Revision II

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:

  1. How did God create man? God created man, male and female, after his own image.
  2. How sinful are you by nature? I am corrupt in every part of my being.
  3. How did you break the covenant of life? Adam represented all people, and so I fell with Adam in his first sin.
  4. How, then, can you be saved? By the Lord Jesus Christ through the covenant of grace.
  5. Why must you hate and forsake your sin? Because sin displeases God.
  6. Why should we obey the Ten Commandments? Because God is our Creator, Savior and King.
  7. 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:

  1. With whom did God the Father make the covenant of grace? With Christ, his eternal Son.
  2. 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.

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23 Responses to Revision II

  1. Rick says:

    We have the new “First Catechism” and haven’t found any reason not to like it. I had no idea about the “axing” and wish that first one axed was still in there.

    But get this, there is a Church here in town that has a revised version of the revised Children’s catechism (they published their own) that has 151 Q&A’s. Here’s the addition:

    Q. How long did it take God to make the world?
    A. God created the world in six twenty-four hour days.

    I kid you not. That’s an extra-confessional and extra-biblical statement if ever there was.

  2. RubeRad says:

    I’m sure they would claim it’s barely beyond WCF 4.1 “in the space of six days”.

  3. RubeRad says:

    I changed a section near the end, starting with “striking…”

  4. Rick says:

    Yeah, CoW is better that CoL for sure. I wonder what that was all about? Easier for the kids to understand?

    WCF 4.1 doesn’t try to tell us how long the days were.

  5. rana says:

    i wonder if the covenant language changes were influenced by Kline’s teaching?

  6. rana says:

    Ruebad or others what Children’s bible do you read to your kids? I have a scholastic one my mother-in-law bought. I thought Geerhardus Vos’ daughter published a children’s bible, maybe I am making this up. any thoughts.

    We use the Catechism for Young Children, not that we have gotten far. I also have another children’s catechism that I think Jim Dennison edited (?) somewhere, again I could be wrong.

  7. RubeRad says:

    i wonder if the covenant language changes were influenced by Kline’s teaching?

    I doubt it; Kline is all about Works!

    what Children’s bible do you read to your kids?…I thought Geerhardus Vos’ daughter published a children’s bible, maybe I am making this up.

    Strangely, I never put Vos and Vos together, but friends from church gave us a great story bible by Catherine Vos. I highly recommend it. And if you’re looking for more resources on good reading material for kids, I recommend two books my Aunt helped write (and my cousins guinea-pigged all the actual reading for): thisn and thatn.

  8. Rick says:

    I think Rana meant that the changes happend as a reaction against Kline. Could be.

    I like the Catherine Vos Childrens story Bible but I don’t like some of the pictures.

    Marianne Radius (Vos’ Daughter) has a few childrens bible story books. They’ve been repackaged and (unfortunately) renamed something like, “Sermons for Children’s Church” or something. But if you ever come across Radius’ “Two Spies on on a Rooftop” snatch it up right away!

    Radius on Amazon HERE

  9. Zrim says:


    We use the Jesus Story Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Tim Keller helped edit it (!). It is basically a Redemptive Historical model and is pretty good.

    I have to get some fresh stuff for Bible and Catechism. But for now, I use a booklet put out by Faith Alive resources (CRC) with my oldest and have found myself editing from older forms for my youngest.


  10. RubeRad says:

    I haven’t bought it yet, but I’ve heard very good things about this commentary on Genesis for children (first of a series; Exodus and Numbers are also out there, and I guess more to come)

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  12. RubeRad says:

    The discussion over here about infants and election, which wandered off to infant baptism, reminded me that I also prefer the old version of the children’s catechism concerning baptismal washing with water:

    Before: What does this signify? That we are cleansed form sin by the blood of Christ.

    After: What does this washing with water represent? That we are united to Christ and cleansed from sin by his blood.

