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Weekend Reading: The Good News We Almost Forgot

September 23, 2011

The Book. This is not the first thing I have read by Kevin DeYoung, and I am certain it will not be the last. He is a talented writer who makes his point clearly and usually in layman’s terms. The Good News We Almost Forgot (2010, Moody Publishers) is no exception. DeYoung is part of the Reformed Church in America, which is descended from the Dutch Reformed tradition. In this book, he revisits one of the classic catechisms of the Protestant church, the Heidelberg Catechism. It is a series of 129 questions and answers divided over a 52 week (1 year) period.

DeYoung sees the structure of the Heidelberg Catechism as being unique in two ways:

First, the overall structure fits into the pattern of salvation found in the book of Romans. After two introductory questions, the Catechism deals with man’s misery (Questions 3-11), man’s deliverance (12-85), and finally, man’s response (86-129) – or to put it more memorably: guilt, grace, and gratitude, second, the Heidelberg Catechism’s 129 questions and answers are divided into fifty-two Lord’s Days. Besides making it easy to preach from the Catechism (one of its original purposes), this division also makes the Catechism convenient for family devotions every Sunday or personal catechetical reflection once a week. (page 17)

DeYoung takes the questions and answers for each Lord’s Day and adds a short (3-5 page) explanation/devotional thought. And he does this well. The book is well laid out and well written.

The Point. DeYoung wants to reintroduce the Heidelberg Catechism as a guide or map for churches and believers to be informed on the basics of Reformed faith and tradition. Without doubt, the church (in many cases) has lost its way. He begins the introduction with this: “The only thing more difficult than finding the truth is not losing it.” In DeYoung’s thinking, the Catechism is the way to keep from losing the truth. We are always trying to renew and reinvent, but maybe what we need to do is return. Return to the basics. Return to the root.

The Heidelberg Catechism is, according to DeYoung, an accurate, systematic, time-tested method of teaching that can return the church to right teaching and thinking and keep it there.

The last, and one of the most important, points of the book is in the epilogue. There, he admonishes that our theology should be at our core, not a crust. We should not be crusty Christians. He identifies two marks of a crusty Christian. The first is attitude. Too many wear their distinctive like an armor or use them like a weapon. The other is a lack of approachability. They are hard to be around and critical. They tend to make every point of doctrine an essential.

The Result. I really like this book. It introduced me to the concept of the catechism. A catechism could be an excellent tool for passing the faith from one generation to the next, as illustrated by the fact that the Heidelberg Catechism has worked for about 450 years.

The title of this book is truth. In a time and culture in the church that has an attitude of “let’s just love Jesus and each other”, we need a dose of doctrine. He is also right that every point is not essential. We so often hear proponents of various theological positions screaming at each other, defending their doctrinal territory. As someone who is not a Calvinist, I especially see that coming from defenders of Calvinism. Let me be quick to point out that they are not the only ones guilty of this. I have some recent experiences that tell me this may be changing. I have heard several popular, strong Calvinists speaking at events hosted by an Arminian group. This truly warms my heart. DeYoung expresses a similar sentiment.

When theology is more crust than core, it’s not so much that we care about good theology too much, we just don’t care about some other hugely important things in the same proportion. So we end up largely skeptical of a prayerful, fruitful, warmhearted, godly, Arminian leaning pastor. now, I might think such a pastor is prayerful, fruitful, warmhearted, and godly despite too much emphasis on libertarian free will, but I sure hope to be might thankful for all his prayerfulness, fruitfulness, and warmhearted godliness. Some Christians allow evangelism to trump all other considerations; others size up fellow Christians by their attention to social justice concerns; but a lot of us do our judging with theology, if the theology fits, the lack of mission, prayer, and compassion doesn’t matter much. But if a few theological pieces are misplaced in the puzzle, see you later and don’t let Hymenaeus and Philetus’s door hit you on the way out (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). (page 244)

I do not come from a Reformed theological tradition. I am not a Calvinist. There are some places where I disagree with the scriptural interpretation in the Heidelberg Catechism, as well as by DeYoung. That being said, I really liked this book and found it incredibly insightful and helpful. I will take many ideas, not the least of which is the idea of a catechism-like method of instilling truth into children and new believers.

Thoughts?

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