The Heidelberg Catechism Can Help You be a Better Philosopher

Nick Clatterbuck outlined a number of benefits of professing our faith out loud, and specifically of working our way through the Heidelberg Catechism this year. One benefit he didn’t note: knowing your Heidelberg might help you get better grades in philosophy.

In his magnum opus on the subject of epistemology entitled Warranted Christian Belief, Alvin Plantinga quotes directly from the Heidelberg to propose a philosophically rigorous definition of faith:

According to Mark Twain, faith is ‘believing what you know ain’t true;’ this only slightly exaggerates a common use of the term to denote a belief that lacks warrant and, indeed, is unlikely with respect to what does have warrant for the believer… A second way the term is used is to denote a vague and generalized trust that has no specific object, a confidence that things will go right, a sort of Bultmannian sitting loose with respect to the future, trusting that one can deal with whatever happens.

However, I am using the term in a different sense from any of those. My sense will be much closer to that which the Heidelberg Catechism (following John Calvin) ascribes to ‘true faith’:

True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation. (Q. 21)

Plantinga goes on to leverage this Heidelberg understanding of faith against skeptics who claim that Christian belief lacks epistemological warrant.

Historic, orthodox liturgy ain’t just beautiful, folks… it’s useful. Meditate on its formulations of Christian theology and you’ll become a wiser, more articulate spokesperson for the faith once for all handed down to the saints.

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