Tag Archives: J.I. Packer

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Packer, J.I. Knowing God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993. 318 pp. $18.00. Purchase at Westminster Books for $9.53.  Purchase the audiobook at christianaudio for $14.98.


Knowing God is one of those books I have no business writing a review on, but alas, I have been asked to do so via the new audiobook release. J.I. Packer’s Knowing God hardly needs an introduction, but for those who have never read the book, it is a classic with over one million copies sold. The reader will learn “the glory and the joy of knowing God.”


Divided into three sections among twenty-two chapters, the reader will be introduced to who God is according to the Bible. The first section, Know the Lord, looks at the importance of studying God. Chapter four, The Only True God, always humbles me and convicts me. This chapter alone is worth the book in its entirety.

The second section is a study on the attributes of God. Aptly titled Behold Your God, you will learn about God’s majesty, wisdom, love, grace, and wrath among other attributes. Here, you will be introduced to the depths of the God you say you serve. After reading this section, you will seek to learn more all the while realizing that you cannot possibly exhaust your understanding of even one attribute though this fact will not deter you from trying to do so.
The third section offers the joy of knowing that If God be for Us… You will find yourself led to worship in this section (as if you haven’t been led to do just that already!). What is more, you will find yourself wanting to share the joy you are discovering with anyone who will listen.


I have nothing but positives regarding Packer’s Knowing God. As mentioned above, the chapter on idol worship (ch. 4) is worth the rest of the book by itself. I first read this book a couple years after becoming a believer and was deeply impacted by it. If you are to know God at all, you need to quickly realize that you cannot know Him. Rather, He, God, allows Himself to be known by you. Furthermore, you will learn that it was not you who sought God, but He who sought you. These are glorious truths that will bless and comfort the child of God.

The audiobook, read by Simon Vance, was done so with the gravity that each chapter, sentence, and word carries inherently with it. One need not listen long to know that what you are hearing is profound. At times, the chapters got long, and I would not suggest listening to for longer than a chapter or two. Doing this will keep your mind fresh and focused on the deep truths you are encountering. This is even truer if this is the first time you have stumbled upon this book.


If you have never read Knowing God and you enjoy reading, pick this book up. It made the list of the 5 books every Christian must own and read for a reason. It has impacted my walk with Christ as well as my understanding (or knowledge of my lack) of God in ways that I am sure I don’t quite get as of yet. This is a book that you will want to periodically read over and over for the rest of your life. In the six years since I first read this book, I have read it four times and each time I do, I discover something new or find myself saying, “So that’s where that conviction originated.” Drink deeply from the pen of J.I. Packer—you can hardly find a living author with more depth. 

5 Books Every Christian Needs + A Sale

A while back I was asked about the five books that every Christian should own if they were starting a library. We had some fun with it here on Christian Book Notes as we tossed around books that we would recommend. I will be using that information to have some fun come March.

In the meantime, I talked with four other men whom I greatly admire and have been influential in my life and various ministries. I talked with Tim Challies (Tim) of Discerning Reader, Tim Brister (Timmy) of Provocations & Pantings, Owen Strachan, Instructor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College, and Trevin Wax of Kingdom People.

The Rules

The rules were quite simple.  Our challenge was to come up with 5 books, and 5 books only, that every Christian must have in their library.  Even more specific, if a new believer wanted to build a library, these 5 books needed to be the foundation from which to begin.  The only other rule was that the Bible was assumed already.

The Discussion

I believe Tim said best what I was thinking, “I don’t know how we’ll ever agree on five, and only five, books.”  That being said, the Lord provided a common thought process as we hammered out which five books should be on this list.

Timmy offered the first attempt of which we wound up keeping three of them.  Not because Timmy is so brilliant, but because the five of us were thinking with one mind.  The most surprising book to be knocked off this list was John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Trevin though Augustine’s Confessions would be more suitable for this list than Pilgrim’s Progress. Tim, however, offered a different book that we all agreed upon the author of which was referred to as “the bomb” at one point in our discussion.

We had four of the 5 books in less than an hour through emails that included much bantering and chiding of one another!