    This is kind of like the “ought not to worry” that Rick brought up, which historically implied to many guaranteed election. The old version seems to clearly allow that “we are cleansed” not to mean “exactly when we are baptized”, but “in general, we cannot be cleansed from sin, except by his blood”.

    In the newer version, it’s kind of strained to read it as “That we are (united to Christ and cleansed from sin) by his blood”, and more natural to read that the washing with water in baptism signifies “(that we are united to Christ [right now by baptism]), as well as the fact that we are cleansed from our sin by his blood”.

  13. RubeRad says:

    Update: see the main post for some more links to children’s catechism materials (old version)

  14. Echo_ohcE says:

    1Pet. 3:21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    1Pet. 3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

    Laying the possible baptismal-regeneration difficulties of this aside for the moment, I’m only quoting this to support this argument:

    We ought not think of baptism as a washing that cleans us from sin.

    Rather, we ought to think of it as passing through a water ordeal.

    In ancient times, if you were on trial, you were tossed into the river. If you survived, the gods had saved you, if you drowned, the gods had judged you. This was often how they judged people in ancient times.

    There is something in common with the flood here. Noah and his family were saved from the flood because Noah was declared righteous by God (i.e., justified).

    So baptism signifies that we have passed through judgment unscathed, the judgment not of the gods, but of God.

    It symbolizes a favorable judgment from God, it symbolizes our justification.

    To me, washing can tend towards meaning sanctification, and that’s not what baptism symbolizes. It doesn’t symbolize our cleanliness, but that we have been declared righteous based on Christ’s righteousness, not our own.

    It symbolizes that. It is not that. It is not justification, it symbolizes justification. And it does not symbolize sanctification.

    So baptism doesn’t wash us, nor does it symbolize that we are being washed. It symbolizes that we have passed unscathed through the waters of judgment. It’s not a washing.

  15. Echo_ohcE says:

    Oh, Rube, for you:

    Click the catechism links, the worksheets on the right side of the page.

  16. Echo_ohcE says:

    In fairness though:

    Q. 94. What is baptism?
    A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

  17. Echo_ohcE says:

    Nothing about “washing” here:

    CHAPTER 28
    Of Baptism

    1. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.

    2. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

    3. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

    4. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.

    5. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

    6. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.

    7. The sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.

  18. Rick says:

    We need a baptism post. Or two, or three.

    Baptism is one of my hobby-horses. I can get shamed and mocked and taken to task on many topics – but I think I can hold my own on baptism.

    I just don’t know how to create a baptism post out of thin air. – I usually just jump in on discussions elsewhere.

  19. RubeRad says:

    Echo, just because baptism is not about sanctification, does not mean that “washing” is an out-of-bounds way to think about it. It’s interesting how Ephesians 5:26 tacks the qualifier “through the word” onto “cleansing her by the washing with water”, but “without spot, wrinkle, or blemish” tells me this cleansing is speaking of justification.

    There’s also Heb 10:22, in which the sprinkling with blood is the signified, and the washing with pure water is the sign.

    Thanks for the links; those are sweet catechism worksheets — are you making them? Unfortunately, you’re about 8 weeks behind me. In my 3-4th grade class, I am supplementing their GC curriculum by giving them a 5min/week introduction to the shorter catechism. This week we just did Q19.

    I’m only making them memorize intermittently, so far only What is the chief end of man, what is God, and what is sin. But as we review, they know summary answers, like A3=”believe, do”, or A8=”creation, providence”, A12=”covenant of life”, A17=”sin, misery”.

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  21. Echo_ohcE says:

    Yeah, I might need to back off my unfriendly attitude to the language of washing. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

  22. Rick says:

    Maybe you could help me understand something. the Westminster Standards aren’t strong on baptism as a sign of washing yet make a point of saying that immersion is not necessary.

    That seems strange to me – because we arrive at the modes of sprinkling and pouring from our view that baptism is, in addtion to a sign of judgment, a sign of cleansing.

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