Following Christ, Faith and Life Series, Revised Edition, Book (grade) 6. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.
Coming to God’s Word, Coming to Faith Series, Book (grade) 6. New York: William H. Sadlier, Inc., 1998.
The purpose of this review is to compare two commonly used sixth grade Catholic religion texts and give parents some insight if either of the texts would be something they would want their child using in school or to determine if it would be good for home schooling. Immediately listed below is general information on the texts, Following Christ and Coming to God’s Word, followed by some brief first impressions, then a comparison review of the texts. The review concludes with a more in-depth critique of the first four chapters of the Coming to God’s Word text and a summary.
The texts along with information for home schoolers and interested parents
Following Christ, Faith and Life Series, Revised Edition, Book 6. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.
154 pages, Nihil Obstat/Imprimatur, scripture quotes from Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition.
Glossary and prayers at end of text
30 lessons, Teacher’s Manual Available, pricing/resources available on webpage
From the publisher:
THEME: The blueprint for a life of love: the law of God, especially in the Ten Commandments, and the presence of Jesus in the Holy Mass. The interaction of the challenges of God’s law and his gifts of grace that help us fulfill his law.
SEQUENCE: Part 1: The Ten Commandments. Forming the conscience and increasing closeness to God.
Part 2: The Holy Mass. An emphasis on the Real Presence and Christ’s sacrifice and explanation of the parts of the Mass.
Part 3: The Last Things. Death and God’s judgment of us, with an emphasis on the great happiness of Heaven.
AIM: To help the sixth grade student learn to love the law as Christ did and to cherish and love the Mass as our best prayer to God, and especially to revere and adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Coming to God’s Word, Coming to Faith Series, Book 6. New York: William H. Sadlier, Inc.,1998.
304 pages, Nihil Obstat/Imprimatur, scripture quotes from New American Bible.
Glossary and prayers at end of text
34 lessons with some of the lessons being reviews or tests, Teacher’s Manual available to those with a teaching certificate, interactive web page with student online activities, pricing/resources available on webpage.
From the publisher:
Coming to God’s Word was written to help young people unlock the treasures of the Bible. With it they will also discover why the Bible is so important in our lives as Catholics.
Sixth graders will come to appreciate the Bible as God’s word for our lives. From the Old Testament, the young people will learn of God’s great love for our ancestors in faith and how they can enrich our lives today. From the New Testament, they will learn more about the good news of Jesus Christ, the beginnings of the Church, and how to live the gospel message each day.
Every time they use this book, young people are encouraged to ask the Holy Spirit to help them:
* be enthusiastic about learning the wonders of God’s word
* ask questions about anything that puzzles them
* explain in their own words what the Bible means to them
* try to practice their faith better each day and live as God’s people
When I first picked up the texts and paged through them, I quickly noticed that the Following Christ text had a painting of Jesus Christ on the cover (by Fra Angelico), which I thought set a serious, maybe better described as respectful, tone. Whereas, Coming to God’s Word , had a “mosaic” of children and a teacher splashed on a cosmic background, not providing any indication about the subject matter contained inside. Since I don’t have children of school age, and allowing for the fact that it’s been a long time since this cradle Catholic opened a grade school text book of any kind, I thought the cover pages alone might be telling.
Comparing the texts
Layout – As mentioned previously, the Following Christ text has a painting of Jesus on the cover and is predominately filled with beautiful artwork and iconography. The logical and simple layout of the Following Christ text lends itself to easily finding chapters, words to know, chapter questions, scripture quotes and stories on saints. On the other end of the spectrum is the Coming to God’s Word text. Inside Coming to God’s Word , there are outdated photos and lots of color. The layout is busy and confusing, with the text almost being secondary and filling in the space around the photos and artwork. It is even hard to discern one chapter from another.
