A dialogue with J I Packer’s book “Knowing God”.

Amazing book; enough material for a year’s discussion!

Some issues which interested me..

  1. Chapters 1-4:  Knowing God…How can we really ever know God if “his thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways higher than our ways”?
  1. p55: re images of Jesus. What do we really think about Jesus pictures in Sunday School rooms? Christ Pantocrator images e.g. in the Hagia Sophia? a crucifix in church or worn around the neck; Greek iconography? movies about Jesus? What would have happened had Jesus become incarnate in an age of photography? See Peter Adam’s excellent book “Hearing God’s words: Exploring biblical spirituality, Downers Grove, Ill, Apollos, IVP, 2004 chapter 5 for a really helpful discussion of this issue.
  1. p60:  How much of a problem for Christian communication and unity is the doctrine of the Trinity?  cf p71: Do we need to preach the Trinity more?

iv) pp66-70 re the Kenotic theory that Jesus “emptied himself” of his divinity…are we persuaded by Packer’s argument that at times Jesus chose “not to use” his divine knowledge? (p68 divine capacities restrained…

vp71  Do we have a major problem as we live our “Middle Class Christianity?”

vi) p75  Why are there so few books on the Holy Spirit compared with those about Jesus? p76 Ought we not to concern ourselves about the Holy Spirit more than we do?

vii) p80 the present barrennes of the Church’s life;  p92: Our faith and our worship is flabby.  Is Packer too harsh in his criticism of the late C20th church? What would he think of BAC?

viii) p85  Are we comfortable with an immutable God?

ix)  pp87f …he [God] shows his freedom and lordship by discriminating between sinners, causing some to hear the gospel while others do not hear it; and moving some of those who hear it to repentance while leaving others in their unbelief…really?? or is Packer too bound to his Calvinism here rather than to scripture?

x) p88 God does not repent but p89 God does repent! Which is correct?

xi) p93:  ….the God with whom we have to do is not a mere cosmic principle, impersonal and indifferent, but a living Person, thinking, feeling, active, approving of good, disapproving of evil, and interested in his creatures all the time.   Is God a “Person”? What does this mean? Where do we find this in the Bible?  Why does C S Lewis picture God as a lion, not as a human being in The Narnia Chronicles?

xii)  p97  Do we agree that the great ones  [world leaders e.g. Stalin/Trump/Roosevelt/Churchill/Elizabeth 11 do not run the world?

xiii) p101 God’s wisdom is not, and never was, pledged to keep a fallen world happy, or to make ungodliness comfortable. Not even to Christians has he promised a trouble-free life; rather the reverse. He has other ends in viewer life in this world than simply to make it easy for everyone. 

Was Malcolm Fraser correct? Life wasn’t meant to be easy!

xiv)  p102 …Christian joy is greatest, when the Cross is heaviest….Is this true? I don’t recall too much joy in Gethsemane or on the Cross.

xv) p109 We may be frankly bewildered at things that  happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our affairs. (cf Job) I think this is true but it is hard to cope with sometimes.

xvi) p111  A list of the incommunicable (to man) and communicable qualities of God. What do we think of this list?

xvii) p113 It is to be feared that many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all.  cf Proverbs 11:2 With the lowly is wisdom.

xviii) p114 Do you spend as much time with the Bible each day as you do even with the newspaper?  [or Facebook?]

xix) p116 There is a need for realism in our lives. Most of us live in a dream world, with our heads in the clouds and our feet off the ground; we never see the world , and our lives in it, as they really are. …Packer’s solution is that we pay more attention to Ecclesiastes.p117 Ecclesiastes describes our misconceived quest for understanding. p118 The God who rules it [the world] hides himself. Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent  Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it all. p119 [the result is] personal spiritual inertia combined with critical cynicism about the churches and supercilious resentment of other Christians’ initiative and enterprise. Behind this morbid and deadening condition often lies the wounded pride of one who thought he knew all about the ways of Godin providence and then was made to learn by bitter and bewildering experience that he didn’t.

xx)  p120  [Ecclesiastes] clearly has no time for the super spirituality which is too proud, or ‘too pious’ ever to laugh and have fun.

xxi) p127 Truth in the Bible is a quality of persons primarily, and of propositions only secondarily.  I think this opposes the idea of propositional revelation.

xxii) p129 …liberal theology, with its refusal to identify the written Scriptures with the word of God, has largely robbed us of the habit of meditating on the promises…

xxiii) p132  When Paul says,’the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us’ (Rom.5:5, KJV), he means, not love for God, as Augustine thought, but knowledge of God’s love for us.  [brave man to argue with Augustine!]…the New Testament set forth this knowledge, not as a privilege of a chosen few, but as a normal part of ordinary Christian experience.

xxiv) p133  Packer opposes the emphasis on spectacular spiritual gifts present in the charismatic movement of his day (mid 1970s) We have become preoccupied today with the extraordinary, sporadic, non-universal ministries of the Spirit to the neglect of the ordinary, general ones….Paul had to insist that without love— sanctification, Christlikeness, —tongues were worth precisely nothing.

xxv) p139  Packer quotes Berkhof Systematic Theology, p70): [God’s love is] that perfection in God which prompts him to deal bountifully and kindly with all his creatures….but on p140 Packer appears to differentiate between sinners…God’s love is an exercise of his goodness towards individual sinners. It is not a vague, diffused good-will towards everyone in general and nobody in particular; ….it involved first, the choice and selection of those whom he would bless, and second, the appointment of the benefits  to be given to them…[ Personally, and not just because I have been reading Rob Bell, I cannot find this idea in Scripture. Romans makes it quite clear that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” and that Christ died for the ἀσεβης [the ungodly].  Christ did not just die for those individuals he chose before the foundation of the world.

