4 Stars Out Of 5
January 16, 2012
Packer's writing style is fluid and devotional--which paired with the nicely with his discussion about God. Packer sums up the intent of knowing God: "No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God. . . ." (18). And later he warns:
If we pursue knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens (21).
All readers of Knowing God should meditate on these thoughts. The question, especially for the religious among us, then becomes How can I change my knowledge about God to knowledge of God? (23). This dichotomy is one of mere facts against a personal experience. Packer states these truths far better than I:
We are, perhaps, orthodox evangelicals. We can state the gospel clearly; we can smell unsound doctrine a mile away. If asked how one may know God, we can at once produce the right formula: that we come to know God through Jesus Christ the Lord, in virtue of his cross and mediation, on the basis of his word of promise, by the power of the Holy Spirit, via a personal exercise of faith. Yet the gaiety, goodness, and unfetteredness 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 where, by comparison, evangelical truth is less clearly and fully known. Here, too, it would seem that the last may prove to be first, and the first last (25-26).
Packer provides some great insights into the person and work of the Holy Spirit. His discussion of the Holy Spirit in chapter six ("He Shall Testify") is one of my favorite. In discussing the importance of His work says Packer, "In the first place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel and no New Testament" (69) and "In the second place, without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth--in short, no Christian" (70). In summary, "To the apostles, he testified by revealing and inspiring, as we saw. To the rest of us, down the ages, he testifies by illuminating: opening blinded eyes, restoring spiritual vision, enabling sinners to see that the gospel is indeed God's truth, and Scripture is indeed God's Word, and Christ is indeed God's Son" (71).
Later while discussing our adoption Packer writes,
Pitsfalls and perplexities regarding the ministry of the Spirit abound among Christians today. The problem is not in finding correct verbal labels, but in knowing what it is in experience that corresponds to the work of God to which the label refers. Thus, we are all aware that the Spirit teaches [us] the mind of God, and glorifies the Son of God, out of the Scriptures; also, that he is the agent of new birth, giving us an understanding so that we know God and a new heart to obey him; also, that he indwells, sanctifies, and energizes Christians for their daily pilgrimage; also, that assurance, joy, peace and power are his special gifts. But many complain in puzzlement that these statements are to them mere formulas, not corresponding with anything they recognize in their own lives.
Naturally, such Christians feel they are missing something vital, and they ask anxiously how they may close the gap between the New Testament picture of the life in the Spirit and their own felt barrenness in daily experience. Then, perhaps, in desperation they set themselves to seek a single transforming pyschic event whereby what they feel to be their personal "unspirituality barrier" may be broken for good and all. The event may be thought of as a "Keswick experience," or "full surrender," or "baptism in the Holy Spirit," or "entire sanctification," or "sealing with Spirit," or the gift of tongues, or (if we steer by Catholic rather than Protestant stars) a "second conversion," or a prayer of quiet, or of union (219).
May we not neglect the beauty and worth of the Holy Spirit. Packer equates two very different sides of abuse--first, the charismatics who would have tongues or an "experience of the Spirit" to be the litmus test of meaningful Christian living; and, second, the fundamentalist (or Arminians) who would have a decision or "full surrender" to be the litmus test of meaningful Christian living. Both are wrong. Both sides would see the other as extreme and yet they stand together.
Packer in a later chapters talks about the Christian who goes disappointed throughout his Christian life because he is moving from one disappointment to another, expecting the next Keswick decision or surrender to be the one that kills the flesh for good, or the next experience of the Holy Spirit to carry them to the end. May we avoid both and focus on the finished work of Jesus praying for the power of the Spirit to give us strength to walk worthy of our calling.
Packer then goes on to discuss some attributes of God. In his discussion about God as Judging, Jealous, Wrathful, and Good yet Severe, Packer demonstrates that these attributes stink to the modern sense of political correctness and are "out of vogue," but nonetheless these are perfections of our God and cannot be neglected.
Packer calls propitiation "the heart of the Gospel" and gives a lengthy discussion on it and then on our adoption as Sons of God. Says Packer, "were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer more pregnant summary of the gospel than that" (214). He ends the book with an exposition, of sorts, of Romans eight.
Packer is great at making the truth about God applicable to our everyday life. Get the book. Read the book and get ready to see a fuller picture of God than you have previously seen.