Format – The overall format that is followed by Following Christ is: chapter title, scripture quote, about four pages dedicated to the chapter topic, words to know and then chapter questions. It is significant to note that the questions at the ends of the chapters are taken from the chapter text and relate directly to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, including citations to aid parents/students/teachers in cross-referencing. The format followed by the Coming to God’s Word is: chapter title; introductory discussion; “We Will Learn,” which are objectives of the chapter; approximately six pages of discussion; “Faith Summary;” “Coming to Faith,” which is a question or two about the chapter; “Practicing Faith,” which is an activity done in a group; and, then a chapter review. It should also be noted that although the Following Christ text has fewer pages of discussion, it contains fewer pictures and has smaller text so the pages dedicated to the chapter are generally equivalent to the Coming to God’s Word text.
Grade level – There is no comparison here. Following Christ maturely presents the material to pre-teens, using age-appropriate language and grammar. Ideas are presented at a higher level – students are challenged to think about social/theological/moral issues instead of pop culture-related issues. The Coming to God’s Word text is more simply written and uses shorter, choppier sentences and paragraphs and therefore doesn’t challenge the student or instruct the student as thoroughly.
Catholicity – Again, no comparison. At first glance, it is obvious that the Following Christ text is Catholic. From the Ignatius webpage: The Following Christ lessons incorporate the four principal components of catechesis—the Creed, the Commandments, the Sacraments and Liturgy, Prayer and Scripture. Throughout the series, every aspect of Christian life is addressed:
* What we believe (the Creed)
* What we do (the Commandments)
* The means to our end (Sacraments and Liturgy)
* What we hope for (Prayer and Scripture)
To provide some examples, the Following Christ “Words to Know” from Chapter 1 are, Decalogue, Ten Commandments, Covenant, and conscience. And, in Chapter 2, worship, adore, superstition, impiety, heresy, idolatry, sacrifice and apostasy. Included in Chapter 1 are seven paragraphs on conscience. Within these paragraphs some of the Catholic ideas mentioned are: “forming” a conscience, mortal sin, Sacrament of Penance, grace and the Holy Spirit.
Discerning the Catholicity of Coming to God’s Word is more challenging and this shouldn’t be if this is a Catholic religion text. While Coming to God’s Word , in Chapter 1, does talk about the differences in the number of books in the Catholic bible compared to Protestant bibles, it does this in one paragraph without using the word Deutorocanonical, but does find time to mention that the first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah. It does mention the Holy Spirit, inspiration, revelation, and the Old and New Testaments (terms taken from the review section). While Coming to God’s Word doesn’t say anything offensive to Catholicism, at the same time, it doesn’t say anything to distinguish the Catholic faith from other religions and certainly doesn’t inspire one to be Catholic. This distinction seems especially critical at an age where children are moving away from filling their heads with facts and entering a more thinking/logic-filled stage.
In Coming to God’s Word “Coming to Faith” section, the questions are: “List at least three good reasons why you think it is important to study the Bible?” And, “What do you think it means to say that the Bible is the word of God in human language?” Comparing this to Following Christ questions: “What must we do to live according to the will of God?” “What are the Commandments of God?” “What is the foundation of all our duties toward God and neighbor?” “Why are we obliged to keep the Commandments of God?” “Does one who deliberately breaks a commandment of God in a serious matter sin gravely?” Clearly, the Following Christ text is trying to help “form the conscience” of the student instead of asking questions that don’t necessarily further the students’ understanding of Catholicism. In fact, Coming to God’s Word seems to be “generically Christian” in its presentation and it further digresses in its “Practicing Faith” section where the students share with a friend one important thing they learned about the bible and then has the students sing together in a group. These activities seem to distract, instead of support, what was learned and are even childish, insulting or offensive to a group of pre-teens. For example, see page 65 where the students sing Kum by ah.
The Coming to God’s Word text draws heavily on the Bible (citations provided in the text, although many citations are “based” on bible passages) at the expense of other Catholic sources, and rarely delves deeper into what Catholics actually believe and practice relating to the scripture citations in the chapter. This is what gives the Coming to God’s Word a generically Christian tone. It’s heavy on Bible study, song singing, group activities, and 1960’s sensibilities, while being light on Catholic faith formation.
