What do Christians truly believe and why? Do those beliefs differ as much as we suppose? The New City Catechism Devotional book, which Crossway kindly sent me to review, reminds us that we’re in agreement more often than we might think.
Edited by Collin Hansen, the book's Introduction by Timothy Keller laments the loss of catechesis in most churches, many of whom outline their beliefs in “statements of faith.” But is this enough? As the intro explains:
“Catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel – not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrines of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counterculture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.”
In presenting a new catechism, “The New City Catechism is based on and adapted from Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism.”
This book differs, however, in that “The New City Catechism consists of fifty-two questions and answers, so the easiest way to use it is to memorize one question and answer each week of the year.”
Although you can do this alone, you’re encouraged to work with another Christian, your family, or a church group as you discuss the questions, quiz one another, and apply to your life these three areas of faith :
Part 1: God, Creation and Fall, Law (Questions 1-20)
Part 2. Christ, Redemption, Grace ( Questions 21-35)
Part 3: Spirit, Restoration, Growing in Grace (Questions 36-52)
In each section, pages begin with a question, relevant scripture, and commentary by contemporary and classic writers ranging from John Piper and Timothy Keller to Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and more with the back of the book providing brief bios on each.
Since I’m an ecumenical Christian who often thinks, “Can’t we all just get along?” the idea of this book greatly appealed to me. As I read the questions and answers, I saw that most Christians will likely agree with the responses to all but a very few.
For instance, Question 27 may leave some uncertain about their salvation, whereas Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and some Protestants will take issue with Question 43, “What are the sacraments or ordinances?” and Question 47, “What is the Lord’s Supper?”
I mention these differences in perspectives, not to point out what divides us, but to show how very few things do! The more we know this, the more apt we’ll be to show respect to other sincere Christians who have a different understanding than ours of what certain scriptures mean. The more we listen to each other, the more accepting we’ll be. The more accepting, the greater the strength and love in us becomes visible and winsome to the whole world.
Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017, reviewer and poet-writer of the new book PRAISE!
The New City Catechism Devotional, hardback