J. I. Packer’s Christian journey and ours — Knowing God

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How will we react in the face of disease, adversity, or suffering? The answer has everything to do with how well we know God.

One fall afternoon in 1994, as a not-new but certainly newly-serious believer, I wandered into a tiny Christian bookstore near the small Christian college I attended. One book in particular caught my eye. Actually, it was the title that caught my eye:  “Knowing God.” At the time, I’d never heard of the author, J. I. Packer.

When I looked at the dust jacket, however, every Christian leader whose name I did know (like Chuck Colson, Joni Earackson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, Elisabeth Elliot, Billy Graham, and others) said something along the lines of: “This is one of the most important books I’ve ever read other than the Bible itself.” So I picked it up, and I’ve been recommending “Knowing God” ever since.

newsphotos-knowinggod-01.22.16The book is essentially a work of “devotional theology.” For many Christians, that may sound like two incompatible words, as if diving deep into theological truth is stuff of the “head,” while our walks with God are matters of the “heart.” Packer, in a thoroughly biblical way, destroys that false dichotomy in “Knowing God.”

It was especially two statements this Oxford-trained theologian made in the second chapter that hit me like a ton of bricks. First, “One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of Him,” and second, “One can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of Him.”

In “Knowing God” Packer describes the characteristics of those who know God. They have great energy for God. They also have great thoughts of God. Further, they show great boldness for God. And finally, those who know God have great contentment in God.

But it cannot be a God that’s made in one’s own image. It must be the God revealed in Scripture and clarified by proper theology.

That’s why I recommend this book. If you have studied theology deeply, you’ll be inspired by the personal devotion of one of the brightest theological minds on the planet. And if you’ve never studied theology, you’ll find that theology need not get in the way of, but can in fact deepen, one’s personal devotion to Christ.

I thought about my first encounter with this modern classic the other day when I heard news that Dr. Packer is fast losing his vision. For Packer, who has authored more than 300 books, book reviews, journal articles, dictionary entries, and forewords, and who speaks all over the place, that season of life for him it seems, is over.

And yet he’s not bitter. On The Gospel Coalition website, Dr. Packer, who’s 89, tells interviewer Ivan Mesa that “in the days when it was physically possible for me to do these things I was concerned, even anxious, to get ahead with doing them. Now that it’s no longer possible I acknowledge the sovereignty of God.” He calls it Christian realism. “God knows what he’s up to,” Dr. Packer says. “And I’ve had enough experiences of his goodness in all sorts of ways not to have any doubt about the present circumstances. Some good, something for his glory, is going to come out of it.”

That’s a good word for all of us. Let’s face it—aging is one of the stages of life that most of us will face, but one that our youth-fixated culture doesn’t prepare us for. As Dr. Packer has written, “How should we view the onset of old age? The common assumption is that it is mainly a process of loss. But,” he continues, “here the Bible breaks in, highlighting the further thought that spiritual ripeness is worth far more than material wealth in any form, and that spiritual ripeness should continue to increase as one gets older.”

That perspective that Dr. Packer describes comes not from merely knowing about God, but only from knowing God Himself.

John Stonestreet

— by John Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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