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.

TGC and the Local Church: Priorities

This past Sunday I preached at a local church in Minneapolis with a lot of 20-30 year olds. Preaching on Psalm 1, I mentioned how obedience and grace are inextricably linked, and one need only to look at the recent The Gospel Coalition events surrounding Tullian to highlight its importance.

After corporate worship, a young man approached me and expressed concern, even disillusionment, over TGC’s situation. “I love Keller and Tullian,” he said. “It makes me hesitant to commit to these groups when these sort of things happen.”

My encouragement to this young man was simple: hold on loosely to these affiliations, glean what you can, dismiss the dismissable. But remember: you’re not under these groups’ or men’s authority (unless one of these men serve as your local pastor). What’s primary is the local church. Ensure you’re committed to it and are someone who’s under their authority (i.e. biblical, loving, serving, protecting vs. domineering, abusing, unbiblical, etc.)

In the end, ministries like The Gospel Coalition can be very good things. But they should never replace or eclipse the local church as the primary means of grace, influence, honor and love.

The local church is where our priorities should ultimately lie.

Tullian, Mahaney, Harris and TGC: Some Thoughts

It’s been a notable 24 hours for The Gospel Coalition: C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris resign from TGC’s council. Then Tullian Tchividjian, one of TGC’s first and prominent pastor bloggers, was forced out after a week of escalating tensions over blog posts over Law and grace and their role in a Christian’s sanctification. Not quite the intensity of Jack Bauer’s “24,” but I’d call that a full day.

Six thoughts and/or observations:

  1. TGC clarifies: Joe Carter, an editor for TGC, provides extremely clarifying comments (in the comment thread following his post) about who officially speaks for TGC.
  2. ACE vs. TGC?: Rick Phillips, who wrote a strong critique of Tullian’s position at Reformation21 (the primary blog for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals), is also a TGC council member. In other words, Tullian’s surprising departure is not simply a matter of ACE vs. TGC. Instead, it’s been brewing for some time, even confined to TGC’s not-always-clear borders.
  3. Simple, yet complicated: TGC ‘s homepage describes themselves as, “a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures. We yearn to work with all who, in addition to embracing our confession and theological vision for ministry, seek the lordship of Christ over  the whole of life with unabashed hope in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform individuals, communities, and cultures” (emphasis mine)How easily we forget that’s ultimately what TGC aims to be: a fellowship of evangelical churches. And yet, it’s not quite so simple as that, is it? TGC has become so much more than a mere well intentioned “fellowship of evangelical churches.”
  4. A welcome shift: It appears that TGC is making changes to become less personality driven, and with fewer dominant voices. (This is shown in how many contributors they now have, as well as the layout of their website. You have to dig to find the once prominent blog.)
  5. A fractured coalition: The Reformed/Calvinist movement, which seemed more cohesive with TGC and T4G just five years ago, is facing greater fracturing and splintering in the days ahead. This is not necessarily a bad thing—but nor is it good. It will have lasting ramifications, and raises questions about how sustainable ministries such as TGC and T4G will be during the next few years.
  6. Be careful: Pastors or ministry leaders should be very careful what they wish for. We long to exert influence, have a high profile, have a seat at the table of the gatekeepers, movers and shakers of TGC-related ministries. But James’ council should be ringing loudly in our ears: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1). Ask Driscoll, MacDonald, Mahaney, Harris, Tullian—heck, ask anyone who’s pastored for more than a few weeks and they could to the perils and pitfalls of pastoral ministry. What makes the present dilemma different is social media, which puts these men under greater scrutiny than most ordinary pastors. But we’ve been warned.

 

The Gospel Coalition Review for Wells’ “God in the Whirlwind”

Today The Gospel Coalition posted my review of David Wells’ book God in the Whirlwind:

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Read it here.

Update (June 28, 2014): TGC recently reworked their website and are still playing catch-up with getting it current with past reviews. In the meantime, you can access the review through Amazon (you may have to scroll down, but it’s there.)

Trueman on Wells’ God in the Whirlwind

Carl Trueman wrote a review at First Things of Wells’ new book God in the Whirlwind. He interprets the title’s “whirlwind” as referring to the book of Job. His review is worth reading, but I especially enjoyed the concluding paragraph:

This is a book all Christians should read. And, while generally positive in its proposals, it has sufficient pessimism (though David, as a good fellow pessimist, will no doubt tell me he is not such a one) that this Englishman still enjoyed it. Christianity in the West is shifting to the status of an annoying, perhaps even unwelcome, sect. The future is, humanly speaking, bleak. David’s books in general are a good argument for seeing ourselves as a large part of our current problem and this book in particular offers helpful thoughts on what must now be done.

I heartily agree.

I have a review of God in the Whirlwind forthcoming for The Gospel Coalition, so stay tuned.

Recent Post at TGC and The Aquila Report

At the risk of sounding self promoting, my post on taking my daughter to Yale was published at The Gospel Coalition and The Aquila Report (the former more broadly yet solidly evangelical, the latter robustly confessional and Presbyterian).

And at the risk of feigning modesty, I’m very humbled, encouraged and surprised.