Tim Keller has written a new catechism, New City Catechism, for Redeemer Presbyterian, the local church where he serves as the pastor. He has made this resource available to the broader evangelical community.
Here are a few introductory blog posts Keller has written about it, which are excerpts from the Introduction to the Catechism. Underneath each post, I will include pertinent excerpts. There are many good and valid reasons to use a catechism in the life of a family and the church. You will read some of them below. There are also cautions. In another post, I will address the actual New City Catechism. And in a separate post I will address some of the strengths and weaknesses of catechisms, or more accurately why they are to be used, and some of the concerns/cautions when using them.
But in the evangelical Christian world today the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost. Modern discipleship programs are usually superficial when it comes to doctrine. Even systematic Bible studies can be weak in drawing doctrinal conclusions. In contrast, catechisms take students step by step through the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer—a perfect balance of biblical theology and doctrine, practical ethics, and spiritual experience.
Catechesis is an intense way of doing instruction. The catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts in deep, encouraging meditation on truth. It also holds students more accountable to master the material than do other forms of education. Some ask: why fill children’s heads—or for that matter, new converts’—with concepts like “the glory of God” that they cannot grasp well? The answer is that it creates biblical categories in our minds and hearts where they act as a foundation, to be gradually built upon over the years with new insights from more teaching, reading, and experiences. Catechesis done with young children helps them think in biblical categories almost as soon as they can reason. Such instruction, one old writer said, is like firewood in a fireplace. Without the fire—the Spirit of God—firewood will not in itself produce a warming flame. But without fuel there can be no fire either, and that is what catechetical instruction provides.
Catechesis is also different from listening to a sermon or lecture—or reading a book—in that it is deeply communal and participatory. The practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning. It creates true community as teachers help students—and students help each other—understand and remember material. Parents catechize their children. Church leaders catechize new members with shorter catechisms and new leaders with more extensive ones. All of this systematically builds relationships. In fact, because of the richness of the material, catechetical questions and answers may be incorporated into corporate worship itself, where the church as a body can confess their faith and respond to God with praise.
[Quoting T. F. Torrance’s Introduction] “The catechisms set forth Christian doctrine at its closest to the mission, life, and growth of the church from age to age, for they aim to give a comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the context of the whole counsel of God and the whole life of the people of God.”
So the first reason to produce multiple catechisms is that they must serve the whole people of God, and that has always meant catechisms for beginning, intermediate, and advanced learners. There were simple catechisms for very young children, more intermediate ones for those being admitted to the Lord’s Supper, and advanced ones for adults and Christian ministers.
A second reason is that catechisms have always been connected to the “mission of the church”. . . . It is quite evident—if you take the time to read through many catechisms—that each seeks to fortify against the ascendant theological errors in the culture at the time.
Richard Baxter and others of his time saw catechesis as a way not merely to disciple but also to bring people to conversion. So new catechisms were always needed, not in order to change basic doctrine, but to present doctrine in ways that equip people to address the idols and answer the errors of the age.
When the church has gone through a period of reformation there has always been a renewal of catechesis. If we are going to see our people live holy lives in the midst of a post-Christian and anti-Christian culture, we will need to write new catechisms that fit their capacities and equip them for Christian living in the world.
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.