[K:NWTS 22/1 (May 2007) 48-50]

Book Review

Lyle D. Bierma, An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. 223 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8010-3117-6. $29.99.

Have you understood that Casper Olevianus and Zacharius Ursinus wrote the Heidelberg Catechism? If so, this is a book you need to read.

The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 deals with the historical background of the Heidelberg Catechism; Part 2 deals with the introduction and translation of Ursinus's Smaller and Larger Catechism. Both of these catechisms precede the publication of the Heidelberg Catechism. It is fascinating to compare them to the Heidelberg itself.

There are five chapters in Part 1 (The Historical Introduction).  Chapter one, written by Dr. Charles D. Gunnoe, Jr., Chairman of the Department of History at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, discusses the Reformation in the Palatinate from 1500-1562. He reviews the political and cultural climate out of which the Catechism was born.

In chapter two, Dr. Bierma, Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, discusses the purpose and authorship of the Catechism. I found this part of the book most intriguing. Through excellent scholarly work, he shows that the catechism, instead of having been written by two men, as has been believed, was actually a team effort that included many men. The purpose of using many men was to enhance its catholicity and bring together various teachings of those who resided in Heidelberg and vicinity. After establishing this unified voice of the earliest witnesses, Dr. Bierma shows how, in the course of history, the Heidelberg Catechism came to be attributed to Olevianus and Ursinus.

In chapter three, Dr. Bierma discusses the sources and theological orientation of the Catechism. There is no unified scholarly position with regard to the sources.  It is assumed that there were many sources including, especially, Ursinus's Smaller Catechism. The initial question reads, "What is the comfort by which your heart is sustained in death as well as in life?" And the answer: "That God has truly pardoned all my sins because of Christ and has given me eternal life, in which I may glorify him forever." As to the theological orientation, Bierma makes the following statement: "Between the boundaries formed by various Roman Catholic and Gnesio-Lutheran teachings on the one side of the spectrum and several Anabaptist tenets on the other, the HC forges a remarkable consensus by highlighting common theological ground among the followers of Zwingli, and Bullinger, Calvin and Melanchthon" (81). He then goes on to support this position.

Dr. Karin Y. Maag, Associate Professor of History at Calvin College, writes chapter four. She deals with early editions and translations of the Catechism including a list of editions from 1563-1663 in German, Latin, Dutch, English, French and other languages.

Chapter five is a bibliography of research on the Catechism from 1900 to the present, compiled by Paul W. Fields, Theological Librarian at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary. This bibliography could be of great service to those who want to do modern research.

If you preach out of the Heidelberg Catechism, if you study the Heidelberg Catechism, if you for any reason are interested in the Heidelberg Catechism, this book is an indispensable tool for you to own.

—J. Peter Vosteen