The last book was going to be difficult as we needed to decide what genre from which this particular title must come.  After looking at the list of four, I offered one that I refer to as a “toolbox book.”  It covers a wide range of topics and is a great help to both new or old believers.

We ended up with a list of books that offer an apologetic for the Christian faith, a book that looks at the atonement and two books that offered an exposition on the character of God.  The last title to be added offers an understanding of the process of sanctification.  Our list of 5 books was now complete.

More About the List

There were some books that were discussed but ultimately left off the list due to inaccessibility to a wider range of readers or we just could not agree on it.  One of those books was Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections – a book we all love and enjoy but don’t feel as though everyone would feel the same way we do.

A biography did not make the list because it was just too difficult to pick one biography that would appeal to everyone.  Sadly, They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dipstick, a suggestion from one of the guys, did not make the cut, either.

While I am sure that there will be much debate (feel free!) on our list, this is the list we came to in our discussion.  These five books represent a great introduction to the Christian faith and walk.  What is more, most of the books reference so many other rich and solid books that if one were to start with these 5 books and then work from the bibliographies found therein, they will begin to amass a library rich in theology and sound doctrine that would rival that of many biblical scholars.  So, what did make the list?  Without further ado…

The 5 Books

An excellent resource introducing the essentials tenants of the Christian faith as well as a defense of the faith.

This book is great at introducing the depth of the great God we worship and serve.  Each chapter will expand your mind and knowledge of God.

This monumental work by John Stott looks at the importance of the cross and how it impacts not only the believer’s life, but the history of the entire world.  The doctrine of the atonement will become more real to you than ever.

Sproul’s work on the doctrine of God’s holiness is second to none in terms of readability and accessibility.  To read the Holiness of God is to come to the realization that your salvation has more to do with God than it does with you.

Don’s book on the Spiritual Disciplines is a wonderful toolbox to help the Christian grow in sanctification for the sake of godliness.  While you might not do everything in this book, there is enough biblical advice found within the pages, that the reader will certainly find a biblical means by which he can grow in his faith.

The Sale

Westminster Books has been so kind as to offer a sale on all of these books and a special bonus if you purchase all five.  The sale will last until 31 December 2010.

They are going to offer an additional 10% off the five books listed above.  If you purchase all 5 books, they will even offer free shipping and handling!  The specifics of the sale are listed below.

Mere Christianity: The additional 10% off is for the paperback, $8.87.
Knowing God: The additional 10 % off is for the hardcover deluxe edition only, $15.80.
The Cross of Christ: an additional 10% off, $15.20.
Holiness of God: an additional 10% off, $8.19.
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life : an additional 10% off, $8.85.

If you purchase all five books, you will save more than $40 off the list price plus get the free shipping and handling!

To receive the discount on these books and/or the free shipping and handling, you will need to use the coupon code 5BOOKS (*note – this code is to be entered on the shopping cart screen where it reads “ENTER SPECIAL OFFER COUPON CODE”).

Even if you own most or all of these books, this offer allows you to buy multiple copies for your friends and family or even your pastor in time for Christmas.

Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God by J.I. Packer

Packer, J.I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grover: InterVarsity Press, 1991. 126 pp. $13.00. Purchase at Westminster Books for $9.36.

J.I. Packer’s book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, wrestles with the age-old problem of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility to share the gospel as well as repentance unto salvation. Specifically, Packer tackles the issue head-on of our command to evangelize the world (Mt. 28:18-20) and the truth that God has elected some for salvation. (Rom. 9:15 and Eph. 1:4-8).

Packer rightly assumes God’s sovereignty over all things since the Bible claims this truth in numerous texts—Gen. 18:14; Ps. 135:6; Dan. 4:35; Mt. 19:26, to mention a few. I believe he crosses a boundary when he takes his assumption one step further. He claims that all Chrisitans believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation. He writes, “Nor, again, am I going to spend time proving to you the particular truth that God is sovereign in salvation. (12, emphasis in original). The proof for this supposition is because everyone gives God thanks (and the credit) for their salvation.

