A lifelong pursuit of knowing God should embody the Christian's existence. According to eminent theologian J.I. Packer, however, Christians have become enchanted by modern skepticism and have joined the "gigantic conspiracy of misdirection" by failing to put first things first. Knowing God aims to redirect our attention to the simple, deep truth that to know God is to love His Word. What began as a number of consecutive articles angled for "honest, no-nonsense readers who were fed up with facile Christian verbiage" in 1973, Knowing God has become a contemporary classic by creating "small studies out of great subjects." Each chapter is so specific in focus (covering topics such as the trinity, election, God's wrath, and God's sovereignty), that each succeeding chapter's theology seems to rival the next, until one's mind is so expanded that one's entire view of God has changed. Author Elizabeth Eliot wrote that amid the lofty content Packer "puts the hay where the sheep can reach it--plainly shows us ordinary folks what it means to know God." Having rescued us from the individual hunches of our ultra-tolerant theological age, Packer points the reader to the true character of God with his theological competence and compassionate heart. The lazy and faint-hearted should be warned about this timeless work--God is magnified, the sinner is humbled, and the saint encouraged. --Jill Heatherly
Packer is not afraid to call out heresies by name. He comes down especially hard on Catholicism for its graven images and relics, and also for its doctrine that you cannot know for sure that God has saved you. Viewed in light of the Biblical metaphor for salvation, adoption into God's family, conditional security is indeed a misrepresentation of the perfect Father. Packer supports his points quite well and I have to say I agree with him, though the truths he writes may be somewhat unpleasant.
But it's unfair to paint this book as a mere attack on Catholicism. Packer spends more time focusing on good theology than tearing down bad. I especially enjoyed the chapter on God's guidance in the life of the believer, and the emphasis on salvation as adoption. The parent-child relationship is so rich with interaction and meaning, and seeing ourselves as God's children sheds light on so many truths of the Word. We are full heirs of the estate... we are disciplined because we are loved... we are secure in God's family. And it all glorifies the Father.
Packer is a Reformed theologian and his writing reflects the Scriptural theme of sovereign grace. The knowledge of God's perfect sovereignty unifies the Christian life, with all its varying experiences and doctrines, into a cohesive whole. Life makes sense from the perspective that God is in control. It is a comfort to know that nothing, not even our individual choices, can nullify God's plan.
This isn't a fluffy book about positive thinking with a dash of theology thrown in for good measure. Packer really gets into the Word and all his arguments are based on Scripture. I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking to grow in his/her walk with the Lord. It is certainly a book I will reread.
Quoted on the cover of another book is Packer’s sentiment that, “To rush to God…with no pause to realize his greatness and grace and our own sinfulness and smallness, is at once to dishonor him and to make shallow our own fellowship with him.” I believe that the true worth of Knowing God is that it leads the reader to meditate on each of those issues by sharing Dr. Packer’s own meditations on God. The book builds up God’s greatness and glorifies his grace, while it forces the reader to realize his own sinfulness and smallness in light of God’s character. In so doing, this book leads the reader to honor God rightly, thereby deepening his fellowship with the Lord.
In a chapter entitled “The Majesty of God,” Dr. Packer asks, “How may we form a right idea of God’s greatness?” His answer is that the Bible shows us the two steps we must take:
"The first is to remove from our thoughts of God limits that would make him small. The second is to compare him with powers and forces which we regard as great."
To serve this end, the author gives a stirring exhortation at the end of the chapter: “How slow we are to believe in God as God, sovereign, all-seeing and almighty! How little we make of the majesty of our Lord and Savior Christ! The need for us is to ‘wait upon the Lord’ in meditations on his majesty, till we find our strength renewed through the writing of these things upon our hearts.”
I, personally, have committed to reading this book at least once a year, because it has done more in bringing me to meditate upon God’s majesty rightly than has any other book I have read. I feel strongly that every Christian ought to read through Knowing God at least once, for Dr. Packer’s simultaneous uses of wisdom and encouragement lead the reader into a deeper knowledge of God. It seeks to drive the reader from a passive, intellectual knowledge ‘about God’ to a powerful, life-changing knowledge ‘of God.’ This book, more than any other, has taught me what it means to seek to be “knowing God.”
"Well might God say through Jeremiah, 'Let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me' -- for knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a person's heart" (36).
Why does life taste dull and empty sometimes? Because I have shifted my focus to some "broken cistern" and have found that it "can hold no water." God, however, never disappoints.
