By: Mitch Wiley, Programming Intern
Recently someone asked me a thought-provoking question: “If you could have every Christian in America read one book, what would it be?” My answer came rather quickly: Knowing God by J.I. Packer. J.I. Packer is a British theologian and prolific writer. Christianity Today readers voted him the second most influential evangelical Christian writer of the past century, behind only C.S. Lewis. Crossway Publishers published a 2015 book about Packer as part of their “Theologians on the Christian Life” book series. Each book in the series serves as an introduction to the theologian, profiling their thoughts on what it means to live as a Christian. Pastor Sam Storms wrote Packer on the Christian Life, which I recommend as a wonderful introduction to his theology and wisdom.
Here are 4 key meditations I took away from my reading:
Packer’s belief in the inerrancy of Scripture is more than just theological.
He has a very high view of the Bible being the very Word of God — perfect and authoritative. But this isn’t a mere mental checkbox for Packer. He claims that the Bible is God’s means of conversing and fellowshipping with his people. The Bible serves to create intimate fellowship between God and the Christian. This is what we were created for: walking together with God in a love relationship. Packer says, “Here, therefore, is a further reason why God speaks to us: not only to move us to do what he wants, but to enable us to know him so that we may love him.” (p. 58) The Bible is given to us in order that we may know God, speak to God, and love God.
Packer encourages a relentless pursuit of holiness.
When thinking of the word “holiness,” many modern Christians conjure up images of cold legalism and heartless rule following. Packer helps melt this image away with the way he speaks of our lifelong and daily pursuit of conformity to the image of Christ. Holiness is not removed from our desires or what we want to do. Holiness is largely the redirecting of our hearts’ desires from self-glorifying idolatry to God-glorifying enjoyment of God. Holiness in action and words is merely showing the change that is happening on the inside. As we love God more and long to please and know him, we will also increase in holy affections, thoughts, words, and actions.
Packer understands that prayer to be the practical theology of trusting God.
I, like many Christians, struggle with prayer. It’s hard for me to consistently pray, but more importantly to want to consistently pray. Packer shows that there is something beneath the surface in me that is much more concerning than mere laziness: it is a lack of faith in the goodness and faithfulness of God. Prayer is what we naturally desire when we want to be with God and when we trust that God is good. Storms says, “How we perceive God controls how we speak to him. Who we understand God to be will always control what we ask him to do.” (p. 136) Oftentimes, the struggles we have in prayer cannot be fixed by practical tips on prayer. Packer compares that to focusing on the ethics and dynamics of a marriage, rather than just loving your husband or wife! (p. 136) Struggles with prayer are fixed by an increased love for God and a desire to be with him.
Packer saw theology as leading to doxology; knowing about God leads to knowing God.
Packer is a theologian. He writes about theological categories, distinguishing what is biblical doctrine from what isn’t. But to him, it is not mere knowledge. Theology is the study of God with the intention of knowing God. This is the thesis of his influential book Knowing God. As I study God and see his character in the Bible, my love for him should increase. Knowing about God should lead to a greater love for God, and a greater love for God should lead to a greater desire to know and commune with this great God. That is, after all, what we were created to do.