During the summer of 2005, an older, more mature Christian gave me a copy of J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. Besides the Bible itself, I don’t believe God has used any single book in my life to more radically change the way I see myself, my life, and my Savior.
Our church book table will, for the most part, be stocked with books that fit with our current sermon series. But Kai and I decided to indulge ourselves a bit. We will take turns putting our favorite books on the table, still hopefully fitting the current series. Knowing God is one of my favorite (and highly readable!) books of theology.
Knowing God Is Serious Theology
“Milquetoast” is the best word I can think of to describe the theology I grew up with. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines milquetoast as “a person who is timid or submissive.” The word is derived from a cartoon character of that name. Here’s an example of why:
The God of the churches I grew up in was careful not to make waves. He never said anything impolite, didn’t step on anyone’s toes, was always sure to disciple children to be nice boys and girls. Church didn’t interest me much because there wasn’t much going on that was interesting.
But then I read the opening chapter of Knowing God, which is titled “The Study of God.” Packer begins his book with a quote from Charles Spurgeon:
The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls Father. (pg. 17)
I was immediately hooked. This wasn’t milquetoast at all. There was nothing polite or apologetic about this statement. This was passion. Gravitas. Conviction. This was theology.
Somewhere in the midst of reading Knowing God while stretched out on my bed on a Saturday afternoon in New York City, I said to myself, “If this is what theology is, I could give my life to this.” All these years later, here I am.
Knowing God Is Practical Theology
If the word “theology” calls up for you academic debates, abstract ideas, or angels dancing on the heads of pins, put those ideas out of your mind. J.I. Packer has no patience for theology that doesn’t lead to life change.
[Y]ou can have all the right notions [about God] in your head without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer; and a simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Savior than a more learned scholar who is content with being theologically current. The reason is that the former will deal with God regarding the practical application of truth to his life, whereas the latter will not. (pg. 39)
Packer wants us to know God (theology) in a way that will transform our lives (practically). Any knowledge of God that doesn’t have a practice effect in our lives is nothing short of dangerous.
Knowing God Is Devotional Theology
One thing that comes out constantly in his book is that Packer is devoted to the Lord. He wants to know God, and wants us to as well. And he wants that knowledge to lead to a deeper love for God, a devotion to Him. Knowing God is devotional theology.
The second (and largest) part of the book looks in depth at the various attributes of God: His majesty, wisdom, holiness, truth, love, grace, wrath, and jealousy. Packer treats these theological topics as holy ground, dealing with them in reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).
But Part Two leads into Part Three, which opens with a chapter on “The Heart of the Gospel.” There, Packer puts the infinite majesty and love of the God of the universe in the context of what it took for Him to redeem us: the sacrifice of His only Son on the cross. The weightiness of the gift of God’s grace comes home more comprehensively, beautifully, and humblingly in the light of how glorious and great God truly is.
Conclusion: Get Your Copy of Knowing God!
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is clear, readable, rich, and Christ-exalting. Get it, take your time with it, and let it show you more clearly the glories of the God of the Bible!