This is a review of J.I. Packer’s Knowing God
Knowing God is a broadly sweeping doctrinal book which covers, as the title suggests, what it means to know God. Very early in the book it lays out this premise—that knowing about God is not the same as knowing God. One can know an awful lot about God and yet not actually know God. This is true of those reading the Bible in that people may have studied it and yet never related to its protagonist. This is also true of this book, I don’t imagine that when Packer wrote this book it was his intent that by reading it people would know God, but that by reading it people would know what it looks like to know God and thus be able to discern if they indeed know Him and act accordingly. Packer states that the purpose of this life is to know God and to know God is eternal life.
To know God is more complex than simply knowing an inanimate object. It is akin to knowing a person, in that a person may choose to reveal parts of their character to us and hide other parts. We only know God from what God has chosen to reveal to us. The initiative is always God’s. This is a theme that runs throughout the book in that God is the initiator of knowledge, wisdom, love, grace. It is always God who acts first and we only react to what He has revealed to or carried out towards us. The book touches relatively briefly on some of the most, if not the most, difficult theological questions such as the nature of the Trinity and Christology. Although the book has been criticised (as seen in the preface to the 2005 edition) for the depth to which these matters were addressed, I found it very helpful as the matters were addressed to the point that they were understandable in their premise and yet their mystery was not challenged or an explanation attempted as is in keeping with Scripture.
One of the chapters which was most impactful to me was the chapter entitled The Grace of God. Packer talks of how for some people the grace of God is one of His attributes that almost speaks more than the rest. I find that for me this is true in his words ‘the thought of grace so overwhelmingly wonderful that [I] could never get over it.’1 I found this chapter and those surrounding it concerning judgment, wrath and goodness and severity incredibly helpful as it once again pointed me to the nature of my sin and God’s reaction to it. Paul’s words on this matter in Romans 7 put it in a better way than I could myself:
wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?2
In general I found that this book was very helpful in terms of ‘cleaning up’ a lot of doctrinal issues. I don’t know if there was an awful lot of the book which I hadn’t learnt, read or known before (there was certainly some) but it is a great book for tying a lot of my belief/ doctrine together in a succinct manner.
1. Packer, J. I.. 2005. Knowing God. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 145.
2. Romans 7:24, ESV.