Tag Archives: New City Catechism

New Music Project Helps Kids Learn Theology

The Gospel Coalition is excited to announce a new music project aimed at helping kids learn about God. In partnership with James and Dana Dirksen and their Songs for Saplings collection, we have made 111 songs adapted from the Westminster Shorter Catechism available for free streaming on TGC's website. We hope you can use these songs to help teach your kids important truths about God.

Listen to a couple songs to get a feel for the entire collection:

Who is God?

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What is sin?

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As a parent of four, I am always looking for great teaching resources for my kids. I met James and Dana at our last national conference in Orlando and received some of their music. By the time our road trip home was over, my kids were actually singing good theology. I asked them if we could incorporate their music into a special web project for The Gospel Coalition as well as the New City Catechism app.

dirksen-4Songs for Saplings is a ministry from the Dirksen family. They live in Portland, Oregon, with their six children, and the entire family contributes to these projects.

I asked Dana to share why she started this Songs for Saplings:

Kids are really smart. They soak up everything they hear and see. What we really wanted to do was create fun, interesting music that would be saturated with Bible verses and theology. The question-and-answer method is an old and beautiful method for teaching kids. How many times has your 6-year-old asked you a question about how something works or why something is? It happened every hour with my babies.

We're finished all six volumes now, and my prayer is that the lyrics will sink down deep in kids' hearts so they will be able to remember the truths they learned there for the rest of their lives. And not just in English. We've started translating the songs into other languages. We have albums recorded in Chichewa (the language in Malawi), French, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, and I'm actually in Quito, Ecuador, right now recording our first volume in Spanish.

James added:

This partnership with The Gospel Coalition is really a gift from God to us. We're doing what we think brings glory to God by using the limited gifts we have, and since we've finished this series our main goal is to get the music to people any way we can. Having the music available for free for anyone to listen to on The Gospel Coalition's site it a great way to do that—and clearly is an answer to our prayers.

We hope you find this new project to be helpful. This is just another way TGC is trying to serve the local church by providing free theological resources. Please take some time to listen to a few of the songs and check out the Songs for Saplings website. This could also make a great stocking stuffer for your kids.

New City Catechism: Not Just for Kids

In the past I've struggled to fold my theological studies into the part of my brain that informs my daily life and ministry. I don't have the luxury of spending hours each day reading and internalizing Calvin's Institutes or even Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology (as much as I would love to do so). And even though I'm heavily involved in my local church, if someone were to approach me at the dog park (or more realistically, over coffee after the Sunday service) and ask, "Why must Jesus be truly human and truly God?" I have to admit that a succinct and theologically correct answer would not readily roll off my tongue. This is where memorizing a catechism comes in handy.

I've been using New City Catechism and have found it to be insightful, challenging, convenient, and multi-purposeful. I love how it gives me theology, Scripture, powerful "prayer prompts," and an insightful pastoral commentary (videos and readings) in an easy-to-use format. I can breeze through it in less than 10 minutes on my busiest days or work through it for an hour or more on the days when I have more time. It comes in an elegant app that I have downloaded onto my iPad, and I can easily pull it up to study and quiz myself anytime—while waiting for a friend, or when traveling. It definitely helps to redeem those long hours at an airport or when dealing with customer service over a cancelled flight . . . 

Question 34: Since we are redeemed by grace alone, through Christ alone, must we still do good works and obey God's Word?

Answer (children's version):  Yes, so that our lives may show love and gratitude to God, and so that by our godly behavior others may be won to Christ.

But is New City Catechism simply for individuals? No! Even though you can do it on your own, catechisms are supposed to be communal in nature. I've enlisted my husband, accountability partners, and a couple of my best friends to do it with me. The app even allows you to track the progress of up to six people with individual bookmarks. (I'm way ahead of my husband!)

One more feature that I love: each answer highlights the children's answer within the adult answer. This is meant to help the parent and child learn together. In my case, it also helps me quickly memorize the basic concept so that I can go back and then work on the full "adult" answer.   

I'll confess that the thought of catechizing myself and urging my husband to do the same was not appealing at first. For me it was dreaded memory work (precisely why I am grateful for the, ahem, "children's answers"). But a friend prompted me one day to give it a try. I saw that it was only 52 questions—one question a week over one year. I thought, Okay, that's doable. And now that I've started, I'm hooked. The prayers and commentaries from historical authors have made me want to read more of their works, and I've found a great rhythm in the daily memorization discipline. Most importantly, I find that my prayers are richer and my thoughts more frequently turn to Christ throughout my day-to-day life.

Question 42: How is the Word of God to be read and heard?

