Tozer Revisited

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,

that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17]*

In critiquing Tozer a few weeks ago, I encountered one very hostile response from someone who, hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, accused me of all manner of vile misdeeds for “daring” to suggest that Tozer could have his theology wrong.   He made numerous statements gainsaying everything I said, but never offered a shred of documentary evidence to refute the charges made.  He challenged the definition of “pantheism” I used in the article – ignoring the fact that the definition used came from two highly respected scholars in the field of theology and apologetics – H. Wayne House and Norman L. Geisler.  He claimed my attributions to Tozer were wrong even though I cited entire paragraphs verbatim to demonstrate I was not taking isolated phrases out of context – and I provided page numbers so any person wishing to do so could look up the text being cited for himself.

These were the high points of this “critique.”  [Although “rant” might be a more accurate description.]   Because then it broke down into a rambling, incoherent, string of alleged quotes supposedly made by Tozer in other contexts which had no relation to the subject addressed in my blog.  No citations to any works of Tozer were provided, so it was impossible to check for the accuracy or the context of the alleged citations.

The critic was audacious, if nothing else, signing his name as “YeshuaMeshiach,” which came across to me as a pretentious [and incorrect] claim to be speaking on behalf of the Lord Himself.  I see this as pretentious because no one speaks for God except when citing the words inspired by the Holy Spirit in Scripture.  He can be free to gainsay my assessment all he wishes.  But his claiming to speak for God apart from Scripture is blasphemous. But gainsaying does not alter facts or the implications and inferences which can be induced from those facts.  And nowhere in his rant did “YeshuaMeshiach” offer a scintilla of evidence which substantiated his gainsaying.

However, in the interest of “fairness,” I have decided to look further into what Tozer believed and taught.

It must be noted that Tozer was not a systematizer or deep thinker when it came to matters of theology.  He was a preacher with minimal literacy who had little under-standing of biblical languages, who preached in a denomination which had no standards for ordination apart from some vague, subjective “calling” which was in keeping with the roots of that denomination in classical pentecostalism.  Basically, in Tozer’s theological background – if a congregation agreed to accept a person as its pastor – that was considered proof enough of one’s calling.

Moreover, Tozer was not a writer in the terms used by academics.  He did not research his topics and then write his works based on the conclusions of careful hours and months of research.  Tozer’s works represent transcriptions of messages delivered from a pulpit.  In those messages Tozer’s method is evident – he started with a predetermined conclusion, then selectively cited evidence [and, as we shall see, in one case he created the evidence out of his fertile imagination] which supported his pre-determined conclusion while rejecting or dismissing all evidence to the contrary without evaluating whether or not his conclusions might be inadequate and ill-informed at best.

Consider this quote found in the preface to The Pursuit of God:  “The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”  [p. 5]  Tozer, in this statement, presumes to know more about the design and purpose of Scripture than can be stated propositionally, or even derived from necessary inference from the pages of Scripture itself.

Look again at what the apostle, writing under the prompting and superintendency of the Holy Spirit wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. There is no hint in the writings of the Apostle that the raison d’etre for Scripture is to bring us to some sort of mystical altered state of consciousness regarding God.  Paul writes that the purpose of Scripture is to produce four effects: correctness of doctrine, avoidance of unsound doctrine [“reproof”], avoidance of unsound action [“correction”], correctness of action [“training in righteousness”].  Even these are not an end result.  The end result is that we be “adequate,” or in the Greek: artios, which indicates a state of maturity.

The basic problem here is that Tozer has confused the effect of obedience and godly living with the purpose of Scripture.  And this confusion is perpetuated by those who are embracing the teachings of Tozer’s disciples via the Renovare program and other forms of contemplative spirituality being advocated by nominally Christian teachers such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Beth Moore, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, et al. We shall come back to this to explore it further.  Moreover, their error is compounded by the all too easy trap of promoting a short-cut to holiness – a short-cut which is founded in ecstatic, mystically-induced altered states of consciousness unknown to the first century church, instead of simply growing in a day-by-day walk of obedience with the end that we should be conformed to the character of God.

Like those in Renovare and other forms of contemplative spirituality, Tozer can only make his points by adding to Scripture.  On page 11 of The Pursuit of God, Tozer writes:  “As he watched him grow from babyhood to young manhood the heart of the old man was knit closer and closer with the life of his son, till at last the relationship bordered upon the perilous.  It was then that God stepped in to save both father and son from the consequences of an uncleansed love.”‡  This is in regard to the relationship between Abraham and Isaac—or more accurately, what Tozer imagined that relationship to have been in his own mind.

While Abraham did have his faults, which are recorded in Scripture, there is not even so much as a hint in the Bible that he ever elevated Isaac to the status of an idol.  But Tozer implies that he knows the true story and is now giving it to us.  For on page 12 he again informs us:  “To the wondering patriarch He now says in effect, ‘It’s all right, Abraham.  I never intended that you should actually slay the lad.  I only wanted to remove him from the temple of your heart that I might reign unchallenged there. I wanted to correct the perversion that existed in your love.  Now you may have the boy, sound and well.  Take him and go back to your tent.’ ”

Again he hints that Abraham has engaged in idolatry, a charge nowhere found in Scripture—but Tozer in his infallible reckoning knows better than God and Moses what happened on Mount Moriah. Nowhere is it found in Scripture why God commanded Abraham to take Isaac to Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice.  Tozer is attributing to God words which God did not utter according to Scripture.  Scripture condemns all who presume to speak for God concerning matters about which God is silent.  [Deuteronomy 18:20Jeremiah 14:14Ezekiel 13:1-23]  Such adding to the word of God is beyond presumptuous—it is utterly, totally blasphemous.

