What value does theology have for the modern Christian? Is it truly important to have a robust understanding of theology in order to grow in your faith? These are some of the questions that we wrestle with as 21st century American Christians and I believe that the answer to these questions is paramount in predicting what will come of the Church in America over the next two generations. This is also why I believe every Christian should read Knowing God by J.I. Packer at least once in their adult life.
Theology can be scary. We have some huge terms that even seminary grads struggle to pronounce when we begin talking about theology. We throw around theological dictionaries to figure out the who and the what of our intricate belief systems. But, what if I were to tell you that these are man made definitions and attempts to do theology that complicate the study of God way beyond the scope of Scripture? For example, you can search the Bible forwards and backwards and never find terms like “supralapsarian” or “pre-tribulational, pre-millennial eschatology” or even “law-grace bifurcationism”, but you can search the Bible and find theological ideals like love, mercy, justice, wrath, holiness, and forgiveness.
That is what Packer seeks to accomplish in his volume. I will not lie to you, it is a very deep book as no word is watered down. However, it is not a book that will require you to have a degree in theology or an understanding of the Greek or Hebrew language to grasp. In fact, Packer’s goal is to prove that many of us know a lot about God without knowing much of God. This is the wake up call for God’s people. Paul suggests in Philippians 3 that the knowledge of everything in the world is rubbish compared to knowing Christ Jesus, which Packer then asserts that we, as Christians, do not live in that same desire. ‘The question is not whether we are good at theology, or ‘balanced’ in our approach to problems of Christian living. The question is, can we say, simply, honestly, not because we feel that as evangelicals we ought to, but because it is a plain matter of fact, that we have known God, and that because we have known Go the unpleasantness we have had, or the pleasantness we have not had, through being Christians does not matter to us. If we really knew God, this is what we would be saying, and if we are not saying it, that is a sign that we need to face ourselves more sharply with the difference between knowing God and merely knowing about Him.”
It is through this lens that Packer then encourages believers to know that the true and living God desires for us to know Him and has provided the way for us to accomplish that through Jesus Christ. In other words, our start for understanding God comes with understanding Jesus. “The real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the Gospel confronts us…lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man – the second person of the Godhead became the ‘second man’ (1 Cor. 15.47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without the loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as he was human.”
Throughout the pages of Knowing God, we will find time and time again the fullest expression of how God’s desire for us to know Him comes to light through Jesus Christ. As to God’s unchangeable nature, we find solace in the fact that “Jesus Christ is ‘the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Heb. 13.8)…[and] that ‘he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them’ (Heb. 7.25).” Even when we wrestle with the all encompassing wisdom of God, Packer takes us back to Jesus Christ: “In the fulfillment of each part of this purpose the Lord Jesus Christ is central, for God has set him for both as Savior from sin, who we must trust, and Lord of the church, whom we must obey. We have dwelt on the way in which divine wisdom was manifested in Christ’s Incarnation and Cross. We would add now that it is in the light of the complex purpose which we have outlined that he wisdom of God in his dealings with individuals is to be seen.”
Certainly we can see how God’s love is brought to function through the Gospel. As Packer states, “’God is love’ is the complete truth about God as far as the Christian is concerned…God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward sinners. As such, it has the nature of grace and mercy.” This is the beauty of the Incarnation at work. Christ Jesus came into this world because God is a god rich in mercy and grace, because God desires for us to know Him, and because we could not earn our forgiveness. To actually know God is to know His love, as 1 John 4.15-16 states, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God. We have come to know and have belie the love with God has for us. God is love, and the one who abide in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Packer’s final section wraps up so much of the Gospel as applied to our lives. If the Good News of Jesus concerns the salvation that God offered on the basis of Christ’s death as a substitute punishment for our sins, what then does theology mean for you and me? Packer answers it this way: “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father…Sonship to God, then, is a gift of grace. It is not a natural but an adoptive sonship, and so the New Testament explicitly pictures it…The apostles proclaim that God has so love those whom he redeemed on the cross that he has adopted them all as hi heirs, to see and share the glory into which his only begotten Son has already come.” So, why theology? I would suggest that our endeavor to understand theology is actually our drive to know this God who loves us better, to understand the extent to which He went to adopt us, and to explore the relationship that we will experience for eternity as best as we can now. To this end, I invite you to read the full text of Packer’s Knowing God. May you grow in grace and in peace.
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 J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 20th Anniversary edition (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 26.
 Packer, 27.
 Packer, 53.
 Packer, 80, italics added.
 Packer, 92.
 Packer, 122-123, italics in original.
 Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible ©1995 the Lockman Foundation.
 Packer, 200-201.