Frederick Schmidt: The Making of Zombie Theologians: Catechesis, Spiritual Direction, and the Future of the Church




Over the years catechesis acquired a bad reputation. There were a number of reasons for this state of affairs.

One was the traditional format that was used to teach the Christian faith. Catechesis became inextricably attached to an aging format that consisted of leading questions and brief answers that were committed to memory. As such, teaching the Christian faith was associated with pat answers, simplistic truths, and a dictatorial approach to transmitting the Christian faith.

In an age of growing individualism and disdain for every kind of authority, it is not surprising that catechesis became inextricably associated with a narrow, rote, and unsophisticated approach to theological formation.

Catechesis floundered for more mundane reasons as well. Not without reason, pastors, priests, and ministers of small congregations complained that they don't have time to teach people the faith. Leaders in larger congregations often surrendered responsibility to staff members whose interest in "innovative" programs supplanted an interest in the perennial demands of basic Christian education.

The problem, of course, is that if you aim at nothing, you hit it.

As one who teaches spiritual direction, it has become clear that the absence of basic catechesis has made the task of spiritual direction exceedingly difficult. When we ask about a directee's experience of God, it is often clear that even people with extensive experience of the church know little or nothing about their faith.

That's a problem in a spiritual discipline that depends upon questions that invite an individual to explore their relationship with God. While God can be trusted to find a way to work in any person's life, we have made that task more difficult by failing to form people in the Christian faith.

Left to their own devices, far too many people have become "Zombie theologians," left to wander impulsively, shaped by a ragbag of cultural messages and personal preference. Understandings of God, providence, prayer, and an endless number of other subjects which provide the basic furnishing of the Christian mind is missing; and what members of our congregations believe is often as Un-Christian as one could imagine.

If the church hopes to survive a Zombie Apocalypse of its own making, it will need to discover a lively, fresh, and faithful approach to catechesis.


Photo by satit srihin, with permission from

From Frederick's blog at