New Book Blog Tour!

Weight of a Flame on blog tourDecember 2011 - January 2012Olympia Morata, arguably the most prolific woman writer of the Reformation, struggles to use her talents for God's glory despite rejection, religious persecution, and the hardship of illness, po...

New Book Blog Tour!2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00

Questions from Indonesia

Here are some questions I was asked during my seminars and talks in Indonesia. The title of the seminar was "Why Is It Important to Teach Theology to Children?" In some seminars, the word "theology" was rephrased as "doctrine."Question - How can we tea...

Questions from Indonesia2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00

Practical Tips for Teaching the Catechism

(This is an article I wrote for the Outlook. It was published in the March-April 2011 issue. Since my lectures and discussions in Indonesia centered on the importance of teaching the catechism to our children, I am reprinting it here with permission from the editors of Outlook Magazine.)


On the first Sunday this year, I opened with interest a small insert in our church bulletin. It was a plan for a full year of family worship. I was excited. My many years of homeschooling have left me with an instinctive appreciation of pre-made plans. I studied it carefully. On one side of the page there was a list of Bible passages, with the goal of reading through the whole New Testament in a year. On the other side, a list of catechism questions to memorize.

It didn’t look intimidating. The first few months are going to be especially easy. We know these questions already. As I turned the small pages, however, I realized that there will be new questions soon and, at that point, we will need a stronger commitment... and I was actually quite content to go without new resolutions this year!

I have lived through enough new year resolutions to know what a lasting commitment requires: a strong motivation, good planning, and lots of patience.

I became absolutely convinced of the importance of catechisms several years back, during a casual conversation with a relative on the importance of reading the Bible. I was in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) at that time, still fairly new to the Reformed faith, and was helping my children to memorize the Shorter Westminster Catechism.

In the course of our discussion, this relative asked me a familiar question, “What does the Bible teach?” Years earlier, I would have been fumbling for an answer. I might have given a generic reply, “It teaches about God,” most probably reinforcing his belief that he had already grasped that message. This time, instead, the answer came effortlessly, “It teaches what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” (cfr. SWC, Q3)

His interest perked up. “What duty does He require?”

“Obedience to His revealed will, the moral law, which is summed up in the Ten Commandments.” (cfr. SWC, Q39-41)

As the conversation continued, covering man’s inability to perfectly keep the commandments and the answer to that problem, I realized that most of his questions were in the catechism, and I had answers - not only ready, but written and revised with amazing precision and care by godly men of old. Besides, these answers kept our conversation focused on relevant issues rather than generalities. More than ever, I wanted to pass on such an effective tool to my children.

Most of us are familiar with Dorothy Sayer's 1973 essay on "The Lost Tools of Learning," which decries the loss of clear answers and definitions in progressive education while advocating a return to the medieval trivium (grammar, dialectic, and logic). I see this loss quite frequently as an Italian instructor. While older students are a little rusty in their study and memorization habits, they have a tremendous advantage because they have studied grammar with its proper definitions. They can easily understand why the word molto, which means both “much” and “very”, changes its ending when it refers to nouns but is invariable when it refers to adjectives or adverbs. Their minds immediately relate to adjectives as modifiers of nouns and adverbs as modifiers of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. When I talk in these terms they nod, while my younger students look absolutely puzzled.

I found the same need for definitions in my Sunday School class. A few years ago, when teaching 1st-3rd graders, I realized that in order to facilitate our communication and impress specific notions, I just had to use words like justification and sanctification, and the catechisms provided clear definitions. There was no way around them, just as a school teacher needs to explain to the class the definitions of "polygon", "triangle", and "equilateral", so that they can talk about an equilateral triangle without having to repeat each time that they are referring to “a flat shape with three straight lines, all of the same size.”

With the help of the catechisms, children can understand theological definitions quite simply. It is also reassuring to a parent or teacher to know that, when talking about realities like faith or providence, they and their children can have a common understanding of their meaning.

