Last week I wrote several posts on A. W. Tozer. I cited his classic book The Knowledge of the Holy. Several have questioned me about this post and one reader noted that my quotation, upon which the premise was established, was not in the text where I cited it. I went back to the book and read this material again today. As I read it I realize that I had made one very minor mistake. I said the quotation was from the preface to the book but it was not. It is in the final chapter (Chapter 23), titled "The Open Secret." The quotation I cited is as follows:

As sunlight falls free on the open field, so the knowledge of the holy God is a free gift to men who are open to receive it. But this knowledge is difficult because there are conditions to be met and the obstinate nature of fallen man does not take kindly to them (page 115).

The very next sentence, beginning a new short paragraph, reads:

Let me present a brief summary of these conditions as taught by the Bible and repeated through the centuries by the holiest, sweetest saints the world has ever known:

First, we must forsake our sins . . .

What follows are the seven conditions I listed in my post.

The criticism I have received, and some of it I have not posted but chosen to answer in private, has been quite insistent that I got this wrong. To respond to this, for the benefit of all my readers, I have two comments to add to this discussion.

1. For Tozer "the knowledge" of God is what life and Christian faith are all about. In the final chapter of Tozer’s classic he is really asking if the modern Church can be brought back from its "long Babylonian Captivity" (page 114) where the name of God might again be glorified in her again. He argues that since the Church is not "a mystical religious abstraction" (amen to that) but consists rather of real individuals it is such individuals, who must be restored to the departed glory. So when A. W. Tozer comes to the end of this classic little book he writes (and this is the entire paragraph):

Knowledge of such a Being

[i.e., a Holy God] cannot be gained by study alone. It comes by a wisdom the natural man knows nothing of, neither can know, because it is spiritually discerned. To know God is at once the easiest and the most difficult thing in the world. It is easy because the knowledge is not won by hard mental toil, but is something freely given. As sunlight falls free on the open field, so the knowledge of the holy God is a free gift to men who are open to receive it. But this knowledge is difficult because there are conditions to be met and the obstinate nature of fallen man does not take kindly to them.

There you have it. Tozer seems to be saying that salvation, if I understand him correctly, is a free gift, but to know God is "difficult" and "there are conditions to be met."Tozerwalking

I thus rest my case regarding my original comments. The reader can decide for himself/herself if they agree or disagree with Tozer. I clearly agree.

2. More important to the comments I received, and these are common to some that I receive again and again from only a few readers, I think the problem raised has much more to do with the way I used the word "salvation" in my post. The actual word is not found in the Tozer quotes. What is found is the word "knowledge."

The problem here is that some Protestants equate the word salvation with justification. I do not. If we think of salvation, and simply equate it with justification by faith alone, we can be one (accept Jesus, etc.) and done. If you are justified, (and there must be a dozen ways this type of thinking has tried to divide all of this up in order to help those who are justified have assurance of their final salvation), you are then set for life, eternally secure. You know God and that is the end of the matter. I do not see this kind of thinking in the Bible at all.

I have argued for years that the Bible uses the word "salvation" in a variety of ways. Salvation is a much more all-encompassing word than justification, which certainly comes under the word salvation and is a vitally important doctrine.

I have also argued that "the knowledge of God" is salvation. I think Tozer is doing the same in this book. Disagree if you will but the Bible very clearly uses salvation in a much broader way than how we do. You will hear someone say: "John got saved last Thursday night." I think we would be more accurate if we said: "John came to Christ last Thursday and we welcome his step of personal faith. Now we pray that he will come to know God more and more as he grows in his grace and walks in his Spirit." We will also point John to the Church and to the sacraments, insisting that he must follow Christ in obedience, be baptized, etc.

Look, the Bible very plainly speaks of salvation as past, present and future. I "have been saved." Further, "I am being saved" and some day "I will be saved." From start to finish this process is all by grace alone. This is why Tozer says that "to know God is . . . the easiest . . . thing in the world" (page 115). But it is also "the most difficult thing in the world" (page 115). Modern evangelical Protestants have taken the "easiest thing in the world" part and forgotten about "the most difficult thing in the world" part. This is why I wrote what I did in my previous posts.

