We have seen in a series of recent blogs that in Paul's mind, unrighteousness (bad behaviour) is the consequence of ungodliness (bad beliefs about who God is). A.W.Tozer (in his preface to The Knowledge of the Holy) put it this way:
It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous and inadequate.
Tozer develops this idea in the first chapter of his book, tellingly titled "Why we must think rightly about God".
Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech.
On this basis he argues that what pops into our mind personally when we think about God is the most accurate predictor of our spiritual future, and when we see what the most influential Christian leaders think about God today we will have a pretty clear view of what the church will look like tomorrow. So the question of how closely our idea of God corresponds to his true being is hugely significant.
At this point, Tozer insightfully points out that what we say we believe in our creeds and official statements of faith is of little help. We know fairly well what we ought to believe. But as Tozer writes when he cuts through the religious veneer:
Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions, and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God.
So what we believe about God is not just a theoretical matter of systematic theology: it is basic to every aspect of practical Christian living. Every failure in Christian ethics and every error in Christian doctrine can be traced back to thinking wrong thoughts about God.
This is why the Bible is so vehemently opposed to idolatry, and it is a problem that flourishes in modern guises every bit as much as in the idols of wood and stone in biblical times and faraway places. Any unworthy, inadequate, ignoble view of God is a despicable idol that is a libel on God's character. Tozer spells it out clearly:
The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than he is - in itself a monstrous sin - and substitutes the true God for one made after its own likeness... Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized people are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him... The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.
We see increasingly what acting out low and false views of God looks like in a church where worship becomes more man-centred and moral standards decline. The church may nominally cling to her ancient creeds, but what Tozer calls our "practical working creeds" are false. We believe that God is different to what He actually is. The solution to the woes of the church does not lie in attempts to help people live better lives, or techniques to make our worship feel more powerful and moving: all our best efforts should be directed toward helping people to see who God really is as he has chosen to reveal himself to us in His Word and in His Son.
As Christmas approaches and we celebrate the fact that God has made himself known in the gift of Christ, there can be few better things to put on your Christmas wish list than a copy Tozer's book, The Knowledge of the Holy. Last time I checked - you can get it for $0.99 as an e-book!