Katharine Olinger, a baptized member of Calvary OPC, Glenside, PA and an 8th grade student at Phil-MontChristianAcademy, shares a similar experience. "Catechism has indeed helped me in my life," she said, "especially my curricular one. As I attend a Christian school, I've found that during our Bible classes I'm always a step ahead of my peers and I can even impress my teachers with the catechism's well structured responses. In my spiritual life I more often refer to the Bible than the catechism, but I do particularly rely on the first question in the shorter catechism. It's comforting to have such a big question (what our purpose is) answered in black and white."

Marti Calderaro, a 16-year old baptized member of Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Filadelfia in Milan, a URCNA plant in Milan, Italy, agrees that the catechism is a great source of comfort. “It has helped me and my sister Erika to face not only difficult times in our lives, but also those our church is experiencing right now with the terminal illness of Elder Giuseppe Ferrari. It gives us comfort and helps us to share this comfort with our sister Ivana [Giuseppe’s wife].”

Marti began studying the Heidelberg Catechism about a year ago. She had never learned a catechism before, but didn't find it difficult. "It has been fairly easy, because our pastor, Andrea Ferrari, explains it very well."

Besides, learning the catechism as a family has other advantages. “It has set up an environment where theological questions come up naturally as we cover the various questions and answers,” said Roy Lopez, elder at Christ URC in Santee, California. “It has also deepened our love for God as we see all that He has done for us week by week. I believe it unifies us as a family, making us more of one mind (as it does for the church).

A Plan and a Method

We all know how quickly new resolutions become discarded when we don’t plan how to include them into our lives. That’s why the insert I found in our church bulletin is so helpful. The portions are well marked and within reach - a long catechism question or a few short ones every month. It's a very simple plan, and some families may choose to go beyond it.

While churches using the Westminster standards normally expect their children to memorize the Shorter Catechism in its entirety, it’s rare to find children who have memorized the entire Heidelberg Catechism, because of its length. Roy Lopez, however, has decided to challenge this trend. Last year, he has embarked on a three-year plan for memorizing the whole Heidelberg Catechism with his family.

“At the end of every year I try to plan what the family will do next in our devotions,” he explained, “something that can be done in one year. Several years ago we memorized Colossians which broke down into roughly two verses a week. It was great because we had the context and the rhythm of the whole passage. The Catechism seemed too long to memorize in a year (comfortably). So I went through all the questions and answers and broke them down into what I figured we could memorize per week. Sometimes it will be one or two per week and sometimes it will take two weeks to complete a long one. We mainly practice at night at the beginning of family worship but sometimes we practice in the car while we travel."

Roy has found that sharing the motivation with his family and coming to an united decision is very important before embarking on a long-term commitment. "I brought it up to the family and asked them what they thought about it. Everyone except Mikaela, our youngest, was enthusiastic about it. Mikaela, who is twelve, said that she didn't think she could do it. So, wanting it to be a free choice for everyone, I told her that we would be studying it and that she should just do the best that she can (no pressure). I didn't want it to become an empty ritual. Much to my surprise, she ended up being the one who was the most disciplined and is usually the one first to have the questions memorized. It started as a decision, then a discipline and it is now our habit."

Just the fact of memorizing together day by day, week after week, brings results. Some parents, however, have come up with creative ways to "spice-up" catechism memorization. Last Spring, I used it as penmanship practice,” explained Donna Link, a homeschooling mother of ten from Tacoma, WA, “by having the kids copy the questions and answers in a composition book.” Some have used the most comforting questions and answers as calligraphy practice, crafting beautiful gifts for their friends. Others use motions or put it into songs for the little ones.

