Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. [Psalm 1:1-2]*
Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. [Psalm 119:11]
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. [John 17]
These [the Jewish people living in Berea] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things [being told to them by Paul and Silas] were so. [Acts 17:11]
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17]
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. [Hebrews 4:12]
For many years I have had people recommend the works of A.W. Tozer. Those recommendations came without reservation and qualification. For many years Tozer simply wasn’t on my radar.
It was a few weeks ago, when the congregation my wife and I attended announced that it was beginning a Wednesday night study on The Attributes of God, Vol. 1, [hereafter designated as TAG] that I had my first introduction to Tozer. What I encountered in the first few chapters of that book went beyond thought-provoking. Tozer’s theology proper [theology of God Himself] is at best, poorly stated or nuanced, showing little regard for the implications and applications derived from such statements. At the worst, his statements are thoroughly unbiblical and heretical in the extreme. They have more in common with the monistic pantheism of Hinduism than with Judeo-Christian theism. Let me repeat—his views, if not merely indicative of poor wording, are heretical. In addition, the views held by Tozer concerning the nature of God in relation to His creation, have heretical implications extending to bibliology [theology of the nature of Scripture], anthropology [theology of the nature of man], soteriology [theology of salvation], and eschatology [theology of final things].
The irony here is that Tozer once lamented that the biggest lack of the church in the last half of the twentieth century [and the situation has deteriorated since then] has been its lack of discernment in recognizing and rejecting false teaching. The problem is that in delivering this indictment, Tozer himself is either a hypocrite, or a fool. If he realized that what he taught was not only without foundation in Scripture, but contrary to Scripture, then he was a fraud and a hypocrite. If he did not realize that what he promoted in his writings and sermons was unbiblical and false, then he was a fool and he falls under his own indictment for lacking the discernment to recognize that the source of many of his teachings was not the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture – but unholy spirits speaking through the writings of medieval mystics and visionaries.
Let’s examine the evidence. In TAG, Tozer extensively cites the writings of a medieval mystic and visionary, Julian of Norwich, a woman who chose to use a man’s name. Julian was an anchoress – a person who, claiming religious reasons, lived a life of extreme ascetism and isolation from others – believing any social contact would contaminate her before God. Tozer’s writings uncritically glorify and venerate Julian’s example as a “higher Christian life” and experience – to be emulated by others.
Julian prior to becoming an anchoress, experienced an illness during which she experienced sixteen visions, these visions formed her theology and where those visions were contrary to Scripture – she placed the greater authority in her visions. As we examine the evidence against Tozer, we shall see how deeply her writings influenced his false teachings.
Another medieval mystic whom Tozer held in high regard and cites as being equally authoritative with Julian is an obscure monk named Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence had a series of meditations which after his death were collected and published as The Practice of the Presence of God.
Julian of Norwich, Brother Lawrence, and Meister Eckhardt [another mystic cited favorably by Tozer], did not base their practices upon the teaching of scriptures. Their writings were the result of hallucinations produced during trance states [altered states of consciousness], during which their bodies became inhabited by what Scripture calls “familiar spirits.” In the case of Julian of Norwich, the trance state was the result of a high fever. In the case of Brother Lawrence, he focused on the repetitiveness of his menial tasks until he entered an altered state of consciousness – the same result as is achieved in hatha yoga by focusing one’s attention on breathing. Eckhardt believed the presence of God was achieved through focusing on an external object [such as the flame of a candle] until one’s mind was emptied of all human thought and could then experience the divine. In each of those cases, it must be noted that those who seek to contact familiar spirits [and the means by which those contacts are established] are expressly forbidden in Scripture [Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:9-14; Isaiah 8:19-20]. God considered this sin to be so egregious, so evil, that in the Mosaic law, He commanded that all who entertained such practices were to be executed immediately.
