For the record, I would give this book 4.5 stars, but Goodreads makes me stick to one or the other, so…
Also for the record, it remains difficult to rate certain books, because they might be important or edifying, even though literarily they might not rank at the top end. I have found myself in this pickle quite a bit lately, especially with children’s books that are important for cultural (specifically racial issues) reasons but that don’t meet the top tier of my expectations as a great book. This book is less of a problem, and yet I have a hard time giving any religious book that might be important to someone’s spiritual development anything under a five. But then I do, cuz I’m stone-cold like that.
Knowing God by J. I. Packer is a classic of contemporary Christian literature. At least for protestants. (I’m not going to say evangelicals, because that word has gotten so, so charged (in a way I can’t identify with) and we’ll be chasing a rabbit trail on a campaign we can’t win, so…) It’s funny that I’m reading this shortly after Experiencing God, another classic published almost at the same time, in which Henry and Richard Blackaby go on a tirade at the start about how they didn’t call their book “Knowing God” because the point is not to know Him but to experience Him. A-hem. This is, clearly, semantics. The “knowing” that Packer is writing about is experiential in nature, and encompasses various facets of knowledge or aspects of knowing. For the record, I am much more partial to Knowing God than to Experiencing God, for a number of reasons. Note: I never got around to reviewing Experiencing God because I wasn’t keeping up with my small group’s pace. I will probably get around to it, someday. (Note: there are two Experiencing Gods. One is a chapter book and one is a workbook, and it’s quite confusing to decipher between them when purchasing.)
Back to Knowing God. It’s a little dense, a little heavy on the theology, for sure. Still, it’s basic theology, so I wouldn’t want to scare any Christian—new or quite old—away from reading it, though the way be slow and sometimes difficult. And while I’m sure different branches of American or Western Christians will find things to disagree with, Knowing God is pretty straight-forward and, well, orthodox, while also digging deep and looking at how that orthodoxy might apply to the believer’s life. I found it to be full of nuggets, certain chapters really jumping out to me and begging occasional re-reads on my path to implementing the ideas. (These include “God’s Wisdom and Ours” and “The Grace of God.”) There was one chapter I wasn’t fond of, and that was “The Only True God.” It asserts that we are not permitted to do paintings or any image of God or Jesus. I noticed that this is the same chapter that a friend of mine listed as the fly in the ointment of this book. Packer seems to be writing straight out of a personal beef, instead of the Bible, logic, tradition, and history, which I feel he uses well in the rest of the book.
I would definitely recommend it, if you are a Christian. Full stop. If you’re not much of a reader or into theology, it’s going to take you some time and patience, but it’s a classic that deserves a read, even as we get further away (sometimes further into) the cultural pitfalls that he occasionally addresses. (He is writing from England, 1973.) We all could use to better know God and to experience Him more.
Some of the many QUOTES I underlined, starred, and otherwise marked:
“We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God” (p18).
“Yet the gaiety, goodness, and unfetterdness of spirit which are the marks of those who have known God are rare among us—rarer, perhaps, than they are in some other Christian circles…” (p21).
“What makes life worth while is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance…” (p30).
“…knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a man’s heart” (p32).
“Whether being a servant is matter for shame or for pride depends on whose servant one is” (p32).
“…we must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one…” (p35).
“All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me” (p37).
“…the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic…” (p46).
“Our minds can not get beyond this. What we see in the manger is, in Charles Wesley’s words, Our God contracted to a span; Incomprehensible made man” (p50).
“…how we should set [the incarnation] before ourselves and ever view it—not simply as a marvel of nature, but rather as a wonder of grace” (p51).
“It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely men, who ‘through his poverty, might become rich.’ The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity…” (p55).
“…we can only appreciate all that our Lord meant when He spoke of ‘another Comforter’ as we look back over all that He Himself had done in the way of love, and care, and patient instruction, and provision for the disciple’s well-being, during His own three years of personal ministry to them” (p58).
“…nobody can prove the truth of Christianity save the Holy Spirit, by His own almighty work of renewing the blinded heart” (p63).
