Monday, May 3, 2010

Gary A. Parrett Interview: Grounded in the Gospel

Grounded in the Gospel seeks to recover 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 nonnegotiable practice, urging evangelical churches to undertake this biblical ministry for the sake of their spiritual health and vitality.

CPYU President, Walt Mueller, on Grounded in the Gospel: "J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett offer a diagnosis and prescription to remedy our shallow faith and practice. While the prescription might not be popular in our individualistic, do-it-yourself contemporary church culture, it's precisely the remedy needed to reverse the pandemic of narcissistic spirituality and lethargy plaguing the church."

What follows is an interview with one of the authors, Dr. Gary Parrett (GP). Dr. Parrett is professor of educational ministries and worship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

CPYU: Grounded in the Gospel is dedicated to David Wells with this inscription: “To David Wells, who diagnoses so clearly the malaise for which catechesis is the remedy.” Would you briefly describe the cultural malaise that you are referring to?

GP: David has decried the encroachment of the forces of secularism and consumerism (and much more) upon the life and vitality of the evangelical church. We have let the surrounding cultural forces shape us rather than allowing God, by His Spirit and through His word, shape us into the likeness of Christ so that we may have a Gospel impact upon the cultures in which we live. To use the titles of a couple of David’s books, too often we evangelicals seem to have No Place for Truth and have long been Losing our Virtue. Catechesis is, we believe, a critical piece of the answer to David’s lament.

CPYU: What is catechesis and why do you think some evangelicals are skeptical of using it for instruction in the faith?

GP: Catechesis is, to use the definition we propose in the book, “the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty and delight.” It is a biblically based and historically affirmed ministry of ensuring that the people of God have a grasp on the essentials of the Faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. This, we believe, includes: clarity about the Gospel, a sense of foundational theology (doctrine), a sense of how to commune with the living God in worship and prayer (devotion), a sense of how to love God and neighbor in daily living (duty) and, over and above all, a sense of delighting in the God who has so profoundly loved us in Jesus Christ (delight). One of the key reasons contributing to evangelical skepticism about catechesis is that for nearly two centuries, most evangelicals have simply not used this language or approached teaching and formation in this way. We have heard the term, if at all, chiefly from our Roman Catholic friends, and most evangelical Protestants are wary of whatever they perceive to be “Catholic” practices.

CPYU: Who is your target audience for the book?

GP: We have chiefly written the book with evangelical pastors in mind, as well as church leaders of various types, especially those charged with ministries of teaching and formation in their churches. A secondary audience would be seminary classrooms where pastors and educators are being trained. I would say that it really is the senior pastor of churches that we most hope to speak to in this book. For too long, too many evangelical pastors have not seen teaching and formation as a critical part of their responsibility (though there always are, of course, many wonderful exceptions). We sense and hope the tide may be turning in this respect and hope the book may be part of this turning and that it may, also, become a help for pastors who will be looking for guidance as they renew their commitment to be the primary teachers of their flocks.

CPYU: What advice would you give young parents who desire to raise their children in the Christian faith, especially as it relates to the themes in your book?

GP: A few quick points of emphasis would be: 1) please take up your biblically appointed calling to raise their children in the Faith, and do this in partnership with our servants in the church, including pastors and teachers; 2) please believe in your children’s capacities to learn the deep things of the Faith, even as you believe that they are capable of great achievement in other areas—academics, athletics, the arts, etc.; 3) please teach the Faith with a concern for biblical holism—that is, teaching not only their minds, but aiming to shape their hearts and their habits as well; 4) please be concerned not only for the ‘content’ of the Faith you would teach your children, but also of your example in living out the Faith with your children, and of the family ethos and culture in which you teach them. And finally, pray that all your efforts at Faith training are joyous and Jesus-focused.

CPYU: What advice would you give to people from “free church” backgrounds that might want to begin to integrate catechesis into their church’s discipleship and educational ministries?

GP: Really, the entire book is an attempt to answer this question, so it’s hard to give a brief answer, except to encourage them to carefully read and consider the book’s arguments and suggestions for first taking first steps in this direction.

CPYU: Has anything surprised you about the way Grounded in the Gospel has been received?

GP: I have long suspected that the time was ripe for catechetical renewal in evangelical churches, and the response to the book thus far has been affirming that sense. The book, we hope, can spur further discussion and help to stimulate new efforts and proposals. I am so grateful that the early evidence suggests that these things are already beginning to occur.

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