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Evaluating Tozer’s Views

This entry is part 14 of 14 in the series

"The Tozer Collection: Worship Music"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

We’ve gathered much of what Tozer wrote on music and hymnody. Having done so, some reflections on his writings might be helpful. I notice three outstanding features of Tozer’s approach to worship.

First, it’s clear that Tozer made an attempt to understand poetry and music. Tozer did not have to become a literary or musical critic in his office as pastor. He simply had to become competent enough to judge inferior from superior; ugly from beautiful, simple from trite. (No doubt, he read critics in this pursuit.) His criticisms seen in the quotations we’ve looked at demonstrate that Tozer did not simply tow a party-line, or reject songs for political reasons. He judged works for their meaning: for their beauty, truth and fitness for Christian devotion. His compilation, The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, is a collection of superior Christian verse. Tozer was not copy-catting another man’s taste when he put this collection together. It emerged from careful judgment of individual pieces. Remember, Tozer educated himself while cutting pieces of rubber in a factory in Akron. What’s our excuse?

Second, Tozer developed a healthy catholicity when evaluating the expressions of piety from the historic church. Tozer’s own theological leanings were baptistic, Arminian, Holiness, Keswick, with some dispensationalism thrown in. Had he wanted hymns to reflect only this slice of Christianity, his hymnbook would have been slim indeed – or made up entirely of A.B. Simpson hymns. Tozer was, thankfully, bigger than that. He understood the principle of catholic sentiment: when Christians of different ages testify similarly of their devotion. These testimonies are different, but equivalent. They represent a kind of consensus of what Christians have always felt towards God in worship. Whether it came from the Roman Catholics Bernard of Clairvaux and Frederick Faber, the pietist Tersteegen, the Lutheran Gerhardt, Anglicans Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, or Presbyterian Anne Cousin, Tozer could find the catholic affections in their verse amidst the errors of their churches. And he smelt a rat when people tried to use hymnbooks as political tools to advance their own doctrinal agenda.

Third, Tozer’s writings in these matters were after one thing: fitting worship. He had no interest in aesthetic refinement divorced from worship. If Tozer could spot beauty, it was because he was after the beauty of holiness. If he called for true sentiments in the lyrics of hymnody, it was because he wanted to worship in Spirit and in truth. He raged against the trivialization of worship not because it violated his own aesthetic sensibilities. Rather, his aesthetic sensibilities had been so trained in the service of worshipping God, and God’s name is profaned when worship is trivialized. He knew the dangers of churches that become proud of their beautiful worship and are crossless and Christless. For Tozer, truth, goodness, and beauty are not the Trinity. They are indispensable for the worship of the Trinity.

Tozer understood the dire need of the hour: restored worship. Our churches have lost worship, because they have lost judgment. Discernment has evaporated, and with it, the ability to judge what is fitting for worshipping God and what is not. In response to this worship crisis, it is important to notice what Tozer did not try to do. He did not try to restore worship by calling for resolutions at the Christian & Missionary Alliance annual meeting. He did not try to restore worship by writing a book and then touting it as the solution. He did not try to build a coalition with enough clout to enforce his views on worship. He did not set up The Christian Book of Mystical Verse as the canon for private or corporate worship. These are political solutions, solutions that are tempting only when we do not understand how sensibilities are formed or how taste develops.

Tozer got down to the hard work of discriminating between good and bad. He opened dusty books that were not popular, relevant, or endorsed by celebrities. He searched, he read, he prayed, he sang, he wrote sermons, hymns and prayers, and then he wrote down his informed judgments for others to see. In his writings, he tried to revive the conversation that true culture is, a conversation of what is fitting and right and true – with particular respect to Christian piety and worship. These approaches, to me, represent much of what we must do in this new Dark Age.

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David de Bruyn

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.

