Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism, Starr Meade, Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2013. Paperback, $16.09, 255 pages.
For many Reformed parents, the catechizing of their children begins and ends with catechism classes taught by the church. This is despite the fact that the third baptismal question is very clear. Parents first of all promise that they will instruct their children in the “complete doctrine of salvation” as soon as those children are able to understand. The catechism teaching done by the church is not meant to replace this parental catechism teaching, but to complement or supplement it. But how do we implement parental catechism instruction in the home? That’s where a book like this promises to be very helpful.
The same author wrote a similar book based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds. Our family used this book profitably for several years and by the time we were done with it, it was falling apart. Our experiences with the previous volume led me to have high hopes for this one as a replacement. After a few months of using it in our family worship, I can report that, overall, it is a worthwhile tool. However, discernment is needed on some important points.
A week of devotions (Monday-Saturday) is spent on each Lord’s Day of the Catechism. Occasionally a Lord’s Day will be spread over two weeks. Each day features a short devotional that can be read in less than five minutes. The devotionals also include one or more readings from the Bible to show the connection between the Catechism and Scripture. The devotionals are well-written and often include vivid illustrations. Most of the teaching given in these devotionals is faithful to the Reformed faith. While even preschool children can benefit from these devotionals, those benefitting the most will be school age.
Unfortunately, I do have to share two significant criticisms. I share them in the hope that parents who want to use this book will use it with discernment. First, parents should be aware that Meade uses the edition of the Heidelberg Catechism adopted by the Christian Reformed Church. This has a couple of regrettable drawbacks. First, we want our children to learn the Catechism as adopted by our churches. This means that parents should keep the Book of Praise at hand and read the Catechism in the Canadian Reformed edition, rather than the text as printed in this book. The second drawback is more significant. The CRC edition of the Catechism dropped QA 80 about the Roman Catholic mass. Meade follows the CRC lead and even states in a footnote, “There has been concern among those who use this catechism that the position of the Roman Catholic Church may not be stated accurately. Therefore, I have chosen to omit Question 80 altogether” (160). If Meade had only done some research, she would have discovered that this “concern” was only among some and actually said far more about the CRC than about the Catechism and its portrayal of Rome. This puts Canadian Reformed parents who use this book in the position of having to teach QA 80 on their own – and they should.
My second criticism has to do with Lord’s Day 27 and infant baptism. According to the author’s website, she and her husband teach a Sunday School class at a Reformed Baptist church in Arizona. I would assume that they are also members at this church. This puts the author in an awkward position when it comes to Lord’s Day 27. This was not an issue in the previous book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism (which also teaches infant baptism). It seems to me that the author may have changed her views on this between the two books. When it comes to Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds, the author is very brief on infant baptism and does not teach it or defend it. All she does is note that there are differences amongst Christians on this question and encourages families to discuss where they and their church stand on it. This is not faithful to the intent of the Catechism. The Catechism was written to teach the Reformed faith and that faith includes the truth that the children of believers belong to God’s covenant and therefore should receive holy baptism. This is the whole point of QA 74! Unfortunately, Meade’s Baptist bias comes out elsewhere in her treatment of the sacraments as well. For instance, in the Friday devotion on Lord’s Day 25, she writes, “Baptism is a sign used once, when we first come to Christ.” While baptism certainly is a sign to be used only once, there’s no recognition that it’s to be used when Christ first comes to us – and that could be (and often is) as a little covenant baby. Reformed parents who use this book will have to be cautious about this and intentional about filling out the gaps in Meade’s approach.
We need more books like this, tools to help us catechize our children as we promised to do. We need books like this written by men and women who share a wholehearted commitment to the Reformed faith – with no reservations about any points of doctrine. While I believe this book could be used with profit (and we certainly are profiting in our home), it should only be seen as a stop-gap measure until something better comes along.