Sunday, August 12, 2018

A.W. Tozer review 1 of 3

Title: Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume: The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God's Pursuit of Man
Author: A.W. Tozer
ISBN: 978-0-8024-1861-6
Publisher: Moody Publishers (April 2018)

Cover Description:

Encounter God. Worship more.

What Tozer lacked in formal education, he more than made up for in experiential wisdom.  Tozer was a man who really knew God, and it showed. People came from all over to hear his sermons because they knew they would go home more in awe of God.  That's why millions keep coming back to his writings, but particularly these three books.

Considered to be Tozer's greatest works, Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God's Pursuit of Man are now available in a single volume.  In 3 Spiritual Classics, you will discover a God of breathtaking majesty and world-changing love, and you will find yourself worshipping through every page.  Encounter Tozer and the God worth worshipping today.


I recently hopped on a book review site to see if they had any new freebies. (Disclaimer: this review is in exchange for a free copy.)  When I came across an A.W. Tozer collection, and I snapped that one right up!

I mean, that's right up there with Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, and Ravi Zacharias.  If I come across a book with their name on it... I grab it!

The first thing that surprised me was the manner in which it arrived.  I opened the mailbox, pulled out a hand-addressed bubble envelope with an obvious book shape inside it.  Since I'm also on paperback swap, I figured that some person was sending me a book from my wish list. 

I mean, I've done reviews for other publishers such as Tyndale and Bethany House, and they came just as you'd expect:  professional business packaging with corporate logo.  But this one (from Moody press) was all hand-written.  It just felt... good.

The personable feel was only enhanced by the fact that the sender had amazing penmanship.  And that's a rare quality these days!  I feel like whomever it was deserves a raise based on their handwriting skills alone.

Anyway, none of that's relevant to the review.

Since this volume contains three books, I'll review each individually as separate blog posts.

Book 1: The Knowledge of the Holy

(cover from another edition)

Jumping into this book is a lot like running full-tilt into the ocean.  The wave hits you like a wall, and you realize that stuff just got real!

He doesn't pull any punches, or ease you into his level.  Immediately from page one Tozer starts lobbing grenades like:  No culture can rise above its religion, and no religion can rise above its concept of God.


It took a long time to wade through it all.


First, and foundational to all that comes next, Tozer pauses to reflect on the fact that God is transcendent (something high above us and far beyond our understanding), and therefore our feeble attempts to define Him, fail at best, and quickly descend into sheer idolatry from there. 

This kind of rubs me the wrong way as a man with a science degree and decades in the field.  Even without all that I think we all feel this way in an age where human intellect is regarded as supreme.

Yet, logic itself shows how ridiculously untrue that is.  The human brain is under 4 pounds, most of that being plain old water, rather than logic.  And yet we consider it somehow "logical" to prefer that minuscule amount of thought power as more reliable than faith in the Omniscient One!?? [see Omnicient, below.]

The point is, how can we even have a book called "The Knowledge of the Holy", when God is beyond knowing?  Good question.  The answer that the book proposes is, while we can't comprehend the whole of God, we can understand certain things about Him by His revealed attributes.  That's what the remainder of the book is about.

But why even try?  Besides the quote at the beginning, Tozer also explains, "Because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that ALL of our problems and ALL of their solutions are theological in nature." [p55]

I'll now proceed to lay down an overview of what stood out to me, in no particular order.

One interesting overarching theme is how he quotes Nichoas of Cusa, saying, "All theology is said to be established in a circle, because any one of His attributes is affirmed by another." [p136]   This in itsself is an interesting study so I'll keep that in mind  for each topic as well.

Infinite and Eternal

Upon reading Tozer's book, these two terms strike me being the same thing (though he separates them).  As physics sometimes refers to time as the "fourth dimension", then what is "eternal" besides being infinite along the time axis?

"To Him magnitude and distance have no meaning.  To us they are useful [only] as analogies and illustrations." [p121]

The way I look at it is this.  Many people picture God like one of these:

When, as I ascertain from the book, we should be thinking more along these lines:
 * "Please excuse the crudity of this model.  I didn't have time to build it to scale or paint it."
-- Doc Brown

An interesting side-effect of this is that speaking of any thing created in infinite terms "always","best","most" is always a gross exaggeration.


God is omniscient because:
  • He is outside of time "knowing the end from the beginning" [Isaiah 46:10].  (Note from the illustrations that "outside of" means "beyond the bounds of", not "separated from")
  • He is infinite - as Bill Murry says in the movie Groundhogs Day, "Maybe God isn't [omniscient]. Maybe he's just been around so long, he knows everything."  Well, knowing everything actually is the definition of omniscient, but that aside, the two things definitely go together.
  • He is creator - that is, He knows how it works because He built it!

