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25 January 2006
  The Small Catechism

Small CatechismWhen most Lutherans think about being Lutheran, responding, "This is most certainly true," is one of the first distinctives that comes to mind. The beginning of this new book review blog thus seems the right place and time to offer comments on the new edition of the Small Catechism from Concordia Publishing House.

This is no new translation but an update of the 1991 edition. Many of the internal and external differences are visual. First, we see the cover, where you'll notice that burgundy is the new blue in the LCMS. This matches the CPH printing of the ESV Bible, the 2005 edition of the Lutheran Book of Prayer, the upcoming Lutheran Service Book, and other current and pending titles. Besides this external unity, we rejoice in seeing how the Small Catechism is being incorporated into these and other books coming out of CPH. The embossed Luther Seal gives even the basic edition a rich feel.

The second visual difference in this new printing involves the illustrations found throughout the volume. Each of the Six Chief Parts, the Daily Prayers, the Table of Duties, and Christian Questions begins with a small drawing that both introduces the section and ties it to the other parts.

Regarding the print content, the Appendix has been expanded. All material from the "blue" 1991 edition remains, including Luther's Preface, the Books of the Bible, Creeds and Confessions, the Church Year, Index of Bible Quotations, and Index of Topics. The Church Year listing is supplemented with a pie chart to show the divisions. Additions include an Explanation of Luther's Seal, a Salvation Outline summarizing "basic information about the human condition and God's saving grace," Fifty Terms Relating to Worship and God's House, The Time between the Testaments (intertestamental history), and Symbols and Their Meanings, with an extensive collection of theological and liturgical graphics shown and explained.

The strengths and weaknesses of the Synodical Catechism otherwise remain. The largest portion of the book is still devoted to An Explanation of the Small Catechism, parts of which don't always fit neatly with the preceding confession of the Catechism proper. The ongoing confusion in the LCMS about the Office of the Holy Ministry and its relationship to Confession and the Office of the Keys still finds no resolution in complete harmony with the Small Catechism and the other Confessions. Sometimes I'm not sure about the choice of illustrative or proof texts. Overall, however, this section can be used profitably if we read with discernment. Also, the NIV translation remains, despite its many shortcomings.

Catechism CDFinally, I'd like to touch again on the new catechetical emphasis we're seeing from CPH and the LCMS. As noted, the Six Chief Parts appear in a number of recent Concordia publications. In conjunction with reading the Catechism in print, I must remind readers of the recently released CD Listening to Luther, which was reviewed and recommended at Aardvark Alley back on the Reformer's 522nd birthday (10 November AD 2005).

Ignorance of the Catechism is no excuse these days. This new version promises to be the same excellent devotional aid it's always been and the new resources and graphics only increase its didactic capabilities. We can hope that the coming years see an ever-increasing integration of visual and musical arts with our foundational texts.

Highly recommended for everyone.


Here is the 1991 version in PDF and RTF formats. (RTF can be read and edited by MS Word or your favorite word processor) I don't think these files were meant for public use by CPH or the LCMS, but they are available for free from the LCMS website. An oversight, I'm sure. Grab one while you can.
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