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Culture Books

Four classic books

Books

Four classic books

The Heidelberg Catechism

Zacharius Ursinus

Composed in 1563 by a German theologian and later adopted as one of the Three Forms of Unity by Dutch Reformed churches, the Heidelberg Catechism helped clarify Protestant beliefs. Today, some Christians still memorize this warmhearted catechism best known for its first question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer in part: “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. … Without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head. … He also assures me of eternal life.”

I Have a Dream/Letter from Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King Jr.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Readers exploring King’s core ideas may want to consider this roughly 60-page book. It includes his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech as well as his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” both from 1963. While the former soars with inspirational rhetoric, King’s letter powerfully defends his beliefs and practices (including “nonviolent resistance”) from the criticism of white clergy. Although the gospel basis for racial reconciliation is notably absent in both, King’s criticism of Jim Crow policies and his heartfelt reaction to their cruelty make the letter invaluable.

Witness

Whittaker Chambers

Chambers in the 1930s was a spy for the Soviet Union. After his conversion to “faith in God” he renounced Communism (“faith in man”) and escaped his Soviet handlers. In 1948, Chambers testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, exposing several fellow spies. Foremost among those was former State Department official Alger Hiss, later found guilty of perjury. Part spy thriller, part political treatise, part literary autobiography, Chambers’ brilliantly written story exemplifies the Biblical call to love our enemies while seeking justice. His mid-20th-century political impact was great: William F. Buckley Jr. dubbed him “the most important American defector from Communism.”

The Complete Stories

Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor, a National Book Award (1972) winner, wrote more than 30 short stories that show the sinfulness of man and our need for God’s grace. She knew how to use sensational specific detail: This collection set in the “Christ-haunted” South includes shocking tales of backwoods violence, grotesque characters, and severe mercy. Stories like “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “The Lame Shall Enter First,” and “Revelation” certainly invoke the pessimism shared by other 20th-century writers such as William Faulkner, yet O’Connor often shows God using our sin and suffering to teach us to number our days.

AFTERWORD

Since the 16th century, Christians have used catechisms like the Heidelberg and the Westminster Shorter Catechism to memorize important doctrines and unite believers. Last year, the Gospel Coalition produced The New City Catechism (Crossway)—a shorter, modern version of those Reformation-era catechisms. While readers can buy the catechism alone in book form, The New City Catechism Devotional (Crossway, 2017) includes helpful reflections by Timothy Keller, John Piper, and theologians like John Calvin. A cheaper booklet for kids comes out this June for larger settings such as Sunday school.

The New City Catechism isn’t the only modern catechism, but it may be the most tech-friendly. Readers can access the catechism via free smartphone and tablet apps. Both the apps and the website (newcitycatechism.com) supplement the catechism with videos, prayers, Scripture references, and easy-to-memorize questions and answers set to music. —E.W.