There’s been a renewed interest in catechisms, lately. If my pulse on this is correct, it is partly because of the success The New City Catechism has had as well as the demand of the 2014 Anglican Catechism to be improved. My interest in reviewing this Anglican Catechism is not because I am Anglican, but because of the comparisons and trends I have seen in catechisms overall. One of the general principles of the Reformation was Semper Reformanda (always reforming), and if you look at this current catechism through that kind of lens you can see it is in active conversation with its predecessors.
For its format, To Be A Christian follows the following structure:
Part I: Beginning with Christ
Part II: Believing in Christ
Part III: Belonging to Christ
Part IV: Becoming Like Christ
As you can see, the central theme is Christ-centered and Christ-driven. To this end, Part I begins with the following introductory paragraph:
This catechism is designed to teach you what it means to be a Christian. It shows you what is essential for Christian faith and life. It will open for you the door to knowing Jesus Christ and experiencing the wonder of God’s love through him. If you follow its teaching, it will help you to become a citizen of God’s kingdom and fully involved in the life and mission of his Church. And it will anchor you in the reality of God’s unquenchable joy, beginning in this life and ever increasing in the life to come.
As noted in the preface, this approved 2018 edition has been improved upon the feedback of the 2014 edition. Its notable features are its conciseness and explanations it chooses to include that other catechisms do not. As for the former, consider the first question and answer:
1. What is the human condition?
Though created good and made for fellowship with our Creator, humanity has been cut off from God by self-centered rebellion against him, leading to lawless living, guilt, shame, death, and the fear of judgment. This is the state of sin.
Because it begins with the status of humanity, its remedy is close at hand. Notably, the following question (What is the Gospel?) is one that is shockingly missing from many famous predecessors, to include the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Luther’s Small Catechism, The Baptist Catechism (to include the one used by Founders Ministry and a version John Piper adapted) and even the recent The New City Catechism. All of them touch the question, but none actually ask it! Though it is implicit or nested under other questions (such “what is effectual calling”?) This present catechism wastes no time to get to such a crucial question.
2. What is the Gospel?
The Gospel is the good news that God loves the world and offers salvation from sin through his Son, Jesus Christ.
This second question likewise illustrates a strength of the catechism as a whole - in being mostly concise in its answers (some get a bit longer later on). All the answers also include helpful proof-texts or resources for further study making it a versatile tool for a variety of settings.
Part II: Believing in Christ, feels a bit different because it centers itself on the Apostles Creed. If you are church that regularly uses this, this won’t feel strange at all. The purpose for using the creed is not any kind of subversion to scripture, but, as question 19 explains:
The purpose of the creeds is to declare and safeguard for all generations essential truths about God, the Church, and the world, as revealed in Holy Scripture.
On the heels of this section is one devoted to scripture, which helpfully shows the source from which creeds are derived and can serve as any kind of guardrail.
Article III, which centers on the Holy Spirit, also contains some refreshing changes from previous catechisms. For example, question 84 is “Who is the Holy Spirit?” The wise word choice of the “who” makes a gentle but needed correction to prior versions (I’m picking on The New City Catechism, here) that worded questions like, “what is God?” God is not a “what” but a “who.” This necessary change gives the catechism a rightfully personable feel.
In places that some questions do not have proof-texts, they are still left with other on-ramps to investigate the doctrine. For example, question 125 reads:
125. How do these differ from the sacraments of the Gospel?
No text is given but rather a parenthetical note to “(Articles of Religion, 25).” This feature has a benefit and a draw back. Its benefit is that it can be difficult at times to point to singular text and say, “See! This proves the entire doctrine of the trinity in a single verse.” More exegesis and theology needs to be done to articulate some of our richest doctrines. So, in order to side step making a clunky proof text, they point to a clarified expression of what scripture teaches in the Articles of Religion. The downside could be that the layman who wants to go look at the texts themselves and wrestle through it with others doesn’t immediately have text to follow. This doesn’t detract from the quality, necessarily, but it is good to be aware of it if you plan on teaching others with this catechism. Simply put, more resources will be necessary beyond the catechism and a bible.
In all, it’s a wonderfully clear catechism I know I’ll be comparing other catechisms to and referencing. As for an audience, I would be doubtful if children under the age of eight could memorize these slightly longer answers (compared to The New City’s children version, once again) and understand the concepts. Any parent can make their kids repeat something. But parroting an answer and understanding the larger scope of the theology behind the question and answer takes time. Thus, I see this catechism getting the best mileage at twelve years of age and up. I’m basing this evaluation on a comparison to an adapted Baptist catechism I use with my own children as well as The New City Catechism which has its children’s mode with songs and music accompanied with it. When I tried one of these questions with my oldest (she’s almost seven, in the first grade but reading at a third-grade level) it seemed to be a difficult for her to hold the concepts together. Consider this one I tried on her from the Anglican Catechism:
28. What is in the New Testament?
The New Testament proclaims Jesus Christ’s birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension; the Church’s early ministry; the teaching of the apostles; the revelation of Christ’s eternal kingdom; and the promise of his return.
With a little bit work, she’ll have this memorized. But unless you understand the concepts, memorization is pointless. Just in this one question you have words like: proclaim, resurrection, ascension, and revelation. Some of these we use fairly often. Others, like ascension, we do not. This illustrates, first, catechism (and theology) builds on the previous foundation that has been laid. Secondly, catechesis is highly contextual. The person discipling simply needs to be mindful of who they are teaching and what they can understand. Derivative of this is knowing how long you have with the group or person you’re teaching. In total, there are 368 questions in To Be a Christian. If you did one question a week (which I think is reasonable pace) you would complete this catechism in a little over seven years.
As far as the coverage of the content, anyone who finishes this catechism and commits its concepts to memory will have a wonderful scaffolding from which to continue to build and nourish their faith. There is no significant theological gap or concern that would cause me to tell someone they should not use this. I’m not Anglican so this is probably not the catechism of choice I would use. Some terms and concepts I would qualify or systematize differently, for sure. But I wouldn’t rebuke my Anglican brother or sister for using this solid resource. For myself, it will operate mostly as a reference. Take that for what it’s worth.
One final thought, I wish there was another document available without all the introductory remarks, qualifications, publication, appendixes and committee data. A clean sheet with questions, answers and scripture proofs would shorten this catechism significantly and it would certainly be less distracting while flipping through it and hunting for the questions.
*Note: I received a free copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.