This is the first post in a series on the classic of evangelical spirituality Knowing God by J.I. Packer. Our church’s men’s Bible study is studying it on Saturday mornings. We cover one chapter a week and this is my sixth time through the book, fifth time as a study. For those interested, more information on our study can be found on my personal website.
There have been many popular books within the Christian community over the last 40 or so years. Currently the Purpose Driven series is extremely popular. However, this insightful book by J.I. Packer has stood the test of time and for over thirty years has challenged Christians not only to know about the God they profess, but to get off the balcony of observation and get onto the road of discovery and come to know their God, intimately and personally.
For a detailed view of the life of James Innell Packer see the biography by Alister McGrath. Packer began life in the working-class neighborhood of Gloucester, England. He never quite fit in, not unusual for a bookish child with an intellectual bent, but a violent collision with a bread van at age seven set him on the course his life would follow. While running away from schoolboys who were taunting him, he ran out into the street and was hit by a van, resulting in a severe head injury. A metal plate was inserted in his head. Exposed and with rubber softening its edges, Packer felt like A speckled bird, making it all the more difficult to fit in. The restrictions the accident placed on his teenage life, no sports and limited physical activity, steered him instead to a life of reading and intellectual curiosity. At the age of eleven, expecting a bicycle for his birthday, he got instead a typewriter. That, coupled with his accident, sealed his life’s direction. While he had, in many ways, an extremely difficult life, he exhibited a pluckiness that served him well over the years.
His faith, initially the product of parents with whom he regularly attended church, took a personal turn in secondary school (what we would call high school). In college, reading C. S. Lewis, among others, and his studying the Bible brought him to a point where at a meeting of the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU, or CU) he finally made, A personal transaction with the living Lord, the Lord Jesus. His new found faith did nothing to mitigate his sense of isolation and that might be why he began to appreciate and study the great Puritan authors, themselves isolated from the mainstream of English society in their lifetimes. “The Puritans answered those questions that perplexed me,” Packer says. “From the Puritans,” he says, “I acquired what I didn’t have from the startthat is, a sense of the importance and primacy of truth.” Unlike his Puritan mentors and despite his own isolation he was ordained in the Church of England. However, it was at an accidental speaking engagement that the course of his life was changed. He met his wife Kit and at the same time broke through his long-standing fear of being in large public situations. They were married in July of 1954.
Writing his first book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, a critique of Christian Fundamentalism, in 1958, he has gone on to author over forty books (and counting) as well as editing countless others. He is best known for the book we are studying. Packer is also well known for his linear “habit of mind” and style of communication. Once he starts speaking on a thought he simply cannot stop until he has carried the thought to its logical conclusion. This predilection has led to many difficulties for Packer over the years. I am very similar and I fully understand the problems this state of mind causes both to oneself and those you interact with.
We are currently studying chapter four of Knowing God, Packer’s deconstruction of idolotry. It is illuminating reading, reminding me of something I need to remember every few years. You are welcome to join us. As I said, study materials are posted on my website. Four weeks down, twenty-one to go (we do review sessions at the end of each the three section of the book).
Grace and peace.