In the book blurbs C.J. Mahaney (please don’t make DeYoung guilty by association based on what you think or suspect Mahaney has done) notes:
“I’m sure this will be the best book on the Heidelberg Catechism I’ve ever read. I know it will be the first.”
Sadly I think this would apply to most American Christians. Most have probably never even heard of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC), much less a book on it. While my own denomination holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith, we hold the HC in high esteem as an expression of Reformed Theology. Each has their strengths. One of the strengths of the HC is its pastoral tone (the Westminster is more theological in tone, thought it does express some pastoral concerns) and it’s structure. It is not structured like a systematic theology but is structured largely around the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. It uses these three as guides to instruct us in basic theology and Christian living. It was designed for children but is suitable for adults. The questions are broken into 52 sections so the whole catechism is covered in the span of a year.
“We need the gospel to remind us that we are still practicing sinners whose only hope for both eternal life and today’s blessings from God are ‘Jesus’ blood and righteousness.'” Jerry Bridges in the Foreward
The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism was taken from Kevin DeYoung’s weekly articles in the church newsletter. This is an introduction to the HC so the chapters are not long or exhaustive. Don’t mistake that for shallow or superficial. DeYoung usually does a good job of identifying the main points he must stress in a given week. He is not overly technical, so less theologically-oriented or experienced Christians can understand and benefit from what he has to say about the HC.
DeYoung properly notes that the structure of the HC is important (as does Bridges in the Foreward: guilt => grace => gratitude). He brings this up when talking about the Law. The purpose of the Law for Christians is to show us the way of gratitude, how we please God and what it looks like to become like Christ. As Israel receive the Law AFTER being redeemed from Egypt, we must remember that as Christians we have already been redeemed and do not seek to redeem ourselves by our obedience. This is not just an Old Testament idea, but as Bridges notes it is also the pattern of Romans (and Paul’s other general letters).
Just as in expository preaching you can’t avoid uncomfortable topics, in following along with the HC he does not avoid uncomfortable subjects like God’s justice (and therefore wrath), election and the like. He handles them gently, but firmly. At times he contrasts historic, orthodox Christianity with Mormonism so we can see the significant differences between the two. There are times he contrasts Reformed (and therefore Protestant) doctrine from Roman Catholic doctrine, particularly in the sections on the Sacraments.
At times he makes me ask questions. During his discussion of the Lord’s Table he talks about it as a family table where we enjoy fellowship with one another. I wrote down “how can/do we enjoy fellowship w/each other at the Table?” No small question but one we usually don’t consider. We’ve tended to make it a “me and Jesus” moment when it should be a “Jesus and us” moment. I don’t have any substantial answers to this question yet.
As a document from the 16th century, there are many ways in which the theology is quite counter-cultural. It should be so for our ways are often not God’s ways. As our own culture distances itself from the Gospel, that gap will increase. The teaching of the HC will seem old-fashioned, out of step, repressive etc. Appearances can be deceiving. Most people who would think so look at it from the wrong vantage point: the vantage point of guilt, grace & gratitude. From that vantage point we will appreciate the HC which offers comfort to those who have found life in Christ.
He has an appendix that addresses the HC in relationship to contemporary issues in the RCA. Some, in defending a more permissive view of sexual sin (particularly homosexuality) have argued that they are not really addressed in the HC. DeYoung explains why it is not addressed directly and how it is addressed indirectly. This book was written before the church DeYoung pastors had decided to leave the RCA for the PCA due, in part, to the constant push to affirm homosexuality.
This book is another example of why I appreciate Kevin DeYoung’s writing ministry. Like R.C. Sproul he is able to express important and difficult material in a clear and accessible manner. He writes books I can recommend to other people to help them grow. It also whets my appetite for other books on the HC like The Triple Knowledge.