Knowing God (Book Review)

There is only one reason why a Christian book on theology (not fiction, not self-help, not vapid devotion, not popular eschatology) has been in print for almost 40 years and has sold more than a million copies.  The reason is that it is a classic.  Knowing God by J.I. Packer is a classic that has introduced all its readers to the God of the Bible through Jesus Christ.  This book is widely read, reread, praised and loved precisely because it takes readers by the hand and gently guides us to the foot of the cross where we can know the God who is unchanging, majestic, all-wise, truth, loving, gracious; but also a righteous judge, wrathful against sin, good and severe, jealous for his own glory, and altogether beautiful and worthy of worship.  Apart from the Bible, this is a book that every Christian should read again and again.  It will teach you and remind you why God is God, why we ought to seek him as an end in himself, and how we may find him in Jesus Christ.

Packer divides this journey on which he guides us to know God into three stages: (1) Know the Lord; (2) Behold Your God; and (3) If God Be For Us.  The first stage of the journey is composed of six chapters which prepare us what it means to know God, that there is only one true God, that God has revealed himself through his written word (the Bible) and his incarnate Word (his Son Jesus Christ).  In the second stage of the journey Packer describes what God is like as he reveals himself in the Bible and in Jesus.  The third stage of the journey explains the gospel (the good news Jesus proclaimed about himself) and its effect on the Christian life.  Throughout the book Packer couples his conversational style with a generous selected on famous hymns written by believers of past ages that were enraptured by God and his love for his people.  This feature of the book gives the journey a warm personal touch.  This is not a theological textbook, but a meaty devotional journey for travelers walking the same path in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

Discerning readers rarely agree with everything an author writes.  It has been said that if you find nothing disagreeable in a book then you haven’t begun to think about its message.  There is one aspect of Knowing God with which I have concerns—and I am certainly not alone in this particular objection.  In chapter 4 (The Only True God) Packer addresses the sin of idolatry and follows the puritan doctrine that images (even mental images) of Jesus are transgressions against the 2nd commandment of forbidding the worship of God using images.  Packer’s case is not simplistic nor disrespectful toward Christians who differ in this application of the commandment against idolatry.  But I find myself disappointed that he chose to respond to a subset of letters he received over the years objecting to artistic renditions of Jesus without addressing the more robust theological objections to this distinctly reformation and puritan era application.  Nevertheless, Packer is in highly respectable company in holding this particular position on idolatry and images of Jesus (see Westminster Larger Catechism #109).  This being said, I have absolutely no other quibbles with anything in the book.  It is simply an evangelical masterpiece!

Knowing God is the kind of book that you will finish no matter how long it takes to read (it took me almost a year!).  Knowing God is the kind of book you’ll want to reread frequently and revisit its various parts.  Knowing God is the kind of book you’ll want to pass on to seekers, new Christians, and those who have walked the path of Christian discipleship for decades.  In a word, it is a classic.  Read it to Know God and be changed for the better.

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