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.
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.