Margaret Laning, a homeschooling mother of eight from Hull, Iowa, has a simple, well-known formula for success: "The main thing I found that works best is repetition, repetition, repetition, starting early in the week to get into the long-term memory work." She is, however, aware of her children's learning styles and tries to adapt her methods to make memorization easy for all. "Some are visual learners," she said. "For them, we have played a sort of 'erase the word' game on the computer. At first, we have the whole answer or verse typed out, and then gradually take a word away while they say the missing word. Eventually all the words are gone and they say the whole thing themselves."

"Some are more auditory learners," she continued. "I have a friend who had her kids record themselves saying the questions and answers on a tape or CD-recorder and then listen to it over and over. Doing both is great. Some other kids are kinesthetic/tactile learners. They seem to enjoy working with index cards. I have also heard of some cutting out footprints and writing parts of the lesson or verse on each foot, and taping it to the floor. The next part of the verse or lesson is on the foot ahead, and then another foot ahead of that. So, they read out loud the lesson as they jump from foot to foot. I have never tried that, but some younger children may really enjoy it."

There is a large variety of activities and games that can be used in catechism memorization. Often, it's possible to modify an activity or a game suggested for academic learning or for Bible memorization. My children and my Sunday School students have a few favorites. Once they mastered a catechism answer, for example, I asked them to say one word each, going around in circle. When one makes a mistake, he or she is out. This works well in large groups. Parents and teachers, of course, participate in the game, and they are often out sooner than the children.

A variation of this, still in large Sunday School classes, is dividing the class into two groups, and dividing the white board so that each group can go up and write one word of the catechism answer at a time. It's like a catechism relay race. To win, a team has to get the whole answer right, not just finish first.

Ideas to motivate and inspire the children are countless. Of course, there is always "candychism" (a word apparently coined some years ago by Rev. Leonard Coppes to describe the practice of rewarding children with candy for memorizing catechism answers). "I am not a big fan of 'candychism,'" Roy said. "I am not opposed to others doing it. It is just not something I would do. I guess it has a place with very small children. My philosophy is that I will pay my kids when they go above and beyond their chores around the house, not for spiritual things."

Katharine, on the other hand, loves the idea. "I wish my parents used candychism! They had the same kind of thought, only instead of little things for each question, they gave a big privilege for saying the whole Shorter Catechism in front of the session. For example, when I finished, I was permitted to get my ears pierced - something I had been wanting for quite a while."

The goal, however, is not only to motivate the children to memorize but also to help them to understand what they are saying, and that can be done, in small ways, even with younger children.

Being a logical thinker, I have usually tried to break down the catechism answers for the children, memorizing one section at a time, and sometimes drawing diagrams on the board to emphasize the organization and progression of thought. For example, in HC21, the first two sentences describe one part of faith, the next two another part, and the last sentence shows three things we believe God has given us, and three ways in which He has given them (freely, merely of grace, and only for the sake of Christ's merits). I have found this useful with the long paragraphs typical of Puritan writers.

To help the children to understand the meaning of difficult words, I have tried to use them repeatedly during the same lesson (or the same day, if we are at home). For example, since most children don't know the meaning of "merely," I explained that it means "only," and then used it often in my common interaction with the children, by saying, for example, "we have merely five minutes left."

"I try to relate each question to something that was said in a sermon or something that has happened to us recently or to the children in school," said Roy. "I definitely try to explain the importance of a proper understanding of each doctrine and any heresies that are opposed to that teaching."

Catechism vs. Scripture Memorization

The most common objection I have heard to teaching the catechism to young children is the obvious need to give a strong foundation of Scriptural knowledge. The concern is quite founded. Some Reformed children today are well versed in the catechisms and basic theology but are unfamiliar with biblical narrative and find it difficult to find passages in the Bible. What we often forget, however, is that the catechisms were never meant to be a substitute for Scriptures. On the contrary, they were to be used in synergy with a thorough study of the Bible, the preached Word, and pastoral instructions. In particular, the Puritans who wrote the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity were steeped in Bible knowledge, which permeated every facet of their lives, and they expected other Christians to be likewise.