Answer (adult): With diligence, preparation and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts and practice it in our lives."

I have found New City Catechism to be one of the most relevant and accessible ways to translate historical theology about "why I believe what I believe" into relevant, useful knowledge that can directly affect my everyday spiritual practices in life.

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In addition to downloading the iPad app, you can also subscribe to New City Catechism by RSS or e-mail on the weekly blog, featuring each question, answer, and video commentary from contemporary preachers such as John Piper, Don Carson, Mark Dever, and Tim Keller.

In this two-minute video, Keller explains idolatry:

We welcome you to start New City Catechism this first morning after Easter. To learn more, browse these questions and find answers for the essentials of Christian faith.

Q1: What is our only hope in life and death?

Q2: What is God?

Q3: How many persons are there in God?

Q4: How and why did God create us?

Q5: What else did God create?

Q6: How can we glorify God?

Q7: What does the law of God require?

Q8: What is the law of God stated in the Ten Commandments?

Q9: What does God require in the first, second, and third commandments?

Q10: What does God require in the fourth and fifth commandments?

Q11: What does God require in the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments?

Q12: What does God require in the ninth and tenth commandments?

Q13: Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?

Q14: Did God create us unable to keep his law?

Q15: Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?

Q16: What is sin?

Q17: What is idolatry?

Q18: Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?

Q19: Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God's favor?

Q20: Who is the Redeemer?

Catechesis Miscellanies

In order to help us get the most value out of New City Catechism, I offer some final introductory thoughts.

First, it is important to understand the purpose of NCC---its goal is to introduce the almost-lost pedagogical method of catechesis to a new generation, and to direct and motivate far more people to study and learn the longer and historic catechisms than are doing so now. There are three features of NCC that we hope will accomplish this. One is its form as a free app. It means that people will be able to study and memorize the catechism within the fabric of their current, overly busy daily lives. It means that pastors and leaders who want to take a group or class or church through it will not need to make any purchases at all, but will only need to work out ways to use the catechism within their church's pathways of discipleship and training. A second feature is the language. We carefully sought to use modern but not colloquial language, seeking to be accessible but also graceful in style, but also harking back and using the style and language of the historic catechisms where possible.

The other crucial feature of NCC is its brevity. It is an intermediate catechism. It distills older catechisms but, by necessity, leaves a great deal out. While some might find it disconcerting that there is not more information about various subjects, to have a longer catechism would undermine its very purpose. NCC exists to draw in the masses of people who would never taste the richness of the catechism if they didn't have one that is far more economical in words and style. Having tasted NCC, we trust many will go on to at least read and study the historic catechisms. In part because of its brevity, NCC is less detailed than older catechisms and therefore can be used in a variety of churches.

Second, to appreciate NCC it will be critical to remember that catechisms are primarily instructional instruments, not creedal standards. So it shows no more disrespect to the Westminster Catechisms to write a new catechism than, for example, to write a new Sunday school curriculum. In the centuries after the Reformation in Britain hundreds and hundreds of catechisms were produced. While the Heidelberg and Westminster catechisms were intentionally written to be confessional documents, binding doctrinal standards, the vast majority of catechisms were designed to do Christian formation.

Enormous Benefits

The formative, educational genius of catechesis is largely lost today. Learning a catechism is sometimes seen as "mechanical," as "rote learning" that some would say belongs to an earlier era. However, those who use catechesis have come to see the enormous benefits. Catechesis teaches basic mental discipline. Mastering and memorizing a body of content is usually not immediately rewarding. That in itself is a way of practicing the reality that God's truth is true whether it is personally fulfilling at the moment or not. Also, catechism teaches a lost art---the art of meditation and slow reflection. Memorization requires you to pay attention to every word, even every comma. The slow turning over of every word leads to depths of new insight.

Another powerful feature of catechesis is that it teaches us not only the right answers but also, more fundamentally, the right questions. Thomas Torrance observes that the less conversant we are with a body of knowledge, the less we even know what questions to ask. Knowing enough to ask the right questions then moves us down into the truth more swiftly and surely. Here is where catechesis excels.

[T]he Catechism . . . is an invaluable method in instructing the young learner, for it not only trains him to ask the right questions, but trains him to allow himself to be questioned by the Truth, and so to have questions put into his mouth which he could not think up on his own, and which therefore call into questions his own preconceptions. In other words it is an event of real impartation of the Truth (Thomas Torrance, The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church, Wipf and Stock: 1996, xxvi).