It must be noted that in formulating his theology, Tozer was not relying on Scripture alone, but on the visions and meditations of mystics steeped in a medieval blend of Roman Catholic superstition and witchcraft. In other words, Tozer did not look to Scripture alone. Instead, he looked for authority in mystical, occult experiences. So the question is, why is Tozer giving an unqualified endorsement to the writings of those who were practicing a form of witchcraft instead of relying solely on the Word of God alone? In doing so, he denied the doctrine that the Bible is sufficient for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for training in rightousness. He denied that Scripture is sufficient to make us complete in Christ and adequately equip us for every good work.
What does Tozer state concerning the nature of God? He makes the following statements concerning the nature of God:
“God contains space.” [TAG, p. 5]
“Then there is God. God has the attribute of immanence and immensity. God is immanent, which means you don’t have to go distances to find God. He is in everything. He is right here.
“God is above all things, beneath all things, outside of all things and inside of all things. God is above, but He’s not pushed up. He’s beneath, but not pressed down. He’s outside, but He’s not excluded. He’s inside, but He’s not confined. God is above all things presiding, beneath all things sustaining, outside of all things embracing, and inside of all things filling. That is the immanence of God.” [TAG, p. 22, emphasis added]
“Remember that God is outside of all things and inside of all things and around all things.” [TAG, p. 23, emphasis added]
“God is omnipresent, which means God is everywhere. God is also immanent, which means that God penetrates everything. This is standard Christian doctrine, believed even in the earliest days of Judaism. God is omnipresent and immanent, penetrating everything even while He contains all things.” [TAG, pp. 137-138, emphasis added]
In the study guide which appears appended to the end of the book, and which is a commentary on Tozer, David E. Fessenden writes:
“The attribute of immanence (which is addressed in more detail in chapter 8) is that God is everywhere and in everything, penetrating and permeating all the universe. This is a different attribute than God’s omnipresence….” (Study Guide, p. 19, emphasis added)
“And yet, Tozer adds, God is so immense that the universe cannot contain Him. Though He is in everything, He is not confined to or contained by His creation. Instead, He contains it. As an exercise to see how this view of God stands up against Scripture, meditate on Isaiah 40. Note how certain verses relate to what Tozer has said so far about God’s immensity. It is interesting to compare verse 15 to Lady Julian’s vision of the hazelnut.” (Study Guide, p. 20, emphasis added)
Let’s evaluate and explore the implications in those statements.
I have been told that I am wrong in attributing a pantheistic or panentheistic view to Tozer’s statements. Tozer has been dead for over fifty years, so I cannot ask him for clarification – I can only go by the words he wrote in the context in which he used them and compare them with what others say.
H. Wayne House has defined pantheism as: “1: The belief that God and the universe are one and the same thing. 2: The belief that God is somehow diffused throughout the universe as its animating principle.” [Charts of World Religions. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, p, 320, emphasis added] House defines panentheism as: “The view that God is related to the world in a way similar to the way in which the human mind is related to the human body; thus the world is part of God, but God is more than the world, and they are dependent on each other.” [ibid.]
Norman Geisler has stated: “According to pantheism, God ‘is all in all.’ God pervades all things, contains all things, subsumes [is over] all things, and is found within all things. Nothing exists apart from God, and all things are in some way identified with God.” [The Big Book of Christian Apologetics: An A to Z Guide, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012, p. 425.]
The definition provided by Geisler is especially crucial since it is almost verbatim how Tozer defines God’s immanence. This points to a fundamental flaw in Tozer’s definition. No other theologian would accept his definition of the word immanence. While they would accept that immanence refers to God’s nearness to His creation, orthodox theologians draw a distinction between the Creator and His creation. Tozer’s use of the term, on the other hand, arrogantly presumes superior knowledge and defies orthodoxy, blurring the distinction between the Creator and His creation.
Tozer’s creative, non-standard definition of the term “immanence” stands all of theology on its head. Consider the following implications:
#1: If God is in everything [and by extension, every person], then there is no distinction between good and evil, there is no distinction between believer and unbeliever, children of God and children of disobedience/wrath, for all actions would then find their origination with God since He is in everything/everyone.