For most of us who are far from the Puritans' devotions, striking a balance between catechism and Scripture memorization can be difficult, but it is again a matter of planning, including both in our family worship or Sunday School curriculum. In this respect, Roy has found Starr Meade's devotional book, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, very useful, with verses to look up daily.

Memorizing the catechism is a great way to learn the doctrines of Scripture: it teaches theology in a very succinct way,” said Donna Link, a home-schooling mother of ten from Tacoma, WA. “Memorizing Scripture is also excellent and memorizing the catechism along with it gives a fuller understanding of what the different passages of Scripture are talking about.”

Used in synergy with the Bible, the catechism becomes all the more valuable. We can memorize Matthew 10:29-31 and Luke 21:18 and find comfort in the promise that every hair of our head is counted, or Romans 8:28 and know that all things work together for our good, but when we see those verses in the context of HC1, and are reminded that those same promises are given to us because we belong to Christ, in virtue of His sacrifice and in conjunction with the great benefits of forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from all the power of the devil, those words become much weightier and firmer in our minds.

This school-year, I have been teaching the trials, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ to my 4th-6th grade Sunday School group, using the Heidelberg Catechism alongside each lesson, as an aid both to emphasize the overall importance and meaning of the Bible account and to notice the significance of often neglected details, such as the mention of Pontius Pilate in the Apostles Creed and the relevance of the cross as instrument of death.


One of the most comforting thoughts I have learned as a parent in a Reformed Church is that we are just to do what we are commanded and let the Holy Spirit work in our children’s lives. We take our children to public worship every Sunday, let them hear the preached Word, and prepare them to receive the Lord’s Supper. At home, we have times of family worship and learn the catechism together. It sounds reassuringly simple.

Whatever our plan may be for memorizing the catechism as a family, whether we set a very approachable goal of one or two questions and answers per month, to allow for the unexpected and to give more time to review, or we take up the challenge of memorizing it all, small steps are easier to maintain at a regular pace.

"We memorize a different line pretty much every day and by Saturday or Sunday we recite the whole thing together," explained Roy. "On Monday, we move on to the new question. I don't put pressure on us to go back and remember all the previous questions. I am happy if we can recite the answer at the end of the week and don't want to overburden my family by making too much of it. Some weeks are better than others, but we do the best we can."

With these affordable steps, Kristen Lopez, Roy's 13-year old daughter, has learned to enjoy memorizing the catechism. "At times it is hard because of different schedules and late nights," she said, "but it is always easy to catch up on Sunday."

Roy knows that it's important not to miss a week. "We may fall behind a few days but then I try to make sure we practice it more to be caught up by week's end. If we ever had to skip a week, I would continue with the program and just try to learn that portion later on. Of course, the memory work is much easier for the children than it is for Faith and me."

Faith Lopez, Roy's wife, agrees. "My motivation are my kids. They are so good at keeping up with their reading and memorization, it puts me to shame. It is very difficult for me and I struggle to find more time in my busy schedule and more space in my head for new information. I've had to make it a priority. It's just something that we do, part of our day. Besides, so many times God has used our memory work to encourage me. I would find myself in a particular struggle, and some words that I had memorized that week have come to my mind, helping me to reflect upon His love, grace and mercy towards me in my time of weakness."

By now, the Lopez family has discovered that their persistence had paid off. "What started as a decision has become a discipline and is now our habit," Roy said. Of course, there are still obstacles. From time to time, the motivation and discipline need to be rekindled. "Sometimes it feels like no one is motivated to do it, or we get especially busy, or the schedule is off for some reason, but that is where the discipline comes in. We continue to do it because we have set a goal and I have tasked myself with the responsibility to see that we get there."

Practical Tips for Teaching the Catechism2020-04-07T13:21:32+00:00

Back from Indonesia

"Indonesia? What in the world were you doing there?" sometimes people ask. It all started in 2009, when I was searching the web for conferences on John Calvin so I could introduce my new book for children. It was then that I discovered a conference in ...

