J. I. Packer's Christian Journey -- and Ours

Knowing God

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

Listen Now | Download

John Stonestreet

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.

As I wrote recently on my blog at BreakPoint.org, the 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.

daily_commentary_01_22_16I 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.

To get a copy of “Knowing God” by J. I. Packer, please come to our online bookstore at BreakPoint.org.

Further Reading and Information
J. I. Packer’s Christian Journey—and Ours: Knowing God

Click on the links below to read more about this remarkable figure in contemporary church history. And get a copy of J. I. Packer's book "Knowing God," available at the online bookstore.


The End of a Remarkable Writing and Speaking Ministry: An Update on J. I. Packer’s Health
Justin Taylor | The Gospel Coalition | January 14, 2016

Christian theologian J.I. Packer loses sight but remains thankful: 'God knows what He's doing'
Czarina Ong | Christianity Today | January 19, 2016

The End of a Journey
John Stonestreet | BreakPoint.org | January 15, 2016

J. I. Packer, 89, On Losing Sight But Seeing Christ
Ivan Mesa | The Gospel Coalition | January 14, 2016

Crossway: Why J.I. Packer's Ministry Has Ended
Jeremy Weber | Christianity Today | January 14, 2016

Available at the online bookstore

Knowing God
J. I. Packer | InterVarsity Press | July 1993


The lumberjack and the pilgrim
I've never heard of J. I. Packer either, so when I first saw the title of this commentary, I was thinking, "Oh, I get it! Packer must be the name of the title character in Pilgrim's Progress, by that giant lumberjack, Paul Bunyan. Wait, that's not right. It was his brother, John, who wrote that."

Then when I listened to the commentary and heard Packer described as losing his vision, I wondered whether Mr. Stonestreet meant he was going blind, or whether he was using the word 'vision' figuratively, rather than as referring to his eyesight. The use of the word 'physically' suggests that he was talking about Packer's eyesight, but then I thought, that can't be right either. People don't lose their vision (the kind a writer uses to imagine strange worlds and stuff) when they lose one of the five senses. If you don't believe that, ask John Milton and Ludwig van Beethoven, when you (hopefully) meet them in Heaven..