This one was great: "There is a tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me" (42).
What a comfort to know that God already knows everything about me--and still loves me! There is nothing left to hide, and thus nothing left to fear. He loves me because of Christ.
I'm not completely sure as to how to apply the second commandment when it comes to Christ. I think pictures can inform us without being used as a stimulus to worship. Jesus was a man, and it is not wrong for us to think of --or illustrate to children--Him as a man.
However, when the Passion movie came out I heard people talking about how it made them worship Christ so much more. That concerned me. It should be the truth of what occurred at the cross that moves us--not some emotional visible depiction of human suffering. As one preacher said, the crucifixion story as described in the Gospels is given, not to evoke sympathy on the part of the hearer, but faith. Images help evoke emotions (sympathy, love admiration, etc.), they help inform the mind perhaps (if they are accurate--but who can judge that?), but do they evoke faith? I would say no. "Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God."
"It needs to be said wit the greatest possible emphasis that those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment" (47).
How many of my conceptions of God are preconceptions, not Bible-informed-conceptions? How willing am I to sit under the Scripture and let it determine my understanding of God instead of imposing my view of God onto the Scripture? This is a very subtle issue. I would guess that it is only when we are consciously putting ourselves under the sway of Scripture that we are not subconsciously imposing our views onto Scripture.
This chapter put me in awe of the incarnation of God. I think Packer is right on when he says about the incarnation, “We shall be wise to ... shun speculation and contentedly to adore” (58).
I appreciated how he explained what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God (on pages 55-57). John equates the Son of God with the Word of God and tells us seven things about the divine Word (page 26). I ran into this question (“How can Jesus be the Son of God and be God at the same time?”) not too long ago when some JW’s came to my door. I wish I had had this down better.
His explanation of Jesus “emptying Himself” (Philippians 2:7, pp. 59-60) was also helpful. “When Paul talks of the Son as having emptied himself and become poor, what he has in mind, as the context of each case shows, is the laying aside not of divine powers and attributes but of divine glory and dignity...” (60).
I also found very helpful His explanation (beginning on page 61) of Christ’s limited knowledge (i.e. Mark 13:32). “The impression of Jesus which the Gospels give is not that he was wholly bereft of divine knowledge and power, but that he drew on both intermittently, while being content for much to the time not to do so” (61). It “is not so much one of deity reduced as divine capacities restrained” (62).
“The God-man did not know independently, any more than he acted independently. Just as he did not do all that he could have done, because certain things were not his Father’s will (see Mt 26:53-54), so he did not consciously know all that he might have know, but only what the Father willed him to know. His knowing, like the rest of his activity, was bounded by his Father’s will.... So Jesus’ limitation of knowledge is to be explained, not in terms of the mode of the Incarnation, but with reference to the will of the Father for the Son while on earth” (62-63).
This book is a must read – a true classic for those who are followers of Jesus Christ. With great attention to biblically based theology, Packer pulls from scripture to support his revelations on the true nature, attributes and essence of God. Perhaps it is human nature to worship the God we like and underline the likeable things about God that we read in the Bible. But the one true living God is much more. God is love is positive and reassuring. God is our Father and wants us to be with Him. God is also holy and rejects unholy behavior. Packer lays out this conflict and how God, the Father resolves this conflict with God, the Son in such an understandable way. The book both strengthens and challenges your thinking. Convicting. Revealing. Insightful. Profound.
Enjoyed it. Benefited from it. Will come back to it again.
It's a great Scripture-rich read, but it's also quite readable with short chapters. Packer is simply focusing on the attributes of God, how we should respond to those attributes, and really just focusing on the sufficiency of God. He is a Reformed pastor who isn't making an apologetic case to non-believers, but instead encouraging believers to trust in God's Word. So, good familiarity with the Scripture is required before reading this book.
I got a good bit out of this book, it reads like a Piper book but not as deep. My only criticisms are that sometimes he ignores or is ignorant of scriptural context (I think he misinterprets Revelation 3:14-16 and others). The book is acclaimed by everyone, but many people who acclaim it probably still have crosses and other such imagery in their churches, which Packer clearly frowns on in the very first chapter. He also seems open to gifts of the Spirit including tongues, healings, etc. which is a view not widely shared by people who frequently quote him.
However, I could be wrong since I've not read any of his other works.
I give this 4.5 stars out of 5.