In the first chapter of The Knowledge of the Holy—aptly titled “Why We Must Think Rightly About God”—A. W. Tozer writes, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Our beliefs about God have consequences. Correct beliefs about God can stimulate worship, provide comfort, give encouragement, inspire wonder, and provoke fear.
But what are the consequences of thinking wrongly about God? A. W. Tozer has this to say:
A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God….
Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is—in itself a monstrous sin—and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it and will be base or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges….
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 peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place….
Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true….
Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” and goes on from there…. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.
This should be a sober warning to all of us. Theology isn’t just for professional theologians. Every Christian should desire to know God. Sadly, there are many people (including professing Christians) claiming to know God who hardly know anything about Him. But this won’t work. In fact, as Tozer states, it leads to idolatry.