“Men sometimes say things that they do not really mean, simply because they do not know their own mind; also, because their views change…” (p70).
“The words of men are unstable things. But not the words of God” (p70).
“…how can we justify ourselves in resting content with an experience of communion with Him, and a level of Christian conduct, that falls so far below theirs?” (p72).
“The Christian’s instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God” (p73).
“Representations of God like these are meant to bring home to us the fact that the God with whom we have to do is not a mere cosmic principle, impersonal and indifferent, but a living Person, thinking, feeling, active, approving of good, disapproving of evil, and interested in His creatures all the time” (p74).
“He knows me as I really am, better indeed than I know myself” (p76).
“Living becomes an awesome business when you realize that you spent every moment of your life in the sight and company of the omniscient, omnipresent Creator” (p76).
“You tremble before the nations, because you are much weaker than they; but God is so much greater than the nations that they are as nothing to Him. ‘Behold your God!’” (p77).
“In Scripture wisdom is a moral as well as an intellectual quality…” (p80).
“God’s wisdom is not, and never was, pledged to keep a fallen world happy, or to make ungodliness comfortable” (p81).
“…he had held on to God while God weakened him, and wrought in him the spirit of submission and self-distrust” (p85).
“For what is this wisdom that He gives? As we have seen, it is not a sharing in all His knowledge, but a disposition to confess that He is wise, and to cleave to Him and live for Him in the light of His word through thick and thin” (p97).
“…our souls were made to ‘run’ on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows” (p103).
“It is perverse to quote John’s statement, as some do, as if it called in question the biblical witness to the severity of God’s justice” (p108).
“Grace is free, in the sense of being self-originated, and of proceeding from One who was free not to be gracious” (p119).
“…the New Testament doctrine is grace, and ethics is gratitude” (p124).
“The wrath of God… is a perfection of the Divine character…” (p142).
“…God’s mercy in grafting ‘wild’ Gentiles into His olive tree…” (p147).
“Nobody would imagine a jealous God. But we are not making up an idea of God by drawing on our imagination…” (p151).
“For God our Creator, Whom we could never have discovered by any exercise of imagination, has revealed Himself. He has talked” (p151).
“God’s jealousy is not a compound of frustration, envy, and spite as human jealousy so often is, but appears instead as a (literally) praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious” (p153).
“”…married persons ‘who felt no jealousy at the intrusion of a lover or an adulterer into their home would surely be lacking in moral perception; for the exclusiveness of marriage is the essence of marriage’” (p154).
“As He performs all the offices of a true and faithful husband, so He requires love and chastity from us…” (p155).
“…on the one hand, God does not feather-bed His children in this way, and anyone who thinks He does is in for a shock, and, on the other hand, that which is basic and essential to the real peace of God does not come into this concept at all” (p177).
“…the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God for his Father” (p181).
“…not simply out of condemnation into acceptance, but one of bondage and destitution into the ‘safety, certainty, and enjoyment’ of the family of God” (p188).
“Sonship must be the controlling thought—the normative category, if you like—at every point” (p190).
“…authentic Christian living, springing from love and gratitude…” (p200).
“…the factor of God-given prompting and inclination, whereby one is drawn to commit oneself to one set of responsibilities rather than another, and finds one’s mind settled in peace as one contemplates them, becomes decisive” (p213).
“…is not a matter of inward promptings apart from the Word but of the pressure on our consciences of the portrayal of God’s character and will in the Word, which the Spirit enlightens us to understand and apply to ourselves” (p214).
“Trouble should always be treated as a call to consider one’s ways. But trouble is not necessarily a sign of being off track at all” (p217).
“Similarly, the Children’s guided life may appear as a waste” (p218).
“…take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel” (p236),
“For our faith, which from man’s point of view is the means of salvation, is completely God’s gift to us as is the pardon and peace of which faith lays hold. Psychologically, faith is our act, but the theological truth about it is that it is God’s work in us” (p241).
“…the passion for possessions has to be cast out of us in order to let the ‘all things’ in” (p246).
“…you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you” (p251).