The New City Catechism: A Birthday Celebration

Not every birthday is cause for raucous celebration.

But today’s an exception.

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On October 14, 2012, The Gospel Coalition, in partnership with Redeemer Presbyterian Churchannounced the New City Catechism (hereafter NCC), a church-wide teaching tool primarily covering The Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. Created by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas, the NCC met a few predictable minor quibbles (e.g., “Why are they messing with the old catechisms?” “The sacraments don’t receive enough attention!” “Only 52 questions?” “There they go with their ‘city = better’ schtick again,” etc.) But on the whole the NCC was widely welcomed as a timely tool in the catechetical arsenal.

If the idea of tackling the esteemed Heidelberg or Westminster catechisms are daunting (for my money, the best edition is this for the former and this for the latter, and for family devotions this set is indispensable), then the NCC is for you. It’s the gateway drug of catechisms. And I mean that as a compliment.

It’s difficult to measure a catechism’s immediate impact, and it will likely take a generation to ascertain lasting effects on individuals, families and churches. But two years since its release, it seems like the NCC is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

I contacted Collin Hansen, TGC’s editorial director, and asked for some internet stats for the NCC. Here’s the lowdown:

  • On an average day, around 500 people visit the New City Catechism website.
  • The iPad app has been downloaded over 30,000 times.

I’m no web metrics guru, but I’d call those decent numbers, especially for something containing the word “catechism,” a word that sounds stodgy, archaic and quasi-Roman Catholic, striking fear and triggering spontaneous nervous ticks for the uninitiated.

But fear no more.

Here’s where to begin with the NCC:

  • Tim Keller’s introduction, where he clearly and simply explains catechism, offering a convincing polemic for the NCC.
  • The iPad app (free). TGC’s web team is nearing a fix for the iOS 8 bug, so stay tuned.
  • Droid user? This app’s for you. (Also free)
  • Luddite? Download the PDF here.
  • My personal favorite? This tabletop version…

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…and it’s available here for a paltry $6.00. It’s a beauty.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church and The Gospel Coalition deserve hearty thanks for producing such a deceptively simple yet essential 21st century teaching tool covering the basics of the Christian faith. And although it’s not groundbreaking, if it helps create a catechetical revolution (as I think it is), J.I. Packer would be glad. So would Calvin, Luther, and a host of other notable committed catechists.

So happy 2nd birthday, New City Catechism! You’re looking pretty stout for a toddler. And to think you’ve only got 449 years to go till you reach big brother Heidelberg’s age.

May God grant you—and your older siblings—bigger and better birthdays to come.

“Flash Mobs Maul Catholic Mass”? Here’s Why (and a Prediction)

The New York Times curiously reports that “Mass mobs are spreading around the nation and taking church leaders by surprise.”

o-MASS-MOB-570Reading the article, the primary motivation behind these Mass mobs—usually occurring in severely declining churches—isn’t the spiritual content or ritual of the Catholic Mass. Rather, fueled primarily by social media, the mobs’ motivation appears to be driven by three things:

  1. Sheer nostalgia for the past;
  2. Reconnecting with familial religious roots;
  3. Appreciation and preservation of old church architecture.

Only time will tell what lasting effects, if any, these Mass mobs will have on the Roman Catholic landscape, and if it will eventually spill over into declining liberal mainline Protestant churches. I predict it will, but these mobs won’t substantially deter the churches’ steady decline. (And if they’re called “Mass mobs” for Roman Catholics, what will they be called for the mainline Protestant churches, hemorrhaging for very different reasons? Let the naming begin!)

Read about the strange Mass mob phenomenon here.

Whatever Happened to…Bill Maxwell?

I used to be a huge Keith Green fan. I rarely listen to his music today, but when I do I’m transported to a different place and time as a young Christian.

imgresA constant in Keith’s music was Bill Maxwell. Bill was his drummer and, more importantly, his producer, crafting an album’s overall sound and feel. Since Keith’s death in 1982, Bill’s been busy through the years in the music business with other artists. (Here’s a recent interview he did on Elton John’s website, where he talks about his beginnings in music, including working with T Bone Burnett.)

Recently I watched 20 Feet from Stardom, the 2014 Academy Award winner for best documentary. Intermittently sandwiched between interviews with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen, the filmmakers interviewed a certain Bill Maxwell, who I think was referred to as “Vocal Producer.” Looking at him, I said to my wife, “I wonder if that’s the Bill Maxwell who worked with Keith Green?”

A brief Google search confirmed it indeed is that Bill Maxwell.

I’ve searched online for some video of Bill from the documentary but am coming up empty. But the movie was fascinating, and well worth watching even if the Bill Maxwell reference is lost on you.

