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Tozer’s Three Concerns

Although A.W. Tozer’s writings ranged over all kinds of topics, three concerns dominated Tozer’s writings. You’ll find him returning to these often, and giving them different treatments each time. What they amount to is what Tozer saw as the most serious maladies of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

The first was what he called textualism. For Tozer, this was a rationalistic expounding of biblical texts, with little to no expectation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of illumination. He saw a kind of depersonalization of Scripture taking place. Scholars and pastors were treating Scripture as a collection of inert facts, which could be discovered and communicated as surely as a scientist recording laboratory findings. He saw this as the shortest path to dead orthodoxy, and incessantly called for the church to recognize the doctrine of the Spirit’s illumination. “You can be,” Tozer delighted in saying, “straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as one spiritually.” For Tozer, the deadness and lack of piety was evidence that people were not seeking God Himself when reading the Word. He called for solitude, silence, and self-denial as means of seeking God in His Word so as to experience His illuminating ministry. This was the Deeper Life – a surrendered pursuit of the knowledge of God Himself in His Word.

His second major concern was pragmatism in the church. Tozer saw the pragmatism begun in the 19th century beginning to bring in its harvest. He spoke out against using methods and techniques from the world to make church more popular, palatable, fun, or attractive to unbelievers. Tozer was writing in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, but already pragmatism was changing the very nature of what styled itself as the heir of the apostolic and historic church. Evangelicalism was culturally apostatizing while claiming fidelity to the gospel. Long before Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and the worldliness you now see around you, Tozer stood as a signpost to the church pointing away from pragmatism.  He wrote, “The temptation to introduce “new” things into the work of God has always been too strong for some people to resist. The Church has suffered untold injury at the hands of well intentioned but misguided persons who have felt that they know more about running God’s work than Christ and His apostles did. A solid train of box cars would not suffice to haul away the religious truck which has been brought into the service of the Church with the hope of improving on the original pattern. These things have been, one and all, positive hindrances to the progress of the Truth, and have so altered the divinely-planned structure that the apostles, were they to return to earth today, would scarcely recognize the misshapen thing which has resulted.”

His third major theme was true worship. Tozer saw that the church was losing a sense of majesty, reverence and awe in its worship, and had trivialized the whole act. Worship was becoming a form of entertainment. Hymnody was being replaced by the gospel song and the religious entertainer, reverence was being replaced with breezy cheeriness or childish hilarity, and sobriety and simplicity were being wounded in the house of their friends. “Worship,” Tozer explained, “is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that majesty which philosophers call the First Cause but which we call Our Father Which Art in Heaven.”

And what was said of Ezekiel could be easily said of Tozer, whom everyone loves to quote, “Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. (Eze 33:32)

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.