Book Review - February 2016

Knowing God (20th Anniversary Ed.), J. I. Packer, 1993, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., ISBN 9780830816507, 286 pages, $20.00, softcover.

Earlier this year, the Christian world received sad news of British-Canadian theologian J.I. Packer's retirement from public ministry due to the advance of macular degeneration that has taken his eyesight from him. He is nearly 90 years old, an elder statesman of a theological resurgence among evangelical believers across denominations. In addition to his tireless work teaching, lecturing, and writing at the collegiate and seminary levels, much of his reputation flows from a series of articles on the character of God and our relationship to Him that were gathered and published as Knowing God in 1972.

Though this work has been driving home deep truths about our Triune Lord since well before I was born, it was to my great detriment that I only just recently picked it up for myself. Every accolade Knowing God has received through the years was just praise-I have seldom read such a clear, emphatic presentation of so much Christian doctrine. To ears ready to hear and hearts ready to obey, Packer's masterpiece is sort of a devotional "jet fuel" to feed the fire of spiritual maturity.

All of the cultural opposition to and "slippage" of the Christian faith that Packer spoke prophetically into in the early 1970s has only accelerated in the years since, giving his theological diagnoses to the psychological and social ills he imagines his readers face a very current punch. Of course, because his subject is the eternal God as revealed in His Word, the advice herein would be just as prescient had he written in the 1870s (in fact, he so often quotes Spurgeon, it almost feels like he did).

The content of Knowing God is a three-part layout. The first addresses the Biblical admonition to know God, marveling in the facts that 1) He wants us to know Him, 2) that we are even capable of such, and 3) that we are more known by God than we know Him.

The second segment does much of the philosophical heavy lifting of the book, drawing out the attributes of God to wrestle with our human frailty of belief. He leaves no stone unturned in seeking to confront readers with the God of the Bible in all His glory, immutability, majesty, wisdom, truth, love, grace, judgment, wrath, goodness, and jealousy. In effect he spends this longest section of the book in catechizing us in robust systematic theology, digging for practical application of hard truths.

Finally, Packer focuses in on the Gospel message, dwelling on Christ's atonement and our adoption through Him as God's sons. He calls readers to lean upon their God, to know Him not as an intellectual exercise, but as the source and pillar of all their strength. He writes as someone who has seen God's face, fervently pleading with others to look to Him likewise and live.

This pastoral heart most characterizes Packer's work. It is a systematic theology (and a good one), but it is a systematic theology for pilgrims. Other books have more academic depth, but few achieve the devotional concern for the holiness, peace, and joy of the Christian. If one has any criticism of Packer, it is for his ecumenical efforts (none of which play in at all to this particular work), which have been seen as overbroad by many. Reading Knowing God, however, it is easy to see that any overstepping of acceptable boundaries between Christian traditions on Packer's part was not from faddishness or fame-seeking, but from his deep love for the brethren flowing out of a heart captured by the One True God.

Justin Lonas

Target: All
Type: Theology
Take: Must Read

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