The Ephesian Fellowship is the pastoral/elder training and mentoring ministry of First Baptist Church of Henryville, Indiana. Its mission is to equip men for gospel ministry in and through the local church, men who are called to full-time pastoral ministry, men who are seeking to be trained as lay-elders within a local church, and men who desire to be involved in serving alongside pastors in hands-on ministry to the church. The Ephesian Fellowship exists “to glorify God in all things, by proclaiming the gospel of Christ to all people, so their lives are transformed for all time.” We aim to fulfill this mission through ongoing pastoral fellowship, lay-elder training, mentoring, participation in ministry, and a structured 2-year certificate-track for pastoral apprentices.
Who can be involved in and with the Ephesian Fellowship?
The Ephesian Fellowship is a company and community of men who want to grow together in ongoing participation and training in ministry to and through the local church. It is overseen directly by the called team of pastors from FBC Henryville. Any man may be involved in the Fellowship at one of three levels in three tracks:
A. Ministry and Mentoring Fellowship: The Ephesian Fellowship exists to equip men to serve alongside pastors/elders or deacons in ministry and service in and through the local church.
B. Pastor (Elder ) and Deacon Training: The Ephesian Fellowship exists to train men who desire to be trained in the basics of local church ministry, specifically for the purpose of serving currently (or in the future) as pastors or deacons in some capacity within a local church.
C. Formal Pastoral Apprenticeship: The Ephesian Fellowship also provides a 2-3 year pastoral apprenticeship for men who believe they are specially called to full-time pastoral ministry. This final track contains more requirements, but will be for the specific purpose of pastoral training, includes the possibility of being licensed (and later ordained) to gospel ministry, and concludes with a formal certificate upon the completion of the apprenticeship.
There is also a women’s fellowship for the wives of pastors, deacons, and other participants with the Ephesian Fellowship. The women’s auxiliary seeks to equip the wives of pastors, deacons, and ministerial students to serve alongside their husbands in ministry to the local church, and to serve the church as a whole as women who are equipped for ministry.
What is involved in participating in the Ephesian Fellowship:
Participation in the Ephesian Fellowship (apart from the Pastoral Apprenticeship) involves monthly one-hour meetings, monthly reading of a short book related to a ministry issue or practice and discussing it with the pastors, taking advantage of regular training opportunities like classes, conferences, workshops, and yearly retreats, and being available to serve alongside the pastors (and be mentored by them) in ministry to the local church in a variety of ways like sermon preparation, evangelism, visitation, and working with ministries like our Nursing Home Ministry and Clark County Jail Ministry. Men will be encouraged to be involved with the “nuts and bolts” of local church ministry through weekly ministry opportunities, monthly reading and discussion groups, and regular and yearly training and discipleship events.
If you’re interested in being a part of the Ephesian Fellowship, make a concerted effort to begin picking up the books that will be read in the coming months, mark your calendars for 5:00 PM on the second Sunday of every month for the meeting, and commit to being involved in the various ministry opportunities that will be available in the coming year.
If you’d like to be a part of the Ephesian Fellowship Residency Program, check out the syllabus below for the apprenticeship and talk with one of the pastors about being a part of this pastoral training program.
What is the Residency Program?
One major aspect of the Ephesian Fellowship, in addition to the ongoing ministry and mentoring for lay elders, deacons, and other men, is the formal certificate/residency track for men who believe they are called to full-time Christian ministry. This track within the EF provides men an opportunity to take part in a 2-3 year formal residency as pastoral apprentices under the leadership of our pastoral team that will provide them with substantial on-the-ground training and experience. As such, the requirements and expectations for this track are considerably more in-depth than for those guys who are not in the certificate track.
The goal of this program is to provide men an intensive period of training in preparation for service in the local church through ministry at FBC Henryville, church-planting, another established church, or through missions.
What are the requirements/expectations for pastoral apprentices?
As we said, the 2-3 year certificate track requires more than the basic fellowship ministry of the larger group. The basic requirements for official pastoral apprentices include:
1. You must attend all regular worship services of FBC Henryville if at all possible.
2. You are expected to attend each monthly meeting of the basic Ephesian Fellowship meeting, which includes reading each monthly book along with the other guys.
3. Apprentices will be expected to put in two hours per week in ministry work with one of the pastors. This is in addition to meetings and/or worship services. It may include assisting with office work, making a visit with a pastor, attending a funeral or a wedding, or accompanying them in some aspect of their weekly ministry.
