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The Knowledge of the Holy

The Knowledge of the Holy“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

In this slim and accessible little volume, A. W. Tozer seeks to recapture some of the grandeur of God that has been missing from evangelical Christianity since, he contends, the middle of the twentieth century. He says we have reduced God to our level or see Him as like us but just more powerful, and we cajole and flatter Him so He will give us what we want.

In reality, the God of the Bible crashes all our little images of Him and poses uncomfortable truths that strain our minds to even begin to comprehend. He is Uncreated; we are created, and here is the most fundamental difference and the core of what we cannot fathom. He is beyond our understanding, and yet He has revealed truths about Himself that we need to know, in words we can understand.

There are many basic principles Tozer states that are crucial to a right relationship with and understanding of God. First, when we imagine God to be anything other than how He has revealed Himself in Scripture, we are not worshiping the true God but a god we have made up.

Second, there are truths about God that are plainly taught in Scripture that may appear contradictory, but we do not have to reconcile everything perfectly in order to believe what God has said. Third, all our failures in practical Christian living can be traced back to wrong beliefs we hold about the character and nature of God. There is nothing more critical to right living than right doctrine.

As I read this book, I was struck by how familiarly I approach God. Yes, I come to Him on the basis of His Son and the sacrifice He made on the Cross to satisfy God’s justice and permit me to approach with confidence as a daughter before the throne. But I, like so many of the Christians Tozer bemoans, have lost the idea of the majesty of God, His unknowableness, His inaccessibility as Uncreated to the created like me.

I have been guilty of considering the best created things I know and then upping their qualities as far as I can imagine to provide me with a picture of God — forgetting or never fully realizing that He is completely unique from everything else in the Universe and though we try to approach an understanding of Him by comparing Him with created things, we have to be careful to remember He is beyond that plane of the created. He is ultimately beyond what we can fully know.

There were three tiny quibbles I had with this book. First, Tozer twice calls the men who wrote Scripture “inspired,” but it is far more accurate to state that it is Scripture that was inspired, not the men who penned it. Second, Tozer mentions in passing that man has a body, soul, and spirit, which is, I think, inaccurate, as biblically man is treated as a two-part being, physical and spiritual, with soul and spirit being used interchangeably to describe the same thing (that is, man’s spiritual side).

Third, in the chapter on God’s sovereignty Tozer is overly simplistic in dismissing the views of Christians who fall into the Arminian and Calvinist camps. What he describes as the relation between God’s complete sovereignty and man’s free will is very much what I would say — but I consider myself a staunch Calvinist. These three things are tiny in comparison with the overarching whole, which is excellent, but I wanted to call them out because Tozer is not writing an inspired book, wonderful as it may be.

The style is accessible and yet formal, too. Tozer often falls into using the rich archaic of the KJV, with Thees and Thous abounding. It gives a rich texture to the language and helps elevate the ideas Tozer is discussing, putting yet more healthy distance between us and God. I am not sure that every reader would enjoy this style, but I drank it up.

Some representative quotes:

“A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well… I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.” (ch. 1, Why We Must Think Rightly About God)

“The yearning to know What cannot be known, to comprehend the Incomprehensible, to touch and taste the Unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its source.” (ch. 2, God Incomprehensible)

“What God declares the believing heart confesses without the need of further proof. Indeed, to seek proof is to admit doubt, and to obtain proof is to render faith superfluous.” (ch. 4, The Holy Trinity)

“So subtle is self that scarcely anyone is conscious of its presence. Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal thing. He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself.” (ch. 5, The Self-Existence of God)

“Life is a short and fevered rehearsal for a concert we cannot stay to give. Just when we appear to have attained some proficiency we are forced to lay our instruments down… How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.” (ch. 8, God’s Infinitude)

“In this world where men forget us, change their attitude toward us as their private interests dictate, and revise their opinion of us for the slightest cause, is it not a source of wondrous strength to know that the God with whom we have to do changes not? That His attitude toward us now is the same as it was in eternity past and will be in eternity to come?” (ch. 9, The Immutability of God)

“We can hold a correct view of truth only by daring to believe everything God has said about Himself.” (ch. 15, The Faithfulness of God)

“The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid—that is the paradox of faith.” (ch. 16, The Goodness of God)

“It is a strange and beautiful eccentricity of the free God that He has allowed His heart to be emotionally identified with men. Self-sufficient as He is, He wants our love and will not be satisfied till He gets it. Free as He is, He has let His heart be bound to us forever.” (ch. 20, The Love of God)

I see myself returning to this book and sharing it with others, especially new believers who need to know how different the true God is from our erroneous default views of Him. With its devotional tone, it could also be very beneficial as a small group study. Recommended. (****1/2)

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