Last, it would be helpful to understand that NCC is written with a view to 17th-century British pastor Richard Baxter's vision for the role of catechesis---as not something only for the ambitious few or for children but as a normal feature of Christian life. In Reformation Pastors: Richard Baxter and the Ideal of the Reformed Pastor (Paternoster, 2004), J. William Black tells how Baxter and the Worcestershire association of pastors had put into place a program of vigorous expository preaching, only to be disappointed with the results in people's lives. Baxter wrote, "We finde by sad experience, that the people understand not our publike teaching, though we study to speak as plain as we can, and that after many years preaching, even of these same fundamentals, too many can scarce tell anything that we said" (Black, 174). Baxter began his famous program in which every family in the church participated in catechesis under regular pastoral care, discipleship, and visitation.

Black shows that Baxter's success was not reproduced elsewhere, because no one other pastor could pull off the Herculean feat of effectively, personally catechizing 16 families a week, year after year (188-189). But while the details of Baxter's system need not be reproduced, his basic idea is sound---catechesis should be used as broadly as possible in the congregation as a foundational way to instruct and form people. New City Catechism is designed to help churches realize this way of instructing people in the way of Christ.

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We encourage you to join the one-year campaign to delight in the attributes and work of God by learning New City Catechism. Subscribe to weekly updates via e-mail orRSS on the New City Catechism blog, or follow along using the learning tools and tracking reports available by visiting newcitycatechism.com and by downloading the iPad app.

Catechism---With OUR Kids?

"Catechism---with OUR kids?" Years ago that was my response when someone suggested that we begin doing a catechism with our very young, very active boys. But, to my amazement, it was a truly wonderful experience.

We used a version called Catechism for Young Children, a highly simplified version based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first questions are very easy, and the answers so short that even an 18 month-old can answer triumphantly "God!" when asked "Who made you?" and "Everything" to the second question, "What else did God make?" We discovered that our kids loved the question/answer dynamic; to them it was almost a game, through which they could experience a legitimate sense of achievement.

My first encounter with teaching a catechism to children was even more counter-intuitive. As a seminary student I spent one summer working for a church in a gang-infested part of Philadelphia. There I heard of a young pastor in an even more troubled area of the city who had developed a very successful ministry to children. It met on Saturdays and attracted hundreds of elementary and middle school kids. I decided to go see the program in action.

I'm not sure what I expected---warm-hearted volunteers dispensing Kool-Aid, hugs, and Jesus stories---but what I found, to my slack-jawed amazement, was a building with more than 200 kids in it, divided by age group, learning the catechism! I must admit that very few things have surprised me more. I had never given a thought to the catechism as a modern-day teaching tool, and even if I had, it would not have occurred to me to use it in these circumstances.

The pastor was used to the shocked disbelief and surprised questions---"Why on earth are you having them memorize a catechism? Don't they need the basic gospel message? When do you get to that?" I have still not forgotten his answer:

These kids know nothing whatsoever about God, or Jesus, or sin. They've never even heard the words, except as curse words. We're building a framework in their minds of words and ideas and concepts, so that when we DO tell them about sin and the Savior who came to die for it, there is a way for them to understand what we are saying.

I went away chastened, but not entirely convinced. Maybe so, but it still seemed so, so medieval to have children memorizing the catechism, no matter how deprived their spiritual education had been. A few weeks later I changed my mind.

I had developed a mentor relationship with a 12-year-old girl from the neighborhood, and I was sharing the gospel with her, or so I thought. Waxing eloquent, I said, "Do you know what Easter means?" She thought seriously for a moment, and then answered, "It was either when that guy was born or when he died, I forget." I realized she had no framework to understand my words. I wish I'd started her on a catechism instead.

One last personal story from my family. Jonathan, our youngest, was waiting for me to pick him up at his babysitter's house. As he stared pensively out the window, she asked him: "What are you thinking about?" Unbeknownst to her, this triggered the adult-asks-a-question-and-I-provide-an-answer part of his brain, so his answer was (taken from the pages of the catechism) "God." "What are you thinking about God?" she responded in surprise, and got the even more surprising answer (comprising the second and third catechism answers): "How he made all things for his own glory." She almost fell over---she thought she was in the presence of a prodigy. Really, it was just the catechism.

Time and Commitment

Stories aside, how do people in the real world, with real 21st-century families, find the time or commitment to do something like a catechism? It's a challenge. Most families, on their own, stop and restart several times. (We did, too.) It is so much easier if there is a church-sponsored program, or small group accountability, where each week the next question and answer will be memorized for recitation. One mother at our church wrote:

We have several ways that catechism has fit into our family lives . . . some more successful than others, but we do feel it is very important. We've used a catechism for bed-time devotionals with our children. We have started and stopped memorizing catechisms as a family several times. And I taught it as a class at church for 4th/5th graders. The positive effect catechesis has had on our family is: summarizing God's truths into digestible question and answers so that as our children experience life and the world around them they are able to understand how God has worked through time and history, how he will work in their lives and in the future of this world and mankind. As we walk through the difficult questions in life, the catechism is often the guide to which we are able to direct our children to the truths in Scripture.