4. In addition to reading each book, apprentices will be expected to write a very short summary and response (no more than ¾ page double spaced) for each book read monthly. Other participants are encouraged to read the monthly books along with their pastors, but apprentices must read them.
5. Along with the basic readings, apprentices will be expected to read six other books over the course of the year and provide a 2-3 page (double-spaced) summary and response to the book assigned.
6. Every other month (six times a year) apprentices will be assigned a current-issue to consider and prepare a short position paper (2 double spaced pages) on the issue and present it to the pastors and other apprentices.
7. Apprentices will be expected to participate in any weekend workshops that are offered as well as the annual Fall Retreat for the Ephesian Fellowship.
8. While not an absolute requirement, apprentices will be strongly encouraged to take part in either (or both) the Together for the Gospel conference or a 9Marks Weekender conference at some point during their residency.
9. Apprentices will be invited to participate in service reviews, most pastors’ meetings, and sermon preparation sessions as they are able.
10. Apprentices are asked to serve monthly as either an usher, greeter, or nursery worker. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to conduct the formal welcome and announcements for the evening worship services, and may have the opportunity to read the call to worship passage at times prior to our morning worship service.
11. Apprentices will be asked, as much as possible, to participate in at least one other area of outreach ministry monthly such as the Basketball Ministry, the Nursing Home Ministry, or the Jail Ministry.
12. Apprentices will be given the opportunity shortly after beginning their residency to be licensed to ministry by First Baptist Church Henryville. At the conclusion of their residency they will receive a certificate of completion, and with the approval of the pastors may ask the church for a formal ordination if and when they are called to a pastoral office within a local church.
We are excited about the Sunday Night Worship (6:15 pm) series entitled The Dance of Discipleship: Learning the Steps of Growing in Faith. This series will run from September 2011-May 2012 and will be exclusively focused on exploring and explaining the ends and outs of the Christian Life – living a life of obedience to Jesus and loving the life of joy that is found only in Jesus. We will be studying what the Bible says about the story of the Bible, prayer, reading and understanding the Bible, worship, evangelism, stewardship, family life, work, relaxation, retirement, and so much more. We hope you’ll be a part of this series. No matter your age, your family, or where you are in life, we will be covering what it means for you to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
In connection with this series we will be offering numerous suggestions in the coming months for your own personal reading and growth. The first book that we’d absolutely recommend in preparation for this series is a great book: Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney. This book will help you in so many ways, especially by helping your understand and form a foundation for your Christian growth. Read this book and be encouraged, challenged, and counseled in the life of a believer who passionately seeks God, loves God, and obeys God.
On Wednesday, July 27th 2011, we learned of the death of John Stott. Stott was a longtime pastor, teacher, and author from London who spent his life faithfully proclaiming the message of Scripture. His name may not be familiar to everyone, but his impact and influence on several generations of pastors, teachers, and theologians who care deeply for the centrality of the gospel message and the faithful preaching of the Bible for the life of the church cannot be overstated. In my view he was one of the three most important Christian teachers and preachers of the last century (along with J.I. Packer and Billy Graham). His passing into eternity with Christ is a time of joyous celebration for his life and service and for those of us who have been influenced by that work it is a time of thanksgiving for the way God used this servant.
In honor of John Stott’s life and recent death, and because there are many who have never explored the treasure chest of gems that flowed from his pen, we want to take this opportunity to strongly recommend two of his most important books. These are books that shine with the clear beauty of the gospel message. Read these books. Savor these books. Let them soak into your mind, heart, and life as they draw you back to the message of the Bible and the God that is its author.
This book is a short introduction to the major beliefs and message of Christianity. It may be an easier or more accessible book similar to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. It is great for unbelievers, new believers, or anyone else looking for a short and basic introduction to what Christianity is and teaches.
The Cross of Christ
This is by far Stott’s most important and influential book. It is longer and slightly more difficult (although it isn’t too difficult!) but it is one of, if not the, most important books on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross written in the last century. The book isn’t difficult to read, but it is weighty. It is a book to be chewed on rather than flown through. It is a great book for a Christian to read to be amazed at the amazing love and work of Christ in the gospel. Here are a few quotes from the book:
The message of propitiation is that “God himself, gave himself, to save us from himself.”
“The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of the gospel is God substituting himself for man.”
