Late this summer I received a review copy of one of Midwest Theological Forum’s excellent new textbooks, the Parish Edition of the Didache Series. The original textbook series was written for use in Catholic high schools, and is a very full and rigorous program. The goal of the “Parish Edition” is to offer the same caliber of content, but with an amount of work that is manageable for a weekly religious ed program, and at an affordable price point.
Having reviewed both versions of the Faith and Revelation text, and I can say that MTF has entirely succeeded. I wholeheartedly recommend the parish edition of Faith and Revelation to any parish wanting to create a solid, well-rounded curriculum for teens and adults, in a course that can be led by any well-informed lay catechist.
The parish version is an entirely new book written by Dr. Scott Hahn. It draws on the most important elements of the semester series, but is a work in its own right, not merely a condensed version of the original. The parish course is taught in 13 chapters, so perfect for use as a spring, fall, or summer-school course. The Faith and Revelation parish course can be broken down into three major themes:
- How do we know God? What proof do we have of His existence? How can we know about Him?
- The story of the faith: The Old Testament, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the history of the early Church.
- Sacred Scripture: How did we get it, how do we understand it, how do we use it, how do we defend it?
A student who completes the course will come away with a thorough understanding of what’s in Scripture, why it’s real, and how it supports us in our practice of the Catholic faith.
The text is written to be taught from directly. Chapters 2-13 open with a set of review bullet-points to refresh the class on what was covered in the previous week. In the sidebar of each chapter are a suggested opening activity, discussion and review questions, vocabulary definitions, and summaries of the most important ideas in the text. There are proposed homework or in-class assignments, and a set of discussion questions. Relevant citations from both the YouCat and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are quoted in the sidebar as well.
How does theology fit in with Church history, art, prayer, and the liturgical calendar? Throughout the text, short essays introduce essential saints, prayers, and observances. Breathtaking artwork, including paintings, sculpture, and photography, illustrate the text and introduce students to the best of sacred art and architecture from every era. A complete index of art credits makes it easy for the instructor to identify the artwork and explain its significance, without needing to be an ace art historian.
Who’s the ideal student?
This is an academic course. The text is written at a high-school level, and assumes students can read well and think clearly. Anyone who can study high school algebra, read Shakespeare, or write a decent five-paragraph essay will be in good shape for this course. Realistically, not every teen or adult in the parish is going to be able to do high school level work, and some may indeed have the report cards to prove it. But just as we don’t therefore offer only math or science courses that are a breeze for every single student, teens and adults who are ready to take a serious theology course deserve the chance to love the Lord with all their . . . mind.
It can be hard, though, to remember to do the reading ahead of time, amidst all the other demands of school, work, and family life. In planning the course, it may be wise to offer a study hall period in the hour prior to the start time of the weekly class. Because the course is fairly intense, it would be prudent to also allow some time for off-topic questions before or after class, so that the course itself doesn’t get sidetracked.
It should be noted here that the course is “seeker-friendly”. Those who are firm in their comittment to the faith will find themselves encouraged and equipped with tools to explain and defend the faith they love. But the text does not assume that students are already steadfast believers. In that respect the text is an excellent tool for helping teens and young (or older) adults come to terms with their faith, and make a personal decision to accept the Catholic faith because it is true, and not merely out of family tradition or emotional attachment.
Who could teach this course?
In reading through the text, there were several places where supplemental resources jumped to mind. In explaining the proofs for the existence of God, I’d recommend Kreeft and Tacelli’s Handbook of Christian Apologetics. In keeping straight the series of covenants that found their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, John Bergsma’s Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation of History would be eminently helpful. No doubt other readers have their favorite study aids to recommend as well.
The point is this: You can teach this class without needing to crack a college textbook. The ordinary lay catechist who just likes to study the faith and explain it to others will do just fine. If you’re the sort who can pick up a copy of The Catechism, look up the answer to your pressing question, read the answer, and come away enlightened, you’re set. Normal Catholic geekiness and a little elbow grease will take care of the rest.
Excellent series. Highly recommended. Can’t wait to put together a study group and teach the class myself.