While he was a student at Oxford, James Innell Packer, better known as J.I., heard C. S. Lewis speak. Lewis’ influence on Packer was profound, and inspired him to enter full-time Christian ministry.
In sixty-plus years since then, Packer has exercised his considerable influence over Christian minds. He came to the attention of American Christians about the same time as his fellow countryman and Anglican clergyman, John Stott. It’s safe to say that, apart from Stott, Schaeffer and a just few others, no one has shaped the way American Christians think about their faith as much as J. I. Packer.
In its 2005 article on the “25 most influential evangelicals in America,” Time magazine named Packer and described him as offering Christians something “deeper” and “more embracing” than most of them previously encountered.
Packer’s best known book is Knowing God and it’s the subject of this month’s installment in Ken Boa’s “Essential Reading” audio CD series.
In his “Essential Reading” series, Ken walks us through books that explicitly define the contours of a Christian worldview. And, of course, the first order of business in a Christian worldview is getting our thinking about God straight. That’s the job Packer’s book does.
According to Packer, studying the nature and character of God isn’t, as many Christians suppose, abstract and theoretical, but, instead, the most practical project we can undertake. This knowledge is crucial to living as a Christian.
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In fact, attempting to live the Christian life without this knowledge isn’t only foolish, it’s a kind of self-cruelty-denying ourselves the riches of our own faith.
Packer lists five “foundation principles” about this knowledge: First, God has spoken to man, and the Bible is his word given to us to make us wise unto salvation. Second, God is Lord and King over his world. Third, God is savior, acting through Jesus Christ to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin. Fourth, God is triune, the work of salvation is done through the actions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And fifth, godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience.
Clearly for Packer, faith is not an emotional response that is devoid of specific content. On the contrary, the life we live is the result of what we know and of our God-empowered efforts to put what we have learned into practice.
It’s been thirty-seven years since “Knowing God” sat for weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. If anything, it’s more relevant today than ever. While there is a growing interest in worldview and the Christian mind, this interest contrasts alongside a subjective and experientially-oriented Christianity. One that bears little resemblance to historical Christianity.
This is why Harold Fickett and I wrote our book The Faith, and it’s why Ken Boa chose Knowing God for his “Essential Reading” series.
Because in times like these, knowing what and in whom we believe is not only practical, alright-even more, it’s vital.