Speaking about the value of catechism…Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI, and one of the bloggers here at Evangel, recently agreed to an interview about his new book The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, which is on the Heidelberg Catechism. I originally posted the interview at In Light of the Gospel, but thought I would share it with the readers of Evangel.
James Grant: Let’s start with the obvious question: what is a catechism? And isn’t this some Roman Catholic thing?
Kevin DeYoung: A catechism is simply a tool for teaching the fundamentals of the faith. Unlike a creed or confession a catechism uses questions and answers. Many Protestant confessional traditions, like Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Reformed, have used catechisms for centuries. Initially, most catechisms were intended for children. Though we probably aren’t as biblical or theologically astute. So our adults need them too.
James Grant: What would be the benefits of using a catechism in the life of the church?
Kevin DeYoung: I can think of a lot of benefits: 1) It’s an intuitive way to learn about the faith. There’s almost a conversational element to reading through a catechism. 2) When we use old confessions and catechisms were help teach our people that their faith is an old faith, shared by millions over many centuries. We also help them realize that other Christians have asked the same questions. 3) Catechisms are ready made documents for Sunday school, new members classes, or even the occasional sermon. 4) Catechisms guard us against faddishness and chronological snobbery.
James Grant: How do you use it at your church? And what are some other suggestions regarding how to use a catechism.
Kevin DeYoung: We use the Heidelberg Catechism in our worship. Sometimes we read it responsively. Other times I’ll work it into my communion liturgy. I’ll quote it in my sermons from time to time. I’ve seen the Catechism used effectively as Sunday school material. It’s best to have littler kids memorize parts of it and have older kids explore the nuances of the theology. We also have a section on the Catechism in our membership class and leadership training. And of course, my book on Heidelberg started out a weekly devotionals for my congregation.
James Grant: Regarding the Heidelberg Catechism in particular, what makes it so helpful?
Kevin DeYoung: With one or two exceptions, it is very irenic. It’s warm, personal, and focused on the gospel. The theology is solidly evangelical with Reformed leanings, but broad enough to be used outside reformed circles. The Catechism majors on the majors: the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. Also, the division of 52 Lord’s Days makes Heidelberg ideal for weekly reading or study.
James Grant: Is there a particular aspect of the Heidelberg Catechism or a section that left a stronger impression on you this time?
Kevin DeYoung: I’m not a Heidelberg scholar. I’m sure I’ll continue to learn more about the ins and outs of the document. But this time around I was struck by the relentless focus on the gospel. The Catechism does talk about our obligations as Christians, but the main theme is grace: how God comforts us, how the cross and resurrection benefits us, how Christ mediates for us. The Heidelberg Catechism is like a refreshing bath with cool gospel water.
James Grant: Outside the first question, have other questions made an significant impression on your study? Which ones?
Kevin DeYoung: I’ve memorized several questions and answers over the years. Q. 21 on true faith is solid gold. Q. 27 on providence is my favorite. I’m also blessed every time I read the question on the Lord’s Supper. I enjoyed thinking more about the ascension too from Lord’s Day 18.
James Grant: What resources would you suggest for someone who reads your book and wants to dig deeper in the Heidelberg Catechism?
Kevin DeYoung: G.I. Williamson has a nice little commentary on the Catechism, though it can be strident at times. Lyle Bierma’s Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism is very helpful. There are several multi-volume expositions of the Catechism, but they can be pricey and a little too much of a good thing. If you can get your hands on Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism that may be the best supplementary resource.