These quotes alone are enough to make the book a treasure! As we (at FBC Henryville) go through the last few chapters of the Gospel of John during our Sunday Morning Worship Services, this would be a great book to read alongside our weekly sermons on the death and resurrection of Jesus!
Both of these books are available online, at Christian bookstores, or from the shelves of the pastors’ personal libraries. Take and read!
King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus By Timothy Keller
We want to recommend a great book which was published recently. King’s Cross by Timothy Keller pulls the reader into a breathtaking journey through the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Keller explores the message about Jesus by highlighting the significant episodes and turning points in Mark’s story and all of the action revolves around two crucial questions: Who is Jesus and what did he do?
Keller organizes his book around these two questions and Mark’s answer to them. In Part One of the book we are astounded by the identity of Jesus – the Son of God, the Christ, the Powerful Ruler of the Universe, the King. In Part Two we move from who Jesus is to what he came to do. As we read we are gripped by the reality of Jesus’ mission. He is indeed the King, but amazingly he came to die. The heart of Christ’s mission is his death, his sacrifice, his wrath-bearing, sin-defeating, Satan-crushing, life-giving cross. The heart of the book of Mark and the most important truth for every person on earth to confront (as Keller explains) is all about the King and his Cross.
This book is extremely readable and would be great for unbelieving friends, new Christians, or anyone else who is looking for a great introduction to the story of Jesus or a devotional study of the life of Jesus. We cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Grace and Peace,
Hoekema A. Anthony. Created in God’s image. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986. 264 pp.
Anthony A. Hoekema was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the United States in 1923. He attended Calvin College, the University of Michigan, Calvin Theological seminary and Princeton Theological seminary. After serving as minister of several Christian Reformed Churches (1944‐56) he became Associate Professor of Bible at Calvin College (1956‐58). From 1958 to 1979, when he retired, he was Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Created in the God’s Image was written to teach how the image of God has both a structural and functional aspect, which deals with the three-fold relationship of man—to God, to man, and to others. In doing this Hoekema explains the four stages that the image of God goes through in regards to being seen in man. There is the original image, which is the image seen in Adam before the fall. Next, there is the perverted image, which is the image of God in man after the fall. Then there is the renewed image, which is the image of God in man after he has been born again. And Finally, there is the perfected image, which is the image of man when we are with Him in Heaven.
In chapter one Hoekema states his thesis as,
We must therefore make a sharp distinction between idealistic and materialistic anthropologies on the one hand, and a Christian anthropology on the other. In this book our purpose will be to explore the Christian view of man-what it is, how it differs from non-Christian views, and what are its implications for our thinking and living. We shall be trying to identify the uniqueness of the Christian view of man, that which makes Christian anthropology different from all other anthropologies (4).
That is the purpose of this book; to teach the church a biblical view of man. This in turn gives the Church a biblical view of God. Hoekema shows how a biblical view of man effects how we understand God, the work of Christ, soteriology, the doctrine of the Church, eschatology, and even daily life.
In the first four chapters of the book, Hoekema deals with the importance of the doctrine of man and how it affects the way we view God and the world around us. He then goes into the creation account explaining that man was intended to image God in many different ways and aspects. It is clear from scripture that man is created in the image of God but the question that Hoekema intends to answer from this point on is, “how does the fall effect the image of God in man?”. Before he attempts to answer this question, he gives a detailed evaluation of how it has been answered through history.
At this point he gives a theological summary explaining how the true image of God in man is seen in Jesus Christ. If one desires to know what God looks like he merely needs to look at Jesus Christ. He is the true image bearer of God. So the pursuit of a Christian is to be like Christ. The Christian is to strive to be a mirror that reflects the best image of God that we possibly can.
This is where Hoekema begins to unpack the original image of God in Adam, and how even in his sinless state Adam was not a perfected image of God. He was on his way to be perfected through growth and testing. However, Adam through his disobedience and sin failed the test and instead perfecting the image of God he perverted it. The image of God is still there but it is distorted by sin. Men from the fall on are born distorted images of God. When Christ Jesus came as the perfect image of God; He revealed just how distorted the image of God is in man. However, His purpose in coming was to renew the image of God by establishing the new covenant that actually changed people. When Christ was speaking to Nicodemus this is exactly what He is talking about. He says, Nicodemus if you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven you must be born again. Once a person is born again, he becomes a renewed image of God. This is where God no longer writes His law on tables of stone but on the fleshy tables of people’s hearts. The image that the first Adam distorted, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, renewed. Hoekema says, “The renewal of the image, therefore, means first of all that man is now enabled to be properly directed toward God (86). He then goes into the perfected image at the time of the final glorification of man. It is at this point that man truly mirrors the image of God perfectly in his relationship to God, his neighbor, and nature. This is the day that all of God’s creation longs for. The day when all things will be made new. Even so now come Lord Jesus!
