Sitting on the porch in the cool of the morning, they pondered what the day might bring. Theirs was a typical porch for those days, near enough to the road to overhear the travelers’ talk, and to chat with them.
As the morning stirs to life, the travelers appear. As they pass, they discuss with the porch-dwellers the condition of the roads, where they lead, and what a traveler might see along the way. To the porch-dwellers, it’s all theoretical talk since they are not on the journey. To the travelers, these are far more practical topics. The day, the weather, the roads call for understanding, decision, and action.
J. I. Packer used this allegory to explain his approach to writing the popular book, Knowing God (1973). It is one of his most notable contributions. In it, he unpacks for the seeker and believer how practical theology affects you as a traveler in life.
For example, he considers God’s wisdom made available to you. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psa. 111:10). “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Packer writes, “It is like being taught to drive. You do not ask yourself why the road should narrow or screw itself into a dogleg wiggle just where it does, nor why that van should be parked where it is, nor why the lady in front should hug the crown of the road so lovingly; you simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself. The effect of divine wisdom is to enable you to do just that in everyday life.” Quite practical.
Packer could have been a theoretical theologian. He was an Oxford-educated systematic theology professor. But the emphasis of his life was to offer knowledge and tools for people to understand and enjoy God in everyday life. In one of his last interviews he said, “As I look back on the life that I have lived, I would like to be remembered as a voice – a voice that focused on the authority of the Bible, the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the wonder of his substitutionary sacrifice and atonement for our sins.” During Packer’s long life, he unpacked these deep truths of God in dozens of books. Yet he famously summarized it all as “God saves sinners.”
You may like sitting on the porch and pondering the world’s problems. But life is experienced as a journey, and the Bible offers you practical help along the way. So taught Dr. Packer, who left the land of the dying for the land of the living in July 2020. He was 93.