The key is becoming convinced that you are furnishing your child with the mental foundation on which the rest of his or her spiritual life will be built. Or, to switch metaphors, you are laying the kindling and the logs in the fireplace, so that when the spark of the Holy Spirit ignites your child's heart, there will be a steady, mature blaze.

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Starting today, we encourage you to join the one-year campaign to delight in the attributes and work of God by learning New City Catechism. Subscribe to weekly updates via e-mail or RSS on the New City Catechism blog, or follow along using the learning tools and tracking reports available by visiting newcitycatechism.com and by downloading the iPad app.

Why Write New Catechisms?

In the first article on this subject, we outlined how crucial the practice of catechesis is for the church particularly when surrounded by a culture antagonistic to Christian teaching and truth. But, we may ask, "Why write new catechisms? What's wrong with the older ones?"

After the high tide of the early centuries, the ministry of catechesis diminished until the Reformation, when there was an explosion of catechism writing. T. F. Torrance edited a book that contains only catechisms that were used widely in the Reformed churches of Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries, and he provides ten. (See The School of Faith: The Catechisms of the Reformed Church, James Clarke, 1959.) A first thought of a reader of this volume may be, "They all agree on basic doctrine---then why so many?" The answer can be found in the first lines of Torrance's introduction: "The catechisms set forth Christian doctrine at its closest to the mission, life, and growth of the church from age to age, for they aim to give a comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the context of the whole counsel of God and the whole life of the people of God."

So the first reason to produce multiple catechisms is that they must serve the whole people of God, and that has always meant catechisms for beginning, intermediate, and advanced learners. There were simple catechisms for very young children, more intermediate ones for those being admitted to the Lord's Supper, and advanced ones for adults and Christian ministers. For example, Calvin's Geneva Catechism (1541) was accompanied by the Little Catechism (1556).

Errors of Our Age

A second reason is that catechisms have always been connected to the "mission of the church." This may be surprising, since today we think of catechesis as strictly a form of education for Christians. It is that---but of necessity catechisms are selective in how much time is devoted to each aspect of Christian teaching. It is quite evident---if you take the time to read through many catechisms---that each seeks to fortify against the ascendant theological errors in the culture at the time.

Richard Baxter and others of his time saw catechesis as a way not merely to disciple but also to bring people to conversion. So new catechisms were always needed, not in order to change basic doctrine, but to present doctrine in ways that equip people to address the idols and answer the errors of the age.

When the church has gone through a period of reformation there has always been a renewal of catechesis. If we are going to see our people live holy lives in the midst of a post-Christian and anti-Christian culture, we will need to write new catechisms that fit their capacities and equip them for Christian living in the world. We should be frank with ourselves that the even the "shorter" catechisms of the past---such as the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1648) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563)---are now too long for the average contemporary adult to master, and even in Presbyterian and Reformed churches where these are official standards, relatively few people are being immersed in them.

One of the reasons to develop intermediate catechisms like New City Catechism is to fill a gap between children's catechisms and the longer and more extensive older ones. New City Catechism is short---52 questions and answers, one for every week of the year. It is based on Calvin's Geneva, and the Westminster Catechisms, and perhaps most of all on the Heidelberg. As such it gives people a strong dose of each, introducing them to the practice of catechesis, and developing in them an appetite and capacity for going deeper. It can therefore be used by church leaders as a bridge toward teaching members the older and more extensive catechisms of their respective denominations.

John H. Westerhoff, the editor of a book tracing the history of catechesis, argues that we are in the midst of a change period in history as significant as those of the first, fourth, and sixteenth centuries---all times when new catechisms were written. He concludes that it is time for catechesis again. I believe he is right.

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Go to newcitycatechism.com for more information and to download the free interactive iPad app or use the online catechism tool. Starting next week on October 22, you can join the one-year campaign to delight in the attributes and work of God by learning New City Catechism. Next Monday, you can subscribe to weekly updates via e-mail or RSS on the New City Catechism blog.

Introducing New City Catechism

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

 

Question 1. What is your only comfort in life and death?

Answer. That I am not my own, but belong---body and soul, in life and in death---to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Many of you will recognize these words as the opening question and answer of the Westminster and Heidelberg Catechisms. But we're guessing that a very small number of people will have memorized the entire catechisms from which they derive.

