Back on July 11, at the beginning of this blog, I made a posting that suggested a series which would look at J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God. At first it was just going to be a discussion of what I was doing in my mens group, which was/is studying the book.
Then on October 28th I decided to start a series called Theological Thursdays: Knowing God, with the first posting inviting people to drop in each Thursday for an ongoing chapter by chapter study of Packers book. I ended that post with this prayer.
I pray that God will use this effort to help us advance in our knowledge and love of God, resulting in a real change in our Christian lives for the better.
The following week, November 4th, I began the actual study. First we looked at the two Prefaces (1973 and 1993) in Knowing God: Watcher or Walker? That lesson dealt with Packers image of those on a balcony watching the travelers below walking in Gods footsteps. I noted:
To know God, Packer argues, you cannot just observe the footprints of God and muse on them in an abstract sense. Packer contends that you have to get down from the ivory tower and actually walk in His steps; you have to journey with God through your life to know God in your life.
In that lesson, we also discussed the post-modern dilemma and how Packer, while not addressing it directly, does face the problem by asking us to:
1. Engage the knowledge of God by abandoning our Greek view of being an observer and instead become a Hebrew who takes the knowledge that God gives about who and what we are and who and what He is and then accept the responsibility that knowledge places on our life, on our thoughts, and on our actions.
2. Expect the experience of God to change us. While Packer doesnt directly argue this, I believe it underlies all of his thinking. God is not an amusement park, existing for our mere enjoyment, for our experience. God is real, the substance and source of all realness. He is the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being.
On November 11th , in Knowing God: Section One, I did an analysis of why I thought it was useful to regularly study Knowing God. Then I looked at how Packer had divided his book into three sections: Know The Lord, Behold Your God!, and If God Be For Us
After examining those sections, I closed this lesson with my recommendations for four other books, besides Knowing God that I believed established a foundation of Christian understanding that would serve us well throughout dour spiritual journey. If this study goes well, I may consider doing a study of each of those books as well.
On November 19th, in Knowing God: The Study of God, we studied the first chapter of the book. Packer begins by addressing how theology is integral to the study of God, but at the same time he warns of the danger of studying God in the abstract, intellectual sense, without engaging what we learn and allowing it to penetrate and change our hearts.
We then examined the five basic truths and three basic themes that Packer believes all Christians should know and understand. To meet this expectation, Packer suggests that we learn to meditate. Not in the mantric, mind-emptying form of Eastern religions, but by prayerfully calling to mind, thinking over (musing, if you will), dwelling on, and applying to oneself all the works and ways, as well as the promises and purposes of God.
I closed this lesson with the following prayer:
Dear Lord God, you have challenged us in your Word to study to show ourselves approved and told us to leave aside the milk of the Gospel and mature into its meat. Open our hearts, O Lord, and prepare us to learn of you, to drink deep of your revelation of yourself. And as we come to know you better, O Lord, may we also come to better know ourselves. Grant us, by your grace, success in our efforts. We thank you, O Lord, for your mercy and patience with us as we struggle to understand both you and ourselves better. May everything we do as pursue this path be to your honor and glory. Amen.
After taking off Thanksgiving, I came back on December 2nd with Knowing God: People Who Know Their God. Using Jeremiah as a touchstone, we examined the relationship between understanding and knowing.
Then I used several quotes from my study materials to examine the concept of knowing, looking at the struggle that knowing brings into our lives and what we fear about this process. I argued that the heart of the problem is expressed by the two schools of knowledge, two ways of looking at the world of understanding: Greek and Hebrew, which we discussed in the lesson on the Prefaces.
Finally we examined the difference between knowing and knowing about. Using the Prophet Daniel, Packer enumerates four characteristics that can be seen in those who know their God. They have:
1. Great energy for God
2. Great thoughts of God.
3. Great boldness for God.
4. Great contentment in God.
We closed with the two things that Packer believes will naturally follow if you truly desire to know God:
1. We will recognize our lack.
2. We will seek the Savior.
That was the last lesson I completed as a multitude of events along with my inability to focus on the study, conspired to prevent me from continuing the study. For that I apologize and ask your forgiveness. My failure to live up to the expectations I had created weighed heavily on my heart.
At the end of the year, on December 30, I posted Knowing God: Reflections On The Road Thus Traveled. If you havent already, I suggest you read that summary. In it I talk about the difficulty that this kind of study brings into your life as it asks hard questions, while also making difficult demands. Diving into Knowing God is not something to be done as a lark. I can honestly say that no one I know who has completed a thorough study of this book came out the backside the same person who entered in.
I want to close this restart review looking at a comment posted by Rebecca Stark, of Rebecca Writes. She said, in response to a personal invitation to comment:
Since I have my own personal invitation to comment .
at its core this book is not really about theology, even though it covers, albeit with broad strokes, the basics of the theology of the Christian Godhead. No, this book is really about the heart, your heart and Gods heart and how the two meet and interact. I think that is why this book endures and touches so many lives while other, more detailed studies of the theology and nature of God fall by the wayside. I believe that Packer has found a unique balance between just enough theology to engage your understanding and the necessary probing of the heart to lay bare your soul.
And I think that at its core this book is all about theology, or all about what theology really is, which is knowing God. Really knowing God necessarily makes demands on us, on our hearts, and calls us to interaction with the one we have begun to know. Real theology always does that.
I think I agree with Rebecca that real theology is about truly knowing God. My comment was influenced by trying to deal with the popular misconception of theology as only knowing facts about God, not knowing God himself. I believe the issue also goes back to your viewpoint of knowledge, whether it is Greek or Hebrew (see the lesson on the Prefaces).
Rebecca, being the deeply committed Christian that she is, naturally sees theology as a Hebrew exercise. I guess I my problem is that so many of the people I know in the Church still adhere to the Greek view of understanding and have not yet shed what is essentially a worldly view of knowledge and theology.
So Rebecca, thank you for your insight and willingness to share it. I pray that others will be emboldened to join in the discussion as we move forward. I ask for your prayers to help me to be faithful in meeting the weekly study schedule and I also pray that this study will help you to come to know your God in a way that you have never known him before.
The study for Chapter Three: Knowing And Being Known will be posted later today.
Grace and peace.