Thoughts on the New City Catechism

Last time, we noticed that The Gospel Coalition (Tim Keller and Sam Shammas) had released a new catechism, named the New City Catechism (direct PDF download). Heidelblog has already provided a good deal of helpful commentary, which I don’t want to overlap too much, but I thought it would be good to discuss here, since this outhouse is of the Confessional variety.

Treatment of Baptism — Don’t Love It, Don’t Want to Dwell On It

The elephant in the room is that New City Catechism is paedo/credo-agnostic (see Q43-45). This is the first place critics of TGC will look to criticize (show of hands, how many of you looked at only a few questions before fast-forwarding to questions on Baptism? I know I did.) But I’d like to assume for the sake of argument that this is not a trump card, and set it aside — for now at least — to look at other matters. If you are stuck on the baptism thing, and don’t want to give the New City Catechism any further consideration because of it, well, there’s no lock on the Outhouse, don’t let the door hit yer butt on the way out!

Name — Don’t Love It

I mean c’mon, “New City”? I can only suppose they’re aiming at Heb 11:10 here (“looking forward to the city…whose designer and builder is God”), but coming from the citiest of all possible churches in the citiest of all possible cities, it strikes me more as a shameless plug for everything Redeemer NYC stands for; kind of like the sneaky practice of calling a law something like “The Freedom and Puppies Act” (what kind of cad could possibly be against Freedom — AND PUPPIES?!) If the goal was for Redeemer NYC to make a catechism for their own use, and also make it available for others, that would be one thing. But the introduction seems to imply the goal is a catechetical tool for not just Redeemer or even the PCA, but all Reformed churches (including “Reformed Baptists”). So why not search for a name that will not stick in the craw of country folk?

Plagiarism — Love it!

From just the authors and the name of this project, I would have guessed it would be a ground-up fresh effort (like the new PCUSA catechisms). But I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the New City Catechism (let’s call it NCC so I don’t have to keep typing “New City”, see above) is positively littered with quotes from HC and SC. It’s as if HC and SC were dropped in a bag, crushed with a hammer, many of the best bits were fished out, and glued back together with modern language. But that makes it sound bad, really I mean this in the best possible sense!

Length — Meh.

One prominent feature of the NCC is its brevity — just 52 questions, one per week of a single year. I appreciate the nod to the HC’s 52 Lord’s Days; and I am also sympathetic with the concern to provide something digestible by our modern, attention defecitted culture. But 52 questions is not a lot of room to cover what needs to be covered. One response to baptism grouches (who are not reading this far, see above…) might be that with two whole questions about baptism already, there just isn’t space to delve deeper.

More significant than this, however, is that with just 52 questions, NCC fails to follow in SC and HC’s footsteps and provide comprehensive coverage of the 10 commandments, the Lord’s Prayer (and in the HC’s case, the Apostle’s Creed). Some of this lack may well be covered by supplemental materials, at this point I just don’t know.

Structure — Love it!

As already noted, we’ve got the 52-week structure of HC. At a higher level, we have this three-part structure:

  1. God, creation and fall, law
  2. Christ, redemption, and grace
  3. Spirit, restoration, growing in grace

This meshes well with HC’s guilt, grace, gratitude, and it also is fairly similar to SC except pushing the ten commandments before Christ and redemption (which makes pretty good sense, actually).

Also, I think it’s a brilliant touch to pack both children’s and adult’s catechism into one, by making each children’s answer just a subset of the words of the full answer. This catechism was obviously designed with memorization in mind.

Technology — Love it!

The website is very slick, with a clean, consistent layout. Each answer has a fuzz-out toggle to assist memorization, and four buttons, v:[erse], c:[ommentary], play button (video commentary), and p:[rayer]. The color scheme is clever and useful: brown and sand for Part I, blue and water for Part II, green and vine for part III. Apparently the iPhone app has even more bells&whistles, but not being a smartphone user myself, I wouldn’t know. (I’m not sure why there’s no Android app. This seems to be a slight against those who are not trendy enough to own an iPhone — akin to my comments above about the name.) Regardless, I hope  these toys serve to mitigate some of the unavoidable drudgery of catechesis, and reel a new generation into the practice.

This entry was posted in Catechesis, Compare and Confess, Confessionalism, Confessions, Education, Family, Links, New City Catechism, Protestant piety, Resources, Review, Tim Keller. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Thoughts on the New City Catechism

  1. theoldadam says:

    I scanned it (NCC).

    Went right to…you guessed it, Baptism and Lord’s Supper.

    Weak. Very weak on both subjects.

    But then again, I’m a Lutheran and the sacraments are the external Word for us. Pure gospel. Some anything less would be like kissing your (my sister – even worse) sister.


  2. RubeRad says:

    Hey, what are you trying to imply about my sister?!

    And FWIW, all the Reformed I know (well at least those that are striving to reclaim our heritage, not so much those that are striving to be seeker-sensitive) also stress that while preaching is the word made audible, the sacraments are the word made visible, tangible, tasteable, and smellable.

  3. cath says:

    Anyone still around here? Last post was so long ago i’ve started to miss you

  4. RubeRad says:

    That’s so nice! Yes, we’ve really been dropping the ball lately.

    I’m considering taking my family through NCC in 2013 and reviewing it week by week. That would be good for content in the ‘house, but I’m not decided yet how good it will be for my family. Which gives me an idea for a new post…

  5. Pingback: NCC in 2013? | The Confessional Outhouse

  6. Echo_ohcE says:

    Yeah, I think this catechism is a bit sloppy. Sure, it trims down the law to its essence, and I’m OK with that, but they cheated, lumping multiple commandments together like that. As cumbersome as the Westminster Shorter Catechism might be in its treatment of the law, I think it’s very helpful and necessary.

    But one thing that struck me as being very sloppy was Q36. I really bristle at the notion of the Spirit being given to all who believe. It’s sloppy because it’s unclear about the relationship between the giving of the Spirit and our belief. Are we given the Spirit as a reward for our faith? Yes, I read the previous question, 35, which says that even faith is a gift from the Spirit. But the answer to Q36 is simply poorly done.

    And the omission is compounded by A37, which says nothing about the Spirit’s regenerative work. What Q35 gives, Q36 & 37 take away.

  7. RubeRad says:

    I’m not really bothered by 36; it seems an acceptable shorthand to me; but you’re right 37 is missing the whole westminster concept of “applies our effectual calling”.

  8. Andrew Vella says:

    Hi RubeRad,

    Good post on the NCC. I don’t mind it at all, so much so I made an android app ( and mobile friendly website ( that displays the current question for the week (as I can never keep track of the weeks of the year).

    I am in the process of updating the app, so that you don’t need the internet at all (unless you want to watch or listen to the videos/songs), but that might not be till sometime next month..

  9. RubeRad says:

    Hey cool, thanks for putting that together! If I had an Android device, I’d download it in a TKNY minute! I do encourage anybody here in the ‘house to download and try it out.

    Hey Andrew, have you contacted the “official” NCC organization to see if your app can be ‘upgraded’ to be an official android app that they can push on the main website as well?

  10. Pingback: NCC 1 | The Confessional Outhouse

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