xxvi) p148 Packer believes the average Christian and church-goer knows nothing about the grace of God and believe they can please God by churchmanship and morality.  Do we agree? On p149  Packer quotes  German/Jewish poet and philosopher Henrich Heine allegedly said on his death-bed God will forgive …it is his business.  [Packer calls him a French free-thinker]  Packer’s view is what decides each individual’s destiny is whether or not God resolves to save him from his sins, and that this is a decision which God need not make in any single case…..[ I do not see this as grace but as a potentially maverick tyranny] What do we think? [see no. ix… this again looks more like Calvinism than Biblical theology to me.]  cf p153 where Packer refers to predestination but does not deal with its meaning and purpose.

xxvii) pp161-165  Packer makes it very clear here that judgment  for everyone is based on works using Romans 2 and various Gospel passages. This would have been unusual in 1975 evangelicalism and folk like N T Wright still get into strife from more fundamentalist brethren for saying this. My only disagreement is Packer’s statement on p161 that the heart of the justice which expresses God’s nature is retribution. This is not scriptural. The heart of the justice of God is Exekiel: God desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live and John 3:16 God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son that everyone who believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.  on p164 Packer understands the sheep “going to the right” as those who helped Christians, not just anyone in need. I do not believe Matthew’s text demands this interpretation.

xxviii)  p171 God’s wrath in the Bible is always judicial…that is, the wrath of the judge administering justice..Again this is too stark. Scripture is much more ambivalent…e.g. Psalm 103:8-10  The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities.

xxix) p172 Packer suggests secondly that God’s wrath in the Bible is something they choose for themselves. While I think this is true for those who know and yet deliberately flout God’s commandments, it is not clear to me that folk who have never heard of the God of the Bible are deliberately choosing to reject God…their only knowledge is what can be perceived about God from the things which have been made (Romans 1). They will be judged according to the light they have received I think. I would feel stronger about Packer here if he had exegeted Romans 1 here.

xxx) p172 again: The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give people what they choose, in all its implications; nothing more, and equally nothing less. God’s readiness to respect human choice to this extent may appear disconcerting and even terrifying, but it is plain that his attitude here is supremely just…This is an amazing statement by Packer and looks far more like an Arminian position that an Calvinist position. In xxv Packer says that “God will choose those he will bless” whereas here he is saying that individuals can choose to disobey God and God will treat them accordingly as Scripture promises. So the saved are predestined (Calvinism) but the damned choose their fate (Arminianism). I am confused by Packer in this section. Can anyone help me understand him?

xxxi) p177 No doubt the sight of small sects cheerfully consigning the whole world, apart from themselves, to hell has disgusted many. [I agree and am just as anxious if a large section of the church “cheerfully consigns the whole world to Hell]. I keep coming back to John Milton: A man’s mind is its own place and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.]

xxxii) p 180 …people have got into the way of following private religious hunches rather than learning of God from his own Word…[I agree!]  On p181 Packer describes liberal theology (e.g. Brunner & Niebuhr) as Santa Claus theology. He accuses liberals of leaving folk with a kind God who means well, but cannot insulate his children from trouble and grief. When trouble comes, therefore , there is nothing to do but grin and bear it. In this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a God who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm people in a fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life. [The problem for evangelicals is that, like liberal Christians, they have the same ironic paradox…when trouble comes to them it is the same…they have to grin and bear it…they have no choice..so Packer’s point here is somewhat weakened I think].

xxxiv) p.184 The distinction between “common” and “special” grace. Do we agree?

xxxv) p191  The anthropomorphisms in Scripture. But God is personal …how do we know which attributes are real and which are anthropomorphic?

xxxvi) p198 How many of our churches today are sound, respectable— and lukewarm?

xxxvii) p.219  Packer’s only treatment of universalism.  Those who in this life reject God will for ever be rejected by God. I am not defending universalism but Packer gives no Biblical reference for  this statement other than Jesus’ words about Judas which are ambiguous and the separation of the Son from the Father on the cross produced by the sin of the world.

xxxviii) p237 Christian ethics

xxxix) p241 I’m glad my Dad is a good driver..but what about other drivers??

xl) p238 on Christian prayer

xli)p244  Hope. Very few Christian writers write about hope.

xlii) p248 Various expressions for being “born again” e.g. a single transforming psychic event …

-full surrender; the Keswick experience; baptism in the Holy Spirit; entire sanctification; beatification; sealing in the Spirit; tongues;  a second conversion….a false magical type of supernaturalism.  This is all helpful stuff I think. cf p249 ..So it is not as we strain after feelings and experiences, of whatever sort, but as we seek God himself, looking to him…

xliii) p250  What do we understand today by the term “holiness”? We become “royal children” with responsibilities but there is always the danger of legalism …yet we are a royal priesthood..

xliv) p.256  What assurance do we have? I personally find deep assurance in joint prayer with another believer….cf p258 What is “the double witness”?

xlv) pp265-271 Guidance including 6 pitfalls. p271…”there are no rules!!!”

xv) p277  Inward trials…Misapplied doctrines; p 280 the wrong remedy (cf Job); p282 losing sight of grace.  All very helpful advice

xvi) p287  Chapter 22 is a commentary on the Book of Romans..”the high peak of Scripture”.  I agree although Romans cannot be read without Genesis 12 and Isaiah 49.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.