As an update to the 2014 “Working Edition,” The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has released the “Approved Edition” of its catechism: To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism (Crossway, 2020).
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a “catechism” is “a text used for instruction of Christian disciples” (p. 14). In the ancient church, the “catechumenate” was “was a period of one-to-three-years’ instruction (catechesis) leading to Baptism at Easter” (p. 13).
What’s in this catechism?
Like all classic catechisms, To Be a Christian covers:
- The Apostles’ Creed
- The Lord’s Prayer
- The Ten Commandments (AKA “Decalogue”)
To better instruct those with no prior knowledge of the Christian faith, this catechism includes an introductory section on the gospel (“good news”) and salvation.
Again, following the pattern of classic catechisms, To Be a Christian is primarily structured in a question and answer format. All told, there are 368 numbered questions. (There were 345 questions in the Working Edition.)
Sure, that’s a lot of questions, but don’t let that scare you away! This is still a short book. The dimensions of the front cover are about 5.5” by 7.5,” and there are 160 pages, including the appendices and Scripture index.
Here’s a sample to get an idea of the length of these questions and answers.
(1) What is the human condition? Though created good and made for fellowship with our Creator, humanity has been cut off from God by self-centered rebellion against him, leading to lawless living, guilt, shame, death, and the fear of judgment. This is the state of sin. (Genesis 3:1–13; Psalm 14:1–3; Matthew 15:10–20; Romans 1:18–23; 3:9–23)
Table of Contents
Here’s the table of contents, with question numbers added in for each major section:
- Part I: Beginning with Christ (Q1–17)
- The Gospel
- Part II: Believing in Christ (Q18–153)
- The Apostles’ Creed and the Life of Faith
- Concerning the Creeds
- Concerning Holy Scripture
- The Apostles’ Creed, Article I
- The Apostles’ Creed, Article II
- The Apostles’ Creed, Article III
- Concerning Sacraments
- Part III: Belonging to Christ (Q154–255)
- The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life
- Concerning Prayer
- The Lord’s Prayer
- A Rule of Prayer: Scripture, Prayer, and Worship
- Part IV: Becoming Like Christ (Q256–368)
- The Ten Commandments
- Justification and Sanctification: Living in Forgiveness and Healing
- 1: Prayers for Use with the Catechism
- 2: A Rite for Admission of Catechumens
- 3: The Nicene Creed
- 4: The Creed of Saint Athanasius
- 5: A Note on the Articles of Religion
- 6: Vision Paper for Catechesis
- 7: Guiding Principles for Catechesis
- Index of Scripture
What’s new/different in this “Approved Edition”?
Here’s what the ACNA has to say about changes between the Working Edition and the Approved Edition of the catechism.
Types of Minor Changes
- Grammatical/Linguistic – corrections to grammar, punctuation, and style.
- Redundancy – removing unnecessary redundancies in Q&A content and Scripture references.
- Stylistic Clarification – simplifying and/or clarifying wording for optimal pedagogical use.
- Theological Clarification – some Answers were insufficiently precise in their theological statements.
- Reordering Questions – some Q&As were reordered to improve flow of thought.
- Unpacking Questions – some lengthy Answers needed to be broken into separate Q&As.
The major changes in the Approved Edition include both new content and substantial revision of previous content.
- Scripture References – The Scripture reference system was entirely revised and greatly improved. The references now present substantial portions of Scripture from the entire biblical witness for in-depth Bible study.
- The Role of Israel – throughout the Approved Edition, but especially in the Gospel and Creed sections, the importance of the history and role of Israel was strengthened.
- Gospel Introduction – The introduction to the Gospel section was revised in order more clearly to address both unchurched and churched believers. This includes clearer direction towards baptism and/or confirmation as the believer’s act of commitment to Christ.
- Final Part of Creed Section – the Sacraments subsection was moved to the end of the Creed section and the teaching about grace, including the grace conveyed in the Sacraments, was strengthened.
- Lord’s Prayer Section
- The introduction was substantially revised in order actually to address the structure and content of the Lord’s Prayer, which the previous introduction did not.
- Teaching on the nature and purpose of the Kingdom of God was significantly expanded.
- A concluding section was added that frames a rule of prayer as part of a rule of life.
- Decalogue Section
- The introduction was revised in order to include obedience to Christ and conformity to his image as an intrinsic goal (telos) of the Christian life.
- Each commandment subsection was revised to teach both what God forbids of us (proscription) and what God desires for us (prescription).
- Each commandment subsection was revised to teach how obedience to the commandment can lead to growth in virtue and likeness to Christ.
- The Decalogue section now concludes with a subsection on justification in Christ as the foundation of growth in sanctification.
How “Anglican” is this catechism?
Because it focuses on the classic essentials of the Christian faith, this catechism would be useful for more than just Anglicans.
