The Heidelberg Catechism

Book Review
The Heidelberg Catechism

In the March issue of reformation21 magazine, Carl Trueman wrote an interesting article on the place of creeds in the church today. In his article, A Good Creed Seldom Goes Unpunished, he writes,

“On the issue of creeds, the evangelical world often seems absolutely divided into two broad camps: There are those who are so passionately committed to a particularly narrow view of scripture’s sufficiency that they not only deny the need for creeds and confessions but regard them as actually wrong, an illegitimate attempt to supplement scripture or to narrow the Christian faith in doctrinal or cultural ways beyond the limits set by scripture itself. Then there are those whose view of creeds and confessions is so high that any other theological statement, and sometimes even the Bible itself, seems to be of secondary importance. Neither group, I believe, really does the creeds justice.”

I certainly fall into the category of non-denominationally, creedally-deficient. To rectify this, I’ve taken up the Heidelberg Catechism of late. It has been a wonderful boost to my study time, sometimes reading like a concise doctrinal statement, sometimes reading like a passage from The Valley of Vision, but always edifying.

What makes the Heidelberg Catechism unique is its subjective, experiential emphasis. Here is one example:

27. Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power,[1] whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures,[2] and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty,[3] indeed, all things, come not by chance[4] but by His fatherly hand.[5] … [1] Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 17:24-28. [2] Heb. 1:3. [3] Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:15-17; John 9:3; Prov. 22:2. [4] Prov. 16:33. [5] Matt. 10:29.

As you can see the Heidelberg Catechism is unique in its ability to double as a devotional. Comparing the Belgic, Helvetic and Westminster Confessions, Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson write, “The [Heidelberg] catechism presents doctrines with clarity and warmth. Its content is more subjective than objective, more spiritual than dogmatic. Not surprisingly, this personal, devotional catechism, as exemplified by its use of the singular pronouns, has been called ‘the book of comfort’ for Christians” (Reformed Confessions Harmonized, p. x).

You can read the catechism for free here. An updated version of the catechism is available from Faith Alive Christian Resources. This version (used by the Christian Reformed Church) comes with the complete text of the biblical references printed from the NIV. Obviously some conclusions will be contentious (like infant baptism). But overall I highly recommend it if (like me) you find yourself creedally-deprived.

Title: The Heidelberg Catechism with Scripture Texts
Reading level: 1.75/5.0 > easy
Boards: paperback
Pages: 181
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Faith Alive Christian Resources
Year: 1989
Price USD: $11.25
ISBNs: 093026567x

2 thoughts on “The Heidelberg Catechism

  1. Maybe I am missing something, but how is what you quote from the HK “subjective”? If anything, the definition of providence is one of the best “Objective” descriptions of it available in all of our Reformed confessions. Experiantial in a good sense, yes. But PLEASE do not turn another creedal statement into the “subjective” blah-blah we have so much of… Thanks!

  2. I’m not sure how one would turn a catechism into a purely subjective, non dogmatic document. Clearly, the “subjective” sense is experiential in nature, taking objective truths and applying them to the various life situations we find ourselves in. This is why I wrote, “What makes the Heidelberg Catechism unique is its subjective, experiential emphasis.”

    The HC is a very special catechism indeed.

    -Tony

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