In the next four chapter Hoekema deals with the issue of sin. He deals with its origin in Lucifer and then in Adam, explaining how in Adam we all became guilty. He then discusses the spread of sin, its nature and the restraint of God on sin. Through these discussions he shows the role sin plays in the distorting the image of God.
Then in the last portion of the book he discusses the whole person and the question of freedom. If man is born a corrupt image of God, who is dead in his trespasses and sins, then how is it that he becomes a renewed image of God. Is man capable of his own free will able to become a renewed image of God? This is a question that has rippled through all of Christendom. Hoekema’s view is that we are not free. We are in bondage to sin, and need God through His Spirit to set us free, and put within us a new heart that will choose God. Man has a free will, but his will is in bondage to sin and will never choose God unless God sets him free from the bondage to sin.
Hoekema does an admirable job explaining and defending a biblical view of the image of God in man. He is fair in giving a critique of the positions held by theologians through Christendom. There is no attempt to avoid any position held through the centuries. However, it is refreshing that Hoekema does not base his understanding on the work of others. There is a continual effort to base his understanding on the scriptures by quoting them.
It is helpful how he explains the image of God being mirrored in three different relationships—our relationship to God, to our neighbor, and to nature. It is really helpful to see how the fall effects these relationships that are meant to image God but have been distorted by the fall. The beauty of this is found in the image being renewed in Jesus Christ in such a way that those distorted images of God now long to once again be a true image of God. To think about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in this light causes one’s heart to skip a beat. This is what Jesus is talking about when He says to Nicodemus, “you must be born again. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” We were born the first time-distorted images of God. We are reborn as a renewed image of God. Then when we die we are resurrected as the perfect image bearers of God. It is at this point when we begin to seek to know God through an intimate relationship. This is also when we begin to love our neighbor as ourselves. It at this point that we even begin to love those who hate us and despitefully use us. This is God working in us through the power of His Spirit to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ, the true image of God.
Another helpful insight that Hoekema sheds on this subject is man’s self-image. It is really interesting how he shows the reason for the first sin as being rooted in a wrong self-image, meaning that they started to think more of themselves than they ought to have thought. To see the way Adam and Eve’s self-image changed after the fall is important. How they went from being unashamed to being ashamed reveals the distortion of the image of God brought about by the fall. Before the fall Adam and Eve were not ashamed of the fact that they were naked, but once they ate the fruit they became so ashamed of their nakedness that they made for themselves clothes to cover it up. The result of the fall was that they no longer saw themselves the way they once did. Their self-image was damaged. When Christ saves a person he restores in them a new self image. This renewed self image is not the perfected self image that we will have in the resurrection, but it is renewed enough that we no longer live in shame and fear. When Adam and Eve ran and hid in the garden it was because they saw their nakedness and was ashamed, but then God clothes them with the skin of animals in order to hide their nakedness so they no longer had to feel ashamed. We hide from God because we are ashamed of our sinfulness. Jesus Christ came and died for our sins and covered us with His righteousness so we no longer have to be ashamed. This is a renewed self-image.
Anthony Hoekema’s Created in God’s Image is a great book that anyone would enjoy. One of the most impressive aspects of the book is its readability. It is written in such a way that the average lay person could pick it up and read it with understanding. It is not very often that a theologian writes in a way that the average Christian can understand them, but Hoekema does a wonderful job making a deep and complex topic understandable for the church.
The image of God is not a topic that I have given much thought to in the past, but I must say it has really been a great subject for contemplation. I was counseling with a couple last night and found myself talking to them about the image of God. It’s then that importance of this subject really began to sink in.
BOOK REVIEW OF ZONDERVAN ILLUSTRATED BIBLE BACKGROUNDS COMMENTARY, VOLUME 3
by Rev. William J. Mazey
Walton, John H., general editor. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, vol. 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2009. 529.
Do we really need another set of commentaries on the Old Testament? I have to admit that I was asking myself that question when I read about the contest on the Koinonia blog. But I entered the contest anyway, not thinking that I would win. But I was one of the people chosen to receive one volume of the five volume set. My responsibility for winning this free volume was to review it and post the review on a blog.
