In 2012 Tim Keller produced a “brief and simplified” catechism comprised of 52 questions and answers he identifies as The New City Catechism (http://newcitycatechism.com/). Keller has been busy redefining Christianity for decades, as demonstrated in the previous articles published in this series, and the NCC is just one more fresh, “new” thing. I think a solid case can be made that the intent of Keller’s “new” catechism is actually to replace the rich theology of historical, reformed catechesis with a diluted, more ecumenical substitute. I aim to make the case here.
Keller asserts that the NCC is designed to be much more “economical and accessible” than historic catechesis, i.e., Westminster and Heidelberg, both of which are more than accessible. As for Keller’s “economical” concerns regarding traditional catechesis:
1. giving good value in relation to the amount of time, or effort spent.
2. using no more of something than is necessary.
It is knowledge of God’s eternal truths as it relates to man’s eternal destination that this knock-off catechism aims to ensure you spend no more time or effort than is absolutely necessary!
There is no mention of the Genesis account of creation because Keller is an evolutionist. The last section of the Lord’s prayer is left off, as the Catholics do. The 10 commandments are grouped rather than individual. There is very little scripture reference. Justification by faith alone is stated but certainly not sufficiently expounded, as it should be when you consider this:
“According to Martin Luther, justification by faith alone is the article on which the Church stands or falls. Thus, “faith alone” is foundational to Reformed Christianity, and as a formula distinguishes it from other Christian denominations.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sola_fide
Answering critics, Keller insists that it is “only an intermediate” and should eventually lead a person to the historical catechism. Really? Why would anyone go back to the real catechesis that Keller repeatedly demeans as archaic, “inaccessible” and “uneconomic?”
Promoting NCC from his personal blog, http://www.timothykeller.com/blog/2013/10/29/catechesis-miscellanies, Keller writes:
TK -“The other crucial feature of NCC is its brevity. It is an intermediate catechism. It distills older catechisms but, by necessity, leaves a great deal out. NCC exists to draw in the masses of people who would never taste the richness of the catechism if they didn’t have one that is far more economical in words and style.”
The NCC “by necessity leaves a great deal out” for the purpose of “drawing people that would otherwise never taste the richness of the catechism.” What richness? It’s all been left out! The very intent (in his own words) is an economical appeal to the masses, i.e., the world. It is not a pastor’s role to produce that which entices or draws the secular world, but instead that which teaches, equips and edifies the saints. Catechesis is for the church, not the world!
TK-“To appreciate NCC it will be critical to remember that catechisms are primarily instructional instruments, not creedal standards…the vast majority of catechisms were designed to do Christian formation.”
1. authoritative summary of religious belief
2. a set of fundamental beliefs
By definition, catechesis is inseparable from creed, as both are written summaries of doctrinal beliefs for instruction and “formation” in the church. Keller’s statement is self-contradictory.
TK-“Also, catechism teaches a lost art—the art of meditation and slow reflection. Memorization requires you to pay attention to every word, even every comma. The slow turning over of every word leads to depths of new insight.”
Emphasizing the meditative power of a comma, Keller insists that the slow turning over of every word leads to new depths of insight? There is absolutely nothing of depth in the NCC to mediate or slowly reflect upon.
TK-“Another powerful feature of catechesis is that it teaches us not only the right answers but also, more fundamentally, the right questions. Thomas Torrance observes that the less conversant we are with a body of knowledge, the less we even know what questions to ask. Knowing enough to ask the right questions then moves us down into the truth more swiftly and surely. Here is where catechesis excels.”
Wrong. The only “powerful feature” of a genuine catechism is that it teaches us the right answers, it is not designed to promote the right questions. Please note Keller’s use of the phrase “more fundamentally” to elevate the idea of questioning truth over receiving truth. Catechesis excels as a fixed proclamation of God’s truth to be believed, not questioned. Citing progressive ecumenicist Thomas Torrance, Keller reduces God’s truth to “a body of knowledge” that warrants questioning.
Thomas Forsyth Torrance, 1913 – 2007- minister, Church of Scotland , awarded the ecumenical Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion in 1978 for his contributions between science and theology. He worked tirelessly toward ecumenical unity throughout his career. Torrance served on the Reformed–Roman Catholic Study Commission on the Eucharist and led a colloquy in Switzerland in March 1975 for genuine ecumenical convergence between East and West, Catholics and Evangelicals. His scientific theology will serve the ecumenical church for many years to come just as the theology of Karl Barth, his mentor, continues to do. (wikipedia)
Keller confirms his ecumenical intent with the following statement:
TK-“In part because of its brevity, NCC is less detailed than older catechisms and therefore can be used in a variety of churches.”
A variety of churches?
1. the quality or state of being different or diverse; the absence of uniformity or sameness
There is no room for doctrinal variety in the true church, as we are all of one heart and mind (Acts 4:32).
James K.A. Smith interviewed Keller on the NCC, https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/catechesis-for-a-secular-age/. These excerpts expose a double-minded man:
TK-“So my best way of doing this—I got some of this from reading Charles Taylor—is to intentionally catechize for our secular age. We need to think about rewriting the catechism for a secular age.”
