Review: Teaching the Faith at Home

Teaching the Faith at Home: What Does This Mean? How Is This Done?
By David L. Rueter

Something has gone wrong with confirmation in the Lutheran church. Children treat the day of their confirmation as a graduation rite, and parents don’t seem to be helping. What happened? Is it these crazy kids and they just need to deal with it? Is it the parents? Is something wrong with our instruction methods? In this book, David Rueter takes a look at the goals of confirmation and asks if there’s a better way to attain those goals. In the first half of the book, he explains what catechesis is and why it must become a life-long process and not a two-year class. In the second half of the book, he addresses especially parents, walking through the Small Catechism and explaining how parents can teach it well at home through several different ages. In the end, Rueter urges parents to teach their children the faith, be good examples, and use the church to help children dig even deeper into God’s Word.

Short review: Pastors should read this, and then urge parents to read it as well.

Longer review:

This book is brutally honest about the state of confirmation in our society, and talks about how our approach to confirmation has only fed the “Graduation syndrome.” It backs up all its stances with hard data that’s hard to argue against.

One of the easy whipping boys here is our insistence, in general, for kids to memorize the chief parts of the catechism and teach God’s Word, while often ignoring real-life applications. It’s easy to flip it around and make it about applications, while ignoring the doctrine behind it. Rueter does a fantastic job of saying, “You must start with the doctrine, but you cannot ignore the applications, either.” He strikes a great balance. “I would suggest that, at times, our neglect to draw the connection between our rich doctrinal emphasis and our life in Christ hinders the spiritual maturity of our congregations – especially as it relates to teaching the faith to the young people in our church” (20).

Another landmine Rueter carefully explains is how parents and church work together to train up children. He exhorts especially fathers to talk to their children about the faith and teach them, but he doesn’t belittle the church’s role, either.

It is not a matter of asking whether the church or the family is to be the focal point of catechesis. Rather, it is essential that both take on that critical role, though each in their own way. God charges both the Church in an institutional sense and the family in an individual sense to step fully into the center of the catechesis of its members. Because cultural and religious identity were so critically important in ancient Israel, this task of teaching the faith within the family would likely have been viewed as the most important role for parents right after providing for shelter and food. God’s instruction for parents to teach their children takes place in Deuteronomy 4 in the context of his establishment of a covenant with His people. This places their teaching of the faith as a core part of this covenantal connection between the people and their God. (34)

He also tackles what has changed in youth, especially talking about how claims of authority aren’t trusted anymore. “However, if my initial goal is that Christ be a part of this youth’s life, I cannot merely bemoan his lack of critical thinking skills and be done with him. I am called to do more” (50). He addresses the need to show why Scripture can be trusted. In one chapter I particularly loved, he addresses developing a thinking climate – a place where questions are honored and encouraged, so that students develop a faith deeper than, “Because pastor said so.” They need a stronger faith to survive the hostile environments many high schools and colleges are.

The front half of the book is incredibly useful for anyone designing the education program for a congregation, or anyone who wants to be involved. The back half of the book is gold for parents, though. Rueter walks through the Small Catechism and shows how parents can teach each individual part, aiming especially at concrete teaching methods. For example:

Teens do not always see worship as spending time with God. Help them to see how their time in prayer with the rest of the congregation is like time with a group of friends getting to know one another. Talk with them about the Scripture readings, the sermon, and even the songs and hymns sung in worship. If parents are engaged, they can hep their kids learn how to engage and grow in the knowledge of Jesus. (140)

The chapter in this section on confession is worth the price of the book by itself; it talks about how to keep confession gospel-focused and use it both within the family and with the congregation’s pastor. In fact, the entire book is very good in balancing Law and Gospel.

In short… this book is a resource I’d recommend to get into families’ hands, and I’d also recommend getting it into the hands of those who design education on the congregational level. It makes us look at confirmation and try to figure out: Why do we do it the way we do it? Is there a better way? And honestly… it’s a good question to ask. Check this one out.

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