Book Review: The Good News We Almost Forgot

“The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism” by Kevin DeYoung

Chances are pretty good that many people reading this are wondering, What in the world is a catechism? The short answer is that it is a method of teaching Biblical truth in an orderly way. The word “catechize” comes from the Greek word katecheo, which is the word Paul used several times in the New Testament translated “instruct” or “teach” (see for example, 1 Cor. 14:19, Gal. 6:6, and Acts 18:25). Typically, a catechism teaches the doctrines held by the church through a series of questions and answers, with references to supporting Scriptures.

More specifically, the Heidelberg Catechism is one of several historic church documents produced around the time of the Reformation for the purposes of instructing children (and adults) in the doctrines of the new Protestant faith. It was published in 1563, written primarily by Zacharias Ursinus, who was a professor at the University of Heidelberg. The catechism contains 129 Questions & Answers, arranged into 52 Lord’s Days. The idea was that students being taught the catechism would memorize a set of Q&A’s each week, reciting them in their catechism class (a predecessor of “Sunday School”) on the Lord’s Day. You can find the entire catechism online here.

The Heidelberg is divided into three main sections: The Misery of Man, Man’s Deliverance, and Thankfulness. Or, as the sections are more commonly known, “Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude”. These sections teach us systematically our need for salvation, God’s work in accomplishing our salvation, and the Christian’s response to salvation. The catechism also focuses largely on three elements: The Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

If you’ve never read a book on the Heidelberg Catechism before, you’re not alone. In fact, C.J. Mahaney mentioned this in his endorsement of the book: “I’m sure this will be the best book on the Heidelberg Catechism I’ve ever read. I know it will be the first.” After reading the book, though, I am convinced that this would rank among the best books written on the subject even if there were many!

The format of the book is simple but effective. There are 52 chapters, corresponding to the 52 Lord’s Days. In each chapter, DeYoung offers a short exposition of the Q&A’s for that week and the Scripture verses on which the answers are based. This would make the book an ideal tool for aiding in the teaching of the catechism, or for a weekly family devotional.

DeYoung does tend to use a lot of big, intimidating theological words in his writing, but balances this out very well with analogies that explain those concepts in “layman’s terms” (though always with the goal of building the theological vocabulary of the layman). For instance, here is his explanation of “imputation”, one of the more complicated components of our doctrine of salvation:

Jesus was not punished because He actually possessed sin in himself, just as we are not justified because we actually possess righteousness in ourselves. Rather, both things happen by imputation. Imputation means instead of holding $500 in your hand, someone else wires it to your account. The money is not actually in your physical possession, but it is legally and truthfully considered to be yours. This is what imputation is all about, God counting to us a perfect life of obedience richer than we’ve ever lived. Thus He grants us a perfect righteousness we have no chance to ever achieve.

The foreword states that there are likely things in this book with which readers will not agree. This will be particularly true of Baptists, as the Heidelberg Catechism presents a very Reformed/Presbyterian understanding of the sacraments. That being said, I (as a Baptist) greatly appreciated DeYoung’s treatment of baptism and other potentially divisive doctrines. In the chapter for the first of two Lord’s Days dealing with baptism, DeYoung presents a Bible-saturated explanation of the purpose of baptism, highlighting the many Truths shared in common by paedo- (“infant baptism”) and credobaptists (“believer’s baptism”). Any Baptist, Presbyterian, or any other Protestant should be able to affirm everything he says here.

In the following chapter (winsomely titled “Vivacious Baby-Baptizing”), he then lays out a very thorough and unapologetic defense of infant baptism. Personally, I quite enjoyed reading this chapter, as it answered a lot of misconceptions about the Reformed (as opposed to the Roman Catholic) paedobaptist position that I have had. While I am still not in 100% agreement with DeYoung on this issue, I am in full agreement that this is a peripheral doctrine, where there is room for disagreement and healthy debate within the realm of orthodoxy.

Despite this and a few other areas where non-Reformed Christians may have differences, this is a book that will benefit every Christian. DeYoung is probably the perfect author for a book of this nature. He is “gladly” Reformed, and firm on the theological distinctions that make him so, but focuses on the vast number of doctrines (including the “essential” doctrines) on which all Christians should agree, rather than the few secondary doctrines on which we may not. He acknowledges the largest criticisms against the Reformed tradition (that it grants “moral license” to sin, and that it provides no incentive for evangelism), and graciously rebukes Calvinists who give legitimacy to these criticisms by continuing in sin and not evangelizing.