- Dr. Charles Margrave Taylor– Roman Catholic communitarian and philosopher
Aristotle, Plato, Hegel, Marx, Tocqueville, Heidegger
Keller affirms what he denied in his blogpost; the NCC is in fact intended as a replacement (rewrite). Secondly, he affirms that the NCC is written to appeal to the world (intentionally for a secular age). Thirdly, and most astoundingly, he divulges that a major source for insight on the “best way of doing this” was Catholic communitarian, philosopher and liberal progressive Charles M. Taylor. If you have been following this series the name Taylor should be familiar, as Keller constantly quotes him and heavily promotes his books.
TK-“By the way, if it’s a Protestant catechism, of course it’s going to be counterpoint to a lot of Roman Catholic teaching in a lot of places. But I feel like our catechisms are intended to guarantee that the learners will not be Catholic. Great, fine, because I’m a Protestant.”
Outrageous. After admitting that his ideas and insight were largely extracted from an ecumenical, Catholic philosopher, he pledges his allegiance to the reformation! Double-speak from a double minded man (James 1:8).
TK-“But the problem today isn’t Roman Catholicism; it’s these other rival narratives. I made a list on the buffered self-narrative, and I realized that the whole idea of adoption in the New Testament probably counters the identity narrative better than justification. I’ve been coming to the conclusion that we have to redo catechesis. You’ve been great about the heart stuff; you’re right about the liturgy. But there is a head side, and they have to meet the preaching in catechism. Actually, both the Heidelberg and even the Westminster Shorter Catechism are just set too high for church. I met Harvie Conn some years ago when I was at Westminster Seminary- He says the best thing to do is write one that’s just instructional and maybe with that apologetic style, but we shouldn’t try to create one that is for testing orthodoxy.”
Harvie M. Conn (1933-99) Professor of Missions and Director of the Urban Missions Program, Westminster Theological Seminary. His theology is best summed up in his book Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace: “For too long evangelical white churches in the United States have had a “come” structure, but one cannot be a missionary church and continue insisting that the world must come to the church on the church’s terms. It must become a “go” structure. And it can only do that when its concerns are directed outside itself toward the poor, the abused, and the oppressed. The church must recapture its identity as the only organization in the world that exists for the sake of its non-members.” Conn identified the prostitutes he ministered to as victims of sinful societal structures rather than simply “sinners.” https://peteenns.com/the-or-at-least-a-problem-with-evangelical-white-churches/
According to Dr. Keller and his heretical mentors, Catholicism is not a problem anymore- what’s really important is countering the “identity-narrative” by focusing on adoption rather than justification, therefore he has to re-do catechism. Westminster and Heidelberg are “set too high for church” and we really don’t need an orthodox catechism comprised of sound doctrine, as that surely would not appeal to “the masses.”
The New City Catechism is one of the most heavily promoted ideas coming out of Keller’s Redeemer network, primarily via Gospel For Life, his social media wing. In addition to several book forms and numerous online videos and apps, they really pulled out all the stops to increase its appeal to “secular-minded,” worldly “non-members”:
Keeping it fun with Sing-a-long tunes! https://thegospelcoalition.bandcamp.com/album/songs-from-the-new-city-catechism-3
Keeping it pithy with flash cards! https://quizlet.com/15867721/new-city-catechism-flash-cards/
Keeping it secular with Jeopardy! https://jeopardylabs.com/play/new-city-catechism
Keeping it trendy with a devotional! https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publication/new-city-catechism-devotional/
Keeping it economical with TGC videos! https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Channel/900
Proponents and users of the NCC had this to say:
“The first questions are quite easy, and the answers so short that even an 18-month-old can answer triumphantly “God!” when asked “Who made you?” We discovered our kids loved the question/answer dynamic; to them it was almost a game, through which they could experience a legitimate sense of achievement.” Kathy Keller
“The option to memorize through song has made learning the large body of questions and answers not only practical but also fun. Our children don’t dread the daily catechism; it’s a time of merry singing! Dan Olson (Director of Donor Ministries, Gospel Coalition) and Lucy Olson
“Since I’m an ecumenical Christian who often thinks, “Can’t we all just get along?” the idea of this book greatly appealed to me. As I read the questions and answers, I saw that most Christians will likely agree with the responses to all but a very few..the more we know this, the more apt we’ll be to show respect to other sincere Christians who have a different understanding than ours of what scriptures mean. The more we listen to each other, the more accepting we’ll be. The more accepting we are, the greater the strength and love in us becomes visible and winsome to the whole world.” Mary Harwell Slayer (blogger-poet)
“I use my knowledge of sign language to add a kinetic and active component to this. Especially when it comes to the songs. Any actions will do for small kids- so if pointing at the ceiling is your sign for “God”, go with it! Stomping feet, clapping hands, jumping up and down are all very good actions to get those wiggly bodies moving!” Lindsay Tadros (Homeschooler)
By his own admission, Tim Keller’s New City Catechism was written to replace the in-depth, doctrinally sound Westminster and Heidelberg catechesis because they are set too high for church, and therefore must be replaced with an ecumenical, doctrinally deficient version that will appeal to almost any professing church, as well as the secular world. Reject this counterfeit and warn the brethren!
“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort, and to refute those who oppose it.” Titus 1:9 ~ “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” Titus 2:1