I chose to receive and review volume 3, which covers 1 Kings through Esther. My first reason for choosing this volume is that Nehemiah is one of my favorite Old Testament books. My second reason is that I am preparing to preach through Ezra followed by Nehemiah after the first of the year. Third, I figured I cannot have too many commentaries on Ezra/Nehemiah. My reasoning for entering the contest may have been flawed, but I won and received the commentary. Then I began to go through it.
The look of the commentary is actually quite impressive. The book itself is larger than most commentaries. The type of paper used and the text type make it very easy to read. There are many pictures and illustrations included to help the reader with insight into the Biblical setting. The pictures and illustrations are literally quite impressive. Most readers will be surprised at the number and quality of the pictures.
The general editor gives opening remarks on the methodology used in preparing the commentary. These are both interesting and helpful. The General Bibliography is also helpful. Each book ends with a Bibliography and Chapter Notes. There are a very large number of references cited. Each individual author did a lot of work in preparing their commentary. The commentaries could be considered both academic and practical.
I glanced over the sections of 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles and Esther. They seem to be very good and well constructed. They should prove to be valuable assets to my library. Since I am preparing to preach through Ezra and Nehemiah I spent more time on going through each of these sections. They have already proved their worth to me in as I do my sermon preparation.
I would like to give one example from both Ezra and Nehemiah as to their benefit to my study. The following is an excerpt from pages 418-419. The People’s Response (10:1-4). Weeping and throwing himself down 10:1. Weeping, not silently but aloud, like laughing is contagious. The people also wept bitterly…….. Ezra kept on throwing himself down on the ground. He had been kneeling before. The prophets and other leaders sometimes used object lessons, even bizarre actions, to attract people’s attention… Kidner comments, “Instead of whipping a reluctant people into action, Ezra has pricked their conscience to the point at which they urge him to act.” To me, Ezra was modeling what the people needed to do. They needed to repent with all honesty and urgency before God. Ezra and the people are in this together.
The second example comes from page 441 and the comments are from the familiar passage of Nehemiah 8:10. “The joy” occurs only here and in 1 Chronicles 16:27. Most commentators interpret this joy as having the Lord as its object. In other words, our joy in the Lord as we eat as we eat and labor before him will sustain us…. However, arguing from the fact that “strength” means “stronghold, fortress”…..Wong has argued for “the joy of the Lord” as a subjective genitive, that is the Lord’s joy in us, as that makes more sense. He suggests, “In other words, it is Yahweh’s joy over his people that is the basis for the hope that they will be saved or protected from his anger. Thinking practically doesn’t it make you feel both secure and strong knowing that Almighty God has joy in you?
Both of these books are covered well by the author. He presents a good addition to the Ezra/Nehemiah library of commentaries. There are 329 Chapter Notes on these two books, not counting the Sidebar and Chart Notes. It appears to be a thorough study of Ezra/Nehemiah.
This volume has proved valuable to me in my sermon preparation. It is a good size and easy to read. I did receive volume 3 for free, but I was not paid for this review. If the other volumes in the five volume set are as good as this one, I would recommend this set to any pastor to purchase and use. This commentary set would also be a good addition to any church that has a library. The bottom line is it is good! Get it and use for the glory of God.
Packer, J.I. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973. 286 pp.
Knowing God was originally articles written for the Evangelical Magazine in an attempt to take Christians into a deeper understanding of God. In 1973 those articles were compiled, edited, and given the title Knowing God. What Packer considered to be a string of beads, at best, has become what R.C. Sproul calls a masterpiece and what others have called a Christian classic. Thirty-five years later, from its publication date, it is still considered to be the patriarch, among literary works, on the doctrines of God for the common man.
J. I. Packer attended Oxford University in England on a scholarship. It was there at Oxford that God placed him under the man who had the greatest impact on his life, Clive Staples Lewis. He received a Bachelor of Arts (1948), Master of Arts (1952), and Doctorate of Philosophy (1955) from Corpus Christi College. He has become one of the leading scholars of the Evangelicals. His accomplishments are many: writing, teaching, and lecturing, but his single passion has been to teach the world the deeper things of God in a way they can understand it.
That is the purpose of this book; to teach the church who God is, thereby dispelling from the church the ignorance about God that has crippled it for so long. Packer, with much clarity, takes the reader on a journey through theological truths that will have an eternal impact on their lives. The author breaks the book up into three sections. The first section is a call to know God. The second section covers many doctrines of who God is. And the last section shows the realities of knowing this high and holy God of the universe.
