Probably the writer who has impacted my life the most is A.W. Tozer, popular deeper life devotional writer, and pastor in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. I like to say that Tozer is in my DNA. Let me explain why.
My Dad, who was from Lutheran and Presbyterian background, came to saving faith in Christ in an Alliance church while in college. When my parents got married, they spent part of their honeymoon at an Alliance campground in Pennsylvania hearing Tozer preach. I was born ten months later. I was nearly conceived under the ministry of A.W. Tozer, so Tozer is in my DNA!
I started reading Tozer’s classic The Pursuit of God, when I was in high school—and I have read it more than a dozen times. Outside of the Bible, it is probably the book I have read most. My life Scripture is Philippians 3:10-14:
. . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect, but I press on that I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
That is my passion—to know Christ more and more—to pursue Him, dying to self that I might live His resurrection life, and to equip others for that deeper and higher life in Christ.
Consequently, I have devoured everything Tozer has written—more than 50 books in my collection. In the early 1990s, before the days of computer word search, I was asked by a publisher to compile an index of his writings. It may seem tedious, but I loved doing it. I was able to dive into all of His works and find nuggets throughout.
The Knowledge of the Holy, another of his classics, I have read numerous times as well. Every time I read, he cuts to the chase and challenges me spiritually. Some of my other favorites—That incredible Christian, The Root of the Righteous, Divine Conquest, his series on the Holy Spirit.
Tozer is the theologian of the Presence. More than any other topic, he writes of experiencing the Presence of God. It is a golden strand all through his writings. Leonard Ravenhill, who was mentored by Tozer, spoke of Tozer lying on his face on the carpet in humbleness and awe of God’s presence. I have heard the same of Billy Graham.
Tozer introduced me to the evangelical Christian mystics, being known as a mystic himself: Bernard of Clairvaux, Nicholas of Cusa, Lady Julian, Brother Lawrence, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna, hymnwriters (most hymnwriters were mystics), and so many more. He did not agree with all of their theology but recognized them as people who really knew God personally—who practiced the Presence of God. He called worship “the missing jewel.” Today, on one hand, he would laud modern worship emphasis on The Presence; on the other hand, he would call a lot of modern worship “vacuous” and “superficial.”
Tozer has also challenged me intellectually. Although he never completed high school, he was an avid reader—especially theologians. Once I got to see part of his library at Tozer Theological Seminary in Redding, California. He had read theologians like Augustine, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the church fathers, Luther, Wesley, the Puritans, and so much more. I loved his saying, “Truth has two wings. You have got to have both wings to make it fly.” He emphasized balancing texts of Scripture and recognizing counter-polarities. At the same time, he challenged me not to be taught only by the text of Scripture, but to be Spirit-taught—by the Spirit making Scripture come alive, fresh and new.
Tozer was very incisive in his writings, sometimes to the point of being too blunt, or even caustic. Alliance historian, John Sawin, who knew him personally, said Tozer would travel hundreds of miles to apologize to someone. Being another Western Pennsylvania blunt person, I have often had to apologize for my forthrightness (the euphemism we use to excuse our bluntness).
If you read the biographies of his life, you will know of his weaknesses—especially the neglect of his family. I hope that I have learned from his mistakes as well as his pursuit of God. No, I don’t always agree with his theology or his lifestyle, but the mentoring I have received through his books has challenged me, convicted me, humbled me, taken me to my face on the carpet, and raised me up to see that there is always more in life with Jesus Christ—to become an incredible Christian living for an incredible Jesus.
I commend to you the reading of A.W. Tozer. It won’t be easy reading or digesting–much to chew on and hard to swallow–but it will be worth it.