Theology with a purpose: Knowing God

There’s a huge difference between knowing about God and knowing God.

Years ago I was browsing through the shelves of a small Christian bookstore in the middle of nowhere Tennessee, a few miles from where I was going to college at the time.

I just wanted something to read to give me a change of pace from my studies. And suddenly an average-sized book caught my eye: “Knowing God,” by J.I. Packer of Regent College.

It wasn’t so much the title or the cover. What made me pull the trigger and shell out what little money I had was the awesome lineup of endorsements. Every major Christian leader I’d ever heard of had endorsed “Knowing God” it seemed: Chuck Colson, Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Swindoll, John Stott. Many of them were saying that it was the best book they’d read in the last 25 years other than the Bible.

Well, they were right back then, and, now, forty years after the publication of “Knowing God,” they’re even more right!

Regent College theologian John Stackhouse  says, “‘Knowing God’ continues to bless readers around the world. It continues to inspire authors, too, as it does what very few books have been able to do: present page after page of carefully nuanced Christian theology in a style that people actually enjoy reading.”

And I’m one of them! What I love about Packer’s approach is not just presenting theology for knowledge’s sake; it’s theology for worship’s sake. In “Knowing God,” Packer shows us that knowledge about God is not enough. It needs to lead us to personally knowing Him. As Jesus prayed in the Garden before His arrest, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

In “Knowing God,” Packer acknowledges the desire to know about God and His law is necessary, but that’s not enough. Pointing to Psalm 119, Packer notes, “The psalmist’s desire to get knowledge about God was not a theoretical, but a practical concern. His supreme desire was to know and enjoy God Himself, and he valued knowledge about God as simply a means to this end.”

I remember that this approach to theology convicted me. I was actually studying Bible in college, and Packer confronted me with the truth that there was an end to my study, a telos, that went far beyond just passing a class or getting a degree and going to seminary. It was actually the knowledge of God Himself.

Stackhouse continues, “As Packer sets out chapter after chapter of the great truths of the gospel, he exhorts readers to render doctrine into worship and work, to ‘turn theology into doxology,’ as decades of his students at Regent College have learned to recite.”

And this is something that a lot of theological education and churches miss. “In so many churches,” Stackhouse says, “even those that pride themselves on serious preaching, you will hear pastors pause apologetically to warn their congregations, ‘Now, I’m afraid we have to stop here for a moment for some theology,’ ” as if they need to apologize for doing theology.

That’s why “Knowing God” is the book of theology I most often recommend. It’s a balancing corrective to both those tempted to think a “personal relationship” with God makes thoughtful consideration of doctrine irrelevant, as well as those tempted to replace the person of God with de-personalized truth and knowledge.

I promise, you’ll be amazed at how practical and encouraging theology can be. “Knowing God” is a great New Year’s book for yourself, and an even better Christmas gift for loved ones looking to grow in their walk with the Lord. It’s the perfect fit for this time of year when we remember that Truth is a Person, the Word made flesh.

A proper knowledge of God doesn’t get in the way of our relationship with God. It enhances it, mobilizes and propels it. Come to our online book store at to get a copy. I say now, with all of those endorsers that originally attracted me to “Knowing God,” this is one of the most important books I’ve read other than the Bible itself.


columnist-john.stonestreet-smJohn Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint, a radio commentary ( that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million.

Copyright© 2014 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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