Book Review: The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 at 7:55 am

One can’t read A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God without grappling with the question of knowledge of God versus experiencing God. It’s the central theme of the book.

Tozer argues that it is insufficient to simply know about God or to pursue knowledge about God – but that one must pursue God Himself and experiences with God.

I agree.

The difficulty comes in when we start to make one exclusive of the other. When we start to think that pursuing God means not pursuing knowledge of God. When we start thinking that knowing about God precludes experiencing God.

And that’s exactly what Tozer seems to do.

It’s hard for me to put my thoughts about this book into words because my thoughts are so mixed. Certain passages in this book had me nodding my head and saying amen, some even brought tears to my eyes, so true and so profound they were.

“…Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God….

Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29) and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives.”

I love it – and Scripture testifies to it.

But the passage I just quoted is a part of a thought experiment in which Tozer asks what an “intelligent, plain man, untaught in the truths of Christianity” would think upon reading the Scriptures. This thought experiment is a part of Tozer’s regular derision of education in the truths of Christianity and of those who seek doctrinal truth.

I despise his derision.

Much of my mixed opinion of this book probably comes from having belonged to churches that belonged to either of these camps. I spent my teenage years in a church that explicitly or implicitly valued experiences with God over knowledge of God. There I saw (and experienced) great passion for God and willingness to do God’s will – coupled with a tendency to be pushed to and fro with every wind and wave of doctrine and to lose faith when experience wasn’t forthcoming. Now, I belong to a church (and more generally, to a doctrinal camp) that explicitly or implicitly values knowledge of God and right theology over experience. Here, I see a great passion to understand the word and to trust what God has spoken – couple with a tendency
to value right thinking over right living and to draw the lines of orthodoxy so narrowly as to exclude most of the Christian world.

Reading The Pursuit of God reminded made to long for and delight in the experience of my youth – but Tozer’s animosity towards training in theology, really towards any Biblical education besides a man and his Bible in a closet, made me thankful to belong to a church and a doctrinal camp that values education.

Because what Tozer misses is that the more you know, the greater you can appreciate. Knowing about justification doesn’t keep you from experiencing a right relationship with God – in fact, it deepens your ability to experience that relationship, because you understand by faith what you don’t always feel. And often, knowing and understanding by faith leads to experiencing.

So, very mixed thoughts and feelings towards this book – so much so that I can’t really write my usual end-of-the-book-review synopsis and recommendation. Sorry!


I read this as a part of Carrie’s Reading to Know Classic Bookclub. To read more thoughts on the book, check out the March summary post.


Reader Comments (3):

  1. Nancy says:

    If the heart is at church, the body will follow.
    Knowledge is the first step. Knowing Jesus, and who he is and what he has done for me is the second.

  2. Ohhhh this book has been so interesting. So many mixed thoughts and emotions across the board. I thin the thing that delights me the most is that no one is taking it at face value. Everyone is really thinking it through. Tozer gets us doing that despite himself almost.

    Well, you know my opinion on the book. I didn’t care for it. But I am glad to have read it.

  3. Barbara H. says:

    You know, maybe I just missed it, but I didn’t get the feeling at all that he was downplaying knowledge, just that he was advocating not having just knowledge void of experience, like the Pharisees. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that next time.

    I agree that knowledge enhances and feeds experiential worship. I generally prefer a more intellectual sermon or book (not intellectual in the sense of needing a MENSA IQ or anything, but one that feeds my knowledge which in turn spurs my worship) than an emotional or story-based one. Though I wouldn’t want one totally devoid of emotion, either. But the ones that are obviously going for an emotional response tend to trigger the opposite emotion in me than what they’re trying to achieve.

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