3 Responses to Evaluating Tozer’s Views

  1. First, let me make it clear that I am a strong supporter of AW Tozer’s views regarding the Christian life. It would seem that you have “reacted” to his view of AB Simpson similar to certain others who feel the need to “debunk” Simpson. Tozer did have views a little different than Simpson but then Simpson welcomed into his broad ministry outreach, pastors and evangelists from many denominations as long as they preached the Word. In fact, during the first 25 to 30 years of his ministry Simpson was possibly the most multi-denominational pastor in the United States. His ministry was definitely not “narrow.”

    To closely understand either AB Simpson’s or AW Tozer’s Christian verse, it is absolutely necessary to understand their literary works. And the people of their congregations and others directly or semi-directly influenced by them flocked to read those works.

    There is a reason that Simpson’s verse attempts were known as “Songs of The Spirit” and not limited to the book of that name. Those who had read Simpson’s works (and there were and are large numbers of individuals) were with him in “spirit” as they happily sang the unsingable. But then, I recall singing many of his hymns which, after hearing them several times, were really quite singable. But then, in Alliance Churches there were four services on Sundays to learn new hymns.* In your previous piece on Simpson, you mentioned several of them.

    Likewise, AW Tozer’s verse is best understood after digesting “The Pursuit of God” and “The Knowledge of The Holy” which his congregation and others heard multiple times over the years.

    With much pleasure, I recall my parents reading both of their sermons often reproduced in the Alliance Weekly. Now it is much more than nostalgia. The doctrine and Christian thought of both survive to the benefit of those who consider their heart-beat – Jesus Christ: crucified, buried, risen, and coming again!


    Walter Schmidt

    *Sunday School, Morning Worship, Afternoon Missionary Meetings, Evening Evangelistic Services.

  2. Walter,

    Thank you for your contribution here. In this post, I am not trying to disparage Simpson's hymns, though I see how it could have been taken that way. My point was not that Simpson's hymns were all inferior – as Tozer's own piece pointed out – but that Tozer drank from a broader well than Simpson did. Tozer was a loyal CMA man, but his hymnody was not simply a tool to advance CMA distinctives. (Nor was Simpson's, for that matter, but Simpson's hymnody, by Tozer's own admission, was more like his sermons.)

    The Knowledge of the Holy and " The Pursuit of God" rank at the top of my recommended books for Christians,

  3. I have just finished reading your 14 sessions and was very impressed with your committment to seeking excellence in Christian music today. I cannot say I agree with every statement you have made, but in general, I am in agreement with the thought that today's church has been downgraded in it's power because of the choices we have made in the realm of music. Without a doubt, we have chosen to identify with the world, supposedly to reach the world, instead of identifying with a Holy God so that His majesty and grace found in us, through the Holy Spirit, would be the drawing power to a world in need of His grace.

    I now am semi-retired, but have served the Lord as a musician for most of my life. I have led music in revivals, county-wide crusades, missionary conferences, and have sung concerts to encourage the hearts of Christians in many places. In my life time, I have seen the downgrade of Christian music within the church. We seem to choose popularity rather than the blessing of God. We look to a form of entertainment rather than the power of the infilling and blessing of the Holy Spirit, thinking that if we dress like them, act like them, perform like them, we will be able to attract them to our "cause." But, it seems we have only become like them in many ways. I long for the Spirit Filled days of the past when in campmeetings, revivals, etc, we saw people lineing altars, seeking God, and feeling the power of the Holy Spirt drawing us into His presence. Music was an important part of that thrilling ministry.

    Through these years, I have written gospel songs, hymns and choruses, which I have used in my own ministry and did not seek to get them published. Of course, I have always had a desire to be published, but, the greater desire was to witness to the power of God that works in the human ife to make us like Him!

    I have said all this to say, thank you for sharing your thoughts and convictions. They have been an encouragement to my heart. Music is a powerful communication for bringing us into the presence of a Holy God and for keeping us on a right track for living to be a withness for our God and Savior. But, our music must reflect His majesty and glory…not our ability. Any ministry, preaching and, or, singing carries with it an element of performance. However, our attitude and inward desire reveals our final outcome…His praise or our accomplishment. I choose His praise.

    Charles Jones

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