The Knowledge of the Holy
What a blessing it is having five interns with us this year. One of these wonderful people – Mike Shore – started his internship early and willingly took up the challenge to write a book review. We think he did such a good job that we should publish it on our blog.
As one of Chapel’s new interns I’m keenly aware of the amount of reading that I’m facing this year (and I’m enjoying it, make no mistake!) What I didn’t anticipate however, was for Howard to set me some “introductory” material to get me started with, and that’s where this book comes in…
The Knowledge of the Holy is one of the best-known works by Aiden Wilson Tozer, an American pastor during the early to mid-20th century. Despite being reasonably short, its weight is borne in the subject matter: it is a book concerned with understanding the nature of God. This is not a small undertaking, (Tozer himself deems it such an important one that he writes a prayer at the opening of each chapter) and as he observes very early on, it is also crucially reflective of our own nature, for our thoughts about who God is may well be the most important thing about us. At a time where some churches (whose theology seemed to be colliding with an uprising of modernist worldly views) were lowering their perception of God, this book strives to remind all Christians that God is not a being whom we should underestimate, pity or ignore, and seeks thereafter to explain, one chapter at a time, some of His divine attributes.
What’s surprising is that, although we see how important to Tozer mankind’s perception of God is, he spends the first three chapters outlining how, since we are created beings, the very notion that we can fully understand God is laughable. The fact that we can only visualise God through images based on created things also accounts rather strikingly for how so many churches, even in Tozer’s day, resorted to reducing God to “manageable terms”.(1) I found it rather disconcerting that, in a country foreign to the author’s native one, over fifty years after the book’s original publication, I could identify with the concept of living in a land in which the indigenous Christian Church had also shed its view of God as The Almighty and Everlasting. Decay, it seems, follows when a church thinks anything less of God than what He truly is, and Tozer sums this up accurately: “…there is scarcely an error in doctrine or…in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God”.(2)
How then do we as a Church seek to understand God, if we are ultimately incapable of doing so fully? Tozer believes the answer lies in the “divine attributes” of God, and it is these attributes to which the rest of the book is dedicated. Such attributes (infinitude, self-sufficiency, wisdom, omnipotence, goodness, justice, mercy, love etc) are not qualities or aspects of a personality – they are things that God has revealed about Himself to us, through the Scriptures. They are absolute constants that never wax or wane, never contradicting each other at their own expense. This leads to a key theme running throughout the book – that God does not change or differ from Himself as we humans do. The chapter on God’s immutability for example, is central to this argument, and Tozer wants us to recognise that as God is unchangeable, His nature is far from merely being better than ours: it is inconceivably superior as to be unable of improving upon by anything or anyone else. “Since He is perfectly holy, He has never been less holy than He is now and can never be holier than He is and has always been”.(3)
Ultimately this is a book that seeks to rejuvenate the Christian man’s relationship with God through encouraging a greater reverence and awe for who He is. This is a challenging read that nevertheless earns its place as one of the Christian classics of the 20th century. If you’ve never read it, go out and buy it! Or just borrow Howard’s copy…
(1) A.W.Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, page 8 (1961)
(2) Ibid, page 2.
(3) Ibid, page 49.