CATECHISMS, THEOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT AND HABITS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

26281_Highlighting_BiblesAs a church, we will be utilizing a tool to help us cultivate habits of spiritual growth and theological development: The New City Catechism. To help us understand this tool and how we will be using it, I’ve put together this blog post answering three questions:

Why use a catechism?

In every age, it is important for the church to know and love God’s Word as it has been passed down and delivered to the saints throughout every generation. It’s all the more critical when the culture around the church is asking the question, “What is truth?” Catechisms help ground the church in the foundational and formative truths of Scripture in the form of focused study and dialogical discussion in a question and answer format.

Our goal as the church is to know and love God. We do that through knowing and loving His Word. Catechisms help us to first memorize and then meditate on those aspects of God’s Word that are foundational to understanding God and His ways. This then proves formative for shaping us as His people in His world.

Sinclair Ferguson writes in Faithful God an insightful observation about one difference between the modern and historic church:

Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechized, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following:

Question: Where do we find God’s will?

Answer: In the Scriptures.

Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures?

Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.

Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question “What does God want me to do?” will be found by answering the question: “How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?”

In this way, catechisms help us to know, understand, and thoughtfully and confidently apply God’s Word to our particular life and situations. 

Take the first catechism as an example:

Q1: What is our only hope in life and death?

A1: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

In a world and age where we are faced with rival claims to our physical and spiritual lives (“You belong to the State.” “No, you belong to your own determinative will; pick your fate and spiritual preference.”), or threats to our person (“Your body is not your own, it belongs to your boy/girl friend, abusive person or threat to your well-being, etc.,” or “Your suffering and experience as a person of particular color is part of life and not my/our problem”), or a form of spirituality that says only the interior life/world matters (“Your mind is all there is”, “This world doesn’t matter”, etc), this question on its own affirms that our bodies, our lives, our skin, our flesh, as well as our minds, our hearts, our inner life not only matter but they are in fact rightfully God’s alone!

It’s an encapsulation of Scripture: 

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:7-8

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” – Psalm 24:1

Everything we do or don’t do; everything that is done to/for us or against us is either an act of rebellion against God and deserving His just judgment, or a response of gratitude and worship to God because of His mercy, forgiveness, and love towards us in our Savior Jesus Christ. In Christ, we belong to God no matter what anyone else says or does.

Catechisms then are tools to help us know and love God and his Word as well as to help us apply it in timely ways in our lives.

Why the New City Catechism (NCC)?

The NCC is a modern catechism formed by the members of the Gospel Coalition. Some of it’s distinctives are that it is a simplified version of longer historic catechism namely the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms. In this way they serve as an introduction as well as a gateway or stepping stone to the other catechisms. It uses modern and simplified language to help communicate clearly the truths of Scripture that can be hard to sift through older and less common language of the historic catechisms.

Some of the features of the NCC also lend itself to easy use in simple family and personal devotional practices.

  • Full version and Children’s version
  • Scripture references for each questions and answer
  • Accompanying commentary in written and video formats
  • Scripted prayers in response to each catechism
  • Some even have accompanying songs or tunes to help assist in memorization

Our hope is that the NCC would be a useful tool to help introduce us to theological training by easily developing the habit of spiritual growth; specifically the habits of focused study of God’s word, prayer, along with memorization, meditation, discussion, and application of God’s word in our everyday lives.

 

How is this going to work for Christ Church Mansfield?

We will be incorporating the NCC into the two aspects of our life together: as a gathered church on Sundays and as scattered households throughout the week.

As a church

For the next year we will incorporate the NCC into our Confession of Faith segment of our weekly worship liturgy. The liturgy leader that day will provide some brief explanation of the specific truth highlighted in that week’s catechism question and response to better serve our understanding of the truth. Likewise, our children will be working through the same catechism questions in the Christ Church Kids Ministry environments (Infants, Pre-school, and Gospel Journey Elementary Ages).

As families/individuals

In addition to our Sunday worship gatherings, we envision and want to encourage each household – whether you’re a family or individual – to set aside some time each week to study and discuss that week’s catechism question. We recommend designating one meal each week as a “family and/or friends” meal where you sit down, eat together, and open up God’s Word and the NCC to work on memorizing and meditating on each question.

