What is the book Knowing God?
J.I. Packer calls it a “treatise on God” but not really. He backs off that bold statement, saying at best it is “a string of beads: a series of small studies of great subjects.”
Then he launches into a story borrowed from another author, John McKay. McKay says there are two kinds of people interested in Christianity today. There is interest from what he calls “onlookers” and there is interest from what he calls “travelers.”
What is an onlooker? He explains an onlooker as a “balconeer,” a term I have never heard before. But balconeers are people who sit on a high front balcony of a Spanish house. They wile away their day watching travelers go by on the road below. They may comment critically on the way that travelers walk. Oftentimes they talk and chat with the travelers, asking questions about the road, but they look on from afar. Their problems are theoretical; they are going nowhere. They just observe.
Then you have “travelers”. Travelers face more practical problems. They have to decide which way to go, how to travel, what to take, how to make the trip comfortably. Their “skin is in the game” so to speak.
Even though balconeers and travelers think a lot about the same area [the road], their problems are very different. For instance, balconeers ponder man’s relationship to evil, how evil can exist at the same time that God has sovereign control of the world. Travelers deal with evil also but they are concerned about mastering evil and how to bring some good out of it. The balconeer may consider the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as One. The traveler is not concerned about the theoretical nature of the Godhead; the traveler just wants to honor, love and trust the three Persons who are at work to bring him out of sin to glory.
We could go on and on… but you get the point.
The balconeer is theoretical.
The traveler is practical.
Why open a book with a story like this?
J.I. Packer is trying to say that his book Knowing God is for travelers.
Another key question is why write a book about knowing God?
For an answer to that, Packer feels that the church today is fraught with weakness and ignorance of God. That is the main problem with Christianity today.
First of all, Christians have conformed their thoughts about God to the modern spirit. Even though Knowing God was written in 1973, what was true then is even more true today. Packer says “the modern spirit spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.” The modern way of thinking is as follows: set God at a distance if not deny Him altogether. God has become remote in the modern world. Some Christians realize that Church does not fulfill the need for a real God, so they have decided to withdraw from church in order to pursue God on their own. Christians who need help with the big ideas of life (judgement, eternity, greatness of the soul and even death) can’t find answers in the modern church because the church would rather downplay these topics in order to appeal to more pleasant ideas .
Secondly, skepticism has confused many Christians. For three centuries now, naturalistic influences have become more popular in Western thinking and that has slowly begun to change Western theological consideration. Many feel belief in God is an either-or proposition; either you believe that God is in control and you deny all attempts to explain the world in a scientific fashion or you believe that God is not in control and you doubt that God had anything to do with what Packer calls the “foundation facts” of life. Examples include basic thoughts like was Jesus a spiritual man? Did the Gospel miracles really happen? Was Jesus of the Gospels an imaginary figure or a real man?
Surely theologians of the day don’t suffer “weak” theology from such forces.
Packer says that the quantity and quality of theological books is better than ever, but even theologians [like pastors] are no longer interested in holding the church to the true realities of the Gospel. [Maybe they will sell fewer books].
Then we have his book entitled Knowing God. Packer is trying to give us all a way forward that will satisfy our longing for the Real God today. He cites Jeremiah 6:16 “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.”
That’s traveler talk, practical advice about how to walk with Jesus Christ.
When he quotes 2nd Corinthian 4:13, he is talking straight to the readers. “I believe and therefore speak”.
Do we really know Him?
I believe we are going to find out…