#2: There is no such thing as sin—because if God is in everything/everyone, then He cannot act against Himself. For example, there cannot be such a sin as idolatry, because those considered to be worshiping idols are actually worshiping a manifestation of God. Nor can one person sin against another simply because each being filled with and permeated by God simply cannot act against God.
#3: If God is in everything, and there is no such thing as sin, then there is no need for redemption.
#4: If God is in everything, there is no such thing as sin, and no need for redemption, then the Bible is not true for it teaches the creation is distinct from the Creator, not a part of the Creator, that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, and require redemption.
#5: If God is in everything/everyone, there is no real eternal judgment, for He would have to render judgment against a part of Himself.
I am sure there are other implications which I have not explored, but these should suffice to show that Tozer’s teaching concerning immanence is, at best, sub-Christian, if not slashing away at the heart of fundamental Christian teaching.
Tozer further went on to demonstrate his heterodoxy in other ways. Tozer did not believe in the doctrine of man’s total depravity – that his nature is corrupt, and because of that corruption, he is, by nature, opposed and hostile to God. Tozer states than: “…we learn impurity from our cradles.” [TAG, p. 158, emphasis added] In other words, Tozer did not believe we sin because that is our nature and disposition from the moment we are conceived in the womb. Instead, according to him, we sin because that is what we learn from the moment we are born. Again, Tozer’s understanding is not what is taught in Scripture according to Psalm 51:5. Tozer is simply re-asserting the ancient heresy of Pelagianism.
As if his unusual [if not heterodox] understanding and expression of theology is not bad enough, to read Tozer is an exercise in logical inconsistency and incoherency. For example, Tozer makes the following inconsistent statements:
“In the previous chapter I dealt with the fact of remoteness – that distance is unlikeness – and I pointed out that hell is for those unlike God.” [TAG, p. 138]
“Heaven is a place of complete comparability, and sin introduces incompatibility between God and the sinner. There cannot be any comparability or communion between the two because sin introduces that quality which throws humans and God out of accord with each other.” [TAG, p. 140]
These statements contradict what Tozer had written earlier about God being “in everything [and, by extension, in every person].” If God is in everything/everyone, filling and permeating their very being [again according to Tozer], then it is manifestly impossible for humans to sin, because that would involve God being in opposition to himself. Therefore there cannot be any incompatibility between God and man because there is no sin. And if there is no sin, there is no judgment.
But Tozer had anticipated criticism of his work. He considered those who are not on his level of spirituality to be lesser Christians, using pejorative terms such as: “elementary Christianity,” [TAG, p. 16] “nominal Christianity,” [TAG, p. 16] “theological Christians.” [TAG, p. 143]. Although his nomenclature is different, and he does not acknowledge his sources, much of Tozer’s theology is grounded in the heresies of perfectionism and the so-called “Higher Life” movement promoted by such writers as Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee, Charles Ryrie, and Zane Hodges. This is not surprising considering Tozer’s affiliation with [and ordination in] the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a movement which affirms sanctification/perfectionism as a second work of grace subsequent to conversion/justification.1
In this unbiblical [and therefore heretical] view of the work of Christ, one can be justified simply on the confession of Jesus Christ as Savior, without ever demonstrating repentance, or acknowledging the full Deity of Jesus Christ as Lord.
The logical inconsistency then is that one must work to achieve a deeper/higher life, but one is unable to accomplish this work unless one has experienced a second, crisis-oriented, second work of grace. In Tozer’s views, which become a prototype to the “contemplative prayer” movement now infiltrating the church, one must learn to experience altered states of consciousness to fully experience God.2
This is what happens when one accords those who practiced witchcraft equal or greater authority than Scripture, as Tozer has clearly done – instead of relying on the sufficiency of Scripture alone to guide us in all matters of belief and practice. One is left with a doctrinal house of cards, ready to collapse. One is left to drift into the heresies of unversalism and Pelagianism, not a deeper understanding and devotion to the God who created us.
*Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 For a critique of Keswick/Higher Life theology, I recommend the following article: