A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Gary Steward
The late J. I. Packer promoted the use of catechisms in his Grounded in the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), and just before he died in 2020 a catechism that he oversaw was brought into publication. To Be a Christian is this catechism—an Anglican catechism consisting of 368 questions and answers to instruct believers in the basics of Christian belief and practice. Thoroughly Anglican in its perspective, this catechism has received the formal approval of the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a conservative Anglican denomination founded in 2009. The ACNA is a part of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
The catechism is divided into four sections. The first section, “Beginning with Christ,” gives a basic overview of the gospel and contains seventeen questions on the basics of the gospel and of how individual salvation comes through Christ. The second section, “Believing in Christ,” consists of 136 questions, most of which are loosely built off the Apostles’ Creed, though other questions are added that cover the early creeds, the doctrine of Scripture, and the sacraments. The third section, “Belonging to Christ,” covers the topic of prayer and contains 102 questions built on the Lord’s Prayer. The final section, “Becoming like Christ,” contains the concluding 113 questions based on the Ten Commandments. Interspersed throughout these sections are a number of introductory passages and prayers. To Be a Christian concludes with appendices that contain a variety of prayers, a liturgical form for use in the admission of catechumens, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, miscellaneous notes, and a Scripture index.
Given the overarching structure of the catechism, the arrangement of the particular questions is somewhat chaotic and at times repetitious. For example, the topic of “the forgiveness of sins” is covered in questions 105-113, just after the questions on “the communion of saints,” following the order of the Apostles’ Creed. The topic of forgiveness is again covered in questions 193-198, where the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is discussed, and again in questions 359-362, after a discussion of the Ten Commandments. This arrangement of material is part of the reason why there are 368 questions, in comparison to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which contains 107 questions.
To Be a Christian is very Anglican in its overall content. According to Packer, this catechism was designed under guidelines from the Anglican Church in North America that its teaching be “compatible with, and acceptable to, all recognized schools of Anglican thought, so that all may be able confidently to use the material” (14). As such it contains references and terminology that might not be familiar outside of Anglican circles. For example, it asks the question “What is the Daily Office?” with this answer provided: “The Daily Office includes the services of Morning and Evening Prayer. In them we confess our sins and receive absolution, hear God’s Word and praise him with psalms, and off the Church’s thanksgiving and prayers” (86). It also contains questions on “the absolution of sins” and the “other sacraments” besides Baptism and Holy Communion, namely, confirmation, ordination, marriage, and the anointing of the sick (56).
Many within broader evangelicalism who have appreciated Packer’s other writings, may find this catechism contains too many Anglican idiosyncrasies to earn their unmerited approval. Those who disagree with Anglican views on such things as the ecclesiastical offices of bishops, priests, and deacons (60) and the priestly absolution of sins (62), for example, may find other historic catechisms to be more amenable to their views. Even so, To Be a Christian contains a simple statement of the fundamentals of the Christian faith, as understood by the vibrant stream of contemporary conservative Anglicans.
Colorado Christian University
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TO BE A CHRISTIAN: AN ANGLICAN CATECHISM, edited by J. I. Packer and Joel Scandrett