Monday, November 05, 2012

The New City Catechism: Analysis Part 2

Heidelberg Catechism (HC):

Q26: What believest thou when thou sayest, "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"?

A: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence) is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt, but he will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body and further, that he will make whatever evils he sends upon me, in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.

Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC):

Q4: What is God?
A: God is a Spirit,infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Q5: Are there more Gods than one?
A: There is but one only, the living and true God.

Q6: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A: There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC):

Q7: What is God?
A: God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Q8: Are there more Gods than one?
A: There is but one only, the living and true God.

Q9: How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A: There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.

Q10: What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A: It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.

Q11: How doth it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?
A: The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.

New City Catechism:

Q2: What is God?
A: God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal,infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory,wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.

Q3: How many persons are there in God?
A: There are three persons in the one true and living God: the Father, the Son,and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

We will next look at the New City Catechism in its exposition of the doctrine of God. Who is God? What is He like?

Before I start, a minor quibble I have is that the catechisms should ask "who is God" instead of "what is God." Now certainly as a subject we can ask "what," but asking "who" is certainly a better way of expressing that we come to God as He is as a person.

In comparison with the Westminster catechisms, we can see that the New City Catechism has much less in content, but since it doesn't claim to be exhaustive, that is fine. Generally, the answers are similar to the answers found in the Westminster standards. The third question of the New City Catechism is almost a verbatim quote from the answer in the Westminster catechisms, so no comparison can be raised on that.

Concerns are to be raised however at various points. First, when the New City catechism omits describing God as a Spirit, why is that so? Second, when it uses the phrase "creator and sustainer of everyone and everything" and "nothing happens except through him and by his will," does this not confuse who God is in se with God's work outside of Himself? Now, of course God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. However, the orthodox notion of God is that God is a se, which is to say he is complete in and of Himself apart from the creation. In other words, God's aseity implies that who God is He is independent of creation and not dependent on His works.

The Westminster catechisms therefore describe God by His attributes, not His work. On the other hand, the Heidelberg Catechism is not asking who God is, but rather who God is for us, and thus it describes God in His work for us. The New City Catechism however aims to answer who God is, and therefore is it very strange that description of God's Work is placed into the answer for who God is, since God should not be described by His work since He is not defined by His work.

With such concerns, we must say that in this section, the New City Catechism is inferior to the older catechisms.

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