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Catechesis by the letter #1

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Curtis Freeman has written a little catechesis entitled 'Pilgrim Letters' drawing on this lifelong companionship with Bunyan's classic. I got to review Freeman's more scholarly 'Undomesticated Dissent' for Bunyan Studies a year or so ago. His engagement there of Bunyan alongside William Blake bears fruit for this project too as some of Blake's illustrations of The Pilgrim's Progress are included at the beginning of each chapter (albeit in black and white). Another feature of this slim book is that, aiming at a churchly lay audience, Freeman's excerpts from PP that accompany the Blake images are often drawn not from Bunyan's 17th century text but from Mary Godolphin's 1884 adaptation, 'retold and shortened' for greater linguistic accessibility (and even here, perhaps tweaked for Freeman's own updating.)

Subtitled 'Instruction in The Basic Teaching of Christ Freeman organizes the book around the 6 principles laid out for basic instruction by Hebrews 6:1-2:

Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

(NRSV; the NIV, and ESV have 'cleansing rites' or 'ritual washings' rather than baptism, which would suggest a more polemical interpretation of the authors' words here, making readers of those translations less likely to see here a formative catechesis in nucleo.)

Principle 1 Repentance

Principle 2 Faith

Principle 3 Baptism

Principle 4 Laying on of Hands

Principle 5 Resurrection

Principle 6 Eternal Judgment

It's interesting that Freeman chooses Principle over 'foundation', but then again, foundation can lead to fundamentals, and the author has carefully worked through the impact of Fundamentalism on American baptist life in his Contesting Catholicity. Theology for Other Baptists, and thus is not likely to want to lean in that etymological direction.

The book is nicely produced by Fortress Press in hardback, offering endnotes, bibliography, topical and Scripture indexes, and has the feel of a nice gift.

Presented as Letters to a young candidate for believer's baptism written by the Interpreter (of Christian's encounter in PP), in a recognized debt to C S Lewis' Screwtape Letters, I look forward reading through the book, and to noting some thoughts on each chapter here.

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