In advance of the release of Something Worth Living For Matthew Barrett and Credo blog asked me to write a series of blog posts touching upon the value of a catechism. With their permission I am reposting these here for those who did not see them there.
Imagine an evangelistic conversation that goes something like this:
“Man, I just don’t know why I get out of bed any more.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, the world is such a mess and I feel such stress at work and at home.”
“Wow, I get it! It’s the same with me. Life is so confusing. But God has given me a way to see a path through it all, at least.”
“Yes. I suppose. But that religious stuff never made sense to me.”
“I know. But I’d love to talk about that. Have you heard of the 107 spiritual laws?”
Clearly there was a good reason that Bill Bright chose just four spiritual truths to make his evangelistic appeal. And yet, every time Christians encourage non-Christians to consider Christianity, they are inviting them to embrace something larger than can be expressed in four, or eight or ten statements. In a day when the very word “God” is understood, if at all, with rambling diversity, the way we communicate the gospel requires breadth and clarity. And though I’m not suggesting we see the Westminster Shorter Catechism and its 107 questions and answers as a gospel tract, the theology it unfolds is, in its heart and essence, the gospel. It is not simply a tool by which others come to know religious stuff. It is a doorway inviting them, and ourselves, to come to know, and to love, God.
As any good presentation of the gospel will do, the Catechism begins with the questions people themselves are asking. People wonder why they exist. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What’s it all about? That is, the Catechism begins, “What is the chief end of man?” People have tried money and sex and everything else Solomon bemoans as meaningless. The question, “What is there worth living for?” is an urgent question for all, Christian and non-Christian.
Of course, the answer the Catechism gives, that we are to live “. . . to glorify God and enjoy him forever” challenges our treasured human self-centeredness, among other things. The Catechism grounds this claim in the fact that there is a God who has spoken. This God has given us in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments a call and reason to glorify and enjoy him, and a rule by which we are guided in our response.
Many, of course, struggle to believe the Bible, even those sitting in our pews. And yet Christianity is a complete package. To believe in God is to believe that he is and that he has spoken. We believe the Bible because it is the word of God, and we know God by the word he has given. These things are to be taken as a whole.
And so the Catechism invites us to understand the two primary things the Bible teaches: what we are to know about God set side by side with the response God expects of us. To put it another way, the Catechism outlines how we are loved by God and how we love him in return.
Questions 4-38 introduce us to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are shown our sin in all its misery and God’s wonderful provision of a redeemer. The redeemer’s person and work is shown and the fruit of his work outlined. That is, we are shown why people need salvation and how God provides it. This is how God loves us.
Then beginning with question 39 we are shown how one responds to this provision. We learn of the law God has given, of the nature of faith and repentance, and of the value of the church and her sacraments and of prayer. Here we are shown, in response to who God is and what he has done, how we live for his glory and enjoy him forever. This is how we love God.
The Catechism, in other words, paints the full gospel picture by which we can tell the whole truth to a world aimlessly trying to find its way. It reveals the beauty of the gospel, something we all need to hear.
French Philosopher Blaise Pascal noted that in persuading others of religion we must “. . . make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Penses, 12). The Catechism makes all of us once again wish that Christianity were true, especially those of us who have lost sight of the beauty of salvation and the hope of our “full enjoying of God to all eternity.” (Q/A 38)
It gives us a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. It reminds us that we have something worth living for. It is a gospel worth knowing, and sharing.