While I whole-heartedly agree with Packer’s assumptions, I do not believe he made a valid presupposition based upon the evidence he cited for support. Yes, every believer I have known gives God praise and glory for his salvation, but not every believer believes that God gets all the credit. Many believe they had something to do with their salvation or the preacher had something to do with their salvation. While Packer may be correct in his assumption, and I believe he is, his use of prayers is not a solid enough foundation upon which to build his argument. Rather, he should have used a Scripture reference such as Col. 1:12 where Paul gives thanks for the believer’s faith at Colossae because God qualified them. If God’s sovereignty in salvation were an open/shut case, I highly doubt there would still be the debate raging between the two extremes today in the church.

The second chapter clarified some of my personal misconceptions regarding a right understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility to evangelize. Here he discusses the difference between a paradox and an antinomy. A paradox is understood to be a seemingly contradictory statement that upon further understanding can be explained such that the two statements do not contradict one another. An antinomy, as defined by Packer as an appearance of contradiction. The problem becomes clearer when we understand that an antinomy is between two truths that cannot be reconciled.

I like that Packer calls the truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility regarding evangelism “friends.” That is perhaps the best description of these two truths in relation too one another. Packer explains that as the King, God is in complete control and orders all things (see Gn. 45:8 and 50:20; Mt. 10:29; and, Rom. 9:20). He also shows how as Judge, God holds man responsible for his choices (see Mt. 25 and Rom. 2:1-16).

As he weaves these truths together, he gives the reader some words of caution. He warns against the temptation of concerning oneself exclusively with our responsibility. If we could just present the gospel “that much better” or if we were able to share the gospel more often in better situations, then more people would “accept Jesus.”

Conversely, Packer warns of the exact opposite temptation; that is, an exclusive appeal to God’s sovereignty where man has no role in evangelism. This mindset can be summed up in the following statement: “If God wants to save them, He will do so.” This charge is most often leveled against Calvinists, but must not be so if one is to hold to both truths found in Scripture. Packer offers wonderful insight into avoiding these two extremes by instructing us to “[make] it our business to believe both these doctrines with all our might, and to keep both constantly before us for the guidance and government of our lives” (35).

Moving from the antinomy previously discussed, Packer next defines evangelism as a means of “presenting Christ Jesus and His work in relation to the needs of fallen men and women” (39). These men and women are without God and are under His wrath. Most often they are living in comfort with their sins and could care less about God. This is the reason why we are to evangelize.
I love how Packer calls us to be stewards of the Gospel message. As children of God, we are called to “go” (Mt. 28:18-20) and in being commanded to go we are commanded to be mindful of the gospel message. Perhaps one of the least applied passages of Scripture is found in Deuteronomy 6:7 where we are commanded to diligently teach the things of God to our children at all times. The underlying principle in this passage as in Mt. 28:18-20 is to be stewards of what has been entrusted to us; that is, the gospel message.

Throughout the third chapter, Packer offers examples of poor evangelism found in the church today. I struggle to call the “evangelistic meetings” a poor example though I realize they have their deficiencies. This may be because I was saved in a “Billy Graham setting” type evangelistic effort where the gospel was shared through a play and then an alter call was given. I responded that evening and know that the Lord saved my soul at that point. Therefore, while I do agree with his statement that “there is only one method of evangelism: namely, the faithful explanation and application of the gospel message” (86), I also that that can take many forms.

The final chapter discusses what the first three chapters have alluded to—God’s divine sovereignty and man’s responsibility in evangelism. Here, Packer introduces the concept of God’s revealed will and His hidden will. For example, His revealed will is “that all may be saved (1 Tim. 2:4); however, His hidden will is that not all will be saved (Rom 9:18). Yes, it is a scary proposition to fall into the hands of an angry God, but this is what Scripture explicitly teaches: not all will be saved unto salvation.

We must not try to reconcile the two truths if we are to have a scriptural understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility to share the gospel. Packer clearly articulates that these two truths are “friends” and not enemies. God is a God of means in that He will save whomever He will save, but He will do so through the sharing of the gospel. Thus, Romans 10:14-15 neatly concludes this discussion:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?