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What is Catechesis, and why do we need it? That is the question.

I’ve begun reading a new book by J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett called Grounded in the Gospel: Building believers the Old-Fashioned Way. And I must say, so far it has been a very welcome and refreshing read.  Although there are some parts where I would differ with the authors, on the whole it is very much a clarion call to the Evangelical Church to reevaluate its shallowness in doctrine and return to the hard labor of catechizing disciples (young and old) in the doctrinal truths of the Christian faith.

In the introduction, Packer and Parrett (hence forth P&P [I’m just kidding]) point out two underlying “obstacles” which face catechesis in Evangelical churches today.

First, we have the affects of a historical “turn away from external authority in Western culture.” Although arising out of the French (“anti-Catholic-church”) Revolution, this movement inevitably made its way to American churches (p. 10).

Second, we have a “resistance to authoritative instruction within the Christian community” (which is a “corollary of the first” problem). They write:

In Children’s and youth work across the board, today’s agenda is learning Bible stories rather than being grounded in truths about the Triune God. In group Bible studies generally, participants are led to look directly for personal devotional applications without first contemplating the writers’ points about the greatness, goals, methods, and mystery of God. In putting together Christian books and magazines for popular reading and in composing, preaching, hearing, and thinking about sermons, the story is the same: it is assumed that our reaction to realities is more significant than any of the realities to which we react (p.11).

This is exactly right. We end up attempting to make scripture relevant to ourselves or our audiences, rather than the opposite — seeing how we fit into God’s grander story of redemption.  Why teach children the catechism (which isn’t scripture anyway) when we can alternatively dare them be a Daniel? Rather than make them learn the (“boring”) doctrine about God, we should allow students to find their own significance from the bible — what the text means to them.

Talk about theological suicide! The authors continue:

Thus we learn to cultivate a bode of piety that rests upon a smudgy, deficient, and sometimes misleading conception of who and what the God we serve really is. Brought up on this, we now reflect the subjectivist turn of the Western thought-world of more than a century ago: personal guesses and fantasies about God replace the church’s dogma as our authority, a hermeneutic of habitual distrust and suspicion of dogma establishes itself, and dogma becomes a dirty word, loaded with overtones of obscurantism, tunnel vision, unreality, superstition, and mental enslavement (p. 11).

It’s important for us to realize the historical and philosophical context upon which we presently approach issues like catechesis.  More than we realize, as Americans we are drastically influenced by our preceding philosophical presuppositions about the church and the nature of truth and how it comes to us. This has huge implications on how we practice ‘church’ as well. Our authors conclude:

It would be quite unrealistic to expect a welcome for catechesis within such a context. We must expect to have to fight for a hearing in order to say what is on our hearts. It is countercultural not only in secular terms, but in church terms also. And so we expect to have a struggle on our hands, even with some whom we might otherwise count as friends (p. 12).

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