2023 marked the 50th anniversary of J.I. Packer’s classic book, Knowing God. What originated as a series of magazine articles has become a tool that God has used to shape, deepen, and ignite the theology of five decades of Christians, including me. Since I first read it in the late 70s, I’ve quoted and referred to it more times than I can count. Kevin DeYoung called it “easily one of the most influential books of the last half century.”
So when my son, Devon, suggested that Sovereign Grace Music write and record an album of songs based on Packer’s book, it was a no-brainer. First, it would be an opportunity to highlight how God has used Knowing God to make theology not only accessible, but delightful. Second, we knew Packer’s book would be a rich resource for songs that connect the head and the heart. Third, we hoped it would cause those who have never read it to do so, and stir those who have already read it to read it again! Finally, good theology always leads to glad doxology. Knowing God isn’t simply a book to read. It’s songs waiting to be sung.
So in early 2022, we began writing them. It would be an overwhelming task to try to write a song for each of the twenty-two chapters, and would also make for an excessively long album. Instead, we based our songs on sentences, paragraphs, or chapters that inspired us. Sometimes the connection was obvious. Other times, Packer’s words served as a springboard for articulating related themes.
It was moving to see the reaction of people who had never read the book. “Where has this book been? . . . This is amazing! . . . Packer communicates such deep thoughts in such a clear and understandable way!” But those familiar with the book responded similarly. “I forgot how helpful this book was . . . His writing is so biblical and affecting . . . Why haven’t I read this every year?”
We ended up with over 100 songs, which isn’t unusual when we’re working on a recording. Here are some of the songs that made the cut after a year and a half of writing.
Sing is a jubilant call to worship that reflects a single sentence in chapter thirteen, “The Grace of God.” Packer quotes the lyrics to an Isaac Watts hymn and then says, “The people who can sincerely take Watts’ words on their lips will not soon tire of singing the praises of grace.”
1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 20th Anniversary ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993), 132.
So verse three of Sing proclaims:
On the final day when the Lord on high returns in majesty
We will bow in wonder before the Lamb
and evermore the saints will sing
yes, evermore the saints will sing . . .
Morning and evening everything breathing must sing, oh sing
All of creation rise up and praise the King of kings
The One who created and redeemed us is worthy of unending songs of passionate praise.
Christ Our Wisdom
Christ Our Wisdom is an extended meditation on chapters nine and ten, in which Packer reminds us how God often hides his purposes so we learn to trust his wisdom and not our own.
“The New Testament tells us that the fruit of wisdom is Christlikeness—peace, and humility, and love (Jas. 3:17)—and the root of it is faith in Christ (1 Cor. 3:18; 2 Tim. 3:15) as the manifested wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30).”
2. J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 108.
As we look to Christ as our wisdom, we learn to trust God even when we can’t see the way ahead.
Christ our wisdom, we are humbled when you hide your ways from us
You have purposes unnumbered, each one good and glorious
Help us trust when we grow weary, free us from our anxious thoughts
Give us grace to see more clearly You are God and we are not
We Are Yours Forever
We Are Yours Forever was an attempt to capture one of the most impacting chapters in Knowing God, “Sons of God.” Few have written so eloquently or powerfully on the privilege, reality, and effect of being adopted into God’s family.
“Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection, and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.”
3. J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 207.
We tried to express the greatness of that family relationship in this chorus:
Oh, what a love you have lavished on us
To call us Your children, daughters and sons
One with the Savior, bought by his blood
We are yours forever
All Things is a simple song that reflects this section from chapter twelve, “The Love of God.”
“As believers, we find in the cross of Christ assurance that we, as individuals, are beloved of God; ‘the Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20). Knowing this, we are able to apply to ourselves the promise that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). Not just some things, note, but all things!”
4. J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 121.
The last verse of the song directs our eyes to the faithfulness of God in all things, even to the end:
Til the day you come in power or I reach my final hour
You will keep me
You’re the Author of my story,
You are faithful, you are for me
I will praise you, I will praise you
The rest of the album includes some revised and modern hymns, a communion song, and songs that focus on living to pleasing the Lord, the Spirit’s work in helping us see Christ, and the final judgment. And as a bonus, we’ve included a new version of Before the Throne of God Above.
The album isn’t out yet, but we’ll be releasing a single a month starting in February 2024, and Lord willing, the rest of the album in July.
We pray that as you listen to and sing these songs from Knowing God you’ll appreciate more than ever how our best theology will always lead to passionate praise.