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What the Explanation Does
The new edition of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation is almost here. For some, this is exciting news, filled with great potential. For most, though, I’d guess it’s not quite such a big deal. “Isn’t the catechism something pastors use for confirmation?” they might ask. “What does that have to do with me?”
Well, let’s begin by examining the practical purposes of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. As someone who’s spent a lot of time digging into and thinking about the new catechism, three purposes stick out right away:
- It’s a summary of the timeless truths of God’s Word.
- It serves as a lens through which to faithfully and joyfully interpret God’s Word.
- It acts as a practical guide for the Christian faith for daily life.
All three are important. It’s the third point, though, that’s huge for understanding the implications of this new explanation for the parish. After all, if we think of the Small Catechism as simply a textbook for confirmation class, then we won’t consider its use outside of that narrow window of time. However, if we see it for what it is—a summary of and lens for interpreting Scripture as well as a guide for daily Christian life—then we can explore why it’s so important.
Implications of the New Layout
Though Luther didn’t write out an explanation of the Small Catechism like we have today, I firmly believe this new explanation accurately builds upon Luther’s intent. It was meant to be a guide for the head of the household in teaching and learning the faith at home. The layout of the new explanation to the Small Catechism, I believe, helps to even further organize how this is done. In addition, the layout models how to teach, both in the parish and at home. It works logically through self-reflection, examination of the content, and applying that content to daily life. Here’s a simplified breakdown with some implications for each section:
- The elements of the Small Catechism, the original Six Chief Parts, are divided up into different sections like previous editions. This forms the backbone of the explanation. In this new edition, each of these is enclosed in a box to visually distinguish the core content from the explanation. This should aid learners in identifying what is original (what we tend to memorize in confirmation) and what is new.
- The Central Thought sections give not only a summary of the main point of each element of the Small Catechism, but also reflection questions to help guide the learner to deeper learning. For teaching the faith, in the congregation or in the home, these questions are an invaluable resource for creating meaningful discussion and reflection upon the element of the catechism.
- A Closer Look sections break down the original wording of the catechism element word by word. If you’re teaching this in the parish or at home, this extra layer of organization helps learners dig into deep reading of the text. Oftentimes, we gloss over the words of a text and miss so much. A Closer Look intentionally forces learners and teachers to slow down and work on understanding the content.
- Connections and Applications sections follow. These take the deeper reading of the content and then direct it toward issues and topics in daily life. I believe this is an extremely helpful layer of organization. Now, the traditional questions and answers that work through the explanation have been more clearly organized into two parts. This section helps the learner distinguish the questions that focus on examining the text from those that directly apply it to life.
- The final section to each element is another box that contains a Psalm reference, LSB hymn reference, and a prayer for that section. This extra layer helps take the big ideas of the faith associated with the Small Catechism and bring them home into devotional life. If you use these features in your parish, say by beginning a meeting with a prayer and Psalm reading from the explanation, you’ll further model how to use these features to teach the faith at home.
Implications of the Added Reference Material
Yes, this explanation is much longer than previous explanations, but for good reasons. The writers decided to add extra reference material to each element to help make this the most robust and useful guide for the Christian life as possible. Below are a few implications of this expanded reference material:
- Added Bible verses form a rich and deep web of Scripture to inform and edify the reader with God’s Word.
- Extra connections to Bible narratives help pull Bible history and the timeless truths of the Small Catechism together in a greater way than ever before in an explanation.
- Expanded asides with notes and real-world applications help align the explanation text to the lives of the learners.
- The expanded topical and Scripture indexes should assist the learners in identifying and navigating the reference parts of the explanation.
- The appendix has expanded the scope and nature of the added material to help guide learners through questions and topics.
All in all, the new Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation is a great resource for teaching and learning in the parish. It has been updated and reorganized to better guide each Christian to understand the timeless truths of the faith. In addition, it now includes some internal tools through which faith leaders in the parish can adapt the core content to different situations. That’s a topic, though, for the next post.
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