Knowing God-Part 1: Who is J.I. Packer? and Why This Book?

Who is James Innel Packer?

First of all, he is still alive and kicking at 81 years of age. He still lectures at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology.

Theologically, he is unashamedly Calvinist. He was a student of the writings of John Calvin and the Puritans. He is also evangelical. He had argued consistently for the inerrancy of the Bible and he believes in evangelism. Another of his great works is entitled “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.” Yet his is Anglican and had recently been in the headlines for affirming a movement towards ecumenism.

What can we learn from J.I. Packer? Let us begin with Knowing God. Find it on Amazon here.

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The book knowing God was originally a 5 year long series published for The Evangelical Magazine from 1959-1964. Packer was asked by the editor to write a series of articles on the general theme of “God” for a target audience of people: 

  • Fed up with religious verbiage 
  • People prepared to do some honest and serious thinking
  • And people who wanted reality.

Articles were written 5 per year, each building off the previous. So, five broad themes emerged, but you will see in the book three basic sections. This is because these articles were edited and arranged for the book. Unlike the book, the Magazine did not have a large spike in readership because of the articles. The book, on the other hand, surprisingly has sold over 1,000,000 copies as of 1993. It would, as it were, be Packer’s Magnum Opus.

So what was his goal?

First, notice the title, “Knowing God.”

How does the title strike you?

J I Packer gleaned four truths from John Calvin that helped guide his writing of this monumental work (from The J.I. Packer Collection, selected and introduced by Alister McGrath; find on Amazon here):

  • “knowledge of God” does not refer to some natural human awareness of God, but to a knowledge which arises within a relationship
  • Knowledge of God is more than any particular experience of God. Faith is about trust in God, from which particular experiences of God have their origins.
  • Knowledge of God is “more than knowing about God, although knowing about God is its foundation…[It is] knowledge that comes to us in the relation of commitment and trust, faith, and reliance
  • To know God is also to know God’s relationship to us…knowing his gracious gifts to us, and our need for such gifts in the first place.

Therefore, Packer says that Knowing God consists of three components that must be taken together:

  • Apprehension of what God is
  • Application of ourselves of what God is and what God gives
  • Adoration of God, as the one who gives these gifts.

Knowing is a present active participle of the verb to know. It means the ongoing process of understanding. It is not just active knowledge, but acting knowledge. We are not being asked to know something about God, but to know God in a growing, obeying relationship. One of the dangers we all face is letting our mind rule our souls. We equate knowledge of God with Christianity as a whole. Even at our church, our great and right focus on good doctrine can become a substitute for active obedience to scripture. The real truth is that knowledge of God and obedience are not mutually exclusive categories. Rather, taken together they lead to true worship.

Self-Reflective Question (but be open): Do you find the tendency to find and admire great truths about God to the exclusion of obeying those truths or understanding their significance to our lives?

Follow-Up Question: How can we change this (be personal)?

Finally: How can this change lead us to greater worship? Will it change the way we worship God?

For instance, understanding God’s transcendence from his creation is mind boggling, but what is its significance to our lives. We should not be as the disciples caught looking into the heavens after Jesus’ ascension, but we should emulate their faith in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. God’s transcendence means that his Kingdom is not of this earth and we are mere pilgrims and ambassadors here. It also means that there is nothing of value here to cherish that would keep us from obedience. There is nothing here worthy of worship, etc.

One of the main purposes of Knowing God is to get us to start living out the significance of the great truths about God.

 CLICK HERE FOR PART 2! Previously Posted.

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2 Comments

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  1. Well, I might have to read this book after all. This is something we have discussed a little from time to time, but you asked. So, if I’m repeating myself…

    “Even at our church…”

    Indeed. At Southeastern, too. We have a potentially dangerous tendency to treat Jesus as if he were not a person, but a collection of data or rules. We sometimes replace Jesus with systematic theology.

    But we at FBC are still far better off now than say 10 years ago. And some of us are studying this book! More importantly, FBC shows evidence of God’s influence. I pray and trust we will see more.

    “Do you find the tendency to find and admire great truths about God to the exclusion of obeying those truths or understanding their significance to our lives?” Absolutley, in fact, while I don’t remember the details, I was some time ago embarrassed at the sudden realization of what had become my habitual hypocrisy. By that I mean “talking the talk” without “walking the walk”. It is not something I have been able to ‘switch off’, but I think I’m making progress.

    “How can we change this (be personal)?” They say admitting you have a problem is the first step. But I wonder if we sometimes ‘confess’ in a sort of white-washed or diluted sort of way. I want to be sure to confess to the cold, hard truth rather than to some ‘lesser’ offense in order to imagine I’m off the hook for what I’m really doing.

    In our discussions about various issues, I keep returning to The Rich Young Ruler. What he lacked was a relationship with Jesus. He preferred to know all about God in order to perform all the right actions so that he could (he must have thought) be justified and continue to worship his wealth. I must wonder to what extent it is materialism that has affected our relationship, our knowing God.

    I don’t know that we all should change in just the same way, and I don’t know for sure what I must do, but here’s what I suspect. I must first confess to being a Rich Young Ruler who even loves Jesus, but tries to keep him at a distance because of my other loves (read:idols). Second, I must stop doing it. I think that’s how normal folks say “repent”. It may help to remember that knowledge is often withheld by God for a time, at least. We’ve even heard it taught the purpose for this is to “bring us to him”. That is, strengthen our relationship!

    “How can this change lead us to greater worship? Will it change the way we worship God?” Yes to the second. To the first, it must be true that knowing God produces (more) love for God. It follows logically that greater love for God would produce greater worship. And I hope for love and worship too great to be confined to singing on Sunday morning.

    I believe knowing God produces a lifestyle of worship. I don’t mean intentional choices made to do the things we think of as worship like singing and praying. Simply, I mean bearing spiritual fruit. But not the weak, ghostly, dutiful stuff I tend to do and claim as spiritual fruit. Rather, real spiritual fruit: joyful, robust, blue-ribbon-at-the-county-fair, glory-to-God-because-who-else-could’ve-done-it spiritual fruit.

    Can you imagine the Rich Young Ruler responding differently? What if, from the point of his encounter with Jesus, he was ever at Jesus’ feet and side? What if he never even missed his wealth? What if he, instead, counted it loss or rubbish (like Paul felt about his status as a Jew) because of its inherent inhibition to the joy he came to find in Christ?

  2. Mark, excellent response, as always. Sorry it took me a week to respond, but you know my schedule issues.

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