In part one Packer sets out with the task of convincing, or rather convicting, Christians that it is not only right, but our duty to seek the true and living God. Many there are that fumble through this life as Christians and do not know nor do they even want to know God. This section of the book is to awaken inside of the reader a passion to seek the living God in order to know Him. That is the reality of the whole book- to know God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. The author is not concerned for the reader just to know about God, but would have them know Him personally through the truths set forth in His Word.
In part two the author is determined to push aside the fog that skirts the mountain peaks of who God is. There are many people who look up from the bottom only to see a thick vapor covering the majestic beauty of who God is. Many Christians think there is still a veil keeping us from seeing Him face to face. This is what Packer is determined to do in this chapter- to push away this fog so people can see that there is no veil keeping them from God. With each chapter Packer pushes away a little more fog leaving the reader hungry for more. He covers the wisdom, majesty, and immutability of God in the first four chapter of section 2, leaving the reader in awe of such a mighty God. Then as one sits on the side of this majestic mountain feeling utterly unworthy to continue the climb, Packer in two chapters makes him drink to the bottom dregs of the love and mercy of God. This impassions the reader to jump back on his feet and continue the climb to the top. It is then that he is faced with the enormous chasm of the justice, jealousy, severity, and wrath of God; this is where the reader throws himself back on the ground and cries out with the psalmist “who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?”.
In section three the author comes back to the reader with the great reality of Christ. He, Christ, has ascended the hill of the Lord. He went through that deep abyss that lies between us and God. Christ bore the wrath of the Father in your stead. The Father crushed the Son, and meted out his justice on Him; so now you can cross the chasm on the back of Christ. It is here in this third section that all the realities of this book come together in the culmination of Christ our great High Priest.
Most of the Christian literature that fills book shelves today is facile, and the result has been ignorance among the Christian community. Many have tried to correct this problem by writing; however, their scholasticism proved to be too much for the common man to wrap his mind around. Those books, though important for the theologians and preachers, left the common man to grovel in his ignorance. Knowing God is Packer’s answer to those pleading masses. He does not just throw them in without concern for whether they swim or drown, nor does he leave them in the shallow end splashing water with their feet. He meets them where they are and slowly takes them into the deep end of who God is. When he gets through they not only can swim; they can dive all by themselves into the deeper things of God.
In section one Packer goes into the shallow end to get people. This is one of the most amazing sections of the book. It is here that he approaches people who have remained in the shallow end for so many different reasons. Some were just content being in the shallow end, not desirous of any deeper understanding of God. Many others he finds in the deep end, but they will not take their floaters off. They are the ones who know the theological terms well enough to explain them to others, but they have never gone deep with God. Others were interested in what was in the deep end, but every time they ventured over the rope they felt themselves drowning in those deep murky waters of Christian jargon. However, most people sit paralyzed with fear in the shallow end. Just the thought of the deep end makes them anxious to even be in the shallow end. This is what makes Packer a literary giant in the world of Christianity.
He goes to those who are contented in the shallow end and shows them the great tragedy of living there. He says,
…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 (19).
He explains that the most exciting, exalted, and glorious thing in this life is to know God. The reader feels the shame of his complacency and utter laziness. But Packer’s desire and motive for writing is not for them to wallow in their shame. He desires for them to get up from the bed of repentance with a new found passion to go into the deeper end and explore the depths of the great God of the universe.
Those he finds in the deep end with their floaters tightly fastened and staring back at those in the shallow end with haughty faces, he plunges a sword, the word of God, deep into their hearts and lets it rip them asunder. The reader realizes from the outset that knowing all the jargon is not what Christianity is about, nor is the reason for which we venture out into the deep end. He says, “One can know a great deal about God and Godliness without much knowledge of him” (26). To the Calvinist, who are the most likely to fall into haughtiness, he says, “We may know as much about God as Calvin knew-indeed, if we study his works diligently, sooner or later we shall-and yet all the time (unlike Calvin, may I say) we may hardly know God at all” (26).
