Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Attributes of God, Volume 2, by A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer.  The Attributes of God: Volume 2: Deeper Into the Father’s Heart.  Chicago: WingSpread Publishers (an imprint of Moody Publishers), 2015.  See here to purchase the book.

A.W. Tozer was a pastor and Christian author who lived from 1897 to 1963.  The Attributes of God, Volume 2 contains edited sermons that Tozer delivered about certain attributes of God.  These attributes include God’s self-existence, transcendence, eternalness, omnipotence, immutability, omniscience, wisdom, sovereignty, faithfulness, and love.  The book has an extensive study guide in the back, written by David E. Fassenden.  Fassenden offers his own honest musings about each chapter, including what he wishes Tozer had addressed but did not.  At the end of his commentary, Fassenden provides a format that small groups can follow in discussing the chapter.

Tozer is charming as he discusses each attribute of God, using stories, analogies, and anecdotes to make his points.  Tozer’s imagery is often compelling.  Reading the book has the cozy feel of reading a bedtime story, yet Tozer is clear that the God that he is discussing is real, and that we should act as if he is real (i.e., be bold in our prayers, for God can do anything).  Tozer is also humorously self-deprecating in this book.  For example, he talks about how he feels dumb whenever he goes to the library, and how he is a sucker for the latest New Testament translations, even though he finds that they do not enhance his walk with God!  In addition, Tozer offers wry criticism of the religious practices of his day.  For instance, Tozer is mildly critical of prayer meetings, for he wonders what the point is of spending hours telling God what God already knows!  Tozer comes across as a lovable curmudgeon.

The chapters on God’s faithfulness and love were beautiful, thoughtful, and pastoral.  In other books that I have read by Tozer, Tozer seems to have an attitude that Christians need to have all of their ducks in a row, or they are not truly saved.  That attitude appears in this book, too.  But this book also conveys the message that God loves us, even though we are imperfect, and that we should faithfully endure periods of spiritual barrenness in hope that God will come through.  This book, in short, was more encouraging, in areas.

The book also had thoughtful discussions about the relationship between faith and reason, as well as God’s sovereignty and human free will.  In my review of Tozer’s God’s Pursuit of Man (Chicago: Moody, 2015), I expressed curiosity about whether Tozer was a Calvinist or an Arminian.  Tozer in God’s Pursuit of Man seemed to lean more in the Calvinist direction, emphasizing God’s role in calling people to faith in Christ and enabling belief.  In The Attributes of God, Volume 2, Tozer explicitly engages Calvinism and Arminianism.  Tozer and Fassenden present Tozer as one who is in the middle of the extremes of Calvinism and Arminianism, but Tozer in The Attributes of God, Part 2 strikes me as having more Arminian sentiments.  Tozer believes that God is sovereign but that God in God’s sovereignty has given people free will.  As far as I can recall, there is nothing in this book about God causing or enabling people to believe; Tozer in this book appears to treat free will as rather libertarian.  (Of course, Arminians believe that God makes belief possible through prevenient grace; my point is, though, that Tozer leans more towards free-will than determinism of compatibilism in this particular book.)

In terms of critiques, the book would have been better had Tozer engaged aspects of the Bible that appear to run contrary to his picture of God.  For example, why did God say after Abraham almost sacrificed his son that “Now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12)?  Did not God, being omniscient, know before this event that Abraham feared God?  On page 125, Tozer does address a similar question: Why did God say that he was going to Sodom to see if they are wicked (Genesis 18:21), when God already knew that they were wicked?  Tozer says that God, being omniscient, was not seeking information, but rather made his statement in Genesis 18:21 for another reason.  Tozer’s explanation was unclear and elliptical, however, and his wrestling with such difficult biblical passages was only occasional.

Tozer wryly mocks the notion that God guilts people: that Jesus guilts people about them not loving him by telling them all of the things that he has done for them.  For Tozer, God is happier and more level-headed than that.  Yet, on page 210, Tozer appears to embrace the approach that he criticizes when he says: “The soul that can scorn such infinite, emotional, eager love as this, the soul that can trample it down, turn away from it and despise it, will never enter God’s heaven—-never.”  Tozer then goes on to provide a reasonable explanation about why people go to heaven and hell: these places are a continuation of their present outlooks and lifestyles.  (That makes some sense, but I would question the implication that non-believers would fail to appreciate a world of love, which heaven will be, whereas believers would automatically appreciate it.)  But Tozer on page 210 does seem to use the sort of guilt-tripping that he criticizes.

Tozer appears to embrace negative theology in parts of this book.  He thinks that God is so beyond our comprehension, that we can often only say what God is not, rather than what God actually is.  Tozer also talks about different images of God, which seems to acknowledge some subjectivity in theology.  Yet, Tozer does believe that there are right answers and that people can actually know God, and he even makes positive claims about God’s psychology: God is a happy God, for instance.  Tozer perhaps would have done well to have attempted to iron out these tensions.  At the same time, this book is humbler than other Tozer books that I have read.  It is still dogmatic, yet Tozer acknowledges his limitations and when he is offering his opinion about what God is like.  In that respect, the book is refreshing.

Tozer does well to treat God as a unitive personality, as opposed to a being with different or contradictory attributes.  A number of evangelicals say that God is loving, but God is also just and holy, as if these attributes are dramatically different from each other.  Tozer, by contrast, has an interesting discussion on pages 197-198 about God’s attributes in the damnation of sinners.  He states: “I believe that at the end of time, when we know as we are known (see 1 Corinthians 13:12), it will be found that even the damning of man is an expression of the love of God as certainly as the redeeming of man.”  Tozer should have spent more time explaining this and offering a unitary, integrative picture of God’s personality, one in which love and justice reinforce one another.  On some level, Tozer does make the argument that unrepentant sinners would be unhappy in heaven, which may lean in the direction of arguing that God is loving even towards the sinners God damns; at the same time, though, Tozer also says that unrepentant sinners will be unhappy in hell!  (I should note that Tozer covers God’s justice and holiness in the first volume, which I have not yet read.)

My questions notwithstanding, this book is an edifying and thoughtful read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher (Moody Press).  My review is honest.

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