Sometimes you have a really good idea and you start to pursue it. Then, in the
process of pursuing it, you learn something that completely changes your idea or
direction. Has that ever happened to you? Well, you are about to experience how
it happened to me in the last 3 weeks. Buckle up!
Welcome to the Amateur Theology podcast. This is episode 1 entitled,
“Catechism”. My name’s Matt McGraw
Well, here we are; Episode 1. I’m so glad you decided to tune in! If any of you
listened to my Episode 0 entitled, “This is a Recording”, thanks for sticking it
out; thanks for waiting for Ep 1. As I alluded to in a blog post, some things
have changed since I recorded that episode. I have discovered that there is a
name for the theological journey I have been on. I have also discovered that
there are TONS of other people out there who are on the same journey. The term
is “deconstruction”, and it has a partner-term, naturally, which is
“reconstruction”. We will talk more about the definition of these terms as we
will be using them in this episode and throughout this podcast in a little bit.
In fact, defining terms has become an interesting part of this episode which I
have entitled, ‘Catechism’. If you want to follow along with the show notes for
this episode, you can find them on the website at
Catechism is defined as follows:
from Ancient Greek (“katēkhismos”), from (katēkhizō, “to catechize”), a later
extended form of (katēkheō, “to catechize, instruct, teach by word of mouth”),
from (kata, “down”) + (ēkheō, “to sound, to resound”).
Oral instruction gives way to written instruction and we have written documents
called “catechisms”. One very popular one is the Westminster Shorter
Catechism. I have included a link in the show notes
to an excellent study of the WSC in plain English, with scripture references. I
invite you to check it out, if you like.
I have participated in several Episcopal churches and in the Book of Common
Prayer used in that tradition, there is a section called “An Outline of the
Faith: commonly called the Catechism” Book of Common Prayer, p.
845 This document is less
than 20 pages long and provides a fairly simple outline of the tenants of
orthodox Christian faith, as understood by the Episcopal Church. It is divided
up into sections (Human Nature, God the Father, The Old Covenant, The Ten
Commandments, Sin and Redemption, God the Son, The New Covenant, The Creeds, The
Holy Spirit, The Holy Scriptures, The Church, The Ministry, Prayer and Worship,
The Sacraments, Holy Baptism, The Holy Eucharist, Other Sacramental Rites, The
Christian Hope) and each section is a list of questions and answers.
Historically, when someone was being confirmed in the church, they would
memorize the entire catechism and then recite it at their confirmation ceremony.
Most churches don’t do this any more, but the inclusion of the catechism in the
BCP makes for an interesting reference.
My initial idea for this episode of the podcast, was to go through this document
and highlight some of the more interesting bits. I figured this was a good way
to lay some ground work for this podcast. Here’s what I discovered, though.
Without a common vocabulary, the catechism doesn’t really explain anything!
For example, the very first question/answer pair in the list is this:
Q: What are we by nature? A: We are part of God’s creation, made in the image
Now, I don’t know about you, but if we aren’t using similar or exact same
definitions of the words , ‘God’, ‘creation’, ‘made’, ‘image’… I’m not sure
that answer is really all that satisfying. See the struggle?
So I decided, instead of going through the catechism in episode 1, let’s spend
the time defining some terms. So I thought, we should start with something
simple, like ‘God’. Not to say that God is simple, but that it should be fairly
easy to define…
Yeah, have you ever tried to define the word ‘God’? Not so easy. This is what I
came up with:
A supernatural being, the source of all that is good and beautiful, the
sustainer of life, eternally existent in 3 persons but of one substance, Lord,
Creator of the universe, Love…
as you can see, it’s not so easy. I started to get frustrated because I thought
I had my podcast episode all ready to go and then… poof Nada! So, here’s
what were going to do. We are going to introduce a “Catechism” segment to each
episode. We are going to take some time in each episode to work through some
definitions. I will be taking these from the BCP Catechism and also using some
free thought. I want to provide you all, not only with sterile, academic
definitions, but also explain how I use or have come to use these words.