By far the best part of the book is its epilogue, entitled “The Crust and the Core”. Here he gives the best explanation I’ve ever read for striking the balance between being a discerning, intellectually informed theologian and being a warmhearted, approachable, loving, evangelistic Christian. A slightly different version of this section of the book was published on DeYoung’s blog last year, and you can read it in its entirety by clicking here. Highly recommended! (But you should buy the book anyway, even though I said this was the best part…)

I am thankful to have received a free copy of this book from the 2010 Band of Bloggers gathering. You can purchase it here.

P.S. – For further reading for Baptists, check out “A Baptist Catechism” (originally published in 1689, but now adapted by John Piper), and also Kim Riddlebarger’s article on The Need to Recover the Practise of Catechism

Taking Stock and Stacking Up

About a month ago, all of our offices moved at the church. With a move to my first “real” office (as in, it’s not also doubling as a storage closet), I inherited two really nice but HUGE bookshelves. Before I left on our current two-week trip (which ends tomorrow), the shelves looked woefully understocked.

Not so after the Together for the Gospel Conference!

One of the biggest emphases for this conference is equipping pastors and other church leaders with resources for personal study and edification, so they hand out a ton of books. Here is a list of all the new books I’ve got to add to my library! Each picture is linked to the publisher as a way of saying thank you for the generous donations (and in case you’d like to purchase any of them).

Band of Bloggers Gathering

Before the T4G conference got started, I attended a luncheon featuring a panel discussion with five prominent Christian bloggers. Each attendee was given several free books, with the intention being that we will publish reviews of these books and encourage our readers to purchase them.

Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, by Trevin Wax
My review of this book

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, by David Platt
My review of this book

Your Jesus is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel Good Savior, by Jared C. Wilson

When the Church Was a Family: Recognizing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community, by Joseph H. Hellerman

Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims, by Daniel R. Hyde

Entrusted With the Gospel: Paul’s Theology in the Pastoral Epistles, edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Terry Wilder

The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, by Kevin DeYoung
My review of this book

Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience, by M. David Sills

Abide: Practicing Kingdom Rhythms in a Consumer Culture, by Jared C. Wilson

A Habitual Sight of Him: The Christ-Centered Piety of Thomas Goodwin, by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones

Stray Recollections, Short Articles, and Public Orations of James P. Boyce, by Thomas J. Nettles

A Call to Prayer, by J.C. Ryle

The Pastor’s Primer, by O.S. Hawkins

Origen, by Joseph W. Trigg

George Müller: Delighted in God, by Roger Steer

T4G Day One

Here are the books I picked up for free during the first day of the conference. Some of these were distributed to every attendee, and others I managed to come by through other means.

The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everything, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
My review of this book

Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology, by the T4G speakers

The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline, by Jonathan Leeman

It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement, by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence

The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation, by Michael Reeves

He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World, by R. Albert Mohler

Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, edited by C.J. Mahaney
My review of this book

The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul

Helping Children to Understand the Gospel

ESV Study Bible — That’s right… Crossway gave away 7,000 of these!

T4G Day Two

More books on the second day!

The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness, by R. Albert Mohler

Finally Alive, by John Piper

The Plight of Man and the Power of God, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, by D.A. Carson

What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert
My review of this book

The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ With Confidence, by Thabiti Anyabwile

Dug Down Deep: Discovering What I Believe and What It Means, by Joshua Harris
My review of this book

Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, by Peter J. Leithart

The Jesus You Can’t Ignore: What You Must Learn From the Bold Confrontations of Christ, by John MacArthur

Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity, by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney

T4G Day 3

The final day of the conference was short, so not so many giveaways… which just left more room in the backpack for the books I bought on sale!

Fear Not! Death and the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective, by Ligon Duncan

The Priority of Preaching, by Cristopher Ash

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer

Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living, and Speaking the Gospel, by J. Mack Stiles

Book Purchases

The T4G Conference also included a very large bookstore with some steep discounts. All of the books on display (over 1500!) were specially chosen and commended to all by the conference speakers. I picked up a few new books I’ve had my eye on for a while, as well as a few classics that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Thanks to the discount pricing, I essentially got a whole lot of books for roughly the price of the two commentaries alone, had I paid their retail price. Not bad!

John: The St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, by R.C. Sproul

Romans: The St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, by R.C. Sproul

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World, by Michael Horton

Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp

Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views, edited by J. Matthew Pinson

How to Study the Bible, by John MacArthur

John Calvin and His Passion for the Glory of God, by John Piper

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, by John Piper
My review of this book

The Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther

Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray

Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen

Well, that’s the round-up! I’d like to thank again all of the book publishers who made this possible by making these books available to us. Please visit and support these publishers and distributers!

Reformation Trust Publishing

Moody Publishers