When I was a kid, the only time I ever heard the word “catechism” was when a friend grumbled about how he couldn’t be wait to be done with it when he was thirteen. I had no idea what a catechism was, but sounded horrible—obviously it was some sort of hellish torture device. So imagine my surprise when I eventually learned that it was a simply a series of questions and answers about the Bible. (In all fairness, I’ve also come to realize that for someone who doesn’t believe the Bible or have a desire to know more about Jesus, it would seem rather hellish.)
Kevin DeYoung knows all about this. Growing up in the Christian Reformed Church, the Heidelberg Catechism was a part of his life. While he always appreciated it, it wasn’t seen as something terribly exciting. But it was in his seminary days, seeing the reaction of his fellow students, that he was reminded of just how meaningful the Heidelberg Catechism really is. “My classmates were seeing something many of my peers had missed. The Heidelberg Catechism is really, really good” (p. 16).
That, ultimately led DeYoung to write The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism. DeYoung structures the book as a devotional commentary, sharing his insights on each of Heidelberg’s 129 questions over 52 Lord’s Days. The catechism’s questions are run opposite each of DeYoung’s essays, allowing readers like me to appreciate the Heidelberg for itself.
That, honestly, is one of the things I appreciate most about The Good News We Almost Forgot. I love learning about historical Christian thought and seeing the catechism’s structure—covering the broad topics of guilt, grace, and gratitude while explaining the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer—is fascinating.
The authors understood well the necessity of our understanding our sinfulness before we can grasp the importance of God’s grace. That’s not to say that they spend an inordinate amount of time on it; as DeYoung notes, “The guilt section is by far the shortest with only three Lord’s Days and nine Questions and Answers. The authors of the Catechism wanted Heidelberg to be an instrument of comfort, not condemnation” (p. 25).
And a great comfort it is. Reading the Heidelberg itself was, in some ways, more enjoyable than reading DeYoung’s commentary. It’s a very pastoral document, challenging readers and encouraging them in their understanding of Christian doctrine. A favorite entry is Question 28:
How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?
We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from His love. All creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they can neither move nor be moved. (p . 58)
Simple, yet profound.
DeYoung’s commentary, meanwhile, is lively and fast-paced; if you’ve read any of his other books, this will be no surprise to you. He doesn’t try to come off as showy, but he is very sharp. I especially enjoyed his defense of the virgin birth on pages 75-78. Here, he writes:
Is the virgin birth really that essential to Christianity? The answer . . . is a resounding Yes!
First, the virgin birth is essential to Christianity because it has been essential to Christianity. That may sound like circular reasoning, but only if we care nothing about the history and catholicity of the church. . . . But if Christians, of all stripes in all places, have professed belief in the virgin birth for two millennia, maybe we should be slow to discount it as inconsequential. . . .
Second, the gospel writers clearly believed that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. . . . If the virgin birth is false, the historical reliability of the Gospels is seriously undermined.
Third—and this intersects the Catechism—the virgin birth demonstrates that Jesus was truly human and truly divine. How can the virgin birth be an inconsequential spring for our jumping when it establishes the very identity of our Lord and Savior? . . .
Fourth, the virgin birth is essential because it means Jesus did not inherit the curse of depravity that clings to Adam’s race. . . . So if Joseph was the real father of Jesus, or Mary had been sleeping around . . . Jesus is not spotless, not innocent, and not perfectly holy. And as a result, we have no mediator, no imputation of Christ’s righteousness (because He has no righteousness to impute to us), and no salvation.
So yeah, the virgin birth is essential to our faith.
In my mind, DeYoung’s final exhortation is probably the most meaningful part of this book. After writing a book on theology and loving theology, he reminds readers that theology is worthwhile if it works its way down to our core. Anything else makes us unbalanced.
If it is worth anything, our theological heart will pulse throughout our spiritual bodes, making us into people who are more prayerful, more godly, and more passionate about the bible, the lost, and the world around us. We will be theologically solid to the core, without the unnecessary crust. Kind of like the Heidelberg Catechism. And kind of like Jesus too. (p. 244)
The Good News We Almost Forgot is a delightful, pastoral read that reminds readers to appreciate the wisdom of the saints who have come before us—because their insights can remind us of the beauty of the gospel, and the God who brings it.
Title: The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2010)