I recently started Knowing God by J.I. Packer. I had previously heard many encouraging things about this book from Christians of all ages (as it is, of course, a book that can be considered a true contemporary classic), but it wasn’t until just recently that I started reading it. What’s more, it seemed that when someone would ask whether or not I had read it, I would often times have to endure their looks and groanings of disbelief and astonishment: “You haven’t read Knowing God?”
But last week I started on the journey up the mountain, as Packer describes it. “We are in the position of travelers who, after surveying a great mountain from afar, traveling around it, and observing how it dominates the landscape and determines the features of the surrounding countryside, now approach it with the intention of climbing it” (20).
There was a quote, however, in the introductory chapter, that I thought would be appropriate to provide here, considering the content of much of this blog. But not only that, I think that Packer’s wisdom should he pondered and digested by all Christians regarding our motivations for studying Scripture and theology:
…before we start to ascend our mountain, [we need] to stop and ask ourselves a very fundamental question-a question, indeed, that we always ought to put to ourselves whenever we embark on any line of study in God’s holy book. The question concerns our own motives and intentions as students. We need to ask ourselves: What is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have it? For the fact that we have to face is this: 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 see 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” (I Corinthians 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. We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it. As we saw earlier, there can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge; but it is equally true that there can no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose and valued by the wrong standard. In this way, doctrinal study really can become a danger to spiritual life, and we today, no less than the Corinthians of old, need to be on our guard here (21-22).
So why do you study? Is it merely to know all the answers? Is it only to enable yourself to debate with others? Is it to gain applause for your knowledge? Or is it to know Christ intimately and walk in obedience to Him? The former motivations will bring death and sickness to your soul, the latter will bring life and health.