Systematic Theology: In Catechism Form

 I just got this in the mail from Reformation Heritage Books (RHB): Essential Truths in the Heart of a Christian by Wilhlemus Schortinghuis.  (If you’re Dutch, that’s Nodige Waarheden in het Herte van een Christen)  Schortinghuis (the most Dutch Dutch name I’ve ever heard!) was a pastor in the Reformed churches of Holland in the early to mid 18th century.  He was at the tail end of what scholars call the “Dutch Second Reformation” (Nadere Reformatie), which waned around the middle of the 18th century.  While it is true that Schortinguis wrote some very pietistic (in a negative sense) stuff, this book, Essential Truths, is quite in line with the orthodoxy of Reformed scholasticism before it.

Essential Truths is pretty much a very brief systematic theology in catechetical form, with proof-texts (citations, not the full verses) as part of the answers.  Below I’ve put a few examples of how this book is in line with Reformed orthodoxy (the examples also show the catechetical structure).

Part one talks about the knowledge of God.  “In whom is the knowledge of God found fully, to a greater or lesser degree?”  A: “In God himself (1 Cor. 2:7), in Christ (Matt. 11:27), in the holy angels (Matt. 18.10), in the believer in heaven (2 Cor. 5.7), and on earth (2 Cor. 5.7).”  The scholastics talked about archetype and ectype (concerning knowledge); this is the catechetical brief way to talk about it.

Part 11 (after Creation, Providence, etc.) is about the Covenant of Works.  “What is the covenant of works?  The agreement of God with the righteous man in which God promised life and threatened death, with the stipulation of perfect obedience to his law.  If man met the stipulation, he would enjoy eternal life (Hos. 6:7; Job 31:33).”  Later, the question is asked: “Did man have the ability to fulfill these demands?  Yes, indeed; because he was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:31; Eccles. 7:29), he was perfectly good and completely upright.” 

Part 26 is Schortinghuis’ discussion of justification sola fide.  “How is a believing sinner justified?  Not because of the worth of his faith or because of his imperfect Christian obedience, but purely by grace, for the sake of Christ’s perfect atonement and intercession (Rom. 3:24-26), with faith only as an instrument (Rom. 5:1), and apart from the works of the law (Rom. 3:28).”  He also mentions that a believing sinner embraces by faith Christ’s righteousness, which is imputed to the sinner (Q/A 5). 

“Do not our good works contain some virtue that God nevertheless may want to reward?  No, because they do not answer the requirement of meritorious work, since eternal life is a gracious gift earned by Christ that God grants for his sake by grace (Rom. 4:4-5; Eph. 2:8-9).”

This has to do with the covenant of grace.  “What does God promise and demand in the covenant of grace?  He promises all the essential benefits here and especially for eternity.  He promises: ‘I shall be a God to you” (Jer. 31:33).  And he demands faith and conversion [repentance] (Acts 16:31; Ezek 33:11), both of which he promises to provide (Eph. 2:8, Ezek. 36:27).”  The conditions in the covenant of grace are met by God working in the heart of the elect.

While I’ll summarize them to keep the post brief, Schortinghuis also talks about other Reformed truths, including the regulative principle of worship (part 10, Q/A 4), the law as both a threatening command that shows sin and a “rule of thanksgiving” (part 10, Q/A 10), the visible/invisible church (part 39, Q/A 4), and the essence of saving faith as a receiving instrument which consists of knowledge, assent, and trust (part 24, Q/A 4, 6).

The catechism itself is only around 100 pages; it is not long and tedious.  In many ways it reflects the Heidelberg catechism only with a few more “application” type questions.  Or, to put it another way, it is sort of like a very brief summary of the other Wilhelmus’ (Wilhelmus a Brakel) systematic, The Christian’s Reasonable Service.  At the end of many sections, the question comes: “What does [the doctrine under observation] teach you personally?” 

In summary, while I hesitate to commend all of Schortinghuis’ works (most of them are in Dutch anyway), I do recommend this one as a great, clear, and concise snapshot of orthodox Dutch piety – practical Christian doctrine in Q/A format.  The translators, editor, and publisher deserves a hearty thanks!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 thoughts on “Systematic Theology: In Catechism Form”

  1. Wow! This book sounds awesome.

    Do you think this book could form the basis of an intro to a Reformed Systematic theology catechism class or mid-week class?

    Just wondering what you’d think of that since I haven’t purchased this book yet…

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    1. Sure. I’d use it to supplement the HC or BCF. It is sort of like the BCF in HC format (or Berkhof’s Manual in Q/A form). It would be a good secondary text to use in reading for a class/study, especially if you’re discussing the theological and historical trajectory of the Reformation (stuff that Joel Beeke has written well on).

      It’ll also help in your personal study and sermon prep. It’s worth the 12 bucks for sure!

      shane

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