Book Review: The Knowledge Of The Holy

The Knowledge Of The Holy:  The Attributes Of God:  Their Meaning In The Christian Life, by A.W. Tozer

It is fortunate that this book is so short, because in this brief book’s contents, the author makes it clear that his knowledge of the holy is extremely slight, at least as far as the Bible is concerned, although he is far more knowledgeable when it comes to parroting the language of other mystics like Julian or Norwich.  It is clear that the author, the late and noted American mystic, was seeking to provoke in readers a sense of the holy, and was alarmed at the casual way that God and His holiness was treated by society as the 20th century wore on, but this particular book manages to combine two particularly unsettling and unpleasant aspects, namely its reliance on human reasoning when it comes to understanding the attributes and qualities of God and its use of presuppositional reasoning to assume those aspects of the nature of God (namely the Trinity) that the author openly admits make no sense whatsoever [1].  The author clearly means well, and is trying hard, but he simply does not understand God’s word or God’s ways enough to teach others.  He confuses his own ignorance with belief that God is being deliberately mysterious, and the result is a book that spouts of bromides and clichés rather than providing wisdom.

The book is a short one (about 120 pages) divided into many short chapters dealing with a variety of subjects like the incomprehensibility, self-existence, self-sufficiency, eternity, infinitude, immutability, omniscience, wisdom, omnipotence, transcendence, omnipresence, faithfulness, goodness, justice, mercy, grace, love, holiness, and sovereignty of God.  Each of the chapters begins with a different prayer that often makes some reference to the Bible, and then closes with some sort of short poem from an ostensibly Christian source, and features a great deal of philosophizing in the middle.  The author clearly has read widely, and it is to his credit that he is willing to make certain concessions about the identity of Christians and that he believes that certain aspects of God cannot be pitted against each other, but the author’s ignorance of the nature of God as well as the purpose of humanity is so profound that few insights can be drawn from this book, certainly not as many as the author would wish readers to gain.

Ultimately, this book is an unsatisfying one that will leave most readers wondering what the point of the author is.  In many cases, the author wants to have the best of both worlds, an understanding of faith that is intellectually and linguistically based on human reasoning while also maintaining an emotional appeal to those who are hostile to too much logic, but the result is unsuccessful.  Although many of the pieces of this book do have strong scriptural warrant, overall the book appears to be a desire to shut down discussion and debate and reflection on the nature and attributes of God by the use of certain words and labels, when the Bible shows that God wants us to wrestle with Him even if He is impossible for us to fully understand, because it is in our wrestling that we come to terms with our own fallen natures and our own longings and fears and become more like Him.  This book recognize the low tone of much of our thinking and believing about God, but it invites us to dry and uninspiring head knowledge when what is needed is more obedience to God and more wrestling with Him.  Nevertheless, at least this book is short enough so that anyone who reads this book will likely not waste too much time on it and may even get some comfort out of it, namely the comfort of knowing as much about God or even more than the author himself.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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8 Responses to Book Review: The Knowledge Of The Holy

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