You are talking with your co-worker from the next cubicle over coffee. She knows you are active in a church. She is in a season of searching.
What is Christianity actually all about?” she asks. “I mean, what do you believe?”
She really wants to know. You really want to tell her. Three problems:
- You have about fifteen seconds before your break is over — the big stuff always happens at the door, right?
- She does not want an in depth dissertation — she’ll listen for about fifteen seconds.
- You have been a Christian surrounded by Christians your whole life — if you’ve never been asked, maybe you don’t know what to say.
This is exactly when you need to have already studied something like the “Heidelberg Catechism.” (Download the new translation now in use by three denominations here for free.) You might shy away from a sixteenth-century theological text, but this one was designed for you: it tries to summarize the basics of Christianity, to synthesize the whole of biblical teaching, in 129 questions and answers.
One of its most helpful features is the clear outline it hangs those teachings on. Just knowing the outline you have an easy helpful way to summarize what Christians believe.
I’ll give it a shot:
Please start the timer.
- On our own, apart from God, our lives are broken and miserable.
- God sent Jesus Christ to deliver us from our misery, bringing us forgiveness and making us new.
- All the rest of our lives we live in gratitude for that great gift, loving God and neighbor.
That’s it. That’s a clear summary of the Christian message.
Here’s the same outline in the actual words of the Catechism:
2 Q. What must you know to
live and die in the joy of this comfort?
A. Three things:
first, how great my sin and misery are;
second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery;
third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.
Many people use “Guilt, grace, and gratitude” as a catchy way to remember this outline.
One thing I love about it is that it keeps the Good News good. I’ve heard more than a few presentations of the Gospel that sound more like the Bad News, or the Complicated Indecipherable News, or the Outdated Pile of Old Newspapers.
Heidelberg’s outline does not include every detail — the Catechism as a whole is just an introduction, intended to lead you to a lifetime of exploration in Scripture and its teachings. And it is four and a half centuries old, after all, so it can take some effort to transpose it into terms understandable to day. If you want a short study guide for yourself or a group to explore the Heidelberg Catechism click here to order one I wrote for the PC(USA)’s “Being Reformed” series.
But this simple three-point outline gives us useful handles to talk about our faith. And in a culture where fewer and fewer people really know the Bible or the basics of Christianity, we absolutely need some tools to get the message out there.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments:
How would you summarize your faith if someone asked?
If you’ve had the chance to try to summarize your faith, how did your listener respond?
Disclosure: There is an affiliate link in this post.