“You are always going to move in the direction of your perception of God.” (A.W. Tozer, Delighting in God, Chapter 14)
I recently finished teaching a six-month study on Systematic Theology and am gearing up to work through the same material a second time. I have based my outline for the study on my own doctrinal statement, not because I think that my organization is any better than the countless textbooks available out there, but because I had spent so many months in writing it that I feel like it is a part of me. The flow and wording are my own, and while I have made slight adjustments to the material as I’ve grown in my understanding, the ten-part series is as strong an introduction to doctrine as I feel I can make it. In preparing for this second course, however, I recognize that there are many points in which I can never know enough. “Theology Proper” is one of them, for knowing God with my whole being is something that will take a lifetime-plus-eternity. I can never know enough.
For this reason, I picked up Delighting in God by A.W. Tozer, a book that deals far more with the “experience” of God and our “perception” of God than it does with the doctrines of God. Surprisingly (even to me), this is not at all a problem for me, though like most conservative Christians I hate the word “experience” and am wary of anyone who considers himself as having “mystic” bents. Tozer is such a man, but his reasons—which are the very material of this book—are enough to turn even the most hard-lined Fundamentalist into a “mystic.” In fact, the following paragraph from Chapter 18 summarizes perfectly a few of the points that Tozer attempts to drive home in this book:
It is not something new I need to learn. It is something new I need to experience, and what I experience lies within the simple framework of the Gospel as we know it. We got the tree, all right. The trouble is, the tree is not blooming. Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are a tree in winter. It is not dead, because there is life in it all right. But it is not flowering. God never meant for the tree of correct doctrine to stand stark and cold with the wind whistling through its bare branches. He meant the tree of correct doctrine to blossom, flower, and bear fruit. … All we have to do is get down on our knees with out New Testament and pray through that boundary. The ladder that stood on the earth with its top reaching halfway up is still there, and we do not need anything else, just our knees and the New Testament. (Ch. 18)
Prayer through the New Testament! What a not-so-novel idea that the vast majority of Christians ignore on a daily, weekly, monthly basis! If I want to truly delight in God, if I want to experience Him in a way that will change my inner man and charge my spiritual light, then all I need to do is speak to God and let Him talk back through His Word. This is so basic and yet so ignored.
We Christians love our Bible reading plans. The problem is, when we’ve got a goal which is “to finish,” then finishing becomes our purpose and God becomes a side-note. Personally, I hate the idea of “read through the Bible in a year.” I love that it gets people somewhat conscious of God’s full redemptive plan and that it can make even the most obscure passages sound familiar, but at the same time, I hate that it has these little and major goals of “finishing.” Even when a person prays at the end of his reading, he often has to rack his brain to try and remember any lessons he might have learned. And let’s be honest: reading 4 chapters from the book of Numbers one day compared to 4 chapters from the book of Proverbs on another is like eating a meal consisting entirely of either plain white rice or rich appetizers. Both have their nutritional values, but one just isn’t enough and the other is way too much.
Clearly, I am not condoning the ignorance of the Old Testament in favor of reading exclusively the New. I am, however, in favor of canceling our addiction to reading plans so that we can simply pray through any text until God teaches us exactly what we need to learn. Communication can never be one-sided, so reading without prayer is certainly not an option. But communication should also never be giant monologues staggered against each other, as happens when I read 4 chapters and then pray. Instead, proper communication should follow the characteristics of dialogue, where God speaks to me a phrase at a time and I respond. If my tree of doctrine is a living yet fruitless tree in winter, then I have got to take some drastic steps to break through that boundary. Tozer’s recommendation is spot-on.
Tozer’s structure in this book is interesting, as he opens every chapter with a personal prayer and then closes each with the words of some famous hymn. The feel of each chapter is that of collected essays, though it’s possible that these chapters are the fuller texts of sermons that he has preached over the years. Each deals with a different aspect of our perception of God, and each has its own strengths and convicting lines. For example, in Chapter 6 he touches on a supremely important point that most Christians misunderstand: just because you believe something in the Bible doesn’t mean that you’re experiencing in your own life. He uses Galatians 2:20 as an example, but I’ll consider Galatians 5:16-25 instead. Just because a Christian knows the Fruit of the Spirit doesn’t mean he has them, and just because a person is a Christian doesn’t mean he shows them. Verse 16 shares a very clear prerequisite, that the person must first “walk in the Spirit” or “keep in step with the Spirit” (not simply have the Spirit) in order to eventually bear the fruit of the Spirit. This Evangelical version of “name it, claim it” has given too many weak believers delusions of sanctification that simply are not pleasing to God. This chapter, then, is certainly a convicting read.
I truly enjoyed this book and will likely return to it again in the future. If you read it, do so with an open heart that doesn’t mind getting its stubborn sides poked and prodded, because that’s exactly what Tozer’s words will do.