So, to start us off, let’s revisit that word “deconstruction” that we talked
about earlier. Deconstruction is a word that I learned in college as an English
major. We used deconstruction criticism to analyze literature and poetry. The
basic theory is that you strip away all the prejudices that you bring to a work
based on your own location and place in time. The only thing that matters is the
context in which the author was working. Any assumptions made by the critic that
are based in his or her current context are invalid and the questions to be
asked are, “What did the author mean?” and “What did the initial audience
When we apply this type of “critical” thinking to faith and religion, we have to
strip away interpretations of holy texts and other writings that have become
filtered through the context of later societies and more modern academics. We
must read and understand as if we were contemporaries of the writers. Otherwise,
it makes no sense.
So how does this apply to me and what I have been going through? Well, I was
raised in the American Evangelical tradition. For most evangelicals there are
some “non-negotiables” when it comes to doctrine and theology. A few of these
are as follows:
- The inerrancy of the Bible (many Evangelicals would add “in the original
manuscripts”; this seems to be a cop out, allowing contradictions and
conflicts within the text to be dismissed as “translation error”, IMHO.)
- The literal nature of the biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ’s
miracles and the Creation account(s) in Genesis
- The virgin birth of Christ
- The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ
- The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross
These doctrines were laid out most distinctly in The Fundamentals: A Testimony
to the Truth, a collection of around 100 essays published in the early 20th
century by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles; now known as BIOLA
University. (Any one of these “fundamentals” could be a catechism segment or
an entire episode in itself… perhaps we will delve into some of them in future
So, this was the framework I was raised with and it was the way I interpreted
the Bible. It should also be noted that most American Evangelicals are
Calvinists…. which we will just have to talk about another time. As with many
children of fundamentalist/evangelical parents, I kept and voraciously defended
my belief system up through my first year of college where I was run smack up
against other Christians who didn’t share many, if any, of these beliefs. I
attended Westmont College, a private, Christian,
liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, CA. It was there that I met Christians
who believed in evolution, voted for Democrats, and had an understanding of
scripture that didn’t require it to be the literal truth in order to be True.
Needless to say, I was shocked, flabbergasted, a little disgusted, and very
confused. During my 4 years at Westmont, I came to learn more and more about the
world I thought I knew and by the end of it, I was holding onto mere threads of
my faith. Within 3 years out of college, myself and my first wife had given up
completely on church, faith, and God. I was a functional atheist and openly
hostile to Christians and Christianity. I had fully deconstructed to the point
where there was nothing left. I had gotten to the point where the
interpretations, teachings, and doctrines I had been raised with, that I had
been taught were the “only true faith”, were completely at odds with the world I
had come to know. Evolution was real, scientific fact. Social justice was the
true burden of humanity, not a vain attempt to be freed from “sin” and saved
from “hell”. Homosexuals were just people trying to make their way in the world
just like everyone else. The cognitive dissonance was too much and I had to
leave it all behind. I turned my back on the “sky fairy God” and ran. When the
walls fall, the house is done.
Several years later, as my first marriage was falling apart and I was pretty
convinced I wasn’t long for this world, someone reached out to me and started
pulling me back towards God. It was/has been/is a long, hard struggle and I am
not done with it, by any means. But, here’s the upside. Deconstruction has an
opposite and it is called “Reconstruction”. I don’t remember there being a
corollary to deconstruction in my literature classes. In terms of faith,
however, when one reaches the bare floor of their beliefs and begins to build
them back up again, with new tools and new understandings, this is definitely
“reconstruction”. And that’s where I find myself today. That is the place out of
which this podcast has been born. That is the journey I am on and on which I am
hoping you are keen to join me. So stay tuned, friends. We’re just getting
I want to thank you all for listening all the way through. If you have made it
to the end, I would encourage you to tweet at me with the hashtag #atcastcatechism. I look forward to hearing from you.
Speaking of hearing from you, this podcast will be nothing without your
interest, contribution, and participation. Please reach out! Contact
information will be in the show notes for this episode and you can find those at
amateurtheolgy.com. The theme music for this
show was created by me, mixing together some Creative Commons licensed works. I
hope you like it. I hope to feature some more musical interludes in future
One last thing before we’re done. I mentioned in episode 0 the possibility of
book club episodes and I really want to know what you think about that. I have 2
books that I am itching to read with you. They are “The First Paul” by the late,
great Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan and “The Teaching of the 12:
Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache
Community” by Tony Jones. I will have links to both of these books in the show
notes. I invite you to check them out and let me know if you have a preference.
That’s going to do it for episode 1, “Catechism”. I’ll see you next month. Grace
and Peace to you through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive
Christianity of the Ancient Didache
- The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s
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