NEW

We Wish You a Merry Saturnalia: Northern Churchman

We Wish You a Merry Saturnalia? The Northern Churchman There is a familiar feel to this time of year. The Christmas advertising on television, the darker evenings, the Carol Services – and the inevitable scoffers who call the Christmas story a myth. Not ‘Once in Royal...

Mark Pickles: The Story of Two Trampolines

Gospel-Driven Anglicanism By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles The Story of the Two Trampolines:  A passage that is frequently referred to during times of great revival is Isaiah 64:1-3:  “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your...

Ten Thousand Bibles for London’s Children

TBS Auxiliary Meets Ten Thousand Bibles For London’s Children The Greater London Auxiliary of the Trinitarian Bible Society was delighted to report at its Annual Meeting held on 15 November that over 10,000 Bibles have been distributed to London schools since the...

Good News for Egypt’s Christians

Barnabas Fund Reports Good News for Egypt’s Christians The government of Egypt licensed 125 churches and church-affiliated buildings on 14 November. It is the 24th batch of approvals made since the government committee overseeing the licensing process started work in...

Church Society’s Response to MP Ben Bradshaw

Church Society’s Response to MP Ben Bradshaw In the aftermath of Desmond Tutu’s daughter being refused permission to preside at a funeral in a Church of England parish, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told The Guardian that the “C of E must move swiftly to welcome lesbian...

Collins: Who’s Your Righteousness?

Who’s Your Righteousness? By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins Who’s your righteousness? "The Lord our Righteousness" was the sermon preached March 20, 1757 at St. Mary's Church in Oxford. It offended nearly everyone that day and William Romaine was invited to never preach...

Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act of 1963

Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act of 1963 Persons Against Whom Proceedings May be Instituted. Proceedings under this Measure may be instituted against an archbishop, any diocesan bishop or any suffragan bishop commissioned by a diocesan bishop or any other bishop or a...

Editorial: Joy to the World Cup

Editorial Joy to the World Cup The result of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is already in. And it appears the Church of England has lost. The latest advice from the Church of England’s Support Hub is for parishes to consider the timing of Christmas Carol Services to avoid...

Symes to Step Down from Anglican Mainstream Leadership

Symes to Step Down from Anglican Mainstream Leadership By Chris Sugden Andrew Symes is to stand down as Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream on January 1, 2023, after nearly ten years in post. Rev Symes, 56, who had earlier served with Crosslinks in South...

Retired Bishop Given Life Suspension

Retired Bishop Given Life Suspension By George Conger The former Bishop of Ramsbury has been suspended for life from the ordained ministry after he admitted to having sexually abused two women. The Daily Mail reported the Rt Rev. Peter Hullah had been the subject of...

That Happy Certainty

That Happy Certainty

Commentary by The Revd Robin Ham

“What we think about God is the most important thing about us:  Discovering Tozer’s Wider Paragraph

I’ve often seen and heard A. W. Tozer’s powerful line quoted in sermons & books, ‘What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.’

 

It’s a simple but sharp wake-up call for us to examine the connection between our ‘theology’ (whether conscious or unconscious) and everything else about our lives.

And I’ve used that quote myself many times. In my experience, it helps people take a step back and reflect on that connection. What kind of a God do I believe in? What kind of a God don’t I believe in? How might that then shape me in various ways?

But only recently did I see the wider paragraph, which I think offers a perceptive and challenging focusing of the lens of the line, which simultaneously invites a wide-angle view of its truthfulness.

 

Because Tozer then goes on to say this:

 

‘The history of [hu]mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion…

 

And then he continues, ‘And [our] spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God’.

 

In other words, our view of God (whether affirming belief in that God or denying it) has consequences not simply at the level of the individual, but also for us at the level of society and culture. For me, this prompts two significant applications: (I’m sure there are many more!)

 

Looking at the Church
 

Firstly, it’s a challenging word to any collective Christian culture. That could be an individual church, a theo-cultural ‘tribe’, a denomination or movement, a geographically-defined representation of the Church (e.g. ‘the Church in the West’).

 

Collectively, we will be shaped by our view of God in more ways than we know; for good and for ill. It limits and it launches. Our theology is our heart and soul because it shapes our worship, our identity, our mission, our ethics, etc.

 

It’s likely that we will, of course, in many ways be initially ignorant of these connections. That’s why we call them blindspots!

 

We want to be ‘always reforming’, coming ‘back’ to the nature and character of God, even if we find that the God to whom we come back is different to the perception of God we had previously.

 

As the apostle Paul put it in Ephesians 1, we want to ‘know God better’ – and it takes a work of God for this to happen.

 

But we don’t do it alone. Sola Scripture but not *solo* scripture. We prayerfully read Scripture with others. We need them to show us those theological blind spots.

So as CS Lewis put it, will we therefore let the theological ‘sea breeze of the centuries’ – and, we might add, of the global Church – blow through our bones?

 

2. Looking at the World

 

But the second application that came to mind from Tozer’s extended quotation is this: If a people have never ‘risen’ above or ‘been greater’ than their view of God, then doesn’t that motivate us to courageously, compassionately, prophetically hold out God to our world?

And by ‘our world’, the punch of the quotation is that *each* culture and society needs to hear, see, & know this God. Because each culture and society who doesn’t know this God *truly* will be inevitably and variously bound by that lack of knowledge.

 

Or to put it another way, a distorted understanding of God (again, even if that’s of a God it ‘doesn’t believe in’) will both constrain its vision for life & undermine its flourishing in life.We might note the way Tom Holland’s recent work, Dominion, has explored how European and Western civilisation is indebted to the Christian faith. We are now discovering what happens when we separate the fruit from the tree which produced it.

In a week where we mark the centenary of the birth of John Stott, perhaps we’d do well to rediscover Stott’s unashamed call to ‘theologise’ all of life in all of God’s world. His work, The Contemporary Christian, perhaps models this best.

 

Let us take up the challenge to ‘tell a better story’ to our world. To relocate identity, value, meaning, love, forgiveness, hope, justice, freedom, dignity, purpose in God. Maybe sometimes we think proclaiming the gospel means a slim, peripheral message?

 

But in the gospel, we proclaim God, true and living. Tozer highlights for us that without God our cultures & societies are inevitably and unknowingly parched, constrained through our ‘not knowing’, ‘unknowing’ and ‘false knowing’.

 

Of course, we’re all on a ‘knowledge journey’. No individual, society or church can know God fully. God’s ways are above our ways. But if God chooses to self-reveal in Christ (as the Church has always believed), then to simply say ‘God is unknowable’ betrays a false humility.

As D.A. Carson helpfully notes, just because we don’t know God fully, that doesn’t mean we can’t know God truly.

 

(If you want a reference: A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (26 Jun. 2017), p5.)

The Revd Robin Ham blogs at: That Happy Certainty, www.thathappycertainty.com.  He serves at Grace Church, Barrow.

Previous

Next