After all, the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost today. It seems so medieval to have children memorizing catechisms, much less doing it as adults. So why did The Gospel Coalition team up with Redeemer Presbyterian Church to develop New City Catechism?

Most people today do not realize that it was once seen as normal, important, and necessary for churches to continually produce new catechisms for their own use. The early Scottish churches, though they had Calvin's Geneva Catechism of 1541 and the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, went on to produce and use Craig's Catechism of 1581, Duncan's Latin Catechism of 1595, and The New Catechism of 1644, before eventually adopting the Westminster Catechism.

The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter, who ministered in the 17th century town of Kidderminster, was not unusual. He wanted to train heads of families to instruct their households in the faith. To do so, he wrote his own Family Catechism that was adapted to the capacities of his people and that brought the Bible to bear on many of the issues his people were facing at that time.

Three Purposes

Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel---not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church's communal life.

When looked at together, these three purposes explain why new catechisms must be written. While our exposition of gospel doctrine must be in line with older catechisms that are true to the Word, culture changes, and so do the errors, temptations, and challenges that we must be equipped to face and answer.

So, with all that in mind, we decided to adapt Calvin's Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.

We also decided that New City Catechism should comprise only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg's 129 or Westminster Shorter's 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.

We wanted to do one more thing. We found that parents who teach their kids a children's catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing. The children are learning one set of questions and answers, and the parents are learning another completely different set. So New City Catechism is a joint adult and children's catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children's answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time.

Attached to each question and answer there is a short written commentary from a historical preacher (e.g., Augustine, Edwards, Spurgeon, Wesley, etc.) and a short video commentary from some of the council members of The Gospel Coalition (e.g., Don Carson, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, etc.) and the pastors of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. So the idea is to read a commentary from a historical preacher and then watch a commentary from a modern one.

Why not commit to memorizing New City Catechism? Go to newcitycatechism.com for more information and to download the free interactive iPad app or use the online catechism tool. And starting next week on October 22, you can join the one-year campaign to delight in the attributes and work of God by learning New City Catechism. Next Monday, you can subscribe to weekly updates via e-mail or RSS on the New City Catechism blog.

New Podcast: Going Deeper with TGC

You can only say so much in a blog post. These short articles aim to grab your attention, hold it for a little while, then release you onto other reading pursuits (or back to work). A good blog leaves you wanting more, asking questions. Maybe a comment clarifies a point or two. Sometimes the author will even interact with subsequent discussion by expanding on an area of particular interest. But communication in written form largely runs one direction, even when an article or review spreads like wildfire through the viral networks of social media.

If you're reading this post it's safe to assume you take time to browse blogs. But you're not always sitting in front of a computer reading. When driving, working out, cleaning up the yard, or completing menial tasks, you still want to learn, maybe by listening in on focused discussions about issues in the news and the most popular articles you read during the week. You want to hear someone follow up by posing your questions after reading and pondering.

Tune In

The Gospel Coalition's new podcast, "Going Deeper with TGC," has two goals:

  1. We want to follow up on the most widely read, controversial, helpful, insightful resources produced by our council members, writers, editors, and bloggers.
  2. We want to serve you by using a different medium, audio, to provide the same quality of gospel-centered content we publish in blogs, essays, and reviews.

We've assembled an experienced team to produce this podcast, which we aim to record at least every two weeks. I'm joined each time by my co-host, Mark Mellinger, the gifted news anchor of WANE-TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In this inaugural podcast, we interview Thabiti Anyabwile, well known to many of you as a TGC council member and blogger at Pure Church. Lately Thabiti has published articles on same-sex marriage and African American church leaders along with analysis of the debate over the Puritan record on slavery. We discuss both of these issues with him in the context of the impending U.S. presidential election.

Each podcast will also feature a segment from our friends at The Gospel Project. This week a couple more TGC bloggers, Trevin Wax and Jared Wilson, talk about the God who speaks through general revelation. Finally, Mark and I close each podcast by previewing upcoming articles, events, and projects with The Gospel Coalition. We have reserved a major announcement for this first edition of "Going Deeper with TGC." So you'll need to listen to the full 30-minute broadcast for details on the upcoming release of New City Catechism, developed by Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in partnership with TGC.

There are several ways to listen. Open iTunes and search the store for The Gospel Coalition podcast, where you'll find the first edition of "Going Deeper with TGC" along with all our conference messages and roundtables, including the most recent discussion on church size with Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, and Mark Dever. You can also stream or download the podcast at the end of this post.

We hope you enjoy this new feature and look forward to your feedback, including suggestions on subjects where you want to see TGC go deeper.

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Going Deeper with TGC, 10/5, with Thabiti Anyabwile