A faith worth teaching:
the Heidelberg Catechism’s enduring heritage
Jon D. Payne & Sebastian Heck (editors)
Reformation Heritage Books, 272 pages, £17.12, ISBN: 978-1-60178-218-2
Star Rating : 3
This volume of essays is a contribution to the 450th anniversary of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC), one of the most popular of the catechisms to come out of the Reformation. Beloved by generations of Christians, it became known as the ‘Book of comfort’, because of its first question and answer, ‘What is thy only comfort in life and death?’
It is written by scholars and pastors, who are warmly committed to both the content and practical use of the HC, and who want to encourage other believers to benefit from its rich legacy.
It is not really a book for the popular reader, however. The issues treated and the terminology often employed suggest it is a work aimed more at pastors, students and those conversant with theological discussion. Anyone who appreciates Reformation doctrine and its ramifications carefully set forth in its historical context will find this a rewarding volume.
The chapter on the HC’s reception in the United States may be of limited interest to a British reader; nor may the essay on scholasticism in the HC’s treatment of salvation have such a wide appeal, but the rest of the book, following the HC, deals with topics that are at the centre of the faith.
The HC’s teaching on the significance of the sacraments is examined in two chapters, highlighting the positive value of the sacraments in the Christian life, in a way that is sorely missing in much preaching and writing today.
One of the distinctive features of the HC is its division into 52 Lord’s Days, so that it can be preached through in the course of a year. This practice, common in the Reformation, continues today in some Reformed denominations with Dutch roots.
Joel Beeke mounts a compelling case for this practice and then describes practical ways of doing it. Preachers will surely find themselves challenged as how they might at least make more use of great catechisms in preaching and teaching. Two chapters at the end of the book, dealing with the HC as a catechetical tool, complement those on preaching the catechism.
Several essays treat the HC’s exposition of various key Christian doctrines: the church, justification and sanctification, the person and work of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. In each case the author shows what a carefully balanced document the HC is, guiding the people of God through a minefield of errors to the right and left on these vital issues, as relevant to theological controversies today as it was 450 years ago.
Seven pages of selected English bibliography on the HC, for further study on this treasure of the Christian church, add to the usefulness of this volume.