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Knowing God vs Knowing about God

One of the beautiful things about Christianity is learning together in community. This week, the “Christian Classics” reading group that I’m part of began reading J.I. Packer’s theological masterpiece Knowing God. This book is a must-read for every Christian. Reading a chapter a week, I’m sure this won’t be the only post written from this rich contemporary classic. In the first two chapters, Packer defends the critical importance of the study of God. Not just for the academics or pastors, but rather every Christian should earnestly desire to know all that they can about the God who has saved them. He describes the humbling experience of coming to grasp something new of all that God is and does, and the only appropriate response in our learning – that of adoration, praise, and thankfulness.

He goes on to say that while this expanding of our knowledge is humbling, it is also immensely practical and equipping for life on this planet. Faith seeking understanding must be the goal of every Christian, otherwise, Packer warns:

“Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you.”

Packer’s launching point for Knowing God is the recognition that the study of God is more than worthwhile, it’s essential. However, he’s quick to make sure that each person who undergoes this vital pursuit performs regular heart-checks as they go. While we look to the Psalmist as our example: “teach me your decrees”, “give me discernment that I might understand your statutes” (Psalm 119), we are also acutely aware that our hearts are prideful things. Packer insists that we ask ourselves “What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it?” He warns of the dangers of becoming “puffed up” with knowledge, seeking understanding for the sole purpose of being a better argument-winner, or demonstrating how well-learned we are in front of a Sunday crowd. Rather, Knowing God tells us that our aim in studying God must be to know God better.

Our purpose is always relational and never simply informational. One is knowing about God, the other is knowing God. And there is a world of difference. For this reason Packer dedicates chapter two to the evidences of people in the latter category. The most striking of these is this:

People who know their God are before anything else people who pray.

If you’re a seminary-trained walking encyclopaedia of facts about the Trinity, you’ll be able to contend for the faith with the best of them. Chances are you read from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Psalms every day, and you’ve got a couple of theology books on your bedside table too. But if you’re not turning each new truth you learn about God into an opportunity for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God, you’re missing the point.

People who know their God are before anything else people who pray.

My prayer this week is that whatever life looks like for us, we would be people who would diligently, deliberately seek to know more about this God who has saved us into relationship with himself. I pray that we would be people who dig deep in our bibles, our theology books, and our conversations in Christian community, but that in everything we would seek to know God better in order that our hearts might respond to him in gratitude and love.


Want to join in on the reading? All you need is a copy of the book, and  you can get started either in person, or online.

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Published inChristian Living