Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Dutch Reformed Guy In Presbyterian Exile

I hope it will not get me defrocked by the Mississippi Valley Presbytery, but I am at long last willing to come out and say "I prefer the Heidelberg Catechism to the Westminster Catechisms!" Whew. What a relief. Let the chips fall where they may.

Why do I prefer Heidelberg? Well, firstly, because it wasn't written by committee. Shakespeare could not have been written by committee, nor could Psalm 103. They would have had lots of provisos and wherefores. The Heidelberg was written primarily by one man --a pastor scholar. Westminster was written by committee.

Now, thankfully, there are some beautiful and affecting passages in Westminster, on adoption and (surprisingly) the power of sin.

But, mostly I like Heidelberg because it is personal and subjective. Among many other struggles we have in the Reformed community is the struggle between the subjective and the objective. It is quite possible to err on either side. But, I do fear that many who claim the name of Reformed Christian are afraid of anything subjective --over-reacting against the subjectivism of the age, and the evangelical church at large.

Heidelberg is subjective in all the right ways. It is subjective in that it begins with "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" and answers it, "That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, both in life and in death to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ..." It is beautifully subjective in its definition of saving faith --that is without peer. "not only certain knowledge but also a hearty trust not only unto others, but to me also forgiveness of sins...given freely by God, merely of grace, and only for the sake of Christ's merits.

What do I see missing in so many places and people? Just the "not only to others, but to me also" part of faith. We can own a lot of truth, and fall short of Jesus. Not only certain knowledge, but also hearty trust, not only to others, but to me also, merely of grace.


  1. I'm bringing you up on charges now...

    Your welcome.

  2. Sounds like your muse has returned, and with a vengeance! Congrats!

  3. Dear Ken:

    I totally agree. We use the Heidelberg Catechism fairly often in Redeemer's order of worship. In fact, in the earliest days, we used the Heidelberg a lot, because A) I've always preferred it for all the reasons you list, and B) I used to say that the Heidelberg was the first confessional document used in New York City churches, which it was.

    I know Redeemer has the reputation for being 'non-confessional' but I love the Reformed confessions and catechisms, and we have used them in worship over the years.

    A very helpful blog-post, muse or not.

    Tim Keller

  4. Tim,

    Yes, the Dutch made quite a deal for Manhattan, didn't they! And, a continuous witness there from something like 1628, although one would wish for a more consistent witness from them today.

    IN ethnic pride, I also remind blog-readers of the great prayer revival in the nineteenth century emanating from a Dutch Reformed church, and a Dutch Reformed evangelist named Jeremiah Lamphier!

    The Heidelberg is definitely preferable for worship. I am "preaching through" it on Sunday nights. I am using Schaff's very literary translation, while updating some of the archaic language.

    The RCUS has beautiful editions of the Catechism, and Ursinus' commentary on it.

  5. Ken -

    If you come to New York City, I could show you exactly where Jeremiah Lamphier's church and ministry began that changed lower Manhattan. (The church isn't there any more.)

    Tim Keller

  6. Tim,

    I would enjoy that very much!