We will send out links and resources to the catechism each week in our Week In Review email (the WIRe) to help you lead in these family and friends discussions. You can also purchase the two physical resources to have in book format if you so choose; they are The New City Catechism: 52 Questions and Answers for Our Hearts and Minds and The New City Catechism Devotional: God’s Truth for Our Hearts and Minds. All of this material is available for Free in digital format, on their website and as downloadable apps for your phone or tablet.

 

26601_Family_Bible_StudyLinks to Resources

New City Catechism (NCC) web page and web app.

Youtube channel with video commentary on the NCC.

Tim Keller on Why We Should Catechize our Children (Gospel Coalition).

Promotional video of NCC in use as home and personal devotion practice.

Songs for the NCC (not complete yet, but a start).

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Review: Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard

Why Cities Matter by Um and Buzzard

Book Review: Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture and the Church by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard (Crossway, 2013)

Acknowledgment: I would like to express my gratitude to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Why do cities matter?

This is the question that drives the book as a whole.  Both Dr. Um and Mr. Buzzard are well versed and equipped to address such a question, as they both live and minister in world-class cities (Boston and Palo Alto), and are part of church planting movements that focus on ministry in a wide variety of contexts (Acts 29 and Redeemer City to City).

What is more, this particular book is a clarion call for effective ministry in any context, not just cities.  The focus on cities is certainly present throughout the book, but filled within it’s pages is a wealth of material to help any pastor, church planter or lay leader effective engage, reach and ultimately disciple people wherever they are.  One premise that I particularly benefited from in this book though, was that ministry is not just for individuals, it’s for cities themselves.  Each city (as defined by centers of density and diversity most generally by the authors) has a personality, and if we want to minister the gospel effectively to people in cities, we must know, engage and seek to influence the structures of the city with the message of the gospel.

The authors spend a great deal of time expressing what it is that makes cities what they are.  They do emphasize that they are primarily places of density and diversity (lots of people of different backgrounds and varieties), but in addition, they talk about the ideal of the city.  A city was a place where anyone could find safety, security and promise of hope.  This was true of cities in antiquity as they were known for their fortified walls and economic prospects, and it still hold true today.  People come to cities looking to belong (safety, security) and become (hopeful of a better future).  The authors address this in a winsome and comprehensive, yet still accessible way.  They also talk about what you find inside cities; centers of power, culture and ultimately, worship.  It is because of these centers that cities often attract what the authors label the “aspirational”, the “marginal” and the “explorational.” Each group is looking for life, meaning and happiness, and cities provide the context for finding it – whether directed towards God (as Creature and Sustainer) or other false gods (the creation and psuedo-saviors). For this reason, cities matter as a strategic place to proclaim by word and deed the message of the gospel.

In addition, their chapter on Bible and the City (ch. 3) is a masterful sweep of the Biblical portrait of cities.  Every aspect of Scripture is combed for an understanding of cities – their importance, their promise and even their dangers – and what one is left with is a biblically convincing case that cities are to be places that reflect God’s will and intention for all humanity.  Cities matter to God and it is evident throughout the pages of Scripture.

I also greatly appreciated their chapters on Contextualization in the City (ch. 4) and Ministry Vision for the City (ch. 5).  Both are treasure troves for anyone looking to make an impact in their context for the gospel.  Perhaps I was drawn to these as I am an aspiring church planter, but I believe anyone could take the principles and apply them wherever they are.  Perhaps the biggest single helpful item in these chapters is the principle that in order to reach and engage people and cities with the gospel, you must first take an interest in establishing the relationship to be able to speak intelligently into their lives.  In other words, listen, then speak.  Anyone can go anywhere and just start preaching; but to preach against the false gods and psudeo-saviors of a city as well as a neighbor, one has to take the time to think through and get to know what are the hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears held by those we’re talking with.  Both chapters provide plenty of helpful insights and questions for doing just that.

