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Posts Tagged ‘J I Packer’

Knowing God: The Study of God

Why study theology?  Why spend hours praying over biblical texts?  What are we hoping will happen to us when we study who God is and learn His character?

Knowing GodChapter 1 of J I Packer’s Knowing God helps direct us in our pursuit of knowing God.  He starts the chapter with a quote from Spurgeon.  Spurgeon notes that the study of God ought to do three things: humble the mind, expand the mind and console.  The more we learn about God, the more we ought to realize our limitations and finiteness.  The effect ought to be humbling.  Our minds will also find themselves expanding as we try to comprehend the God who created and sustains the entire universe.  Finally, the problems and grieves of the soul will find their comfort and consolation in God Himself.

What do we do about the problem of arrogance?  After all, many of us know people whose study of God simply fed their intellectual pride.  It’s not hard to see examples of this in the church, though I’ll point out seminary students and professors aren’t the only ones prone to this- I’ve met plenty of Christians who have no desire to study theology who are just as guilty of immense spiritual pride (indeed, the fact they don’t feel the need to study the Bible at all may be a sign of that pride).

Packer is well aware of the potential for this problem (pp21-22).

For the fact that we have to face is this: If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us.  It will make us proud and conceited…  To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.

Packer’s remedy:  “Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know himself better…  As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it” (p23).

Ultimately, our motivation will dictact what we get out of our study of God.  If our motive is get smarter, we’ll achieve that- and a healthy dose of arrogance on the side.  We will deceive ourselves into thinking that we actually do know God, when in reality all we know is stuff about God.  If our motive is truly to know God, he will be faithful to reveal himself.  After all, his desire is to make himself known.  And when he does, we can revisit Spurgeon’s points above and discover for ourselves just how right he was.

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One of the highlights of the fall for me is rereading J I Packer’s classic book, Knowing God.  We read it every year in our discipleship and missions training school, and for good reason.  If you’re impressed with quantity, the book has sold over 1 million copies.  At the very least this attests to the fact that many people have found this book useful in their Christian growth.

But some of Knowing Godus are less enamored with numbers than others are.  After all, there are number of bestselling books that quite frankly aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, though I’m not naming any names (coughdanbrowncough).  Books are popular for any number of reasons: celebrity authors, Oprah’s Bookclub, clever marketing, and so on.  None of these necessarily speak to the quality of the book, and in some cases it may speak negatively.  And even the perceived usefulness of a book noted above is no true indication of its merit- see: Joel Osteen books, high sales totals of (I’m not doing a good job of not naming names, am I?).

There are other bestsellers that top the charts because they are simply wicked good.  It is our contention that Packer’s Knowing God is that kind of book, though I’m not sure he’d understand or appreciate the term “wicked good.”  Brian and I have decided that we’d like to blog through this modern day Christian classic, one chapter per week.  I first read Packer’s book in David Wells‘ Systematic Theology class.  It ended up being my favorite theology book of all the ones I read in seminary, in large part because it captures the “why” of studying theology and knowing God so well.  Knowing God is no mere intellectual exercise.  Packer’s concern is that we truly know God, not just know about Him and about His book.  And in knowing God, the life of the Christian and the church will be forever changed.

So we hope you’ll join us in our quest over the coming weeks and months.   We invite you to read along with us and offer your thoughts along the way.  If you do not own a copy, get one.  Beg and borrow if you must, even contemplate stealing, though don’t act on it.  However you get the book, read it, digest it and participate in our discussions.  Hopefully we’ll all come away knowing the God we worship all the more.

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