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J.I. Packer: The lost interview

"J.I. Packer: The lost interview" Continued...

Crossway

I would hope that the book that I wrote on a smaller scale called Concise Theology would help as a resource for catechists. It’s subdivided into 50 or 60 different chapters. I like to think that people are going to ask themselves, “Here are 60 matters which this man Packer thought was important. Do I think it is important?” I produced a catechism book of a different sort titled Growing in Christ, published by Crossway. Once it was called I Want to Be a Christian and was published by Tyndale, but Tyndale couldn’t sell it because the title—so they assured me—misled people about what sort of book it was. It’s actually a catechism book and gives 800 words on each clause of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and each of the Ten Commandments, and general stuff about Christian obedience and on the baptismal covenant. I go over all the New Testament teachings on that standard. There are biblical passages to study and questions with which to work. It would be very straightforward for clergy to use it as a course for people who want to join the church.

And it’s still available? Yes, it’s still available from Crossway and it’s not sold very well, because this type of instruction doesn’t ring bells with the majority.

It’s work. Yes, it’s work and they’re not used to teaching the faith in this way. They assume that everyone over the age of 20 has a good general grasp of the faith so that they can hammer away a particular point and make them pictorial and vivid, but without actually bothering to go over their substance. I am just remembering it’s not so many years ago since I preached in a large evangelical congregation and I took Romans 3:24–26, Paul’s teaching on justification. I just analyzed it, and at the end of the sermon people were shaking hands with me and more than one said, “Thank you so much for that, I’ve never heard anything like that.” This was a respectable evangelical church.

What have we been doing? We’ve been making an assumption—the assumption is false, so there’s a disconnect. For the rest of my life this is what I shall be at, trying to promote the catechism.

May I be bold and ask this: Have you been teaching our friend Charles Colson this very thing? I talked with him last week and he used the word catechizing. I don’t think it is I who has given it to him, but he does read my stuff and he’s very complimentary about it.

He’s very high on the whole issue of catechizing. He’s been associated with me over these last few years. I’m not too surprised, because I talk about it.

The late Chuck Colson in 2003.
Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh
The late Chuck Colson in 2003.

And I think he’s been listening to you. He’s a great man, Chuck Colson.

I did my column about his new book The Faith in our current issue [Aug. 9, 2008]. That’s a good book.

I like his chapter on truth. When half our evangelical young people aren’t sure there is any such thing as truth anymore, they need to be catechized. Yes they do. I don’t think there is deep-seated doubt in their minds, but it is clear that they’ve never been catechized. They have never been taught to take the truth question as the basic question of their lives. The basic question of my life was simply the cast of my own mind that led me to take it from age 15 on, and people sometimes think I’m an apologist. I’m not one really, but if anyone is going to affirm doubt about the availability of truth, I do have an arsenal which I can deploy.

Yes indeed. Even with my own children—I have five daughters and they’re all married now—I hear a tone—and I didn’t do as good a job catechizing them as my father did with me and I’m embarrassed by that—but I hear my daughters say, “Dad, I agree with what you said, but who am I to say?” That is an expression that really concerns me out of the next generation. They agree, in broad terms, but they don’t think they have the right to impose their belief on someone else. I think I use the wrong word when I say impose … I know what you mean. My comeback when I hear that sort of talk is to ask people straight away, “Now tell me, do you believe in a God who tells us things?” And if I get an affirmative answer, actually if I don’t, I have a supporting line question: “You don’t—who do you think Jesus Christ was?” The quick answer, of course, is God. “Did he tell us things?” You see, that should put them out of doubt. Then I say, “Then you believe in a God who tells us things?” I believe He’s telling us things all through the Bible. If God has told us things, don’t you think we’re entitled to tell other people what God has told us?

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