I have just uploaded the final part of the Heidelberg Catechism series. That means that all three parts – one, two and three – are now available! 52 sessions all done and dusted. (OK, you got me, there are actually 51 because I skipped one session about oaths which I thought was less relevant to the 21st century, but still). Over the last few months, as I’ve been recording this, I’ve found it a real joy to go through the catechism. I thought, seeing as I’ve already worked my way through the New City Catechism (you can see the course here), it might be worth doing a head to head comparison – the Heidelberg vs New City Catechism.
In summary, over the past few months I’ve enjoyed doing the Heidelberg videos more than I did the New City Catechism ones. Here are a few points where I prefer the Heidelberg to the New City Catechism.
The Heidelberg is not simply an intellectual exercise – it’s designed to be deeply pastoral. That is, the catechism doesn’t just want you to know things, it wants you to believe things and act on them as well. That’s really important: if the gospel and the Bible doesn’t make a difference in our lives, then we haven’t really grasped its significance.
This really hit me the other day when I was preaching on Titus 1:1-4, these words jumped out at me: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” – the truth that leads to godliness. That’s what the Heidelberg is concerned with, not simply ‘the truth’ as information but the truth as life-changing.
Now, of course the NCC is concerned with our lives as well as our doctrine. But I feel that the wording of the questions in the NCC is a bit more ‘academic’ – if you want the warmer, pastoral stuff you have to read the explanatory notes and the prayer (something which I do appreciate being in the NCC). But if you are just comparing the Q&As, I think the Heidelberg has a more pastoral and warmer tone. It tends to avoid theological jargon words and explain things within the Q&A more.
It’s more connected to the Bible
One of the things I really like about the Heidelberg compared with the New City Catechism is that the Heidelberg footnotes each part of the catechism with verses from the Bible. This is really helpful – if you want to learn where they are drawing the catechism from, you can look up the Bible verses and it helps you to put the pieces together. In fact, very often the language of a question or answer is taken directly from the Bible.
I think the Heidelberg does a great job at connecting the catechism with the pages of the Bible (which is why I think it goes so well with the mission of this site – to Understand the Bible better).
The NCC, by contrast, just has one Bible verse per Q&A. As a teacher, I’ve actually found it much easier to teach the Heidelberg because it gives you the Bible passages to go on.
It’s more detailed
One of the things which I appreciated about the Heidelberg when compared to the New City Catechism was the way it expanded on things. The New City Catechism Q&As are very dense – they use a few words to talk about a lot of complicated concepts. In order to get the best out of the New City Catechism you really need to read the explanatory notes written by various different authors. The problem with that is, different authors will take different aspects of the catechism to focus on – I found it could be a little uneven.
With the Heidelberg, there are no explanatory notes – everything is contained within the questions and answers – and it often goes into more detail about things that you want to know, case in point: talking about what the word ‘amen’ means at the very end of the catechism (finishing the Lord’s Prayer).
All in all, both the New City and the Heidelberg catechisms are good and will teach you the Christian faith. The New City definitely has some advantages – I like the app (although I found it didn’t remember where I was up to, which was a pain). It’s in modern language, and it includes a prayer. But, as a teacher, my preference is the Heidelberg – it’s just so much easier to teach. It’s not dense, you don’t have to unpack lots of theological words like ‘sanctification’. And the way it connects directly with Bible verses means you can easily link the two together.
You can watch or listen to all the Heidelberg and New City Catechism sessions in the teaching programme.