Non-Westminster Catechism


It’s not just old, it links us to our fathers.

Speaking of creating a new catechism

I’m in favor of revising confessions and catechisms, in principle. For instance, I think we could use some language about male ordination. And how about nailing down IAOC? It would be nice to replace “in the space of six days” with some of the some of the results of the OPC Creation Report, which a little more clearly spelled out latitude among various doctrines of creation. One of my pet peeves is that grammar of the beloved SC Q. 1 doesn’t match A. 1. I mean c’mon, just choose one of “Man’s chief end” or “The chief end of man” and stick with it. Fer da kids. (And I can recommend many more grammatical improvements to aid memorizability, from my experience developing this.)

But the Achilles heel of the Westminster standards is that they are so good, so close to infallibility, that they have stood unchanged for centuries, and like the original freewheel on a 1970 Falcon San Remo, after all that time it gets pretty hard to move. And if we open the door to change, who knows what shenanigans would go on. I’m worried the net result would not be an improvement, but, um, what’s the opposite of improvement? Deprovement? Exprovement? You get the point. Baddening.

But not everybody is so squeamish to protect Westminster. It’s an interesting exercise to see what the Presbyterian Mothership is up to in the catechism department. I had trouble finding confessional documents at, but it seems that the PCUSA web presence is spread across a few different URLs, the biggest of which is for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly General Assembly Mission Council), which hosts a page on confession and catechism. The word “Westminster” is strangely absent from that page, but they’re big on Belhar, they’re fond of French, and as of 1998 they seem to have replaced the Westminster Shorter and Larger (or judging by scope, perhaps Children’s and Shorter?) with Belonging to God: a First Catechism, and The Study Catechism.

I plan to wander through those artifacts in coming posts. I expect to have mostly a critical response, but I will try to keep an optimistic eye open for good stuff as well. I hope Keller et al also read through them as a guide for what not to do (and maybe a little what to do), as they embark on their new writing project. (And of course it wouldn’t hurt to take another pass through the Shorter and Larger to see what to keep.)

[UPDATE] Immediate change of course! I didn’t realize that Keller had just yesterday “launched” New City Catechism. I think it would be more timely if we dove into this first (the new PCUSA catechisms have waited 14 years, they can wait a little longer…), to ask penetrating questions like, Why is there only an iOS app? Are Android smartphones inherently less sanctified (sanctifying)?

This entry was posted in Catechesis, Compare and Confess, Confessionalism, Confessions, DG Hart, Education, Family, Links, New City Catechism, Old Life, Spiritual discipline, Tim Keller. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Non-Westminster Catechism

  1. Bruce Settergren says:

    Nice bike! A true classic, like the WCF.

    The problem with writing a new-improved catechism is who gets to anoint whom to undertake the task.

  2. RubeRad says:

    Nice bike! A true classic, like the WCF

    Takes one to know one, thanks for the bike, dad!

  3. Confused as to why a PCA pastor would be part (with others at the Gospel Coalition) of putting together a “new” catechism that apparently does not take a position on baptism. Is this for use at his church? (If so, why not include a question or two on baptism?)

    That being said, I like some of the other features – including insights from scholars of yesteryear as well as last year.

  4. RubeRad says:

    The problem with writing a new-improved catechism is who gets to anoint whom to undertake the task. [AND] Confused as to why a PCA pastor would be part … of putting together a “new” catechism

    Well surely the GA as a body is already anointed to undertake such a task (appoint committee(s), follow procedure to adopt/update, etc.) I don’t have any idea whether there has been any cooperation/communication between Keller/TGC and PCA/OPC or any NAPARC bodies regarding this catechism. As such, it can only be considered an unofficial side-project, and nobody is bound to it (and I can’t imagine Keller or anybody would try to bind anybody to it, but I can conceive that if this takes off, somebody might move at GA to adopt it as an additional confessional artifact, as-is or with revisions).

    How would you rate the standing of this artifact with, say, publications from Great Commissions, like sunday school materials, or the Trinity Hymnal?

    why not include a question or two on baptism?

    There are in fact two questions on baptism (three if you count the mention in “What are the sacraments or ordinances?”). I’ll get to that eventually…

  5. I was incorrect in stating that the catechism did not include questions on baptism per se.

    Not stating a position on baptism with regard to the “who” and the “how” would seem less than helpful (even if broadly-appealing).

  6. mikelmann says:

    I’m fine with the bare theory of writing a catechism, but, like you, I’m dubious of putting together the cast to do it. Take a look at the Westminster Divines: . What denomination can put together a comparable group?

  7. Lloyd I. Cadle says:

    I think it is good to see the Westminster catechims as a great compliment to the “Three forms of Unity.” There is one Reformed church here in the Phoenix area that actually uses all of the above as their whole package of confessions.

    The only change that might be good–as noted, is on the creation account. Also, for some of the younger folks, an easier to read version (sort of an NIV) might be helpful.

  8. Lloyd I. Cadle says:

    By the way…..I grew up riding a bike like that!

  9. RubeRad says:

    Thanks for dropping by on your sweet vintage bike, Lloyd!

    There are maybe some other things to change; apparently most/almost all new ordainees nowadays take some amount of exception to Westminster’s extremely strong language concerning the Sabbath and/or Images, so maybe those should be looked at.

    As for newer language, it’s helpful in theory, but it works against the ability for churchmembers from multiple generations being able to confess (i.e. recite) together during worship.

    Although the language has been static for centuries, so I guess if we were to make a long-overdue overhaul, we could take another pass at trying to put the language in a state that would be ready for the next few centuries!

  10. I do find that the wording of the Heidelberg (Q.103) to be much more agreeable on the Sabbath than that of the Shorter Catechism (Q.60-61). (And I personally have not taken an exception to the “recreation clause.)

    I checked Ursinus’s commentary on the Heidelberg to see if he went any further in his treatment of the Sabbath (i.e. did his explanation/exposition end up sounding more like the Shorter Catechism with reference to spending the whole day in public and private worship), but he did not appear to do so. He was very consistent with the wording of the Heidelberg. Worship is the priority for the day. Anything that hinders that is to be avoided. I find that much more helpful.

  11. Pingback: Thoughts on the New City Catechism | The Confessional Outhouse

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