Back from Indonesia2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00

Athanasius Through Children’s Eyes

The winning entries in the contest issued by Carl Trueman on Reformation 21. Someone is certainly teaching these children well, and they can definitely articulate their thoughts very clearly! Maybe they should be my advisers as I write future titles......

Athanasius Through Children’s Eyes2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00


Athanasius, by Simonetta Carr
4th title in the series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers

The blog tour is nearing its end. Here you can read all the reviews. Thank you again, everyone who has taken the time to read and review! If anyone else is interested in writing a review or hosting a giveaway, let me know.

Wednesday, September 14
Book Moms
Giveaway (closed)

Friday, September 16
Christian Book Notes

Tuesday, September 20
The Children’s Hour
Giveaway (closed)

Saturday, September 24

Monday, September 26
Wednesday, September 28

Thursday, September 29

Friday, October 14

November 4

November 9
Review and giveaway (closed)

Thursday, November 24
Short review


BOOK BLOG TOUR Wrap2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00

Errata Corrige

Since one of the qualities most people praise in my books is their historical accuracy, I want to point out a couple of mistakes that, in spite of my best efforts, made it into this series. They will be corrected in our next edition, but in the meantim...

Errata Corrige2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00

Book Blog Tour

Athanasius, by Simonetta Carr
4th title in the series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers

The book is scheduled to be published by the end of August. I am giving everyone time to receive it and read it, then the tour will start! Thank you everyone who agreed to host the tour!
Wednesday, September 14
Book Moms
Friday, September 16
Christian Book Notes

Tuesday, September 20
The Reformed Reader
Thursday, September 22

Saturday, September 24

Monday, September 26

Wednesday, September 28

Thursday, September 29

Thursday, September 29

Saturday, October 1
Wednesday, November 9

Wednesday, December 7

Monday, January 2 2012

September 2012

Most of these blogs will also host a giveaway, so stay tuned for a chance to get a free copy of the book!
Book Blog Tour2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00

Latest News

Since my website is down for a while, here are the latest news regarding my books.

1. Athanasius, fourth title in the series Christian Biographies for Young Readers, published by Reformation Heritage Books, will be out at the end of August. I am excited about this book! I think it will bring the Nicene Creed to life for children of all ages, raising relevant questions on the divinity of Christ and the importance of creeds and confessions. As in my last book, masterful oil illustrations keep the imagination alive while maps and photos confirm the historical facts.

2. Weight of a Flame, the Passion of Olympia Morata, is my first historical novel (aimed mostly at young girls), and the fifth title in the series Chosen Daughters by P&R. It will be out on September 20th. In the story, Olympia Morata, a young Italian scholar (arguably the most prolific woman writer of the Reformation), learns to overcome the pain of rejection, religious persecution, exile, illness, poverty, and war by resting her hope on God's promises. Although her circumstances may be exceptional, her responses and feelings are universal, and young girls will easily identify with her. It's a true story - dramatic, but also poetic and inspiring.

3. Lady Jane Grey, fifth title in the series Christian Biographies for Young Readers, published by Reformation Heritage Books, is under way! Matt has just started sketching the illustrations and I will be taking photos of our models in the next few weeks. I am also in the process of re-checking my manuscript. Professor Eric Ives, Emeritus Professor of English History at the University of Birmingham and author of Lady Jane Grey, a Tudor Mystery (arguably the most authoritative book on the subject), has graciously agreed to check my final manuscript. Dr. Diarmaid MacCullough, Professor of History of the Church at the University of Oxford, has also kindly answered my questions on the intriguing time of English history when Lady Jane lived. I could never thank them enough!

4. I am also working on a bite-sized biography of Renée of France for Evangelical Press. This is part of a series of books directed by Dr. Michael Haykin, Professor of Church History at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The deadline for the manuscript is January 2012. Emanuele Fiume, expert on Church history and author of several books, has graciously agreed to write an introduction.

