For the last year and a half I’ve had the privilege of using Tim Keller’s, New City Catechism. In this review I will give you the definition of catechesis, a brief history of catechisms in the Church,  as well as a few thoughts on how New City Catechism would be useful in the Church today.

Dr. JI Packer says that Catechesis is “the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty and delight.”

Quite simply, it’s a method of oral instruction involving question and answer techniques. 

But many today have learned to associate Catechisms with cold religion and Catholic schools. It’s a word that turns many away, but they do not know what they’re missing. The history around catechisms is much richer and far more meaningful than you might think. Many great preachers and theologians of the past centuries held this methodology in high esteem; even regarding it as essential for the Christian’s spiritual growth.

Charles Spurgeon

For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural
catechism is of infinite value to our children, and I shall see that it is reprinted as
cheaply as possible for your use. Even if the youngsters do not understand all the
questions and answers in the ‘Westminster Assembly’s Catechism,’ yet, abiding in
their memories, it will be of infinite service when the time of understanding comes, to
have those very excellent, wise, and judicious definitions of the things of God.”

On Oct 14, 1855, when Spurgeon was 21 years old, he announced to his congregation that he had produced a revised version of the Westminster Catechism .

He said this: “I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times, and therefore I have compiled this little manual from the Westminster Assembly’s and Baptist Catechisms, for the use of my own church and congregation.”

John Bunyan

In 1675, John Bunyan wrote a catechism called “Instruction for the Ignorant”. His hope was that it would be used among his parishioners to remind them of the truths they had been taught. It would also be used as an evangelistic tract for unconverted family members of the church; for their “awakening and conversion” and to the unconverted who attended his preaching, and yet, remained in their sins.

John Calvin

In 1540, John Calvin reformulated the Geneva Catechism to be read as a dialogue between a minister and a child. Calvin’s heart was to train families in the doctrines of the Christian faith. His version of catechesis began like this:

  • Minister –  What is the chief end of human life?
  • Child – To know God.
  • Why do you say that?
  • Child – Because He created us and placed us in this world to be glorified in us. And it    is indeed right that our life, of which He Himself is the beginning, should be devoted to His glory.

In an article entitled “The Lost Art of Catechesis”, John Calvin is quoted as saying, “Believe me, Monseigneur, the Church of God will never be preserved without catechesis.”

Strong words. But perhaps he was right. There was a day when learning Biblical doctrine was taught as absolutely essential from the beginning of the Christian life. And the Church took total responsibility by facilitating the practice of catechism. The fact is, without good Bible doctrine and constant memorization of truth we flounder in our faith and the Church grows week.

Tim Keller

In 2012 Tim Keller produced the New City Catechism. Inspired by the Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, Keller designed New City to be a joint adults and children’s catechism. There are 52 questions in all with corresponding answers. New City can be used as an app on any apple or android devise, as well as from the internet.

The 52 questions are divided into three categories:

PART 1 = God, creation and fall, law (20 questions);
PART 2 = Christ, redemption, grace (15 questions);
PART 3 = Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (17 questions).

In the app the user can adjust between the adult setting (longer answers) and the children’s setting (shorter and easier to memorize). With every question and answer is also a short video commentary by a modern day pastor such as Keller, Piper, Carson, DeYoung, a commentary from a prominent pastor or theologian from the past, and a short prayer on the subject. Scriptures are given to support both the question and the answer and even a short children’s song is provided to make memorization easier and more fun for young children. All in all, New City Catechism is very user friendly and it is clear that all who played a part in putting this resource together had every intention for the glorious doctrines of the Bible to be learned and understood by many.

My Experience

As I said earlier, I spent the last year and a half using this app. It was my first experience with catechisms, other than reading a few here and there from the Westminster shorter catechism over the years. I’ll admit that I deviated slightly from the original purpose of family use and memorization, but instead used it in one on one discipleship with a younger brother in the Church. We met every Thursday morning for coffee and used New City Catechism to create our discussion points each day. I would read the question and then Steve would read the answer. We would read the corresponding Scripture together as well as listen to the video commentary. This took about 2o minutes in all and left the remaining 40 minutes to discuss further how the particular doctrine should apply to life. Some questions were review while others took us into deep theological discussions. The fruitfulness during this time was clear. God used it to grow Steve in his faith and challenge him to continue growing deeper in grace. Though I hope to use this catechism with my children again some day, I plan to continue using it as a tool for discipleship as the Lord opens the doors. Steve is now praying who he might take under his wing and pass on what he’s learned.

Download NEW CITY CATECHISM today and get started.


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