And it also means:
  • When you argue with God, you're always wrong.
  • He is never surprised
  • You can hide nothing from Him 



Tozer states that, "The world is spiritual:  it originated in spirit, flows out of spirit, is spiritual in essence, and is meaningless apart from the Spirit that inhabits it." [p131]

If God is the Creator, then he is also:
  • All powerful - because power within everything that exists is derived from His power.
  • Almighty - because there is more to Him than there is to everything else, combined!
  • Omniscient - he knows what everything is, because He created it Himself.



God is unchanging because, among other things:
  • He is outside of time so there can be no progression.
  • He is infinite and is already perfect, therefore...
  • He is perfect and need not change.  What, for example, would He change into when He is already maxed out at 100% and can never be anything less?
  • He is all-powerful and cannot increase... because He (to be redundant) already has all power.

We use terms like "exalting", "magnifying", or "glorifying" God, but we cannot literally do any of these things because he is already, and has always been, the the maximum of all these things.  What we do is restore (as best as possible) the proper level of exaltation, immensity, and glory in our own minds.

"One who can suffer any slightest degree of change is neither self-existent, self-sufficient, nor eternal, and [therefore] is not God." [pp90-91]

"To be made for eternity and forced to dwell in time is for mankind a tragedy of huge proportions.  All within us cries for life and permanence, and everything around us reminds us of mortality and change." [p76]


God is complete in and of Himself, therefore:
    1) He didn't need to create you
    2) He doesn't need you now, his completeness and His work in the world carry on with or without your help
    3) If you reject Him, only one of you is injured by that action

Omnipotent / All-Powerful

Regardless of your beliefs, there must be some un-caused root cause to creation. And whatever this is, it must be powerful enough for all subsequent events to be derived from (aka all-powerful).

"Man, for all his genius is but an echo of The Original Voice"

We are made in the image of God.  This means that all of our attributes are a reflection, a hint, a mere Costco taste-test, of the real thing.  Therefore the person who says "you believe in God, but I believe in logic" couldn't be more wrong.  More accurately put, "you believe in the embodiment of all logic, but I believe in the mere subset of it".  Doesn't sound so great that way, now does it?

Problems pop up like whack-a-moles when we, who are a mere sampling of what God is, try and take over His throne.

Proving, over and over, we can't manage to run our own life, let alone our world.

If God is all-powerful and you find yourself underpowered to face your situation, well... I leave you do the math on that one.

Something more to think about, from basic science, we know that all things require something outside of themselves to exist (air, food, water, ...).  What does this aspect of natural revelation represent?  (In terms of our relationship to God?)

Anyway, God's infinite nature absolutely defines Him as also unique [see Triune, below].  "There cannot be two unlimited substances in the universe." observes Tozer.  That is, all power residing in one god would be power that the other god does not posses.

Maybe that's why God is so strict on the subject, starting out the 10 Commandments with, "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3)  Anything else is an affront to His very existence!

Furthermore, Tozer points out that since God is all-powerful, He does not and cannot give His power away, lest He become less than He eternally is.  Any scant power we have, or even contained within the entire universe, is not surrendered power, but delegated power.

A note on "the fear of the Lord":

I need to unpack this more sometime, but, personal righteousness is directly proportional to the fear you have of the Lord!

Q.  If "perfect love casts out all fear" and "God is love", then how do we fear God?
A. "T'was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved." -- Amazing Grace, by John Newton


Omnipresence means that, "God is at once far off, and near."  It sounds strange and even self-contradictory, but it is both true (e.g. Psalm 139:7-12) and important to get the proper picture.

Tozer quotes Novalian, saying, "Could we conceive of His greatness then He would be less than the human mind which could form the conception." [p82]  This is so true of many of His attributes, and being all places at all times is one of them.

If this is difficult to grasp, I refer you back to the diagram earlier.  The realm of God's authority overlaps and envelops every place and every thing.

Faithful and True

Jesus' very name given in Revelation19:11 is "Faithful and True".

