Calvin's First Catechism: A Commentary, by I. John Hesselink, featuring Ford Lewis Battles's translation of the 1538 Catechism (Westminster John Knox Press, 224 pp.; $19, hardcover). Reviewed by Michael Horton, associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California.
Why are we here? If God has planned everything, why pray? How do we know God's will for our lives? What is God like? How can I be sure that I'm forgiven? Hardly academic questions, these form the warp and woof of Christian experience. How one answers them makes all the difference.
Although the ancient church provided manuals of instruction for new believers and children, only in the Reformation was the practice of explicitly "catechizing" the laity restored as part of a program to raise up a new generation of Word-shaped people. Among these catechisms, some became official standards (e.g., Luther's Large and Small catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism, and Westminster's Shorter and Larger Catechisms). Despite the popular impression that such formal statements of doctrinal belief cause division, they have actually bound together diverse church bodies across geographical, historical, linguistic, socioeconomic, and ethnic lines.
Some catechisms, however, did not fare so well, usually because they were replaced. Such is the case with the first catechism of the Genevan reformer, John Calvin (1509-64). Not even rediscovered until 1877, it was republished in Geneva, in Germany, and even in Italy, but no English translation of the Latin text existed until now. Before his death in 1979, the distinguished Calvin translator-scholar, Ford Lewis Battles, agreed to have his English translation bound together with a commentary by the Reformed ...1
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