stretches where little seems to change” (138). Or again: “Worship is a learned set of practices…. Such learning cannot simply be didactic — teaching about good worship — but must also be a regular, engaged participation in communal worship” (135).

Well said, but the ingrained practices of Christian educators and congregations that consume educational “resources” and “tools” in endless cycles of six-week classes on some “hot topic” or the “newest online program” will not be reformed by occasional references to holistic or participatory learning. Our denominational publishing houses are enslaved to “programmitis” and to the production and sale of niche curricula.

Walker and Parry come closer to showing what radical transformation is needed in our catechetical practices when they entitle their sixth dimension, “Catechesis Involves ‘Exorcism.’” They make reference to the regular use of exorcisms by the early church in its administration of the catechumenal journey toward unity with Christ and his body in baptism. And they call for the church to “name” the various compulsions that people worship as “idols” and to provide the spiritual direction and mentoring required to throw off such enslaving powers.

The power of recovering the catechetical journey of the early church has the advantage of showing that entry into life with Christ and his body requires some detoxification from the intoxications of the surrounding culture on the way to a life of holiness. Unfortunately, this book on Deep Church Rising, while calling for exorcism, does not confront deeply enough the superficial educational practices of so many of our congregations.

In spite of my criticism, I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book. I still stand by my comment in Part One of these essays on Deep Church Rising that “the authors provide a trenchant critique of the inadequacy of contemporary Christian education practices in the face of the ‘torrent of life-shaping influences’ that flows from modern media entertainment, advertising, and consumerism.”

The weakness I am pointing to is that their description of the “astonishing formative power” of the culture of entertainment, advertising, and consumerism is not matched by an equally compelling description of the kind of exorcism needed for the “deep transformation” they point to in ch. 8. Perhaps that needs a book of its own.

Posted Dec 12, 2016

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