Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. ~ 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
My book club’s latest selection was Knowing God by J. I. Packer [IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 1973]. The blurb on the back of Knowing God reads, “For over thirty years, J. I. Packer’s classic has revealed to over a million Christians around the world the wonder, glory and the joy of knowing God. Now more than ever, next to Scripture, this could be the most significant book you will read this year . . . or next.”
Just inside my particular copy there is a list of fourteen endorsements from well-known Christian leaders. Here are a few [partial] quotes:
- Joni Eareckson Tada: “. . . Dr. Packer’s volume says it simply, says it best.”
- John Perkins: “While it is theology, it is practical, and while it is profound, it is easy reading.”
- Stuart Briscoe: “As long as I’m able to read I hope to read Knowing God . . . each year. It’s so basic, scholarly, warm and reverent.”
- Billy Graham: “Dr. Packer has the rare ability to deal with the profound and basic spiritual truths in a practical and highly readable way.”
- Elisabeth Elliot: “Here is a theologian who puts the hay where the sheep can reach it—plainly shows us ordinary folks what it means to know God.”
Says it simply. Easy reading. It’s so basic . . . Highly readable. Puts the hay where the sheep can reach it . . .
I must be some dumb sheep. Why did I feel like every third word I read went into my brain and out a hole in the back of my head? Why can’t I see what others can see? What is wrong with me? Am I that dense?
I confess I even Googled “Knowing God reviews” to find others who would agree with me that it was not simple, easy, basic, or highly readable. All I found were more rave reviews for Dr. Packer’s classic not only written by well-known theologians and academics, but by lay persons as well.
Years ago, when I worked for a small mail order publishing house, I received calls from people all over the country and a few from faraway places like Nova Scotia and Australia. If the person on the phone had any sort of an accent, I had trouble understanding them. I was embarrassed whenever I had to ask them to repeat themselves—often more than once. I knew it was me, but I was at a loss at how to fix it.
That’s the way I felt reading Knowing God. Like Dr. Packer was speaking with a foreign accent. (He’s from Vancouver, British Columbia, but I don’t think that counts.) I had to keep going over sentences to grasp what I’d just read. At the end of most pages, I had to go back to the top and read them again because I lost the big message while searching for the little meanings.
I confess to being prejudiced when it comes to Bible versions as well as impatient when it comes to learning. So Dr. Packer’s use of the King James Version only and his multitude of quotes from eighteenth century hymns (whose unfamiliar formal verses have never spoken to me in the way they did to others back then) left me yearning for the last page.
I felt like a dancer who’d lost her rhythm, a singer who only heard some of the music, and a runner who was going around the track the wrong way.
Of Knowing God, Packer writes in the preface: “Other nurture books, including some of my own, have fallen by the wayside, but this one keeps going, and a steady flow of letters shows me that it keeps helping people.”
I want to be one of those people! I don’t want to give up. So until someone decides to put out a Knowing God for Dummies edition, I will persevere, one line at a time.
In the meantime, if you have read the book and ever felt the same way, could you please let me know. Right now I feel dimwitted and alone.