The undersigned desires to express his candid opinion in regard to the catechism book, “Essentials”, which has seen considerable service in our Protestant Reformed Churches. This article purposes to reflect upon a statement by the Reverend A. Cammenga in the Concordia of October 28, 1948, page 7, and I quote: “For example, the book by Rev. Hoeksema, “Essentials of Reformed Doctrine”, has never proved successful in this community because its composition is often too complexed and the written work beyond the scope of the catechumen; this is the testimony of several of our ministers”.
We have, of course, no intention to reflect upon the article of the Reverend Cammenga as it concerns Rev. Hoeksema’s charge of a trend toward individualism in our churches. Neither must this article, or anything in this article, be viewed as an attack upon anyone of our ministers. The undersigned, however, is at a loss to understand this attitude of the “West” toward “Essentials”, also as it is shared by “several of our ministers”.
First of all, we are mystified by this attitude because we have always regarded “Essentials” as an outstanding catechism book. I am at a loss to understand what catechism book can possibly be an improvement upon it. The undersigned has repeatedly declared in private discussions that he regards this book of catechetical instruction as standing head and shoulders above any catechism book now in existence. And although “Essentials” bears the official sanction of our churches we now hear that it is a failure in the “West”.
Secondly, the attitude of the “West” toward “Essentials” puzzles us because of the emphasis there (which we do not wish to minimize) upon the doctrinal aspect of catechetical instruction. If we begin to indoctrinate our children at the age of ten years (and the undersigned does not desire to criticize this either), should they, then, not be ready for “Essentials” at a later age? And if we wish to emphasize the importance of doctrinal instruction what better means do we have at our disposal than “Essentials”?
The undersigned writes this article because he is convinced that in the book of “Essentials” we have a goldmine of Reformed doctrine. I do not understand why this book should be successful in one community and a failure in another. I do not comprehend the intellectual or psychological, etc., differences between the “East” and the “West”. And I am at a loss to understand why this book is not successful in the “West”. To be sure, many questions for written work transcend the ability of the catechumens; in fact, they transcend, I am sure, many ministers outside the pale of our churches. But, does this reflect upon the catechism book? I think not. Is it not the spirit of our day and age that the young people indulge very little in study and research? Is there any sound reason why young people of sixteen and seventeen years of age should not be able to study “Essentials” and become founded in the blessed truths of the Word of God? There is none.
Hence, if we really wish to absorb instruction “Essentials” can serve as an admirable guide. I repeat : it is a treasure of Reformed training, a goldmine of truly Reformed knowledge. I propose that we, as ministers, teach this book slowly and painstakingly. Let us cover it in two years rather than in one. Let us ask the catechumens to study these questions, also the questions at the bottom of the page, to make a serious effort to find the answer. Let us urge the catechumens to go to various sources to learn the answers, consult their parents, discuss with them these vital truths. Let us, as ministers, come to our catechism classes fully prepared, and have the catechumens take down notes on the explanation of the lesson and the answers to the questions at the end of each lesson. This book covers the field of doctrine, of truly Reformed doctrine, as a blanket. It serves admirably to refute outstanding heresies, including the “Three Points”. If only our catechumens have a desire to learn, “Essentials” gives them a wonderful opportunity to orientate themselves in the truths which are treasured so highly in our churches.
P.S.—The undersigned wrote this article before he received the December 1 issue of the Standard Bearer. There is, therefore, no connection between this article and that of Rev. Hoeksema in the Dec. 1 Standard Bearer.