New City Catechism
The New City Catechism is the most recent edition to the Reformed lineage of catechisms. In the works for several years by Redeemer Church in NYC under the guidance of Tim Keller, it was published in 2017 (Crossway), and is comprised of 52 sections, one for each week of the year.
The language is clear, concise, and up-to-date. It's available in two print editions—one with just questions and answers and another for devotional use, with each Q-and-A paired with a Scripture reading, a short prayer, and a devotional commentary. It's also available as a mobile app, and they are working on a school-age curriculum to supplement its use (expected Summer 2018).
Shorter Westminster Catechism
The Shorter Catechism, written in the 1640s, has also long been a favorite among Reformed folk, as well as by many Baptist and Independent congregations.
It begins with this an unforgettable introductory question:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God,1 and to enjoy him forever.
The Heidelberg Catechism, published in 1563, is still a favorite among Reformed churches, relished for its warm, humane approach to teaching doctrine. It's divided into 52 questions, one for each week of the year.
A new translation has been done by Lee Barrett III (United Church Press, 2007).
It's initial question sets the tone for the kind of work it is:
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
The Geneva Catechism is the fruit of Calvin's work on the catechism. He published two versions—the first in 1537 in French, the second published in Latin in 1545. The first was aimed at catechizing children and adults lacking basic competency. It was based on the first edition of the Institutes (1536), a text which was itself intended as a catechetical document, but soon realized would need to be expanded at length. Yet, even this version of the catechism was too complex, so he revised a simpler french version in 1545.
The second, written in Latin, also published in 1545, was aimed at a larger, more educated audience (one that could read Latin). It also had an ecumenical aim: if all countries, despite varying catechisms, can publicly profess the truth of Christ, that would help achieve the "unity of faith" that we strive for.
Calvin's earlier catechisms followed Luther's order: Decalogue-Creed-Prayer, but in the second edition he reversed the first two, reflecting a theological nuance. For Luther, the Law convicts us of sin; for Calvin (though he agreed with Luther), the more important "use of the Law" in catechesis is to point towards a God-pleasing way of life.
The final arrangement is:
- Faith (the Creed)
- Law (the Decalogue)
- Prayer (Lord's Prayer)
- The Word of God
- The Sacraments
Aids to the Reformation Catechisms
Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism (Chicago: Moody, 2010).
John Hesselink, Calvin's First Catechism: A Commentary (WJK, 1997).
T. F. Torrance, The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church (Wipf & Stock, 1959).
- Philip Harrold, a professor at Trinity School of Ministry, has written a nice short article summing up Torrance's contributions to Reformed catechesis in Christianity Today ("Getting to Know Him: Catechesis at its Best Is a Very Personal 'School of Faith.'" Sept. 2012).
Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Zacharius Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Williard.
G. I. Williamson, The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide (P&R, 1993).
G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Shorter Catechism: For Study Classes (S&R, 2003).
For a lengthier bibliography of Reformation catechesis, click here.