My post, to use the technical jargon of academic theology, was not about the ordo salutis (the order of salvation; i.e. fall, election, regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc. A major battle in this argument is about where to put regeneration and conversion.) Truthfully the ordo salutis is nothing more than a man-made construct by which we try to sort out what we read in Scripture. We do this when we wrestle with these words and then make them fit into our mental ideas about how this must work out in salvation. Often we are trying to make a mystery into a series of logical constructs and Calvinists are way too willing to do this. For this they are rightly criticized by non-Calvinists who think they have everything neatly figured out and put down in their system. And this is also one reason Calvinists will often be dismissive of a man like Tozer. I read him and say, "This is brilliant and it is clearly biblical, and historically mainstream, Christian thinking."  Just before the chapter of Tozer’s that I cited is his chapter on the sovereignty of God. (I will write about it tomorrow and show you how Tozer understood this great biblical theme. His balanced perspective is actually quite good!)

For now I will freely confess that I do not much care for the kind of thinking that puts so much stress on the ordo salutis. I am quite sure that this is one reason why some conservative Reformed writers, who post on this blog spot, think that I am not truly Reformed. Let me make my response to this as plain as possible. These are good people and they are entitled to this view. They can tell the world what they will and I have no quarrel with them. (I think the Scripture is plain in how it tells me and everyone else to respond!) I even respect people who disagree with me if this kind of critique is done with grace and love. I do not, however, agree with their approach to theology. This is the issue. But this doesn’t mean that I am not opposed to some Reformed writers as Christians. I simply think and function differently at these points of systematic theology. Their approach seems to be that they feel they must continually remind whoever will listen that I am not "truly Reformed." The truth is that they are partially correct.

I am quite comfortable to allow anyone to debate these matters all they want but I find the whole discussion disinteresting the more I read it and, quite frankly, pretty unimportant to the mission of Christ. I also find that this approach to theology can foster a kind of Christian practice that I personally found unappealing when I was in the middle of it. My own heart grew cold, which was entirely my fault, and my mind swelled with the pride of my assurance that I had embraced the "almost perfect" way of thinking about God. This was even more my fault. There is no excuse, ever, for such pride of thought and belief. I still find the sin of this distressing and freely confess that my present course also leaves me open to a new "kind" of pride. (Pride plagues us at every turn and I am anything but immune! One thing your opponents will do for you is help underscore how susceptible to pride you actually are. Thankfully no one else can see how bad it really is. And thankfully God is still gracious to cover confessed sin.)

Now that I have openly confessed that I was wrong in the past this makes some people very unhappy in the present since they have remained in the world that I openly left. The problem here is very human and really quite simple. I appear to be attacking them, or at least it seems that way to them I guess. The interesting fact is that most of my readers can plainly see this for what it is and do not understand me as attacking anyone by what I write. They see me as reflecting on theology and upon how I think about it as one Christian minister and teacher. Younger readers love the story and the journey part. They find it interesting that someone could write and teach, as I did and do, and then change their mind and actually say so. Some older readers feel I betrayed a good cause, maybe even them in some way. I freely admit that I am a pilgrim seeking for all the light that I can find. I see this light in Christ alone who still reveals himself to those who seek for him and saves sinners just like me.

All of this is what made me want to stop writing blogs just a few months ago. I have no interest in creating a dart board with me as the target. Nor do I have any interest in using this site to launch personal attacks, which I do not do. Actually, many of my very best friends still believe much of what I once believed a decade ago. They remain my friends but they do not think I am attacking them  by what I write. We simply discuss (and disagree) and hopefully we all benefit and grow. But a few folks cannot abide this kind of dialog without having to speak out about me or my errors. This seems  to have become an all too common problem in a few places. Believe me, I do not spend hours on the Internet reading Reformed-type blogs. What little I have read tells me that a great number of these writers
are posting comments so that writers can vent on other Christians and their viewpoints. These posts are filled with polemical theology and personal attacks on some of the most godly people I know, both Reformed and non-Reformed. This is especially true if the attacks are against Roman Catholics or the Orthodox. And my problem is exacerbated since I remain a Reformed minister and also work with Catholics and Orthodox Christians as my personal partners and friends.

I am sometimes deeply discouraged by all these approaches and the way it generates so much opposition. This is why I considered giving up this medium. Why didn’t I? In short, many young readers, and some older readers too, wrote me and, even more, said to my face: "Your blogs help me in so many ways. Don’t stop, please!" They would then elaborate on how they had been impacted by an idea I shared, or a book, or a movie, or even a humorous story. As I travel here and there someone will invariably come up to me and make these kinds of comments. I return home and say to myself, "I am doing this time consuming labor of love for people like so-and-so that I just met for the first time. He/she will benefit, or so I hope and pray."