The one weakness of the book as I read it was the somewhat cavalier attitude towards non-cities.  Now, in all fairness, the scope of the book was focused on cities, and no author should ever be expected to say everything and everything.  They had a focus, and overall I think they did an excellent job covering that focus.  But throughout the book, mention was made of cities as opposed to suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.   I don’t like the contemporary debate about which is more important to God and therefore ministry – cities or other places – as I think it misses the point.  God cares about every place and is redeeming all things to Himself.  There’s plenty of room under that umbrella for both cities (who granted have a greater concentration of imago Dei‘s than rural areas) and rural communities.

What I would have liked to have seen though, is mention and discussion of the relationship between cities and suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.  These divisions make for great sociological studies and discussion topics, but in real life, they are more integrated and related than we might like to believe.    Are you only reaching, engaging and discipling a “city” if you are located in the “city-center” part of that city?  Or are there ways of reading, engaging and discipling a “city” if you go to where the people live, work and play?  I think that these questions might lend towards greater nuance of the relationship between cities and other aspects of cities (suburbs, exurbs, rural) and provide a more holistic approach to ministry in our cities.

Despite this one weakness, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.  In fact, it would be a go-to resource to anyone wanting to minister in a city context as it distills a ton of information in a clear, straightforward way, and has plenty of applicable and helpful points for anyone in ministry.  To end the review on the note the book ended:

“Cities matter. Let’s get to it.”

Link: Paperback and Kindle versions.

Darrin Patrick on Michael Phelps, Greatness and God

Darrin Patrick has some good thoughts on the idea of greatness, sparked by the recent accomplishments of a certain Olympic swimmer (Michael Phelps, in case you have been out of it).  Check it out here.

Greatness reminds us that there is a God who is THE Greatest. Humans, reflecting the image of God can be awesome, but God is the one who is freakin awesome.

Mark Driscoll’s new book Death By Love

Here is a preview site for Mark Driscoll’s upcoming book, Death By Love.  I always find Driscoll’s books and thoughts true to scripture and contextually fresh, so needless to say, I am looking forward to this one.

For more info, check out the Death by Love website.  You can also go to Mars Hill Church for more resources, as well as Acts 29 Church Planting Network.

Another Good Conference

This looks like it will be a really great conference.

Check it out here.

I will actually be helping and serving at this, so if you’re planning on coming, let me know.

Monday Stuff

Here are some links to recent articles and posts I have found interesting over this past week on the web:

Tim Challies reviews Bart Ehrman’s new book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer.  Worth checking out (especially if you won’t read Ehrman’s book on its own).  I always find Tim’s reviews helpful.  Plus his sight The Discerning Reader is a great site and resource.

Graeme Goldsworthy lectures at Southern Seminary on the necessity and application of Biblical Theology – both in the seminary and the pulpit. (I admit, I have not listened to these yet, but I plan to this week). [Thanks to Justin Taylor for the link].

There’s an interesting post on how to assess and interview potential missional community leaders, thanks to Drew Goodmason of Kaleo Church in San Diego (Acts 29).  I find Drew’s thoughts extremely insightful as a would be church planter in the somewhat foreseeable future.

This was actually a very insightful and helpful post from Zen Habits, on Emotional Intelligence. I usually think I am emotionally aware of myself and everyone else around me.  Time and experience continues to prove me wrong.  These little things help from time to time.

Oh yeah…and Tim Keller’s newest new book.  No, not this book, but this one.

Review: Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll

driscollLet me commend to everyone who reads this blog the book Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll and co-Authored with Gerry Breshears. I have mentioned it in some previous posts (here), but want to take the time to give you all a brief synopsis, and my take on why I think it would be worth your time reading. First, my synopsis.

This book does a fantastic job at doing systematic theology regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ with the typical, everyday skeptic or new Christian in mind – and that is invaluable! After having just taken a seminary class on the subject (Christ and Salvation), I must say that I was hard pressed to select one of the many books we had to read as a good resource to put in the hands of somebody either questioning Christianity or recently brought into the family of God regarding this important, and sometimes daunting, subject.