God is Faithful to His promises because:
  • He is unchanging (never changes His mind)
  • All-knowing so there is never any reason to change it
  • And all-powerful so no possible circumstance can derail His plans

Both Goodness and Justice

  • He is creator, and therefore the definer of the meaning of "good"
    "He does not conform to a standard.  He is that standard." [p181]
  • This ingrained, universal, unwritten definition is the only way that we can even discuss "good" and "evil". 
  • Justice - because He is good, He cannot allow evil to run rampant and unpunished.
  • Because He is righteous and good, He is also impartial and non-hypocritical.
  • Because Hi is unchanging, He is faithful to His promise of retribution. [Romans 12:19]
  • Because  He is sovereign, He alone has the authority to be ultimate judge.
  • Because He is omniscient, He has all the facts -- there is never a mistrial or misunderstanding.
God is both the Lawgiver and Grace-Winner, which seems contradictory, but as you can see above, like His other attributes, each of these is necessary to the other.  Even the Law is not the opposite of Grace, but a manifestation of it.

This "Grace" thing is the only answer to what happens when Justice, Mercy, and sin collide.

One last note concerning the law:

"In the moral conflict now raging around us whoever is on God's side is on the winning side and cannot lose; whoever is on the other side is on the losing side and cannot win.  Here there is no chance, no gamble." [p192]

I find this is particularly annoying when I wind up in a disagreement with God.  You try to argue your point and justify it in your own mind, but deep down there's always that nagging kernel of truth, warning you that, regardless of how solid your case, you are, by definition, going to be wrong.


"God is love" is the rally cry of the marginal Christian.  It is true, of course, but when ripped out of context and taken as a feel-good replacement for the entirety of all that God is, it makes for a mighty poor substitute.  Tozer spends a lot of words correcting this poor thinking.

"The words 'God is love' mean that love is an essential attribute of God.  Love is something true of God but it is not God.  It expresses the way God is in His unitary truth.  Because God is immutable He always acts like Himself, and because He is unity, He never suspends one of His attributes in order to exercise another." [p169]

Furthermore...  "If love is equal to God then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical.  Thus, we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all [of] His attributes save one, and that one we substitute for [all] of God." [p168]

  • Casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18)  Atheists, if they dare to think about their plight, get to live in nothing but fear, for how much love is present in their creator, the Big Bang?
  • Implies sacrifice (agape) love.
  • Implies blessings (see Matthew 7:9-11) and compassion.  (Both in the receiving from God and in passing along to others whom He loves.)
  • Implies pleasure.  God is pleased.  Ever think about that?  "Hell is a place of no pleasure because there is no love there." [p175]
  • Implies that whatever would harm that which you love (in God's case, called "sin") is a hated enemy. "God's wrath is His utter intolerance of what degrades and destroys.  He hates iniquity as a mother hates the polio that takes the life of her child." [p182]

Love leads to BOTH justice AND mercy and it stems from:
  • God's Goodness 
  • God, being creator, loves that which He made.  In fact over everything He makes in Genesis 1, God declares, "It is good"



Sovereignty means that God answers to no one. 

This is related to His other attributes because:
  • All-knowing - If there were any wisdom beyond Him, then that is wisdom which He could not exercise.  He might make the wrong decision, in which case another knows better.
  • Creator - for anything that God does not own is outside of His jurisdiction. 
  • All-Powerful - in that He not only gives the orders, but has the authority to back it up. 


Tozer describes the Trinity ("Tri"=3  + "Unity"=1) as many others have done, but I found it interesting how he notes the interchangeability of roles.  I'm sure there are others, but a quick list: [p48-49]
To this I would add off the top of my head:
  • Final Judgement - 2 Timothy 4:1, John 5:22, John 8:50
  • Jesus called "everlasting father" -  Isaiah 9:6
  • In fact,  who is "The Lord", anyway?  Too many references to count since it seems to change depending on what the situation calls for.

None of this is incorrect or even unexpected, since some level I think we already realize it.  Even though the textbook form of prayer is: by the Spirit, to the Father, in the name of the Son, we still find it perfectly valid to say:
  • "Holy Spirit, rain down."
  • "Come quickly, Lord."
  • or even to cry "Help me, Jesus!"
Therein lies the discrepancy.  If we go off  of what "makes sense" then the three-in-one thing is gone right out the window, but if we instead choose to rely upon what God clearly and repeatedly says, however...

But is abandoning our logic, logical?  Well, actually, yes!  Clinging to our comparatively feeble understanding is what doesn't make sense.

"It is a grave responsibility that a man takes upon himself when he seeks to edit out of God's self-revelation such features as he, in his ignorance, deems objectionable." [p138]  This is very appropriate when trying to wrap your mind around concepts beyond human comprehension such un-createdness, self-existence, or the Trinity.


To sum it all up, I wasn't disappointed, only overwhelmed.  All this and more from the book more than lived up to my expectations!  I'd recommend this to anybody.

I hope my little book report provided some food for thought.  Or, if my yammering lost you, why not read the book for yourself!