Most Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word, yet very few act on that belief. Everyone has a Bible, or two, or twenty in their homes, but a significant minority of people have read through the entire book twenty times, twice, or even once. Such Christians claim to know “about” God intellectually, but few actually know “of” God experientially. Those who have been shaped by intimate communion with God and an awareness of His manifest Presence are those of the bleeding heart, their desire for God seemingly never satiated. A. W. Tozer is one of those men.
Tozer was born in 1897 to a small farming family of Western Pennsylvania. As a teenager he worked for a tire company in Akron, Ohio. Walking home from work one day he heard a street preacher say, “If you don’t know how to be saved…just call on God.” That night he climbed into his attic and did just that. From this initial seed of faith sprung a desire for God that led him to pastor his first church just five years later. In his life he pastored for over 30 years and wrote over 40 books, the most famous of which are The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy. Both books are intentionally practical books, meant to help the average Christian come to know God in a more deep and satisfying way. To say that he was obsessed with knowing God would be a severe understatement.
The Pursuit of God is a mere 70 pages in 10 chapters. Within these three to four page chapters lies the very heart of what Tozer defines as religion. He begins the book by calling people to examine their own hearts to see if they really know God. He makes the distinction between knowledge about God and knowledge of God. In short, Tozer was fighting to reestablish the heart of pure religion into a culture intoxicated with the poison of empty “spirituality.” Before the readers even make it out of the preface, they are staggering under the implications of this man’s message. Questions flood their minds as they wonder if they are duping themselves with a form of religion that is void of “the intimate and satisfying knowledge of God.”
The first chapter (“Following Hard after God”) introduces the idea of “pursuing God,” while the last chapter (“The Sacrament of Living”) brings closure to the ideas presented in the book by applying the heart of his message to daily life. Each chapter builds on the previous chapter to slowly formulate the big picture of his big idea. Every point is based on Scripture. Scripture is everywhere. His understanding of the Christian walk (the “big idea”) is presented using practical examples but grounded in so much Scripture the readers would do well to develop a running index to refer to in future Bible study.
I find myself completely inadequate for the task of reviewing such a book, especially as I attempt to summarize the content. So, I will let Tozer speak for himself.
Ch. 1: “We have almost forgotten that God is a Person, and, as such, can be cultivated as any person can…full knowledge of one personality by another cannot be achieved in one encounter. It is only after long and loving mental intercourse that the full possibilities of both can be explored…Religion, so far as it is genuine, is in essence the response of created personalities to the Creating Personality, God.”
Ch. 2: “There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess…God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution…To repudiate it [the self-life of possessiveness] and give up all for Christ’s sake is to lose nothing at last, but to preserve everything unto life eternal…The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things.”
Ch. 3: “God wills that we should push on into His Presence and live our whole life there. This is to be known to us in conscious experience. it is more than a doctrine to be held, it is a life to be enjoyed every moment of every day…Why do we consent to abide all our days just outside the Holy of Holies and never enter at all to look upon God?…What but the presence of a veil in our hearts?…It is the veil of our fleshly fallen nature living on, unjudged within us, uncrucified and unrepudiated… Self is the opaque veil that hides the Face of God from us. If can be removed only in spiritual experience never by mere instruction. As well try to instruct leprosy out of our system. We must invite the cross to do its deadly work within us.”
I will stop at chapter three otherwise this could go on forever. These are a few of the many highlights, marks, underlines, and sweat stains that fill the pages of my copy of this great book. I have read it a half-dozen times, each time with a different color pen/marker/highlighter. As C. S. Lewis said about great books, my goal hasn’t been to get through it as many times as possible, but to see how much of it I can get through me. Each time I learn something new, always finding a place for another piece of the puzzle. Each time I am faced with a clear view of my heart’s sin and my God’s grace. Each time I am sent running to the throne of God, begging for help, sanctifying grace, and life-giving hope. But the greatest effect this book has had on me has been in its power at pointing me to the Scripture in a deep, lasting way. I never close this book and feel at peace until I have opened God’s Word and spent time staring into His Face by faith. Even though I see only darkly, as in a mirror, I look forward with eager expectation to the day my faith will become sight and I will see Him face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).
- Adam Setser