About 20 years ago, I committed my life to Jesus Christ. A Christian friend (now with the Lord having died in the Victorian Black Saturday fires in February this year) suggested that I read Knowing God by J.I. Packer. What a classic! And the Holy Spirit used this book greatly to begin His gracious work of transformation in my life. James Packer was recently interviewed here. He was asked about Knowing God:
“Q: You’re such a prolific writer yourself, but you’re probably best known for one book, “Knowing God,” first published in 1973. Why do you think that particular book has been such a big seller?
A: It rang a bell because it covered ground and did a job that many people felt needed to be done, but which nobody was attempting at that stage. What was happening was that in evangelical circles, all the emphasis was being laid on personal experience and devotion in the sense in which husbands and wives are devoted to each other. There was not a great deal of intellectual effort going along with it. What I did in “Knowing God” is to write a series of practical articles intended to lead the reader to faith.
I was starting with the very basics that Christians believe about God and working through the aspects of God and the Trinity. I went on with the Gospel and to a series of chapters in the book that were called “Behold Your God.” They were all about living by faith … as the true focus of real life (so that) you are more alive, you see more, you understand more, and you live in a deeper level than anyone can do otherwise. Well, it rang a bell. So the book has sold well and continues to sell well, something like 30,000 copies a year. It’s found a niche.”
In the interview, Packer is also asked about ‘spirituality’:
“Q: Recent surveys show that spirituality is on the rise but that Christianity is decreasing or stagnant. Why do you think that is?
A: Non-Christian forms of spirituality have had such a massive run for their money in the last half century. It’s not just the spirituality of major religions, but spirituality of all sorts of complexes and variations on particular aspects of inner life that particular teachers have come up with. Christianity has stayed stable, as it must do. The doctrines don’t change. The understanding of what it means to walk with God doesn’t change. The reality of worship doesn’t change, not at heart anyway. So Christianity appears to be stuck.
I think that the number of lively evangelical Christians in North America is in fact increasing. I think that if overall statistics show that churches are losing ground, it’s because the dead wood is dropping off the branches. Amongst younger people, there is a very great deal of evangelical Christianity. It’s not always deep, but it’s there.
Having said all of that, there’s a great divide between all the spiritualities of the world and Christian spirituality because Christian spirituality is at every point a relation to the triune God of the Bible. Secular spirituality isn’t focused on God, if God even comes into it, but on me and my fulfillment. My self-discovery. My inner peace. The more you look at that gap, the wider it gets. It’s the difference between self-centeredness and God-centeredness. It’s unhelpful, actually, that both sorts of concern are called spirituality.”
I have been wonderfully blessed by the Lord through J.I’s writings. Earlier this year, he published a book on Praying the Lord’s Prayer. Even if you see some finer points of theology somewhat differently to J.I., my experience is that there is always profit in the writing ministry of this godly man.