Historically, the church’s ministry of grounding new believers in the essentials of Christian faith has been known as catechesis. Specifically, catechesis is the systematic instruction in the foundations of the faith, including what we believe, how we pray and worship, and how we conduct our lives.
Traditionally, we’ve used the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments to teach basic theology, prayer and worship, and lifestyle and ethics to the faithful. The Heidelberg Catechism has played that vital role in the Christian Reformed Church.
While catechesis flourished between the second and fifth centuries of the ancient church, during the Reformation, and in the Puritan period, it has waxed and waned in popularity through the centuries. For most contemporary Christians, the idea of catechesis is largely an alien concept, one greeted with suspicion.
However, two recent books from evangelical publishers point toward a resurgence of interest in this classic method of passing on the faith.
First, Kevin DeYoung offers The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Moody). DeYoung, a pastor in the Reformed Church in America, introduces the Heidelberg Catechism by dividing its 129 questions into 52 reflections—offering a convenient road map of devotional commentary to understanding the 450-year old teaching tool and the robust riches of the gospel.
Second, for those who want insight into the historic practice, J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett provide Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way (Baker). They make an extended case for a recovery of significant catechesis as a non-negotiable church practice, showing it to be complementary to, and of no less value than, Bible study, expository preaching, and other formational ministries. The authors urge evangelical churches to find room for this biblical ministry for the sake of their spiritual health and vitality.
While both books have broader audiences in view, they can serve as helpful reminders to Christian Reformed churches of the ongoing value of their faith foundations.
by Eric Metaxas reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who died at Nazi hands for his part in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, knew years earlier “that he had been ‘grasped’ by God; that God was leading him, and sometimes where he preferred not to go.” In this thorough, inspiring biography, Metaxas leaves no doubt that the crisis faced by Bonhoeffer and other Christians in Germany was a “battlefield between Christ and Antichrist.” (Thomas Nelson)
by James Davison Hunter reviewed by Robert N. Hosack
In this landmark book, Hunter (Culture Wars) asks why Christian efforts to change the world have so often failed. He trenchantly critiques the most popular models of world-changing, which turn out to be the political theologies of the Christian Right and Left and the Neo-Anabaptists—Colson, Wallis, Crouch, and Hauerwas all fall short. Hunter argues that these political theologies fail the creation mandate in “implicit theory and explicit practices” and suggests a deeply theological alternative: the practice of “faithful presence.” (Oxford)
Symphony of Praise
by Prague Symphony Orchestra reviewed by Lloyd Rang
If you enjoy great orchestral music, you need to buy the Prague Symphony Orchestra’s three-CD set, Symphony of Praise. Themed around the persons of the Trinity, the album weaves together hymns and other worship music with symphonic threads that will move lovers of classical music and those who grew up with these great songs of faith. Halfway through the first CD, a meditation on God the Father, I felt a lump in my throat as the truth of his love for all creatures was illuminated anew. Quite simply a brilliant work of praise.
reviewed by Lloyd Rang
The social networking tool-of-the-moment is Foursquare.com—a service for cell phones and other mobile devices that lets people tell their friends where they are or where they have been. Users receive points for how often they check in at particular locations, and a good deal of the fun comes from competing with friends to become “mayor” of certain spots around town. As with all social networking tools, privacy is an issue, and new users would do well to weigh the pros and cons before diving into Foursquare headfirst.
reviewed by Josh Larsen
With the courage and feminist foresight of a biblical heroine, 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) undergoes a harrowing journey toward nobility in this purposefully dingy independent film. Stuck in backwoods Missouri with a catatonic mom, two young siblings, and a drug-cooking dad who has disappeared, Ree must navigate a cruel, patriarchal subculture—lawful and otherwise—in order to achieve independence. While watching this tough story of an unlikely triumph, don’t be surprised if the Bible’s Deborah comes to mind. (Lionsgate)
by Kathryn Erskine reviewed by Kristy Quist
Ten-year-old Caitlin prefers black and white. She likes shirts without itchy tags and hates the noise and crowd at recess. She has Asperger’s syndrome. She and her father are also recovering from the loss of her older brother, who was killed in a school shooting. This sweet, sensitive, and funny juvenile novel is written from Caitlin’s perspective as she navigates and works to become part of the confusing world around her. Ages 9-12.(Philomel)
Our Town: Hip-hop singer Tobymac encourages Christians to bring hope and healing to their hometowns and the world in his book City on Our Knees, a compilation of thoughts, quotes, prayers, and anecdotes. (Bethany House)
Fun Run: Love Facebook? Love running? Try the social networking site for runners: Dailymile.com.
Call to Worship: The Calvin Symposium on Worship reconvenes Jan. 27-29 at Calvin College and Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich., bringing together worship leaders, pastors, students, and anyone else interested in worship.
Exit Here: Christian pop singer Brandon Heath releases Leaving Eden, his latest album, this month. (Provident)