Even though I’ve been posting weekly summaries of my reading from Knowing God by J. I. Packer, I still wanted to do a general review, partly for those who did not want to keep up with the weekly readings, and partly for me to have a general review to link back to.
Even though this book has been considered a classic and has been in print for over 40 years, somehow I had never gotten around to reading it before, though I had heard of it and wanted to.
Packer says the most basic definition of a Christian is that he or she is a person who has God as Father. We are not all God’s children: we become His when we believe on Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Packer begins with the virtues of studying about God as well as the warning not to stop with just the academics, but to use what we learn to get to know God personally.
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).
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).
He talks about what it means to know God, how knowing Him differs from knowing others, the different analogies the Scriptures use to illustrate our relationship to Him.
John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
Knowing God is more than knowing about him; it is a matter of dealing with him as he opens up to you, and being dealt with by him as he takes knowledge of you. Knowing about him is a necessary precondition of trusting in him (‘how could they have faith in one they had never heard of?’ [Romans 10:4 NEB]), but the width of our knowledge about him is no gauge of the depth of our knowledge of him (pp. 39-40).
He discusses the need to know God as He truly is, not as our mental picture of Him is nor as He has been falsely portrayed by others.
All speculative theology, which rests on philosophical reasoning rather than biblical revelation, is at fault here [emphasis mine here]. Paul tells us where this sort of theology ends: “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor 1:21 KJV). To follow the imagination of one’s heart in the realm of theology is the way to remain ignorant of God, and to become an idol-worshipper, the idol in this case being a false mental image of God, made by one’s own speculation and imagination (p. 48).
He discusses what it means to believe that Jesus is God Incarnate and yet also fully man, the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the truth of the Bible, the need for and nature of propitiation, what the Bible means by adoption, how God guides us, why we still have trials if we know Him and He loves us, and His full adequacy to handle whatever He allows in our lives. He covers in great detail several of God’s attributes: His immutability (His unchanging nature), His majesty, wisdom, love, grace, judgment, wrath, goodness, severity, and jealousy. Each of those topics is the subject of a whole chapter, and it’s impossible to give an overview of them here, but they were quite beneficial and helpful.
As I said in one week’s summaries, sometimes in the middle of a given chapter, it was easy to get occupied with the individual topics or chapters and forget that they are there in connection with how we know God, so it helped me to stop periodically and remember to tie the individual chapters back to the main point of the book. They do all have that connection even though it might not seem like it from the titles.
Though I didn’t agree with every single little point, especially those emphasizing a Calvinistic viewpoint, I did benefit from and can highly recommend the book. I appreciate that it is not full of theologicalese – terminology that only an academic could understand. I wouldn’t call it simple reading: there were a few places that were a little hard to follow. But for the most part I think an average reader could handle it fairly easily.
I am glad I finally made time for this book and thoroughly understand why it is considered a Christian classic. There were multitudes of places I marked and many memorable and helpful quotes in the book, many more than I can possibly recount here. But I’ll close with this one:
In the New Testament, grace means God’s love in action toward people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending his only Son to the cross to descend into hell so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven (p. 249).
For more information, my thoughts on a couple of chapters a week are as follows:
Chapters 1 and 2, “The Study of God” and “The People Who Know Their God”
Chapters 3 and 4, “Knowing and Being Known” and “The Only True God”
Chapters 5 and 6: “God Incarnate” and “He Shall Testify”
Chapters 7 and 8: “God Unchanging” and “The Majesty of God”
Chapters 9 and 10: “God Only Wise” and “God’s Wisdom and Ours”
Chapters 11 and 12: “Thy Word Is Truth” and “The Love of God”
Chapters 13 and 14: “The Grace of God” and “God the Judge”
Chapters 15 and 16: “The Wrath of God” and “Goodness and Severity”
Chapters 17 and 18: “The Jealous God” and “The Heart of the Gospel” (Propitiation)
Chapters 19 and 20: “Sons of God” and “Thou Our Guide”
Chapters 21 and 22: “These Inward Trials” and “The Adequacy of God”
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)