I toyed with the headline “Gospel Coalition to Lutherans: Drop Dead” but reconsidered, as it seemed a little severe, and they did publish a characteristically smart piece by Gene Edward Veith on vocation a few days ago.
In any event, the folks over at the Gospel Coalition have revised, updated, modernized, pick a modifier, the classic catechisms of the Reformed faith.
Historically 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 doctrine 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 counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.
When looked at together, these three purposes explain why new catechisms must be written. While our exposition of gospel doctrine must be in line with older catechisms that are true to the Word, culture changes, and so do the errors, temptations, and challenges that we must be equipped to face and answer.
So, with all that in mind, we decided to adapt Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.
We also decided that New City Catechism should comprise only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg’s 129 or Westminster Shorter’s 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.
If you surf over to the New City Catechism site, you will see that there are 52 questions and answers, as well as classical quotes given as further commentary and also prayers. (There’s also an iPad app.)
Among those pressed into service from the church universal, besides the major figures from Reformed/Calvinist history, are St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, and Martin Luther, who is quoted on prayer but also on — wait for it — sanctification. (That should earn another 200 comments somewhere.)
Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through Christ alone, must we still do good works and obey God’s Word?
As the earth bringeth not forth fruit except it be watered first from above; even so by the righteousness of the law, in doing many things we do nothing, and in fulfilling the law we fulfil it not, except first we are made righteous by the Christian righteousness, which appertaineth nothing to the righteousness of the law.… But this [Christian] righteousness is heavenly, which we have not of ourselves, but receive it from heaven; we work not for it, but by grace it is wrought in us, and is apprehended by faith…. Why, do we then nothing? Do we work nothing for the obtaining of this righteousness? I answer, Nothing at all. For this is perfect righteousness, to do nothing, to hear nothing, to know nothing of the law, or of works, but to know and believe this only, that Christ is gone to the Father, and is not now seen; that He sitteth in heaven at the right hand of His Father…as…our high priest intreating for us, and reigning over us, and in us, by grace…. He that strayeth from this Christian righteousness, must needs fall into the righteousness of the law; that is to say, when he hath lost Christ, he must fall into the confidence of his own works. But…when I have Christian righteousness reigning in my heart…I do good works, how and wheresoever occasion arise…. Whosoever is assuredly persuaded that Christ alone is his righteousness, doth not only cheerfully and gladly work well in his vocation, but also submitteth himself…to all manner of burdens, and to all dangers of the present life, because he knoweth that this is the will of God, and that this obedience pleaseth Him. …
From Commentary on Galatians, translated by Erasmus Middleton (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1979), xv–xviii.
Interesting, too, is the question and answer on baptism:
What is baptism?
Baptism is the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; it signifies and seals our adoption into Christ, our cleansing from sin, and our commitment to belong to the Lord and to his church.
The Commentary is from Lewis, who refers to baptism as entry into the Body, the church, and our interaction with the Head, Christ. Lutherans are scratching their heads right about now. “Certainly there’s more?”
Is baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?
No, only the blood of Christ and the renewal of the Holy Spirit can cleanse us from sin.
Now, this shouldn’t be a surprise, given the Reformed character of the Coalition. Obviously, this is not a catechism for Lutherans or High Church Anglicans. Its view of the sacraments is clearly deficient. And while its doctrine of a limited, or particular, Atonement is muted, the implication is certainly there, which would also leave Arminians fending for their catechetical selves.
Are all people, just as they were lost through Adam, saved through Christ?
No, only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith. Nevertheless God in his mercy demonstrates common grace even to those who are not elect, by restraining the effects of sin and enabling works of culture for human well-being.
Now certainly only Universalists proper would declare all people saved. But for whom did Christ die? Is Christ the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”? Or only the sins of the Elect?
Curiously, not all in the Reformed camp are crazy about this enterprise. Darryl G. Hart, over at his Old Life blog, is contemptuous, but it’s unclear whether it’s because it elides the differences between Presbyterians and Baptists, and he’s an Old Life Orthodox Presby, or because Tim Keller is associated with it, whose ministry Hart also finds contemptible, a kind of kitschy “brand,” a fad or fashion, which he likes to ridicule with the initialism TKNY. Read for yourself.
Should Lutherans follow up with a revamped catechism for 2012, repleted with iApps and Helvetica typeface?