The following is an excerpt from J. I. Packer’s “Knowing God.”
Who Needs Theology?
“But wait a minute,” says someone, “tell me this. Is our journey really necessary? In Spurgeon’s day, we know, people found theology interesting, but I find it boring. Why need anyone take time off today for the kind of study you propose? Surely a layperson, at any rate, can get on without it? After all, this is the twentieth century, not the nineteenth!” A fair question!—but there is, I think, a convincing answer to it. The questioner clearly assumes that a study of the nature and character of God will be impractical and irrelevant for life. In fact, however, it is the most practical project anyone can engage in. Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives. As it would be cruel to an Amazonian tribesman to fly him to London, put him down without explanation in Trafalgar Square and leave him, as one who knew nothing of English or England, to fend for himself, so we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place, and life in it a disappointing and unpleasant business, for those who do not know about God. Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul. Recognizing, then, that the study of God is worthwhile, we prepare to start. But where shall we start from? Clearly, we can only start from where we are. That, however, means setting out in a storm, for the doctrine of God is a storm center today. The so-called debate about God, with its startling slogans-“our image of God must go”, “God is dead”, “we can sing the creed, but we can’t say it”-is raging all around us. We are told that “God-talk,” as Christians have historically practiced it, is a refined sort of nonsense, and knowledge about God is strictly a nonentity. Types of teaching which profess such knowledge are written off as outmoded-“Calvinism,” “fundamentalism,” “Protestant scholasticism,” “the old orthodoxy.” What are we to do? If we postpone our journey till the storm dies down, we may never get started at all. My proposal is this. You will know how Bunyan’s pilgrim, when called back by his wife and children from the journey on which he was setting out, “put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life, Life, Eternal Life.” I ask you for the moment to stop your ears to those who tell you there is no road to knowledge about God, and come a little way with me and see. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and anyone who is actually following a recognized road will not be too worried if he hears non-travelers telling each other that no such road exists. Storm or no storm, then, we are going to start. But how do we plot our course? Five basic truths, five foundation principles of the knowledge about God which Christians have, will determine our course throughout. They are as follows: 1. God has spoken to man, and the Bible is his Word, given to us to make us wise unto salvation. 2. God is Lord and King over his world; he rules all things for his own glory, displaying his perfections in all that he does, in order that men and angels may worship and adore him. 3. God is Savior, active in sovereign love through the Lord Jesus Christ to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin, to adopt them as his children and to bless them accordingly. 4. God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the work of salvation is one in which all three act together, the Father purposing redemption, the Son securing it and the Spirit applying it. 5. Godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. Life must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word. This, and nothing else, is true religion. In the light of these general and basic truths, we are now going to examine in detail what the Bible shows us of the nature and character of the God of whom we have been speaking. 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 directly, with the intention of climbing it.”