A.W. Tozer on Reading and Writing

“Read some of the great Puritan authors and some of the mystics. Read and memorize good poetry. Observe how these writers express themselves. Become word conscious. Pay attention to words and the effect they have. Get a good dictionary and use it often. Whenever I come across a word I’m not familiar with, I look it up immediately and study it. With a large vocabulary, you are able to be precise in what you are saying. Nothing takes the place of using the right word. [Gustave] Flaubert (1821 – 1880) used to say there are no synonyms. Find the right word and use it.”

– A.W. Tozer, from “The Life of A.W. Tozer” chapter by James L. Snyder in The Pursuit of God

Why We Must Think Rightly About God

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. — A.W. Tozer

This is the first article in a series called The Knowledge of The Holy in which each article will be based around a chapter from A.W. Tozer’s book of the same name (my review). This is a journey worth taking because not only is Tozer’s book a classic in the spiritual world, but the subject matter is God’s character.

Before Tozer begins to talk through the attributes of God’s character, he lays a crucial foundation that must be considered. He wisely knows that without this foundation, everything else will go awry. That foundation is what we think about when we think about God. That’s because we will never rise above our understanding of the Almighty, and, “we tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our image of God.”

Thinkly rightly about God affects not only our theology, but how we live as well. Tozer speaks of knowing God as being the foundation for worship which, like the foundation for the temple, will begin to collapse as soon as the foundation is found to be inadequate or out of plumb. And surely this has been seen to be true. How many cults, strange offshoots, and shameful pursuits have we seen as we trace the history of the Church?

More than anything, Tozer is calling his readers to think rightly about God; “rightly,” meaning according to what the Bible tells us about Him. As his famous quote from above tells us, this is the most important thing about us. As if that was not heavy enough, he ups the ante, rightly saying,

All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.

This is the pursuit of all of philosophy and theology, and mankind will forever be reckoning with the fact that there is a God, regardless of what they determine to do about it.

But for the person who comes to terms with God and understands and accepts His gospel, he, “is relieved if ten thousand temporal problems,” because he sees that they all pale in comparison to that which God is at work doing in the world. But unless “the weight of the burden is felt the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden.” If we don’t think rightly about God, we will not see our need for God and the goodness of His grace and mercy in the cross of Jesus. This is nonsense to those who don’t yet know Him, of course, but it is the power of salvation for those who believe.

Tozer writes with such force because he sees a right view of God slipping away, endangering not only the institution of the church, but the very Truth it stands for. The danger is that, “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” These low views of God pave the way for the most destructive of all sins — idolatry; the essence of which, Tozer writes, “is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”

When considering how much of the New Testament is a rebuke of false teaching or an exhortation for others to correct false teaching, this makes a great deal of sense. False teaching leads to false thinking which leads to false gods. Any entertainment of a god other than the God as revealed in the Bible is idolatry because it epitomizes that which is not actually God. “The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.”

What a message for today when we are so susceptible to wrong thinking. The rampant pluralism, intense social pressure, and increasing secularism of the day make for an ideal moment for the Enemy to attack our understanding of God. This was the first and most dangerous temptation first uttered in the Garden. And our epidemically low Bible literacy makes it like shooting fish in a barrel.

And perhaps this is precisely how Tozer felt when he wrote of his own day that,

The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.

Surely Tozer was viewed as a doomsdayer by some when he wrote that, and perhaps the same will be said of me. But I cannot help but feel like the situation is even more dire today. Those in the Church are daily giving way to low views of God and His Word, handing over not only the foundation for their convictions, but the very foundations of the faith itself. It feels as if the Devil learned from his reign in Babylon that he can succeed in turning us away from God by simply assimilating the world into the faith, thereby assimilating the faith into the world. This strategy is an ingenious, insidious plot to replace a high view of God with a far lesser and far lower one. This, “low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us,” Tozer writes. “A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.”

There is only one way out of this mess. I’ll let Tozer himself explain:

The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him — and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to the undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.

The Most Important Thing About You

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. — A.W. Tozer

I first opened The Knowledge of The Holy three years ago. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it took me that long to read its 117 pages, but only somewhat. Some of that time was spent wandering away from its pages to more seemingly immediate things which needed reading (thus is the life of a pastor and seminary student). But mostly it took me three years because I was brought to my knees by the power of Tozer’s words as they unfolded the holiness of God.

Alissa Wilkinson once wrote that, “any person who can say what you’re thinking before you find the words is irresistible.” This was my first experience with Tozer. Each page I found myself increasingly drawn in to his thundering presentation of God’s character. And who wouldn’t be with sentences like this?

We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to meet God in adorning silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience life in the Spirit. The words, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century.

Good thing Tozer wasn’t around for Twitter.

As the title suggests, The Knowledge of The Holy is interested in stirring our knowledge of the holiness of God and correcting our wrong thoughts about Him on the way. And this he does with a resounding sense of authority and urgency one rarely witnesses today.

For Tozer, there is little time to mince words and piddle around in the Church when a high view of God is being eroded day by day.

The loss of the concept of majesty has come just when the forces of religion are making dramatic gains and the churches are more prosperous than at any time within the past several hundred years. But the alarming thing is that our gains are mostly external and our losses wholly internal; and since it is the quality of our religion that is affected by internal conditions, it may be that our supposed gains are but losses spread over a wider field.

The two paragraphs quoted above are from the preface. Tozer has barely warmed up. What follows are 23 deceptively brief chapters about the nature of God, each dealing with one particular attribute.

I sat down to try and write a brief review of this book, but found there was simply no way to summarize everything it has to say in one short book review. Since each chapter and its subject matter is worth dwelling on, that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll be writing one article for each of the 23 chapters of The Knowledge of The Holy. After all, there is no more important subject than the nature of God, so this will be time well spent.

If you can’t already tell, I definitely recommend buying this book. Its one of those classics which were we’re so fortunate to have. You know, the kind you can actually read and understand.

Buy The Knowledge of The Holy from Amazon