More from The Knowledge of the Holy, by A. W. Tozer
“Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence. Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require and intelligent and vigorous search before it is unearthed and exposed for what it really is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God.” (2) We can’t hold all of God in our heads; we aren’t big enough (but, I want to insist, what we can hold in our heads is still vitally important). Of what we do understand not all of it travels from our heads to our hearts. What does make it to our hearts has its hand on the rudder of our actions in day to day life. You can know a thing and not believe it, or not believe it with enough combustion that it begins to fire whatever engine of the heart needs to be fired. Tozer is saying that it is a necessary part of the Christian life to work backwards form Z to A and look closely at our visible lives and see what pieces of theology have been deeply embedded enough to matter and what pieces are still waiting on the far side of that threshold. Somewhere in there lies our “real idea of God” and as said before, it is important that our real idea of God correspond as closely as possible to the real God who is there. We are to be held responsible for those areas where it does not.
“Before the Christian church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simple gets a wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different than what he actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.” (p.4) It is a mistake to imagine that the landscape of Christian theology is a flat, uniform landscape with no variation or disagreement. There are streams and movements of thought like currents in a river all swirling around each other, each with their own unique emphases, priorities, and set of answers to the question “What is God like?” I am not saying they are all different, for all it’s diversity there is beautiful unity in the Christian church, but there are differences, and those differences matter. Which one is right? Without going into any specific debate I want to say that “right” exists. There is an understanding of God which fits reality like a key fits the lock it was made for, and in that understanding lies human flourishing. Tozer is saying that where our understanding of God is different from that unique shape which he actually is the hope of flourishing winks out like a candle. Here too, Tozer wants to hold the church accountable for what is happening beneath it’s umbrella, so to speak. Is it leading people toward the worship of God as he is? Is that truth bringing flourishing to every area of human life? Relationships? Work? Interior mental life? Is there forgiveness? Is there joy? Are the weak being cared for? Are the effects of the fall being fought back wherever they are found? All these will grow and trumpet the truthfulness of the gospel where the gospel is rightly understood and lived, and that is what the church must be.