Book Review: The Good News We Almost Forgot, by Kevin DeYoung
What thoughts usually come to mind when the word â€œcatechismâ€ comes up in conversation? Hopelessly outdated? Long, tedious, and abstract? A divisive and uncharitable word-club, wielded to the dread and consternation of poor, stodgy children, who have grown interminably pale and listless by reason of forced exclusion from fresh air and exercise, and over-exposure to sixteenth-century archaisms? True, I may be describing the impression in a bit of an overdone fashion, but I think there's enough truth in the portrayal to strike a nerve. Catechizing our children is simply not in vogue these days, at least in much of the Western Church; and the perception of catechizing is largely negative. Why is this? Is the skepticism warranted? Kevin DeYoung is to be thanked for doing a tremendous job of answering that question in the negative; and he is to be thanked all the more heartily for choosing to do so with that most precious, gospel-rich catechism of them all (with a couple close contenders!), the Heidelberg.
Really, where in two-thousand years of church history may one encounter a more beautiful, compelling, and succinct summation of the gospel and the Christian life than the Heidelberg Catechism? They who look askance at catechisms either have no eye for beauty and truth, or have not looked closely enough at the Heidelberg. And in either case, a fresh dose of this catechism may prove a very healthy corrective.
Kevin DeYoung has done a good job in providing this fresh look at the Heidelberg; and he has done so in such a way as to bring out the fact that this sixteenth-century catechism is not outdated, but eminently practical and relevant to many controversies peculiar to our own time and society. It is not abstract, dull, or hard-to-follow, but surprisingly simple, profound in an easy-to-comprehend sort of way, and full of that intuitive and surprising beauty which characterize truly great expressions of the pure, unadorned truth. It is not uncharitable, nor excessively divisive and polemic, but rather a warm, pastoral, and tenderly loving guide to the great truths of the bible. All of the common, largely negative stereotypes melt away in the down-to-earth and up-to-date meditations in DeYoung's book.
But wasn't the catechism written to address such questions as transubstantiation versus memorialism versus spiritual presence in the Eucharist? Justification by an external righteousness imputed versus an internal righteousness infused? All of those questions were hammered out centuries ago, weren't they? What can the catechism teach me about the hot-button items of today? Does it address political agendas, environmental concerns, the question of homosexual behavior in the Church, contemporary versus traditional forms of worship, the â€œdeeds not creedsâ€ mindset of the â€œemerging churchâ€ and other such movements? Surprisingly enough, in these and many other such issues, DeYoung brings the truths of the Catechism to bear in surprisingly helpful and relevant ways. And he always does so in a style that is very straightforward, engaging, charitable, winsome â€“ if there is anyone who does not come across in the academic, stodgy manner with which so many people acquaint the old catechisms, it is DeYoung. And yet, as he makes very clear, he himself loves the catechism immensely and finds it anything but old, boring, or out-of-date.
Will everyone agree with every opinion he gives on the plethora of practical issues that come up in the course of his walk through the catechism? No, it is only to be expected that a person may have a quibble here with his application of the second commandment to the question of portraits of Jesus, or a raised eyebrow there over his â€œvivacious baby-baptizingâ€ [!] â€“ but his secondary opinions are all framed quite charitably, and the essence of his theology is so soundly gospel-centered that I can't foresee any true believers coming away from the book scowling. Helped in many ways? Yes. Made to think more deeply about practical matters? Yes. Just a little miffed over a minor point made here and there? Perhaps, if there are any readers out there who have strong opinions on certain theological matters (and don't we all, to some degree?). But disappointed with the book as a whole? I can't imagine that anyone would come away with that impression â€“ unless, of course, he is a little upset by the true Gospel of God's grace itself.
Because, really, when you get right down to it, that's what the Heidelberg Catechism is: a faithful portrayal of the Gospel of God's grace; and DeYoung's book is a faithful explanation of what the Heidelberg Catechism says, rounded out with specific applications of it to every topic under the sun. Which is just to say that this really is a book about the good news of the Gospel; and if we really have â€œalmost forgottenâ€ this good news (and in some cases, I'm afraid to say, we largely have), then nothing can be a more pressing issue than â€œrediscovering the gospel in a 16th century catechismâ€.
â€œThis has been a book about theology,â€ DeYoung candidly admits in the epilogue; â€œabout knowing theology and loving theology. But if we've really paid attention to the Heidelberg Catechism, this should also be a book about warmhearted experiential faith. In fact, knowing and loving theological truth is what produces the warmhearted experiential faith.â€ Kevin, I concur.
The Good News We Almost Forgot: available at Monergism Books.