General comments on the Coming to God’s Word text through the first four chapters
Because I didn’t have any serious complaints with the Following Christ text and it stands on its own, I thought I would provide more examples about the problems with the Coming to God’s Word text. The Coming to God’s Word text spends a great deal of time on unnecessary analogies and examples. Its approach to subjects is topical, with as much discussion given to other beliefs or extraneous ideas. This text spends too much time on asking the student how they feel or think, instead of providing them with the foundation to know their faith and tools to be able to defend it.
Chapter 1, Knowing the Bible – Starts out with an example of the Hubble Telescope. One of the initial paragraphs states, “There are some questions for which thinkers and scientists will discover answers in due time.” The context is the universe and our place in it, but what questions is the Catholic Church still waiting for answers on? The text seems to imply the Church doesn’t yet have the answers and doesn’t discuss the Mysteries of the Church or place things in any relevant context. Or, it implies that some things that have been established can be changed when the “thinkers and scientists” find the real answers. It leaves one wondering just what their point is given the “big picture” of being a discussion in a religion text. No mention is made of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and their role as great thinkers who have handed down the Bible to us. The chapter also says, “Studying the Bible helps Jesus’ disciples to be like satellites, receiving and communicating God’s message of love to all.” Strange analogy, but typical of this text.
Chapter 2, Understanding the Bible – Chapter begins with a fictional place called “Sanfran,” which is supposed to be San Francisco discovered in the future by a group of archaeologists who find an old newspaper clipping. The students are asked, “What conclusions might the archaeologists reach about life in A.D. 2000 from these writings?” “What makes a fax different from a phone call. How is film different from a newscast?” Think about a message of God’s love that has real meaning for you today. Write it on a strip of paper. You can work with a partner. Then in your group, decorate a sturdy, sealable container to serve as a capsule, and then bury the capsule for people to find in the future. Pray for the people who might find the capsule. Role-play what these future archaeologists will say about your messages. Other than this very odd beginning, the remainder of the chapter is fairly technical in briefly discussing different types of literary forms, such as family trees, parables, short stories, laws, advice, fables, hymns/prayers, history and speeches. It also discusses reverence for the Bible and showing reverence at Mass.
Chapter 3, Created to Be Like God – Starts with a discussion of the Iroquois Indians and mentions sky-people and a sky-woman. Continues with a short, pantheistic story of how the Iroquois believed the world began. It then mentions that the Israelites believed in the one true God and makes distinctions between the beliefs of the Israelites and the Babylonians. States that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, but goes off track when it talks about humans being “partners with God in the work of creation…decide together on something you can do to protect the beauty of our world.” This emphasizes ecology without mention of the creation of children or protection of the innocent, disabled, infirm or elderly.
Chapter 4, Created for God – Mentions over and over how Adam and Eve are “equal partners.” It also says, “Women and men are equal partners with each other, and true partners with God.” Veers off strongly in its political correctness in this part of the chapter. It does talk about grace and the mentions the Septuagint, although it seems a bit out of place here.
While the chapters of the Following Christ text may be a bit short, they are orthodox in their content. The presentation and language are age appropriate and the text provides good explanations of topics, helps further the students’ role in apologetics, works to develop an appreciation of Catholicism and form young consciences. The Coming to God’s Word text is topical and generically Christian. It sometimes makes a good point, but its overall effort falls short in every aspect. It is too juvenile in its approach, especially the emphasis on group activities that have nothing to do with Catholicism or religion in general. It tends to be politically correct and has strange 1960s sensibilities. The Following Christ text is one I would use in my home, whereas the Coming to God’s Word text I wouldn’t use even if I got a free copy in the mail for fear it would “water down” or trivialize Catholicism in the eyes of my child. It would be interesting to compare the Following Christ text to another good source, where the comparison would be apples-to-apples.
Reviewed by Monica Lambrecht, BS Chemical Engineering, University of Washington; BA Business Administration-Finance, University of St. Thomas; currently a stay-at-home mother of an infant and toddler. August 2005.