Finally, the problem with these various arguments about the ordo salutis is that these have, for way too long, made into the important issue in some Reformed thinking. Yes, the arguments have been there for centuries, as the academic literature will plainly show, but it is a human construct and one that has been given way too much emphasis. Further, this type of argument is very often used in wrong ways to create the kind of Calvinism that generates  the opposition many of you have met and seen firsthand. What follows is all the labels. He is a Calvinist, she is not. On and on it goes. I have no time or interest in all these labels!

Just yesterday my wife and I spoke about a friend of mine who let me know that he didn’t desire to have personal fellowship with me any longer. Why? I identify too closely with Roman Catholic priests and even have public dialog with them as my brothers and friends. This man is not a theologian or minister but he was a real pal for years. We shared parties, presents, baseball and a lot of great fun times. Now we do not talk. He has made it clear that he does not want to associate with me. My wife commented, as we rode our bikes, "Well, he will all too soon have to get along with those Roman Catholics when they are in heaven with him as the people of God." Amen!!!!

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  1. P. Andrew Sandlin June 24, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    John, I can’t believe someone would break fellowship over such things, especially a close friend. Sounds tragically like the old fundamentalist “second-degree separation” with a vengeance! What silliness!

  2. Ted Smith June 24, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks for another interesting and informative post. I have not read Tozer; now I think I must. And please don’t stop blogging, John. I may not agree with everything you say, but one thing cyberspace desperately needs are well-reasoned voices of faith.

  3. patjohnson June 25, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Dr. Armstrong, what do you think of Obama’s speech to the liberal Christian group, Call to Renewal? The speech can be found here:
    It’s raised a lot of controversy after Dr. Dobson made a public criticism of the speech. I myself am starting to have some uncertainty about Obama’s beliefs.

  4. pyodor June 25, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    I read the following passage several times. I think the confusion lies in the two “knowledges”:
    …As sunlight falls free on the open field, so the “knowledge” of the holy God is a free gift to men who are open to receive it. But this “knowledge” is difficult because there are conditions to be met…
    As John points out the first “knowledge” seems to refer to salvation. But it doesn’t seem to be so clear if the second “knowledge” also refers to salvation as the first “knowledge”. The reason I think that is that Tozer seems to imply that the “knowledge” of the Holy is difficult because we are “unholy”. I mean, how can the unholy know the Holy? Of course we have to be very careful here about “know”. To “know” the Holy does not exactly mean to accumulate the information about the Holy through Wikipedia. I think it is more like “if you hold to my teaching, you will know the truth…” According to Tozer, “holding to my teaching” is difficult because we are unholy. So in this respect, “knowing the Holy” is difficult. That is what Tozer seems to say if you read the end part of the above passage carefully.
    So I want to say that we should be very careful in understanding the second “knowledge” in the above passage with respect to the first “knowledge”. It seems to me that Tozer’s conditions are more related to the second “knowledge” than to the first “knowledge”.

  5. Jack Isaacson June 26, 2008 at 2:26 am

    June 24,you wrote,”As sunlight falls free on the open field, so the knowledge of the holy God is a free gift to men who are open to receive it…”
    On June 19, you wrote,”As sunlight calls free on the open field,…”
    Is it “FALLS” or “CALLS”?

  6. John H. Armstrong June 26, 2008 at 9:25 am

    The spelling typo is mine. I corrected the June 19th post. Note also that I corrected the mistake that these words are not found in the preface but rather in the final chapter.
    I do not have a personal editor for these posts and thus make mistakes. I have a friend (a board member of ACT 3) who is going to help me edit them so thanks Jack for pointing out this mistake. I am working hard to “get it right” and need all the help I can get.

  7. Nick Morgan June 28, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    Thank you for another post filled with the honesty, humility and integrity that I have come to appreciate so much in you and what you write. You and your ministry continue to be such an encouragement and blessing to me. I too find it very sad that this once former “friend” turns away from you just because you are comfortable with us Roman Catholics. However, it seems to me that this man is the loser, not you! As you know, we have some “fundamentalist” type Roman Catholics in the fold too, which one RC writer has dubbed; “more catholic than the Pope”. John, I would rather spend time with you and other like-minded Protestant brothers in Christ than fellow Catholics who look upon every Protestant as if they’re “schismatics” or heretics. As much as I love the Church, we can’t love the Church properly unless we love Christ; and we can’t truly love Christ if we don’t genuinely love our brothers and sisters in Christ; especialy those with whom we may not always agree. I find fellowship with other Christians who realize that they don’t already know everything so refreshing, since when we realize our limitations and ignorance about God, then we are ready and willing to always be learning. And to me, this makes the Christian life much more exciting and mysterious in a good sense. Keep up the good work my brother and thank you for continuing to write these blogs. God bless you always!

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