The Image of God—A.W. Tozer

Read carefully. A reading from “Why We Must Think Rightly About God,” from The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
The history of mankind will probably show that no people [group] has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a 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. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the Church will stand tomorrow…

That our ideas of God correspond as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. 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 an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God.” —A.W. Tozer

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11 thoughts on “The Image of God—A.W. Tozer

        • I agree with you, that we will never be able to prove the existence of God. Credibleness is a different issue though, mostly semantic. With that said, I am quite certain that the god you reject I also reject. I do not know you, so I cannot pretend to understand what you believe or why you believe it, but I am sure that you have a perfectly credible, reasonable, and logical series of rationale for why you reject what you consider my god, and have your own faith (and it is exactly that — faith). I do sense anger in your tone, and for that I apologize. I apologize for myself if I have personally wronged you in some way, and I apologize for the Christian community as a whole for exhibiting this bigotry rather than inclusion and embrace, and hate rather than love. I hope that wherever you are there are peoples of all faiths with whom you can energetically and cordially engage in conversation. If you were in Houston I would suggest we grab coffee together, because I suppose that’s what Christians are supposed to do. Alas, grace and peace to you.

          • Thank you for your care in understanding. I do have a further question. Even you lump ‘Christians’ together as one group and as a community. Is there reason that non-believers should not think of them as a monolithic group? That is to say is there reason to think that anyone who claims to be a christian should be questioned as to what they believe, or should we be able to assume they believe the Christian bible, Jesus was/is god and so on, or should we all ask “what kind of Christian are you?” before discussing religion? This kind of relates to the whole ‘what you think god is vs. what other Christians think god is’ question and also the problem where a Christian says that if someone does something bad they aren’t true Christians.

            I guess I mean to ask
            – “just what is a Christian?”
            – “Why can’t Christians agree what it is to be Christian?”
            – “Is Kent Hovind a Christian?”

            • To your first question, I think it might rather be of greater use to ask the question “Who is Jesus, and why is he such a big deal?” This will probably lead to an answer for your second question. Though it is a similar principle if I ask this very question of you, since in the “About Me” section of your blog you note that you think you “see life a little bit differently than many atheists.” The third, while I see what you’re getting at, I cannot comment on because I only know what I have read about the man. I don’t know him myself.

              • As the first born of an evangelical preacher, I know about the Jesus story. What I don’t understand is what is a Christian. I have my view on it, but your considerations in your first reply made me think you might be able to offer a definition that would be more useful than my own.

                You seem unwilling to accept that Hovind who professes to be Christian is a Christian which seems like a definition in use to me. You can’t know if a person is a Christian without knowing them. It seems clear then that professing to be a Christian is not enough under your definition. Further, I might presume that you think there are some folk who are not true Christians. Professing faith is not enough.

                I’d like to know what or how to know if a person is a true Christian or not and if it is possible to be a bad person and a Christian. A lot of people would.

              • This is difficult to answer without writing a dissertation. In modern philosophy it’s easy to make reductionist foundational statements regarding everything. We all want to know the base, or foundation of something. The problem is that different groups have different definitions of what the foundation is, which means… there is no foundation. There are no self-evident, indubitable universal paradigms. So if Hovind professes Christ, he’s probably a Christian. If someone who thinks young-earth theology is ridiculous, and believes in the theory of evolution, and yet still professes Christ, they are probably a Christian too.

                And can someone be a bad person and still be a Christian? This is a completely unanswerable question unless we have the same definition of good and bad. But we don’t because we operate under different cultural paradigms with different mental scripts. In modern Enlightenment terms good and bad are entirely subjective words. So before there could have any further conversation on that this issue needs some thinking through. Which is why Ludwig Wittgenstein is a boss.

                Anybody can be a Christian. Everyone is welcome. The good news of Jesus is that there is grace for everything and in everything. There are a lot of serious issues (moral, intellectual, cultural, philosophical, etc.) with the contemporary Western Church for a lot of reasons, but there are also a lot of significant issues (moral, intellectual, cultural, philosophical, etc.) with everyone else. What does it mean to be a true Christian? What does it mean to be a true anything? The living of life is much muddier than we’ve attempted to make it.

              • A most interesting and meticulous reply.
                I am not trying to corner you or play word games. These are questions that I ask earnestly. In the balance where world views hang it is in the ability to speak clearly that peace and understanding lay.

                I believe that a bad person can be a Christian; Joshua was not a nice guy. While technically not a Christian, to me it follows that he would have been. The dichotomy between OT and NT is problematic both in storyline and content. I find it troubling that ‘moderate Christians’ seem interested in only the NT and deny the OT while proclaiming the virtues of the 10 commandments and ‘some’ of the edicts of Leviticus. To me, a Christian must own it all, or none, or start their own religion which should not be called Christianity. They can all ‘lite’ or ‘new’ or ‘+’ if they wish, but they need to explain that they are not fundamentalists, and that they do not hold to the rules from the OT. Of course, that doesn’t rule out slavery or any of the really bad stuff from the OT, but hey… it’s their choice not mine.

                I do not believe in gods or the supernatural and find no credibility in all that has been offered as evidence. So it is important to me to understand where people are coming from. You’ve not really said what foundations you subscribe to. You’ve been quite careful it seems to have avoided doing so.

              • I have steered away from the use of foundations because foundations imply an immovable will. Foundations imply the knowledge of absolute truth. I know that no one can know absolute truth (which of course is an absolute statement), so when I build my beliefs on a set of indubitable propositional statements what happens when my foundation gets kicked out from underneath me–when my absolute truth is now no longer seen as absolute? Everything crumbles! I do not believe in foundations, but, for lack of a better example, I see beliefs as more like a web. Things can get shifted around pretty easily and it really doesn’t mess too much up. I certainly believe that Jesus is “the way the truth and the life,” but I am more than happy, and unafraid to try to understand why you, or anyone else, does not. Does that make sense (in probably a pretty unhelpful way)?

                It’s funny, you and I probably share many of the same concerns. I too find the dichotomy much of modern evangelicalism attempts to make between the OT and NT troubling. I am currently working on a paper over the Doctrine of Scripture (which is why my responses are getting slower) that I think you would find very interesting if you would like me to send it to you when I’m finished. You may not agree with it, but I hope you’ll find it intriguing. It’s for my Systematic Theology class (I’m about half-way through my Master of Theology degree from Fuller Seminary, which is too conservative for ultra liberals and too liberal for fundamentalist conservatives, while Fuller tends to fall more on the postliberal side, but not always).

                I can’t prove that God exists, just like an atheist can’t prove that he doesn’t. In scientific terms they are both just theories. But I’m also not particularly interested in the question at this point. I know who I was before becoming a Christian at 17, and since then, though my faults are many, my joy is abundant. The Christian narrative, with its participation in grace and expectant hope, has stolen my life. Shoot me your email address if you’re interested in that paper. Mine is james.clarkfinch.reed@gmail.com.

  1. I love it when atheists jump on their soapbox and yell at Christians about how they don’t love and their God is an “imaginary bigoted man”. As a man that doesn’t believe in God or gods, I’ve never understood how you can decry a bigoted God using… bigotry. Let’s all try and respect each other, not because of what we believe, but because we are all just trying to make it through this life. There are many different roads — we all make our choices.

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