Driscoll’s book does an excellent job, first identifying the major questions and point of discussion. The book is oriented around 12 key questions; they are:

Chapter 1 Is Jesus the Only God?

Chapter 2 How Human Was Jesus?

Chapter 3 How Did People Know Jesus Was Coming?

Chapter 4 Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?

Chapter 5 Why Did Jesus’ Mom Need to Be a Virgin?

Chapter 6 What Did Jesus Accomplish on the Cross?

Chapter 7 Did Jesus Rise from Death?

Chapter 8 Where Is Jesus Today?

Chapter 9 Why Should We Worship Jesus?

Chapter 10 What Makes Jesus Superior to Other Saviors?

Chapter 11 What Difference Has Jesus Made in History?

Chapter 12 What Will Jesus Do upon His Return?vintagejesus.jpg

Each chapter then discusses the controversy (or controversies) surrounding these questions, both in their historical and contemporary setting. Spread throughout the chapters are various quotes or insights that are pulled from not only the Christian tradition, but from pop culture and other religions. Driscoll then does an excellent job pointing to scripture and what the Bible says regarding these questions and various interpretations, or problems, we may have. Dr. Breshears then concludes each chapter with a most helpful FAQ that probes into a handful of subquestions that fall under each larger question. This format makes this a great resource for 99% of the people who would be interested and who walk through the doors of your church, or favorite local coffee shop or pub.

Now, some people may be put off by one of two things, or perhaps, both: 1) Systematic Theology, or 2) Mark Driscoll. First, regarding the Systematic Theology. I know its en vogue to question or downplay the significance of Sys. Theology these days in favor of Biblical Theology, but that really is a shame. I am personally of the opinion that we vitally need both. We need our Biblical Theology to help inform our Systematic Theology, and we need our Systematic Theology to help understand our Biblical Theology. That being said, this book is a welcome Systematics book which keeps the story of Scripture alive and in view, while being relevant and thorough in probing the subject of Christology.

Orthodox Art - CrucixionNow, for those put off by the fact that its Mark Driscoll, let me say that there are several Driscoll-isms that come through in this book, and you may not like that. I would encourage you to still read this book and ask: “Does this book communicate the truths of Christ’s person and work in a way that is true to Scripture, honoring to God, edifying to believers, and accessible to non-believers?” I think for anytime we find ourselves criticizing another brother for his personality or style, if we can slow down to consider those questions, we would be better served than making quick conclusions. I believe that Driscoll comes out on top regarding all of those questions.

I wanted to read Vintage Jesus for a very selfish reason (And no, its not because I like reading everything Driscoll puts out – even though I do!): I wanted to understand how to communicate theology in a way that is faithful to scripture and engaging to non-Christians. Having read Vintage Jesus, I can say that I have a somewhat better understanding of how to do so, and for that, I am grateful. This is why I commend this book to you – whoever you are!

Whether you are a believer wanting to be challenged and strengthened in understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ, or a a seminarian looking to be challenged in how to communicate the truths of Scripture, or a non-Christian questioning how any rational human being could believe in such a story that centers on this one person, your time will be well served by reading this book.

My personally favorite part of this book is the section Driscoll deals with the fact that “Jesus was a dude.” Great stuff – funny, insightful and challenging. The book is scattered with great content communicated in witty ways. I again, highly recommend this book to you.

Video for Preachers on Preaching by Matt Chandler

Matt ChandlerFrom The Resurgence site for the upcoming Acts 29 Text and Context Conference.  Stephen Murray (Of Daylight blog fame) is going to have quite a good time at this (Aren’t you Stephen?)

Matt Chandler offers some great thoughts on the task and nature of preacher, and how to discern our “call” to preach in some pretty insightful ways.

Check it out here.

Preaching Development – Driscoll on Preaching Schedule

driscoll

When should a preacher get “out of the pulpit” (for a day or two)?

Mark Driscoll has some usually good insights into preaching, specifically how to plan out your year in light of the ebb and flow of church life and ministry.

Worth checking out here in its entirety.

What are yours – pastors, students, church members?  When do you think a pastor should be in and out of the pulpit?