What We Believe
i

Grounded in the Gospel by Packer and Parrett

James J. Cassidy

Ordained Servant: April 2015

Catechizing

Also in this issue

A Dozen Reasons Why Catechizing Is Important

Rediscovering Catechism by Donald Van Dyken

Confessing the Faith by Chad Van Dixhoorn

The Heart Is the Target by Murray Capill

Catechism

Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010, 238 pages, $16.99, paper.

When I read the subtitle of this book, I was thrilled and could not wait to dive in. Finally, a book about discipleship that is not based on some Johnny-come-lately program that will be replaced within a decade with another trendy book. “Old-fashioned” is speaking my language!

And I was not disappointed—at least not at first.

It became at once evident that the authors are attempting to reverse a current trend in evangelicalism which moves the church’s discipleship ministry away from systematic, theological training. In the place of this trend, the authors propose the way of catechesis. They propose recapturing and advancing the notion of catechetical instruction as the primary way to disciple Christians. As a Reformed pastor and father I could not agree more!

The value of the opening three chapters far exceeds the cost of the book. In these chapters the authors shoulder the burden of showing how catechesis is both biblical and historical. Chapter two demonstrates, successfully in this reviewer’s opinion, how catechesis is a biblical idea. The argument, however, is almost overdone. Can one make a case that is too biblical? Well, of course nothing can be too biblically grounded! But the impression one receives by the end of the chapter is that the Bible is itself a catechism—everything in the Bible is catechetical! I believe practicing catechesis is a biblical notion, and the authors show that, but they also say more than they set out to prove. More helpful is chapter three where the book maps out the rich Christian heritage of catechesis. The church is at its strongest when it is catechizing, and so the church today does not need to come up with newfangled forms of “creative” discipleship.

However, despite this desire not to reinvent the wheel, there are many original elements throughout the remainder of the book (chapters 4–10). It is at this point where my excitement for the book began to wane. Attempts in the rest of the book are made to produce and organize theological material to be used catechetically. But given the rich catechetical tools of the faith (outlined so well in chapter three!), why do the authors try to create something new? It seems as if the old-fashioned idea of catechesis suddenly gives way to a new-fashioned idea of how to produce and organize your own catechism. The authors could have shortened the book considerably by leaning on the old catechisms rather than trying to construct new ones. Furthermore, there is a sense that the authors want to promote a catechism of “mere Christianity.” We are exhorted to avoid those old catechisms which were polemic and militated against other churches, like Rome (e.g., 155–160 where we are told that Heidelberg Catechism answer 80 is “problematic to say the least”). If we can get all churches to do mere Christianity, we can help ecumenicity. We receive exhortations about making the gospel a priority (chapter five), but how can we do that in league with other churches which our old catechisms regarded as denying the gospel? By the time one gets to the end of the book, one gets the impression that a new ecumenical agenda is being smuggled in through an old-fashioned practice. In other words, for all its (right) criticisms of evangelicalism the book remains indebted to the broadest evangelicalism there is.

This is not to say the book should be jettisoned altogether. If more evangelicals read the first three chapters, that would be good for Christianity at large. Doing catechesis is a good thing, and if people are introduced to the benefits of catechesis in the tradition of the Reformed creeds and catechisms, then we might very well see a new reformation in our day. However, if the old-fashioned practice will be carried out with a new-fashioned mere Christianity then believers will not be built up the way the authors hope. So, as in all things, let the reader understand and take what is helpful and let the rest go.

James J. Cassidy is pastor of South Austin Presbyterian Church (OPC) and associate pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (OPC), both in Austin, Texas. Ordained Servant Online, April 2015.

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Ordained Servant: April 2015

Catechizing

Also in this issue

A Dozen Reasons Why Catechizing Is Important

Rediscovering Catechism by Donald Van Dyken

Confessing the Faith by Chad Van Dixhoorn

The Heart Is the Target by Murray Capill

Catechism

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