This is sort of one of those books that if you have been a Christian for a while you have probably stumbled across or even read. Well, I'm actually not quite so sure about that now because the book was published over 35 years ago and as is typical for our modern Western culture, the older it is the less relevant it becomes. Personally, I really don't think that this book is necessarily all that irrelevant because the teachings that it proposes are pretty much as old as Christianity itself, though what Packer was trying to do was to bring the spiritual aspect of our relationship with God back into the modern world in which we live. In a way the things that he says in this book are probably more relevant now than they were back then.
However, there are a few things that I do need to discuss, and one of them is his chapter on idolatry. Okay, there have been numerous books written about the modern nature of idolatry, and he does explore it here, but one of the things that I do question is his reaction against religious art. He seems to think that religious art is a bad thing, however I am quite the opposite. I believe religious art has its place, and in the medieval world, where pretty much 90 percent of the population were illiterate, it was even more important. I believe religious art has its place, however, like all things, it needs to remain in this place. Packer's concern here is the act of using religious art in the act of worship rather than having it as simply an expression of our love for God. In a way, if we were to outright ban religious art, then we should also get rid of all of our hymns and songs because, in the same way, these songs are not of the Bible, and unless we only sing the Psalms, by singing a modern hymn we may be breaching the second commandment.
Packer explores almost all aspects of Christianity here, and in a way relates it to how we as modern middle class Christians respond to it. Mind you, here in Australia, as is probably the case in Europe and England, Christianity is simply something that middle class people (and not all of them by a long shot) simply do because that is what they have been doing all their lives. However, as he argues, if we are to be truly Christians, we should be doing a lot more. Many of us simply live what can be said to be 'safe' Christian lives, that is we go to church, and we hang around our Christian friends, and rarely, if ever, go out of our way to actually live our Christian lives. In fact, many of us hide behind the walls of the church and keep our contact with non-Christians to a minimum, and if we do interact with them, it is usually through either holier than thou type of talk, or fear-mongering fire and brimstone sermons. Rarely, if ever, do we actually try to get alongside them and actually work with them.
Packer's exposition of the patriarchs is quite interesting because he looks at each of them and shows us how God moulded them through their flaws. This leads to his conclusion in saying that the Christian life is not easy, and for those who go into it believing that it is are fooling themselves, and those preachers who preach a rosy painted version of Christianity are simply fulling a church of people who really don't understand what it means to follow Christ. Once again I am not talking about being a goody-too-shoes. God does not care if you are sleeping with your girlfriend/boyfreind, in a de-facto relationship. Marriage as become such a farce that as far as I am concerned, as long as everybody knows that you are living as if you were married (without the ceremony) then you are basically married. Mind you, even then the ceremony itself pretty much comes down to a form of crass ritualism that can be done without.
No, being a Christian is living a selfless life and willing to live with integrity, honesty, and a rejection of materalism. To stand up and fight for the weak and the oppressed, and be willing to spend your time to live with, befriend, and provide comfort to those society has rejected. Look at what Jesus says about those who show kindness to the weak, infirm, cripple, and imprisoned. Many of us wrap ourselves in our middle class cloaks, put our money in the plate, and then go home to our nice comfy beds, and in the morning go to work and proceed to rip off, abuse, and mock those that we have power over (and some of us even do that within the church congregation as well).
It is what he said about the patriarchs (though the chapter on Guidance was thought provoking as well, but I have written about that elsewhere, except to say that we in the Western world spend more time asking God if the decision we are going to make is the right one than rather making that decision and going and doing it, as they tend to do elsewhere in the world) is that each of them had flaws, and as we see through their lives, God works through them, through their struggles, and their challenges, to make them into the people that he wants them to be. I'll pick Joseph (the dude with the technicoloured dream coat) as an example, namely because some preacher said that nothing bad is said about Joseph in the Bible. That, my friend, is rubbish. He was a conceited little child that rubbed his brothers' faces in the fact that he was his dad's favourite, which is why he ended up as a slave (and later a prisoner) in Egypt. God had a plan for him (and we never know the result of this plan until after the fact, so don't try second guessing God, just go out and do it) and for this plan to work, God had to iron out the rough spots.
One thing, though, I will finish on, and that is something that I discussed with my friend tonight. We spoke a bit about the idea of guidance, and one thing that we know from the Bible is that none of the characters in the Bible ever forfeited their destiny because they made the wrong decision. The whole thing about us here in the Western World is that God has given us the freedom to make these decisions, so instead of uming and ahhing, and wasting your time asking God whether it is the right decision, simply make the choice because despite what choice you make, your destiny will not be forfeit.