Book Review: Grounded in the Gospel by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett




Grounded in the Gospel (Baker Books, 2010) is a release by J.I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett.

J.I. Packer is the well known and well respected Reformed theologian from Regent College and senior editor for Christianity Today. He is the author or editor of more than fifty books.

Gary A. Parrett is professor of educational ministries and worship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and the coauthor of A Many Colored Kingdom and Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful.

Overview

From the Back Cover:

Recovering an Ancient Practice for Modern Evangelicals


Historically, the church's ministry of grounding new believers in the essentials of the faith has been known as catechesis--systematic instruction in faith foundations, including what we believe, how we pray and worship, and how we conduct our lives. For most evangelicals today, however, this very idea is an alien concept. Packer and Parrett, concerned for the state of the church, seek to inspire a much--needed evangelical course correction. This new book makes the case for a recovery of significant catechesis as a nonnegotionable practice, urging evangelical churches to undertake this biblical ministry for the sake of their spiritual health and vitality.

What is Catechesis?

In order to understand catechesis, we need to first understand what it is. The authors define it as the following: Catechesis is the church's ministry of grounding and growing God's people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight (p.29).

It is as the authors point out derived from the New Testament word for teaching--the Greek verb katecheo.

A Historical Background


The authors being from the Reformed tradition are concerned that catechesis which has historically been used by the church as a discipleship tool has now largely disappeared from the evangelical church. The Reformers saw value in it along with others such as Richard Baxter, John Owen, Charles Spurgeon and others. The authors point out that they and other pastors saw this as a tool to provide sound instruction to their flocks.

Catechesis Today

The authors point that catechesis has largely waned in the modern evangelical church. They point out that it is "largely an alien concept" (p.24). Many today view it as something Roman Catholics do but not evangelicals.

The authors spend several chapters arguing very compellingly that catechesis is a biblical idea (cf. Gal. 6:6).

Packer and Parrett are correct in noting that outside of the Westminster Shorter and the Heidelberg Catechisms, catechesis is foreign to the local evangelical church.

I think that their contentions are simple. The church is commanded to teach the Word of God and one method and tool to do that is found in catechesis. Throughout the church's history, many pastors have used this with much fruit and blessing in many churches. Today the evangelical church has become largely stagnant and weak in a postmodern era. And it is the belief of Packer and Parrett that the church has become so spiritually weak is because of the abandonment of catechesis.

I found myself reading their exposition and agreeing with many of their conclusions. I do think there is a biblical basis for catechesis and I don't think there is anything wrong with memorizing a catechism that reflects sound doctrine.

How They View the Gospel and the Church

The authors are heavily Reformed and Lordship Salvationists. They are also highly ecumenical and Packer is a member of ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together).

Their Lordship views are evident here is this quote: By our faith--let us be clear--we not only receive from him pardon for the past; we also enroll ourselves as his disciples, commit ourselves to follow his leading wherever it takes us, and enter upon a new life of permanent union and communion with him and with his Father, who now through him becomes our Father too (p. 99).

Another quote that numerous evangelicals, particularly those within Free Grace Theology will disagree with is found here:

In particular, many are persuaded that evangelicalism has often been guilty of promoting an "easy believism" and a cheap grace. The idea of "once saved, always saved" has often led to apathy and laziness among those who call themselves Christians. The place of good works has not been adequately addressed or properly emphasized in much evangelical preaching and teaching (p.104).

Free Grace readers will also take exception to the authors writing, "We ought to envision true saving faith as manifesting itself always in love and obedience (p.104)."

I could not more vehemently disagree with the above quotes. What is interesting to note here is that these quotes are coming from staunchly Reformed thinkers and writers. Reformed Theology emphasizes the role of fruit and works in the life of believers. They emphasize works as being proof of one's salvation and there has been much debate over this in evangelical circles.

Furthermore, the authors did not offer any support or examples of how "the idea of '"once saved, always saved"' has often led to apathy and laziness among those who call themselves Christians." I think the opposite is true. I think that in Reformed thought, the strong emphasis and over emphasis on fruit & works has led many who are genuinely saved to look at their works for the hope of their salvation rather than the cross. There are many have had doubts about their eternal security because of a distorted view of their assurance based on works.

"Catholic Christians?"

While this book is about catechesis, readers will also recognize the ecumenical background of these authors. Throughout the book, the authors refer to Roman Catholics as "Christians" and repeatedly affirm the validity of their faith and religion.

Ironically, the authors recognize the various doctrines that divide Protestants and Catholics (p.159) yet at the same time, they still believe they are part of the true church, one in which evangelicals should partner and seek "pastoral cooperation" with.

The authors also seem to not be consistent with their own theology on this as they write:

Our focus instead should be on how the message of the Gospel is so very different from all the false gospels of the culture that surrounds us. This will mean that we also distinguish the Christian vision from the message of other major religions (p.164)."

What about Catholicism then? What about their view on justification which demands works are a necessary component of forensic justification? Is this not a "false gospel?" The authors leave this issue unearthed.

Conclusion

I thought this book did a sound job of explaining catechesis and its historical and present usage of it within the church. I agree with the authors that their is biblical warrant for it and that if properly used can be a discipleship tool. This was the strongest point of the book. Obviously, whatever churches use for catechesis must be biblically based and doctrinally sound and believers have liberty in this area.

I found several quotes in the book of great value about the weak and lethargic state of the modern evangelical church. I disagreed with the authors that this is dogmatically due to the lack of catechesis within the church. Discipleship--yes, but dogmatically catechesis, not necessarily.

The ecumencial background of Pakcer and Parrett is found "weighed and wanting." I believe they are way off on this issue and I believe they were not consistent in their theology in trying to convince readers that the Roman Catholic church is one in which evangelicals should partner with rather than separate from. This movement is of concern to me and clearly not all readers will agree with them on these matters.


Disclaimer: special thanks to the kind and gracious folks of Baker Books for this free review copy.

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