Amalorpavadass, the Indian Catholic educator of the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s, made a sharp distinction between “catechesis” and “evangelization.” For him, catechesis, the teaching of beliefs, can only really happen after the pupil’s responsible adherence to the faith.
Seems common sense. It can sure seem common sense if you ever tried to teach Christian theology to bored or indifferent persons. No faith, no interest in the subject.
And Amalorpavadass was writing in a situation where Catholic schools (much Religious Education usually included) enrolled majorities of non-Catholic students. So hard to teach Catholic doctrine to Hindus! to Muslims!
But wait a minute. Yes, in Catholic teaching, a child is a Catholic from baptism. But that is not responsible adherence. Adherence comes in the time leading to First Communion (think of the special clothes, presents, etc. that come to Catholic kids…)
So shouldn t catechesis be also evangelism?
Younger kids, subjects of catechism class are not yet responsible adherents.
Let’s ask again.
Are evangelism and teaching so easily separated?
Catechesis is to deepen the life of faith.
But if you teach me exactly how to depend on God in my finances, then my faith is deepened.
I may even be deep enough in debt that I repent, trust God, come to living faith, through that teaching.
Or I may be stuck in porn.
You come along and show me God’s way of faithfulness with my sexuality.
I might be led to repentance. I might trust Christ for the first time.
Or my life of faith might be deepened. I might be a Christian deeply in debt. You show me the way out by God’s grace. Now I live that area of my life in conscious dependence.
Ditto for any other area of living.
The Intro to Theology example is deliberately provocative.
Academic treatments are rarely life engaging, except when you finally get the picture, or the Story.
So: I think education can be evangelism. I think it can make you holy. Especially if it is consciously designed with those aims in mind.
After all, in evangelism, people learn new things. They say, I never thought of that before. I never knew God was like that. And thus roadblocks are removed that lead toward faith. Roads are opened.
In societies where there is oodles of tacit faith, Christmas and Easter faith, taken for granted faith, catechesis might just be the very best evangelism.
Maybe church people should be doing way, way more of it.
Maybe we should be engaging our best minds to do up DVD series and designing community opportunities to get together and talk about finances, sexuality, marriage, anger, doubt, natural disasters, movie choices, hard ethical decisions, end of life choices, euthanasia, government involvement, love, forgiving others, television, short attention spans, and, thanks for reading so far. YOUR comment and insight will be appreciated!
One last note. Three books from the 60s, by J Stanley Glen, Robert Worley, and Robert Mounce, show from the New Testament that teaching and preaching are not very far apart, if apart at all.