Theological Thursdays: Knowing God: Section One

Every Thursday we are looking at J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God. Last week we looked at the Preface and today we look at the way Packer structured his material.

Since this online study is the seventh time I have been through the book, some of you may rightfully ask why is this book worth all of this attention; maybe we could just read it once or twice, but study it seven times? Well, it is worth it for several reasons:

  1. As a study of the nature and person of the Christian triune God, its subject matter is inexhaustible.
  2. Its arguments are firmly rooted in scripture and touch almost every area of the Bible.
  3. Every time I have gone through it I have discovered something different about the God who redeemed me and have been confronted with the decision about how I should respond to that knowledge.
  4. Some things just need to be done over and over again to keep us on track. This book is like going to theological spring training and as a biblical athlete, I want to get ready for each new season of Christian challenges God brings into my life.

That having been said, I just enjoy the way Packer writes, his turn of phrase, his insights. In addition, as I have gotten older I have begun to appreciate John’s statement at the end of his Gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

There will always be a new book, with a new slant, or a new focus, or some new insight. To the end of books there is no end. So now, when I find a good book that might be worth studying, I read it, and if it is as good and timeless as I had hoped, I will add it to my list and probably study it several times in the time I have left on this earth. I am reminded of the song that Franco Zeffirelli has St. Francis sing in his movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon. The refrain goes, “Do few things, but do them well, take your time, go slowly.” That thought has always stuck with me and as I approach the third stage of my life, rather than rushing around trying to do all the things I think I have missed, I am actually slowing down and cutting back. I am trying to do fewer things, but to do them well. As to the book we are studying, I have decided knowing several books worth studying very well, is better than knowing a lot of books poorly. If you are wondering what books I currently study over and over, I will look at them at the end of this posting.

Packer divides his book into three sections:

Section One: Know The Lord. Packer begins by dealing with the nature and focus of the study. He looks at theology and the people who study it. He discusses the nature of knowing and being known and how that applies to our relationship with God. Then he looks at God himself and his revelation about himself as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He introduces the Trinity by way of the incarnation and fleshes it out with the one who testifies, the Holy Spirit. This section is the foundation for the other two sections.

Section Two: Behold Your God!. After building his foundation in Section One, Packer now addresses the substance of who God is by examining his attributes, communicable and incommunicable and why the difference matters. For example, in Chapter Ten: God’s Wisdom and Ours, he notes that we are created in the image of God, possessing only his communicable attributes, while one of the roots of sin and pride is our (and Satan’s) desire to posses God’s incommunicable attributes. Packer continually grounds the attributes of God in our relationship with him, which makes it much easier to understand them.

Section Three: If God Be for Us…. In his closing section, Packer takes the knowledge gained in the first two sections and applies it to living out the Christian life. He addresses the heart of the gospel and how that allows us to become Sons of God. He explores how God leads us through our life and gives us insights into dealing with the trials and tribulations that will eventually come our way. He closes with our blessed assurance, the adequacy of God for the Christian.

One of the problems I have seen over the years is that people find the end of Section One and most of Section Two difficult and demanding, so then they skim and skip, jumping to the “good stuff” in Section Three about our redemption and God’s grace and love. However, they do so at a terrible price, since without a firm grasp of who God really is, they fail to build the foundations of their understanding on solid rock and end up with a rather haphazard and weak building of faith.

Please believe me when I say that diligent study of the first two sections brings several orders of magnitude greater appreciation and understanding of the blessings and truths in Section Three. I remember a biting critique of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians that I heard in the early ’80s. The minister, a Scottish Presbyterian, said that maybe one of the reasons people go flitting from place to place seeking a new and exciting experience of God is because they have failed to know and understand who this God they seek really is and to appreciate the marvelous gift of salvation and new life in Jesus Christ he has given them in the first place. Being Charismatic, I took that admonition to heart. It energized my second effort at studying Knowing God.

With that in mind, next week we will begin Chapter One: The Study of God. Please read the chapter this week and think about how the “spirit of the age” and the prevailing skepticism of the post-modern world might affect your efforts to come to know your God. You may want to look at the study questions I have put together for this chapter. Also remember C. S. Lewis’ words on imagined success that Packer noted in the Preface:

Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there.”

So let’s be on guard against fooling ourselves and others.

In closing I said I would tell you what books I have am currently studying. Other than the bible, there are five book that are on my current repeat study list and besides Knowing God they are:

  • Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth. Helps you examine how you approach the bible and introduces hermeneutics in a way that almost anyone can understand.
  • A Long Obedience In The Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. Eugene is best known for his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. Addressing the failure of Christian discipleship due to our instant society, where instant gratification and results are expected, Eugene uses the Jewish Psalms of Ascent as source material emphasizing both obedience and the length of the long quest, since Christian discipleship is a lifelong journey.
  • Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible by James Sire. In this book Sire examines the common methods used to distort the scriptures, which helps us avoid the same traps as well as enabling us to see when others are “twisting scripture”.
  • The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, Fourth Edition by James W. Sire. Sire examines the “set of presuppositions which we hold about the basic makeup of our world.” Each new edition of this book adds new and important material and insights.

There you have it. May God bless your efforts as you join me in this study. Grace and peace to your day and please keep me in your prayers.