It follows, therefore, that the better one's theology, the better one's life; or, the truer one's theology, the truer one's life.
That being the case, how can I not but recommend J. I. Packer's A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life ((C)1990). It is essentially J. I. Packer teaching Puritan theology. It's not set up like a typical theology book, but it is divided into 5 broad subjects. After a section on the Puritans themselves, there follows sections on the Bible, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, the Christian Life, and Ministry.
Packer asks a question at the outset: Why do we need the Puritans? And he answers with one word: maturity. The book reflects the truth of his answer: These guys were deep! But they weren't deep for the sake of being intellectual. They dwelt much on the things of God and preached them to their people to elevate the living of their people. Their goals in theology were always practical. As Puritan William Perkins put it, theology is the science of living blessedly forever.
A Quest for Godliness is a treasure-trove, a chest full of the spiritual gold that comes from mining deep into the Scriptures. On a tour of Mammoth Cave recently, our guide led us to and highlighted the its wonders. In a similar way the Puritans lead us to and highlight the wonders of Scripture. In so doing they, through Packer, enrich our understanding, swell our hearts with wonder and love for God, and multiply our gratitude toward God.
That's not to imply that this is an easy book to read. It takes time and thought to process the thinking of the Puritans, but it is definitely worth it.
There were many highlights for me along the way in this book, including sections on communion with God, the importance of preaching, marriage and family, worship, and revival. The one chapter I disagreed with was the chapter 8, which would have been better titled, "Against the Heresy of Arminianism." (I have vented on that chapter here and here.)
My rating (out of 5): 4 3/4
I close with a couple quotations from the book (to give you a taste):
[Answering the question why Scripture isn’t better organized—Scripture is written to make us godly, not to make us smart, Puritan John Owen says:] The principal end of Scripture is … to beget in the minds of men faith, fear, obedience, and reverence of God—to make them holy and righteous…. Unto this end every truth is disposed of in the Scripture as it ought to be. If any expect that the Scripture should be written with respect unto opinions, notions, and speculations, to render men skillful and cunning in them, able to talk and dispute … they are mistaken. It is given to make us humble, holy, wise in spiritual things; to direct us in our duties, to relieve us in our temptations, to comfort us under troubles, to make us to love God and to live unto him…. Unto this end there is a more glorious power and efficacy in one epistle, one psalm, one chapter, than in all the writings of men…. sometimes an occasional passage in a story, a word or expressions, shall contribute more to excite faith and love in our souls than a volume of learned disputations…. (pp. 94-95)
[J. I. Packer comments on one Puritan's teaching regarding our friendship with God:]
Thomas Goodwin dwells on the love of Christ, who, when we had fallen into sin and enmity against God, died to make us his friends again—though ‘he could have created new ones cheaper’—and develops powerfully the thought that friendship is not a means to an end, but an end in itself, and that true friendship is expressed in the cultivation of our friend’s company for its own sake:
‘Mutual communion is the soul of all true friendship and a familiar converse with a friend hath the greatest sweetness in it … [so] besides the common tribute of daily worship you owe to [God], take occasion to come into his presence on purpose to have communion with him. This is truly friendly, for friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits; and these, the more free and less occasioned by urgent business … they are, the more friendly they are…. We use to check our friends with this upbraiding, You still [always] come when you have some business, but when will you come to see me? … When thou comest into his presence, be telling him still how well thou lovest him; labour to abound in expressions of that kind, than which … there is nothing more taking with the heart of any friend…. (208)