What about the masses though? They are the ones who sit paralyzed with fear. They feel knowing God is something they are neither worthy of, nor do they think knowing him is something they could attain even if they tried. Of these the different groups of people, these are the only commendable ones. However, you will not find Packer telling them it is alright to stay there in the shallow end shivering on the steps of insecurity. No he explains to them that knowing God is the reason for which they were made. Why should one be afraid to do what he was created to do? If a bird is not afraid of flying, why would a Christian be afraid of knowing God? The most glorious thing about being a bird is flying, and the most glorious thing about being a Christian is to know the one and true living God. We are not just to know about him, but to know him deeply and personally.
That is what makes Packer a profound author about knowing God. He has walked with God, and knows him. He is not a turkey telling a duck how to dive for fish in the lake. He is more like a mother whale teaching its pup. The mother whale will keep its young in the shallow water for a season, gradually taking it into the deeper waters of the Pacific. At first, though, the mother must, from time to time, push the pup up above the water so it can breathe. But with each new breath, the pup can go deeper and stay longer, exploring the glorious depths of the inexhaustible ocean. This is what makes Packer such a prolific author. He knows when to push his readers up for air, and just continues to nurture them until they are ready to go into the deep, inexhaustible waters of knowing God. Once the reader gets through section one he is ready to go with diligence into section two, the great doctrines of God.
Many theologians have struggled with what order to present the doctrines of God. Packers arrangement of doctrines is much different from those written through the centuries. For instance, Hodge begins with method, then theology, and goes from there to rationalism. B.B. Warfield starts with the Word of God, revelation, inspiration and truthfulness, then predestination, the person of Christ, and the Trinity. Louis Berkoff starts with dogma, religion, and revelation. Packer’s order of doctrines does not even fit the order of non reformed authors. Take R. A. Torrey, for instance. He starts with the history of higher criticism, moving to true mosaic authorship, then on to fallacies of higher criticism. Only the first few chapters of these historic books are listed to show that Packer’s arrangement is not consistent with any of them. Now someone could argue that all of the above listed authors are not current theologians. This is true but the same is the case with Wayne Grudem, Robert Reymond, John Frame, and Millard Erickson. However, there are good reasons for why Packer differs with all of them in regards of how he arranged the doctrines.
The first reason is simple. Packer’s purpose in writing was not to give an exhaustive list of the doctrines of God. Most of the books that were used in comparison were books considered to be Systematic Theologies. They all had a similar goal in writing their books, and that was that people would know more about God. These books would help them put together the doctrines of the Bible in a systematic way. Packer’s concern is to teach the doctrines of the Bible just like those systematic theologies listed; he wants people to be doctrinally sound in their theology. However, his end in writing Knowing God was not for people to know more about God, but that they might know Him deeply and intimately. Knowing God is not an exhaustive list of the doctrines of God compiled together for systematic purposes. No! It is a cry for Christians to go deeper with God, stay longer, and explore the glorious reefs of who God is. Once they surface they are filled with passion to boldly proclaim the greatness of what they have seen to world content, fearful, or haughty in the shallow end of ignorance.
Many times what happens to a Christian who has been deep into the doctrines of God is that they come back to the surface somber with their new found knowledge of God. Many seminary students go into the seminary with great zeal and passion for God; only to come out the other end dull, and dismal. Why is this? Because, as Packer says, they go into class desiring to know more about God instead of knowing God, and this results in a lifeless scholar of correct doctrine. They leave seminary and go into the churches with a correct systematic theology of God, but no passion and love for those doctrines, or the God of those doctrines.
Packer’s Knowing God is an attempt to save us from ignorance on the one side and dullness on the other. It is a must read for every Christian, especially those who have surrendered to the ministry and are entering seminary. In fact the very first duty of every new seminary student should be to read Packer’s Knowing God and write a review of it. This would inevitably save thousands of students from becoming cold and dead. When one dives into the depths of God just for knowledge, it is like diving into the depths of the Pacific where everything is dark and gloomy. The affect this has on a person is grave. Though their knowledge of God is vast and deep, it seems as if they are subdued by that knowledge.
However, those who dive into the depths to know God come up with a different demeanor about the same doctrines learned by the other guys. The difference is very noticeable, especially when listening to them preach about what they have seen. They are not like people who dove into the dark gloomy depths of the Pacific, but rather they are like people who dove down to explore the Great Barrier Reefs. They were so amazed by the colors and the life forms they can hardly contain themselves while explaining it to others. What an effect that difference has on the church where these men are sent to serve. For Packer’s Knowing God, I take my hat off for it is a work that is rightly called a Christian classic. It should be read over and over again by those who call themselves Christians.
Author of this paper is Toby Jenkins, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Henryville.