Somehow I have never read Knowing God by J. I. Packer, though I have heard it is wonderful. The title came to my attention again a few weeks ago, and I thought it might be a good time to start it. Then I saw that Tim Challies was leading readers through the book for his Reading Classics Together Series on Thursdays, and that added impetus to read it now, along with the fact that a few blog friends will be reading it at this time as well.
I’ve only participated in Tim’s Reading Classics Together one other time, with The Disciples of Grace by Jerry Bridges. I had decided I wasn’t going to blog about this book every week like I did then, especially since Tim has closed comments on his blog and readers can only participate via a Facebook group for that purpose. I’m really sad about that, for a number of reasons. But as I read the first chapter, I decided it would help me get more out of it and cement what I was learning to keep notes from each chapter rather than just trying to tie it all together at the end.
Chapter 1 is “The Study of God.” I don’t think I am going to summarize or outline each chapter, as Tim will probably do that. I’m just going to share a few things that stood out to me.
Packer starts out with a lengthy quote from Spurgeon extolling the virtues of studying God, reproduced here. Packer counters charges that such a study would be boring, impractical, and irrelevant and instead asserts that “it is the most practical project anyone can engage in” (p. 19).
He talks in the preface and some in the chapter about the spirit of the modern age of skepticism, and here comments, “I ask you for the moment to stop your ears to those who tell you there is no road to knowledge about God, and come a little way with me and see. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and anyone who is actually following a recognized road will not be too worried if he hears nontravelers telling each other that no such road exists” (p. 19).
Packer warns that, “To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it” (p. 22).
“There can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard” (p. 22). I very much appreciate that he doesn’t downplay Bible study or knowledge – too many people today, trying to make the same point Packer does, tend to set up false dichotomies about whether we love God or the Bible when we actually learn to love God through the Bible. Rather, he says, yes, study God’s Word – that’s how we learn what He wants us to know about Him – but don’t stop with the academics and the facts. Yearn to get to know God Himself through your study of His Word.
The psalmist [of Psalm 119] was interested in truth and orthodoxy, in biblical teaching and theology, not as ends in themselves, but as means to the further ends of life and godliness. His ultimate concern was with the knowledge and service of the great God whose truth he sought to understand (pp. 22-23).
One of the ways we do this is by meditation, “the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, and as a means of communion with God. Its purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let His truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace” (p. 23).
Chapter 2, “The People Who Know Their God,” Packer expands on the theme of knowing God vs. just knowing about Him. Daniel 11:32b says, “the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits,” or, as another version states it, “shall stand firm and take action.” Drawing from the book of Daniel, he notes and discusses that:
Those who know their God have great energy for God.
Those who know their God have great thoughts of God.
Those who know their God have great boldness for God.Those who know their God have great contentment in God.
It’s not too late if you’d like to join in on this study. We’re reading and discussing two chapters a week, and the chapters are easy to read and not long. I am finding it very beneficial so far.