Do you have a short list of books that have had a profound impact on your life?
I do. And J.I. Packer’s Knowing God is near the very top of my list.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Packer’s book because I’m just beginning a study of it in my Sunday School class. If I have time, I may post a few additional thoughts about the book as our study progresses.
I initially bought and read Knowing God almost 35 years ago. I was a new Christian, young and ignorant (even more ignorant than I am now, as far as I can tell); but as is true of many young people, I had no idea just how ignorant I really was.
I don’t think I can adequately express how thankful I am for Packer’s book. It was a Godsend to me. It taught me not simply how to approach theology, but how to approach God himself. It shaped my heart and my mind in ways that I’m certain saved me from making even more mistakes than I did in my exuberant, youthful ignorance.
(I vow not to use any form of the word ignorant for the rest of this post.)
One of the things I learned from Packer is that theology is not some stuffy, impractical academic pursuit. It is the study of God! What could be more important than that? We do ourselves a tremendous disservice, and our souls incalculable damage, if we casually dismiss the study of God. Or, as Packer put it in chapter one:
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. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.
What an awful tragedy it is to waste your life now and lose your soul for eternity.
Another thing I realized was that theology was a two-edged sword—having on the one hand immense value, and on the other potentially damning dangers. Packer went on to issue a warning in that first chapter that probably needs to be trumpeted more often (and more loudly) than it is.
If we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate and dismiss them as very poor specimens. For, as Paul told the conceited Corinthians, “Knowledge puffs up…. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor 8:1-2).
To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception.
Self-satisfied self-deception. The only thing I can think of worse than that is the Hell that it leads to. By the grace of God my goal is to do everything in my power to avoid self-satisfied self-deception. I know I haven’t always succeeded, but I have no intention of giving up the fight.
Those are just a few of the reasons that I’m thankful for Knowing God. If I could make it required reading for every new Christian, I would.
Now it’s your turn.
What are the two or three books that have had the greatest impact on your life?