Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The New City Catechism: Analysis Part 4

On the Law of God

Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q12. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man in the estate wherein he was created?
A. When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death

New City Catechism:

Q7: What does the law of God require?
A: Personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience; that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. What God forbids should never be done and what God commands should always be done.

Q8: What is the law of God stated in the Ten Commandments?
A: You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below—you shall not bow down to them or worship them. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony. You shall not covet.


Q15: Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?
A: That we may know the holy nature and will of God, and the sinful nature and disobedience of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior. The law also teaches and exhorts us to live a life worthy of our Savior.

The New City Catechism follows with a discussion of the Law of God. The Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, however, place the discussion of the Law of God at the back of the catechisms. The difference in arrangement is not incidental, and reflects a fundamental difference of perspective between the Reformed tradition and the New Calvinists.

The Reformed Catechisms placed the discussion of the Law of God at the back as they see the explication of the Ten Commandments as reflecting how Man ought to live. In other words, the Law is still normative for believers today, as an expression of their gratitude to God for their salvation. Thus, after all has been said about the salvation by Christ, the focus shifts to how Christians should live in light of our so great salvation.

The New City Catechism placed the exposition on the Law at the front, as a precursor to the discussion of the problem of sin. To be sure, question 15 of the New City Catechism does speak of the law as teaching and exhorting us"to live a life worthy of our Savior," but the emphasis is surely on the Law showing us our sin and disobedience.

Reformed Orthodoxy has always taught the three uses of the Law. The first use of the Law is to expose sin. The second use is to restrain sin, and the third use is to show us how we ought to live. Thus, there is nothing unorthodox about expounding the Law of God according to its first use. The question however is why the Reformed Orthodox prefer to expound the Law in the catechism in its third use, and whether the New City Catechism is superior or inferior in emphasizing the first use of the Law.

In the Westminster Standards, the first use of the Law is explicated through the concept of covenants, specifically the Covenant of Works, otherwise known as the Covenant of Life. In WSC12, the Law of God was explicated in its redemptive-historical context wherein it was revealed in Eden to Adam, as a prohibition to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil.

Comparing the two, we can see the inferiority of the New City Catechism. First of all, the emphasis on the first use of the Law makes it easier to downplay the third use of the Law. Secondly, and most seriously, by decoupling the Law from its historical context of Creation and the Covenant of Works, the Law of God is not linked to creation and thus could not be seen to be trans-cultural. After all, why would any non-Caucasian and non-Semite care about what any "tribal deity" gives as Law? True, it can be insisted that the 10 commandments are binding on all mankind, but why should any non-White and non-Semite see it as nothing more than cultural imperialism? Thirdly of course, if the Law is explicated as a precursor to discussion of sin, does that mean that the Law is always explicated in 10 commandments? Did Adam knew all of the 10 commandments in Eden in the form revealed to Moses? Explicating the 10 commandments in the first use of the Law therefore does not help in answering the question posed by Rom. 5:13, for how can sin reign before the law was given? Rather, it must be seen that the Law of God can be summarized by the 10 commandments but is not defined merely by them.

The New City Catechism is at this point inferior to the Westminster Standards. Of the three points in which it is inferior to the Westminster Standards, perhaps the worst is its decoupling the Law from its first revelation in history. Such is of course congruous with Tim Keller's denial of the literal Genesis creation, but such allows non-whites and non-Semites to discount Christianity altogether as a white religion not suitable for other ethnic groups.

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