Never heard of Keith Green? His debut album For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, widely regarded as his best work, is where to begin.

And the best scene in 20 Feet from Stardom? This one:

David Brooks: How to Be Religious In the Public Square

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The New York Times columnist David Brooks recently spoke at The Gathering, a Christian philanthropic organization, about “How to Be Religious in the Public Square.”

Brooks covers a lot of compelling ground, including:

  • The difference between “Adam One” and “Adam Two”;
  • The effects of love;
  • The effects of suffering;
  • Our universal longing for transcendence;
  • Discovering that St. Augustine, in Brooks’ words, is his “ultimate hero”;
  • The walls Christians erect against secular culture;
  • How to build effective ramps to secular culture.

It’s classic Brooks, who candidly, winsomely and humbly speaks to the Christian community as a “holy friend,” willing to wound in love by saying what the Church must hear.

Read or listen to David Brooks on “How to Be Religious in the Public Square” here. [Scroll to bottom of page for link.]

Motivational Pick-Me-Up for Aspiring Church Planters (and Sundry Occupationally Hazardous Positions)

So long, Stuart Smalley. Later Matt Foley.

There’s a new kids in town.

As an aspiring church planter, I’m bound to encounter various difficulties, experience failure, and consider throwing in the towel. (Upon further reflection, it sounds a lot like life.)

But then I’ll just watch Apollos, and all will be well.

At least till tomorrow.

“The Most Heard [and] Successful Hymn of the Last Few Decades”…by U2?

Bishop Bono?

The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman perceptively writes about U2’s ongoing tension with the Christian faith and doubt:

The story of U2 might be this: having begun as a band that was uncertain about the idea of pursuing a life of faith through music, they have resolved that uncertainty. Their thin ecclesiology has become thick. Today, they are their own faith community….

For more about U2’s apparent faith/doubt paradox, and to find out what one scholar asserts is “the most heard, most successful hymn of the last few decades” read Rothman’s article “The Church of U2″ here.

(HT: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship)

We Need Heretics—Here’s Why

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We all need a good heretic.

Richard Mouw, writing for First Things:

…it is a good thing to have a couple of favorite heretics. Some false perspectives are illuminating, and it can be healthy for Christians who love ideas to be challenged regularly by perspectives that we can disagree with in productive ways.

Mouw concludes:

Perspectives that are both false and illuminating are in short supply these days.

Read Mouw’s article on how Nietzsche, Sartre, Bertrand Russell and other heretics are good for Christians here.

Engaging With God Popularized

David Peterson, who’s masterful book Engaging With God:  A Biblical Theology of Worship is the most referenced and footnoted resource on worship, recently (and quite quietly) released a more practical follow-up, Encountering God jpegTogether: Leading Worship Services That Honor God, Minister to His People, and Build His Church

In a recent interview with the book’s publisher, Peterson was asked what inspired him to write Encountering God Together:

Many peo­ple have urged me to apply this teach­ing more specif­i­cally to con­gre­ga­tional gath­er­ings and to write at a more pop­u­lar level on wor­ship. So my lat­est book is the result and I hope it meets the need that has been expressed.

Here are the chapters:

  1. The Gathering of God
  2. Worshipping God
  3. Edifying the Church
  4. Patterns of Service
  5. Listening to God
  6. Praying Together
  7. Praising God
  8. Singing Together
  9. Baptism
  10. The Lord’s Supper

I’ve read it, and it’s fantastic. Whether you’re a pastor, church planter, elder, music leader—in short, have anything to do with leading congregational worship—this book’s for you. It’s a fairly quick read and will stimulate your thinking and practice about worship and the church.

Read the first chapter here.

Bono, Tim Keller and John Piper for a Sit-Down Conversation? What Might Have Been

Several years ago I had a crazy idea.

I had tickets to U2’s upcoming concert in Minneapolis. Desiring God’s headquarters were 1.5 miles from the stadium where U2 was scheduled to perform. Bono had a history of partnering with well-known evangelicals, including Rick Warren. So would he be open to meeting with Tim Keller and John Piper for a sit-down conversation and be willing to have it captured on video?

There was only one way to find out.

After a bit of sleuthing, I directly corresponded with U2’s people at their modest Dublin office. No joke. They were interested in the possibility, but just wanted more information.

I then contacted Keller’s people. He was scheduled to be on a summer sabbatical. Crazy idea was officially nixed.

But I wondered: what would have happened with Bono, Keller and Piper in a moderated discussion?

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imgres-1We’ll never know. But it piques the imagination, no?