Book Review: The Knowledge of the Holy
The Knowledge of the Holy By: A.W. Tozer, HarperCollins Publishers, 1961
Aiden Wilson Tozer held very few secrets about how he felt about the church in North America and where he thought it was heading. Thankfully, Tozer was not simply a bystander slinging mud at the church. Rather he was one of its greatest shepherds in the 20th century, and he devoted his life to guiding the church in biblical truth. One of Tozer’s biggest worries was that the church was continuing to lower its standard of who God is, rather than worshipping Him as the Bible truly portrays Him. Perhaps Tozer’s greatest antidote for this declining trend is The Knowledge of the Holy.
The book was first published two years before Tozer’s death in 1963. Tozer, a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor for over 40 years, had gleaned a great deal of wisdom and biblical insight throughout his ministry. This book represents all of those years of hard work and learning as well as his wisdom in communicating truth.
The main drive of the book is to challenge believers, as well as sceptics and new converts, to think rightly about God. The idea is not that all churches need a drastic change in theology but rather that we all have room to deepen our view of God and to see Him as more magnificent than our minds could ever fathom. Tozer observed that, even in his time, the God of the Bible and the God worshipped by the church were two very different images. Worse yet, that gulf only appeared to be widening. The presence of God in the Bible demanded eternal worship from heavenly beings, while the God of the church could be quickly explained and wouldn’t dare ask a Christian to do something uncomfortable for him. I believe that Tozer’s observation was correct for his time, and yet this same view of God still plagues the church today.
"The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him, or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech." (pg.1)
I admire many aspects of Tozer’s work in The Knowledge of the Holy, but his humility is most attractive to me. After laying down the purpose of examining God and His attributes in the first chapter, Tozer writes the next chapter focussing how short his study will fall. It is exceptionally rare to see a scholar of such a high level write a work, and in true humility, admit that it cannot completely fulfill its mission. God can certainly be known, or else this book would be futile, but Tozer notes that He cannot be exactly explained or understood because He is beyond human understanding and is not exactly like anything else we see and know. Throughout the book A.W. Tozer does a magnificent job explaining what the Bible reveals about who God is and what He does, and yet Tozer always leaves room for God to be far beyond what his pen can tell. Tozer doesn’t attempt to exhaustively explain God, nor does He put God into his theological box, but rather he admits his inadequacy and puts the grandeur of God on display to be worshipped.
The majority of the book is devoted to examining different attributes of God that He has revealed about Himself. There are 18 short studies that deal with God’s character and how He acts in light of who He is. These chapters are concise and yet immensely deep; the language is used beautifully and yet it is accessible, which is a credit to Tozer’s writing ability. For those who struggle with sitting down and reading technical literature, The Knowledge of the Holy, may still prove difficult, but I believe that it is manageable for any adult reader to glean a great deal of truth from it every time they pick up the book. Tozer certainly does not exhaust each topic, but rather he aims to enlighten the reader to the idea or concept that is most important in each chapter, all while explaining it clearly.
This book is dissimilar to just about every other book produced in our time. Each chapter begins with a hand-crafted prayer from Tozer, regarding the truth in question for that chapter. These prayers are filled with passion and could possibly teach the reader how to relate to God as much as the material that follows. Tozer’s determination to see God worshipped above all else is seen throughout. Every chapter is also sprinkled with poetry from previous figures of church history, both great and small, and Tozer makes a point to end every chapter, except the final one, with somebody else’s wisdom.
I can count on one hand how many books I have ever reread in my adult life. Personally, I rarely come back to a book after I have read it cover to cover. However, The Knowledge of the Holy destroys this habit of mine. The written works of very few Christian men have impacted my view of God more than Tozer does in this book. If handled properly, The Knowledge of the Holy will challenge your mind to think rightly about God and your heart to worship God deeper. Because of this simple fact, I would be confident to recommend it to any believer at any time. I would recommend it not as a way of glorifying Tozer, nor has this review been about that, but I would recommend it as a way for an individual to take part in a “rediscovery of the majesty of God.”