5. Besides these projects (and my normal workload as mother), I am also hoping to continue my series of articles on parenting for the Outlook, and I am trying to finish a Study Guide for my book on John Owen.

6. Upcoming interviews. An interview with White Horse Inn will be included in their September CD, which is sent out to their supporters. Another recent interview with the staff at Westminster Seminary of California bookstore will be posted on their website and other places on the web soon.

7. Book talks. I am scheduling book talks for my upcoming book, Weight of a Flame. The first talk will be held at the Mission Valley Public Library in San Diego. I will update this post when I receive the exact date.

8. Blog Book Tour. I am organizing a Blog Book Tour for my upcoming books. Details will be published soon.

9. Other Book Tours. I have been invited to speak about my books and about Christian books for children in general (and about the importance of teaching theology to children) in Indonesia! The tour will take me to Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bali. My gracious host is Rev. Sutjipto Subeno, pastor of Gereja Reformed Injili Church in Surabaya and head of Momentum Christian Books I will be leaving on October 23 and returning on November 8. The hero at this time will be my husband Tom who will be filling both his and my shoes!

I think this is all. On paper, it looks daunting. In reality, I am not doing much more than before. I am still driving my kids to practice, trying to come up with something original but not too strange for dinner, keeping the house somewhat decent, teaching Italian classes, and translating. Sunday is the highlight of my week, a day of refreshing in God's house, feeding on the means of grace.

Latest News2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00

The Bishop’s Power – an Editing Issue

Originally, in my book on Athanasius, I had mentioned that bishops had more power than they do today. Since most of my young readers are probably not very familiar with the role of bishops, I had described them as "in charge of many churches." That created a problem. A Protestant child may think of a pastor, and what kind of "power" does a pastor hold? My editor, Annette Gysen, and I went back and forth with emails for a while discussing what power bishops held in those days (fourth century AD) and how to explain it to children.

I decided to ask Dr. Giorgio Corti, expert in patristic studies and author of the book Lucifero di Cagliari – una voce nel conflitto tra chiesa e impero alla metà del IV secolo, and he replied by giving the following examples.

1. The bishops' authority depended much on their strength as opposed to the emperor's strength. It was difficult for a bishop to oppose a strong emperor. Bishops like Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, and Cyril were strong personalities.

2. Bishops had a strong impact on their people because they lasted longer than emperors, who often died in battle, at the hand of traitors, etc.

3. Bishops had a better knowledge of their cities than emperors, who lived far away.

4. Bishops lent material help to their people. In Alexandria, bishops granted food to about 1500 people. In Milan, Ambrose rescued the prisoners after the battle of Adrianopolis with the church's money - for this reason, they were very popular, and emperors could not ignore them.

5. For emperors, the problems posed by bishops were some among many others, and could quickly lose importance in the event of more urgent matters. Bishops, on the contrary, were very tenacious in defending their title, because for them this was an essential matter. The bishops had their moments of greatest power when the emperors were busy with political or military problems.

6. Bishops were depending on the church's considerable riches, while the emperors depended on taxes, and were very unpopular for this reason, even with their own officers.

Annette and I realized then that the word "power" was not correct. The bishops didn't have temporal powers as they held instead in medieval times. The correct word was "influence." But how do you explain that to children?

Finally, after reading and re-reading my paragraph several times, the answer became evident. Instead of writing that the bishops were in charge of many churches, I should write that they were in charge of all the churches in a large area or a country. That was enough! If they were in charge of all the churches in a country, of course they had influence on the people, and I didn't need to add explanations.

I decided to post this little editing story here because Dr. Corti's explanation of the power (or influence) exercised by bishops at that time was very interesting.

The Bishop’s Power – an Editing Issue2017-07-13T05:17:12+00:00
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