Timely recall to the catechism
Posted: 08 Mar 2011 @ 00:00
Are Evangelicals weakon doctrine? Guilty, says Jeremy Crossley
Grounded in the Gospel: Building believers the old-fashioned way
J. I. Packer and G. A. Parrett
Church Times Bookshop £8.99
THIS is an excellent book, but not one for the faint-hearted: it consists of just over 200 pages of carefully argued writing, and those who take the time to read it and reflect on it will not regret doing so.
J. I. Packer probably needs no introduction, and his co-author, although not well know on this side of the Atlantic, is an American academic and author. Although they are writing primarily for an Evangelical audience, some of the principles that they highlight are, of course, relevant for the whole Church.
The subtitle encapsulates the thrust of the book: Packer and Parrett were brought together as they discovered that they were both passionate about catechesis, sharing a belief that its absence from the life of many Evangelical churches in recent times had bred a generation of comparatively immature Christians.
They explained this concern thus: “In most Evangelical churches today the need for lifelong Bible study and the value of Bible-study groups and the necessity of expository preaching is well established. But attention to the comparable value of catechesis is not appreciated; indeed attention to doctrine is sometimes actually avoided.”
Although they understand why this has happened, the authors respond to this situation both robustly and persuasively. There is a magisterial section on the biblical basis for catechesis, followed by a survey of catechesis in church history, which somehow manages to be both full and yet remarkably succinct.
Having read these sections, the reader is in some way better prepared to engage with, perhaps, the central two chapters of the book, “The Gospel as of First Importance” and “Three Facets of the Faith”.
These chapters show both the scope of the authors’ scholarship and their mastery of their subject; yet it will not make altogether comfortable reading for many Evangelicals. We are told that although we “have been right about the essence of the gospel . . . we have missed some of the critical implications and applications of the gospel for daily living”.
It is quite difficult to read what they have written, however, without acknowledging how accurate their analysis is and how spot on is their remedy. Incidentally, the short section on the “New Perspectives on Paul”, as well as the one entitled “The Gospel Alphabet”, is excellent.
The last third of the book is of an equally high standard, and there is no doubt that this is a seminal contribution to the present discussion among Evangelicals on our identity and priorities, and should be read not only by parish clergy, but perhaps particularly by those charged with responsibility for theological education in the Church.
The Revd Jeremy Crossley is Rector of St Margaret Lothbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, London.
STEPHEN J. LOUGHLIN, an associate professor at DeSales University, Center Vally, in the United States, and co-ordinator of the Aquinas Translation Project, has written a 336-page Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae: A reader’s guide, for a new series that seeks to provide students with “clear introductions to key texts, their themes, context, influence and impact” (T. & T. Clark, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-0-567-55094-1).