Rewriting the Westminister Shorter Catechism for a New Generation


I’ve never studied the Westminster Standards – they’re simply not part of my heritage. But lately I’ve been reading the shorter and larger catechism and thought it would be a good idea to teach them as I go. So I have begun a process of teaching through the Westminster Shorter Catechism to my Wednesday night Youth. We began the odyssey by first going over

  • The Ten Commandments
  • The Lord’s Prayer and
  • The Apostles Creed.

Note that I’m not placing the Apostles Creed on level par with the Bible. As Hodge Comments in his Commentary on the Westminster Confession…

The real question is not, as often pretended, between the word of God and the creed of man, but between the tried and proved faith of the collective body of God’s people, and the private judgment and the unassisted wisdom of the repudiator of creeds.

The attention of the Church has been specially directed to the study of one doctrine in one age, and of another doctrine in another age. And as she has thus gradually advanced in the clear discrimination of gospel truth, she has at different periods set down an accurate statement of the results of her new attainments in a Creed or Confession of Faith, for the purpose of preservation and popular instruction.
Archibald Alexander Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith: With Questions for Theological Students and Bible Classes (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 20.

So I began my first night teaching last week beginning with the grand question, “What is the Chief End of Man?” (Man’s Chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.)
I intended to ask and answer four questions with the kids (around 10 years old) in explanation with this first question:

  1. What is meant by “Chief end”?
    God’s design for his creation. Thus the question is: What are we created for? The answer is that we are created to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  2. What is meant by “glorify God”
    To both praise him ourselves and to cause others to do so.
  3. How can we best glorify God?
    (1 Pet. 2:12, Phil. 1:11, John 15:8) In word and deed, in song and obedience, and by knowing him.
  4. “What is meant by “enjoy him forever”?
    We enjoy God when we draw near to him and experience his forgiveness and our relationship with Him.

It’s not exhaustive and I leave lots of room for discussion and interaction as the kids slog through meaning and ultimately come up with something they understand and apply. The only problem is that the kids got hung up immediately on the odd phrasing of “chief end”. Well, it is odd phrasing in this 21st century – though it doubtless made perfect sense when it was written down centuries ago. Just like the King James version, but that’s another rant for another day.

My point is that for the next hour I tried to get them to understand the question. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I’m a bad teacher. Maybe they needed less caffeine and more duct tape. (JOKE!) Or maybe the antiquated language was a barrier to learning. After all am I trying to teach them how to decipher a language they don’t speak (Ye Olde English) or am I attempting to teach doctrine as a foundation for life? The answer of course is the latter. Instead of learning the meaning they wrestled with why “Chief” had nothing to do with Native Americans. Then they struggled with why “end” didn’t mean death or something along those lines. Then it really fell apart.
So I’ve decided that I needed an updated version of the catechism. Surely somebody somewhere has attempted it?

I googled around a bit and didn’t find anything promising, so I thought – Hey why shouldn’t I do it? (After I had already started I stumbled on The Westminster Shorter Catechism in Modern English but by then I was already committed to starting.

So whether successfully or otherwise I’ll be digging into the questions and answers of the Shorter Catechism and attempting vainly to rewrite them insofar as I’m able in modern English, with a focus on personal application.