Continuing my reviews of some books I’m reading for work…
A.W. Tozers’ insightful offering into the character of God is full of impacting imagery and humble reverence towards the spiritual realm. His heart towards the Father and his description in both confidence and uncertainty urges the reader to uproot their preconceived religion and replant their hope in a soil filled awe towards the holy. With the words, “Whatever comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us”, Tozer challenges the reader to foundationally reform a perception of God that is deserving of the Almighty, casting aside attempts at articulation of the divine that do not do justice to His nature, and thus allow this truth to become the framework from which we live our lives.
There wasn’t much I didn’t like about Knowledge of the Holy. Recently, it seems like many Christian books are feel-good, self-help type writings from the latest Christian gurus. Refreshingly, Tozer was different. His style and tone felt both mystical and pragmatic at the same time. He left God remaining beyond his futile words, yet brought him into the English language with heartfelt sincerity. For me the most constructive aspect of the reading was the developed deep longing I felt to understand and experience God the way Tozer described. When he wrote about God’s self existence, Omniscience, Transcendence, Faithfulness, Sovereignty, etc, I was reminded how I often paint God in my own mind the way I want, not the way He is. The reminder of how incomprehensible and vast God actually is, is a lesson immeasurably pertinent to any Christian, but maybe even more urgent to one engaged in ministry. As I develop programs, lead meetings, and organize events, I am often stressed or discouraged by how well I perform, how the numbers pan out, and how productive the activity was for those who came. While those worries are significant and important, in this reading I was again reminded that I am not God, and that our faith compels me to surrender my worries to Him.
Essentially, The Knowledge of the Holy is a list of God’s attributes, and meditations on these characteristics. Tozer describes how our perception of God’s attributes can spur a deeper understanding God himself, his other attributes, and our humble place in his creation. In his chapter about the love of God he writes: “From God’s other attributes we may learn much about his love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit; because He is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity; because He is immense, His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed.”
Maybe the most compelling dynamic of the book was Tozers writing about the transcendence of God. The title of the book, The Knowledge of the Holy, is itself an attempt to answer the question, what is God like? As he describes God in various terms he is quick to add that God cannot be defined. His reality goes beyond the limits of our language and symbols. Paradoxically, God is like many things, but He is unlike anything. He is both fierce and tender, just and compassionate, omniscient and specific. He is holy, sovereign, and self-existent. The paradox and tension of being able to describe God, and yet God remaining indescribable is the foundation on which the book was written. The goal of Tozer, I believe, was to create a vast sense of awe, mystery, appreciation, and humility towards God. To be both intensely attracted to Him, and struck with fear by him at the same moment. Tozer’s heart towards God reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ metaphor of God as a Lion in The Chronicles of Narnia. In one scene some of the children talked about Aslan, the Lion God. They describe him as both scary but good. The children love Aslan enough to nuzzle up in his warm fur, while at the same time understand that he could devour them at any moment if he so chose. The more I begin to ponder and learn of God the more I come to realize that he exists in this type of tension. He is intimating but soft, immeasurably powerful yet borne in a manger, and all-knowing yet personal and present.
One of the things I left feeling most challenged about was Tozer’s concern for the church. He argues that the church has lost its sense of who God is, “the idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions.” When I survey the spiritual landscape of American Christianity, it seems to me that we have largely described God in anthropomorphic terms, making Him like us. Church structures seem comfort prioritized, consumer driven, numbers focused, model emphasized, business minded, and money dependant. When I read Tozer, I am reminded that God is none of those things. Often it feels like we (church staff), are selling a product to the world, constantly trying to define the Christian life and God in terms that will be the most attractive to the surrounding culture while we grow further and farther from the God who started it all. Please don’t misunderstand me, I believe we should make our faith understandable to the world in relevant ways, I just think that sometimes we go too far. I think if Tozer came to a modern Evangelical American church, he would ask; Where is the reverence for God?, Why does God feel like a genie in a lamp?, Why are you so afraid of challenging people? To me, those seem like important questions we should always be wrestling with.
One of the lasting lessons of this book will be the reminder that God is bigger than me, bigger than my family, bigger than my career, bigger than my church, bigger than my nation, and bigger than my world and universe. “But the truth is that God is not greater for our being, nor would He be less if we did not exist.” While all of those things I listed above are existent in a broken world, God reigns sovereign and perfect over all of our humble attempts at church. If CrossWinds Church died off, God would not be less. If I were to contract a serious illness and my life cut short, God would still be. If five hundred students come to STUFF, or if ten students come to STUFF, God will still know them all. This posture towards my role in ministry and my hope in God and not our accomplishments is both freeing and terrifying. Overall, I was deeply challenged and encouraged by this book. It is my hope and prayer that God will shape our church to grow in our “Knowledge of the Holy”.