Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
When one of my Bible teachers at the small Christian school I attended as a child introduced me and my classmates to the Westminster shorter catechism, I knew none of its history. I remember, even then, being a little surprised. I thought of catechism as a “Catholic thing,” something from my father’s Italian, Bogota, New Jersey childhood, and it was unexpected at my fundamental, non-denominational school in the deep South in the late 70s.
But there it was.
I don’t remember how long we studied it, but that first question-and-answer set stuck with me. “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” I don’t know that I thought much about its meaning in childhood, but when I was an adult, and the phrases jumped into my head one day, I was shocked by the second part of the answer. My upbringing completely supported the idea that my supreme goal in life should be to glorify God…
But to enjoy Him?!
I didn’t have the first idea how to go about that, but still–memorized in youth–the phrase stayed and popped up again in surprising moments.
That’s what catechism and liturgy are supposed to do (well, one of the things); they’re supposed to stick. Even when they have become rote, they do not lose their power; they are just hidden, waiting for the time when you are ready to receive the meaning and the Lord’s work.
Several years ago, while working for the marketing department at a small college, I wrote a news release about one of the Bible professor’s recent publications, an article on the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter’s use of catechism to ground young people in the faith. I thought it was fascinating, and I remembered that article when I recently ran across an archived piece at Christianity Today by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett titled “The Lost Art of Catechesis,” It gives a great history of catechesis and some wonderful arguments for using it more intentionally now.
So, if you are interested in exploring some catechisms for yourself, I’ve included some options below.
New City Catechism (adapted by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas from the Reformation Catechisms