Regardless of your church background (or lack thereof), if you’re looking for a summary of the good news of Jesus Christ, then Part 1 should be helpful. The same would go for Part 2 if you want to learn more about the Apostles’ Creed, Part 3 if you’re interested in learning more about the Lord’s Prayer, and Part 4 if you’d like a walk-through of the Ten Commandments.
Anglicans do not have the market cornered on the good news, the creed(s), the Lord’s Prayer, or the Ten Commandments! These things are the common heritage of all Christians, and To Be a Christian rightly majors on the major points of the Christian faith.
Nevertheless, this catechism is also an excellent resource if you’d like to learn more about what Anglicans believe and teach. According to J.I. Packer, the first guideline for drafting this catechism was
Everything taught should be compatible with, and acceptable to, all recognized schools of Anglican thought, so that all may be able confidently to use all the material.
While the entire catechism has an Anglican flavor to it, there are three portions of the catechism where “Anglican distinctives” (especially when compared to other types of Protestantism) come to the fore:
- If you’d like a broad overview of what Anglicans think about how to interpret the creeds and Holy Scripture (and how to handle the Apocrypha), then you should take a look at the “Apostles’ Creed and the Life of Faith,” “Concerning the Creeds, and “Concerning Holy Scripture” sections on pages 29–35 (questions 18–35).
- If you’d like to learn more about what Anglicans think about the sacraments, you should take a look at the “Concerning Sacraments” section on pages 55–63 (questions 121–153).
- If you’d like to learn more about what Anglican life and spirituality look like, you should read the “A Rule of Prayer: Scripture, Prayer, and Worship” section on pages 81–87 (questions 224–255).
Here are my quibbles.
I don’t have any major critiques of this catechism, especially at the level of theological content. It’s an excellent resource, I’ve used the Working Edition often, and I plan to continue to use the Approved Edition—especially as I answer questions about Anglicanism here at AnglicanPastor.com!
However, I do have the following “quibbles.”
Crossway’s copyright sounds too strict.
Don’t get me wrong; Crossway is a great publisher. I love the quality of the books that they produce. And they provided me with a free review copy of this catechism. However, I worry about the “All rights reserved” copyright. As stated at the front of the book, it reads:
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law.
That seems way too strict for a catechism designed for broad use! Sure, go ahead and give Crossway exclusive printing/publishing rights. But the content of the ACNA’s Book of Common Prayer is not under copyright, and I don’t think that the content of the ACNA’s catechism should be under copyright, either!
We need a catechism in the 2019 Book of Common Prayer.
Granted, this is technically more about the 2019 Prayer Book than the 2020 catechism. However, while I understand the decision to purposefully produce a longer and more comprehensive catechism than the ones that have traditionally been included in various editions of the Book of Common Prayer, I really think that the 2019 BCP needs some kind of catechism included.
Perhaps this Crossway edition of the catechism is short enough to be bound together with the BCP without any changes? Or, perhaps the ACNA could produce an abbreviated version of the catechism that gets included in future printings of the BCP?
We need a shorter catechism to use with children.
Here’s the aforementioned reasoning behind the decision to produce a longer catechism.
In one respect, this catechism breaks new ground for Anglicans. The historic 1662 Catechism in the English Book of Common Prayer is brief and specifically designed to prepare young people for confirmation and church membership. However, this present work is intended as a more comprehensive catechetical tool for adult (or near-adult) inquirers, and for all Christians seeking deeper grounding in the full reality of Christian faith and life. (p. 14).
That makes good sense, but what are we supposed to use to catechize our young children? Perhaps the idea is that the ACNA trusts catechists to abbreviate the material on their own. And, if that’s the case, then I applaud that trust.
However, as a young father, until my children are older, I plan to draw from the New City Catechism (and the New City Catechism for Kids) and tweak it in an Anglican direction in my own household. I really wish that the ACNA would produce a ~50 question catechism with shorter answers for children.
(Ahem, I also wish that the ACNA would produce a beautiful, easy-to-use app that contained the entirety of the BCP and the catechism.)
Appendices 5, 6, and 7 need some work.
These appendices do not deliver what their titles promise!
- Regarding Appendix 5: Why not include the full text of the Articles of Religion? (This problem would be solved if the catechism and the Prayer Book were bound together.)
- Appendix 6: Why not either include the Vision Paper for Catechesis, or clean up the ugly “http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/catechism” URL to something shorter that redirects?
- Appendix 7: Slightly better, because of the “http://anglicancatechism.com” URL that redirects to Appendix 6’s URL. However, if you’re not going to provide the actual “Guiding Principles for Catechesis,” then this shouldn’t be called an “appendix,” in my opinion.
Bottom line: I highly recommend To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism.
It is an excellent resource for learning more about the Christian faith in general and the Anglican tradition in particular. I pray that God would use this book to contribute to a global revival of catechesis in fulfillment of the Great Commission!