Shortly after becoming a Christian, Mark Jones read J. I. Packer’s masterpiece Knowing God. Jones speaks for many when he says Packer’s work redefined for him what it means to know and pursue God. The book was a theological page-turner—one to which you can regularly return and find fresh nourishment. Remarkably, in Knowing Christ, Jones employs similar precision and devotion to the subject of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus.
A pastor of Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA) and research associate at the University of the Free State, Jones has written a book that will bless those with spiritual appetites to know Jesus in a deeper way. It’s not insignificant that Packer writes the foreword. Knowing Christ, he says, will “enrich our 21st-century souls.” Packer’s assessment is right. Jones has delivered a Christology that is approachable, devotional, and insightful.
Scholars must write for scholars, but the church can’t survive on the academy alone; God’s people also need pastors to speak and help us thrive in our faith. And Jones’s pastoral heart is evident: “I write that people may know Christ better than they already do, and so love him more.” This goal isn’t easily achieved, of course, especially with the vast array of topics addressed throughout the work, but Jones succeeds admirably.
With 27 short chapters, readers can discern Jones’s argument without difficulty. He doesn’t waste sentences; he writes crisp, precise prose that achieves its intended purpose. We may wish Jones had extended his analysis in certain sections, but he didn’t aim to say everything that can be said. For example, in his discussion of Christ’s sayings (ch. 18), he only focuses on the sayings from the cross. Jones’s commentary lures you in to meditate on deep truths, not in a clinical manner but in a way that keeps you amazed at the person and work of our Lord. The pastoral tone resounds throughout each page.
Knowing Christ is an excellent devotional resource for at least two reasons:
(1) Excellent devotional works strike an appropriate balance between depth and application. On nearly every page, Jones guides us through tightly woven arguments that force us to dwell on the profundity of Christ. Though he clearly seeks to be instructive, he also deftly shifts our focus from knowledge of Jesus to reflection about Jesus. In other words, if Jones wants his readers to love the Savior more, he knows he must do more than provide interesting facts and insider information.
Occasionally Jones asks us to reflect on the implications of his subject matter. I stopped reading several times because I needed to absorb the weightiness of my King. It’s in these moments Knowing Christ shines. For example, when addressing Christ’s temptations (ch. 14) Jones acknowledges the longstanding theological issues involved with Jesus’s ability/inability to sin—rightly contending he couldn’t. Yet Jones doesn’t allow us off the hook; he presses us to ponder the implications of these truths in practical, soul-refreshing ways.
(2) Knowing Christ contains well-crafted discussion questions—three per chapter. Readers, then, can use this work for either personal devotions or small group discipleship. Moreover, pastors could use this book as a resource for elder training, staff development, and so on. The church needs devotional resources robust yet flexible enough to adjust to virtually any discipleship structure.
Every once in a while a book comes along that offers a quantity of spiritual food that’s too much for one meal. After a few chapters, I knew this would be a book I’d return to again. Knowing Christ is certainly approachable and devotional, but make no mistake: it is theologically insightful. Jones leans on Puritan giants to tease out the content and implications of various truths. He wrestles with biblical texts to unfold the biblical portrait of Jesus and, in doing so, provides a theology of our Savior that informs our worship. Knowing Christ isn’t an attempt to conjure up cheap sentimentality; rather, the reflections throughout each chapter are deeply anchored in biblical theology.
Some books have (and deserve) a short shelf-life; others linger for a brief season until the theological and cultural winds shift discussions in new directions. But every once in a while a book comes along that has longevity because of its subject matter and authorial excellence. I am hopeful Knowing Christ will endure in much the same way as Packer’s Knowing God.
Mark Jones. Knowing Christ. Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 2015. 256 pp. $16.00.