Speaking of Revision, Re-stating, and Re-thinking, I’ve got a problem. This week, I decided to rejuvenate family catechesis (or risk being flushed from the Outhouse). Before, I was doing it principally with #1, and marginally with #2, and we stalled out on the first question with a long answer (“Of what were our first parents made?” “God made the body of Adam out of the ground, and formed Eve from the body of Adam”) This time I am making it an all-family goal: by the end of the year, #1, T and I need to learn 48 questions each, #2 needs to learn 16 questions (just shy of our previous stumbling block), and #3 needs to learn only 3 questions. If (when) we meet our goal, we can take a family trip to Disneyland in January.
Since our old catechism booklet is kind of torn up (more through neglect than overuse, sadly), I was going to use a nice spanking new booklet #1 got from church, but as we were going through assessing our starting point, I discovered (shock, horror!) that the two booklets contain different versions! So if all you confessionalists and catechizers have any advice for choosing which would be better to use, I’d appreciate it.
The torn-up booklet I had been using is pocket-sized, (formerly) with a green cover, titled “Catechism for Young Children: an Introduction to the Shorter Catechism”, printed by Christian Education and Publications in Atlanta. With 145 questions, I suspect it is identical to the original(?). The newer booklet is bigger, colorful, with a picture of a boy reading the bible. It is titled “First Catechism: Teaching Children Bible Truths”, and it is put out by GCP, who describe in their introduction:
The structure and content are drawn from the Catechism for Young Children, originally published in 1840 by Joseph P. Engels. His work was an effort to introduce and simplify the concepts of the Shorter Catechism…In this adaptation, we have incorporated changes in vocabulary, grammar and the sequence of questions to make the catechism clearer and more accessible to young children.
Since the newer version has 150 questions, I scanned through to find out what they added. It turns out there are seven new questions:
- How did God create man? God created man, male and female, after his own image.
- How sinful are you by nature? I am corrupt in every part of my being.
- How did you break the covenant of life? Adam represented all people, and so I fell with Adam in his first sin.
- How, then, can you be saved? By the Lord Jesus Christ through the covenant of grace.
- Why must you hate and forsake your sin? Because sin displeases God.
- Why should we obey the Ten Commandments? Because God is our Creator, Savior and King.
- What will God do to unbelievers on the last day? He will judge them, and condemn them to everlasting punishment in the lake of fire with Satan and his angels.
And two questions from the original have been axed:
- With whom did God the Father make the covenant of grace? With Christ, his eternal Son.
- What are the ten commandments sometimes called? The Decalogue.
The latter, of course, won’t be missed, and I’m not sure the former is all that critical. Is it really important for a child to understand the distinction that the covenant of grace is made not directly with the elect, but with Christ, who mediates it to his elect? In place of the missing question are two (inserts 3 and 4 above), still followed by “Whom did Christ represent in the covenant of grace?” “His elect people.”
And then there are wording changes; some for the better (i.e. “What befell our first parents when they had sinned?” becomes “How did Adam and Eve change when they sinned?”), some possibly for the worse (I think “God is a spirit, and has not a body like men” is more elegant than “God is a spirit and does not have a body like men”). Old #50 and #51 (“What is justification?”, “What is sanctification?”) are softened and personalized (“How does God justify you?”, “How does God sanctify you?”), which I think takes away some of the power and distinction of the terminology.
Most striking is the change to the covenantal language:
Before: What is a covenant? An agreement between two or more persons. What covenant did God make with Adam? The covenant of works.
After: What covenant did God make with Adam? The covenant of life. What is a covenant? A relationship that God establishes with us and guarantees by his word.
I guess the reverse order is more consistent with other catechetical practice (see WSC 23…, 32…, 93…). More objectionable (to me anyways) is the switch from “works” to “life”, since “Covenant of Life” sounds like something good for us (although subsequent questions still explain that “No one can be saved through the covenant of life…Because all have broken it and are condemned by it”). But I’ll go along with “covenant of life”, since the terms seem to be confessionally interchangeable (WCF uses only “works”, WSC only “life”, and WLC uses both). Worst is the new definition of covenant, isolating the filial at the expense of the legal. I don’t think even FV’ers should like the change, since it allows no room for man’s covenant faithfulness.
But overall, in compiling this comparison, I think I have convinced myself to go with the new version. In the net, I think the additional questions are an improvement, and I think the modernized language fits well with the concept of Re-stating (to keep it relevant to modern children), without Re-thinking (changing the meaning that has been upheld as biblical by the tradition). What do you think?
Update: a friend from church shared with me these cartoon-filled children’s catechisms. They contain the original version divided into two books: as per Shorter Catechism #3: What we are to believe concerning God, and What duty God requires of man. You can order them off the web, or if you live in San Diego, apparently you can find them stocked at Evangelical.