Moreover, there is implicit within Tozer’s discussion of Abraham, a view of God which is consistent with what is now called “process theology.”  This theological view maintains that God lacks omniscience and can only respond to contingencies based on human action,  Tozer is suggesting that God did not really know Abraham’s heart, so He tested Abraham by commanding Abraham to murder his son.

Thus, heresy is the heart of Tozer’s theological system. He is not presenting Christian doctrine. He is promoting the ancient heresy of gnosticism. Again quoting from The Pursuit of God, page 12, we read: “There is the spiritual secret. There is the sweet theology of the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation. The books on systematic theology overlook this, but the wise will understand.” (emphasis added)

As I indicated in my previous blog, Tozer, in keeping with Wesleyan perfectionism and Keswickian theology, believed there were two different levels of Christianity, there were the “theological Christians” whom he believed to be little better than Christians in name only, and there were “The Wise” who experience the deep mysteries of God. “The Wise” are deemed by Tozer to be superior to the theological Christians, not on the basis of any Scriptural standards, but on the basis of their “supernatural experiences,” which are derived from following occult rituals found nowhere in the pages of Scripture, but which are found in the writings of mystics [practitioners of witchcraft] such as Julian of Norwich and Brother Lawrence.

This gnosticism crops up again on pages 22-23, when Tozer wrote: “Our uncorrected thinking… tends to draw a contrast between the spiritual and the real; but actually no such contrast exists. The antithesis lies elsewhere: between the real and the imaginary, between the spiritual and the material, between the temporal and the eternal; but between the spiritual and the real, never. The spiritual is real.” In this dichotomy which Tozer sets up, he equates what is spiritual with what is real. The unwritten antithesis here is that what is material or physical is therefore imaginary or illusory. This principle is found in ancient gnosticism and is more recently expressed by such cults as Christian Science and Unity.

On page 24, he denies that he is a pantheist [the point of my critic], but in so doing, he redefines pantheism in a way which is simply not an accurate representation of pantheism. In other words, Tozer creates a straw-man, a misrepresentation of pantheism, so that he can say he is not a pantheist since he does not believe in his straw man. The problem is that pantheism, as defined by scholars more learned and wiser than Tozer [scholars such as H. Wayne House, Norman Geisler, and Ravi Zacharias], is a belief system more encompassing than what Tozer describes, and Tozer’s beliefs about God line up with those definitions of pantheism exactly.

In a sermon delivered on February 5, 1961, dealing with the “Omnipresence of God,” Tozer specifically agrees with the Hindu teaching of pantheism [beginning about the 3:40 mark in the sermon]. He further adds the problem with Hindu pantheism is not that it is wrong, but that it is based on incomplete revelation. This sermon can be found on the web at: http://www.cmalliance.org/resources/tozer-audio-sermons/. Further examples of his proof-texting and twisting of Scripture is found in his citations of 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 16:8; Acts 17:26-28. Tozer cites these passages, attributing nuances which were never stated or even implied in the Hebrew and Greek originals. Tozer is a pantheist and his protests to the contrary have all the disingenuousness of a child with his hand caught in the cookie jar protesting his innocence.

I have been told by one of Tozer’s groupies that I am simply misunderstanding Tozer because “language isn’t adequate to express what Tozer was trying to express.” I beg to differ. Words and grammar have established meanings. And if men such as H. Wayne House, Norman Geisler, Ravi Zacharias, and the late Walter Martin were able to clearly and coherently express themselves in distinguishing the omnipresence of God from Hindu pantheism, while Tozer and his groupies are unable [or unwilling] to make or recognize that distinction, this is either due to a lack of discernment or falsification about what pantheism really is.  Given the experiences I have had with reading Tozer and from his groupies, I’m inclined to believe it is falsification rather than a mere semantic difference.  Why?  I’m guessing their theology is ego-driven–nobody wants to admit to being wrong, and when they are proven to be wrong by objective, verifiable truth, their knee-jerk reaction is ad hominem attack rather than prayer and seeking God’s will revealed in Scripture.

This is the crux of the matter where Tozer and all other contemplative spiritualists are concerned.  God has given us His Word.  That Word is wholly sufficient to guide us in all matters regarding what we should believe, what we should not believe, how we should live, and how we should not live.   Nowhere within that Word are we commanded or even encouraged to seek out mystical experiences.   Nowhere in the pages of the New Testament do we find the mystical experiences which Tozer promotes even mentioned as an approved precedent for the children of God as an ongoing experience.   We only find three references to spiritual [not mystical] experiences in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts: 1 Corinthians 12-14; 2 Corinthians 12:1-6; and Revelation.   Those experiences were unique to the apostolic age and will never again be repeated until the Tribulation, when the prophecy of Joel 2:28-32 is completely fulfilled.

* Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are from the New American Standard Bible, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Throughout this and other postings, I will continue to use the third person singular masculine in the generic sense. I will not accommodate my use of what is considered good grammar for the sake of political correctness. If the generic masculine was good enough for God to establish as a basic rule of language when He created language, it should be good enough for us.

All page number references to The Pursuit of God are to an online edition which can be located at: http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/Tozer_Pursuit_of_God.pdf

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About davestheology

I found a book that was kind of worn, But to my surprise, not a page was torn; It had a title, that I could not read, "Red Letter Edition" was all I could see.
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5 Responses to Tozer Revisited

  1. Terry Smith says:

    Your article is really good to read. Excellent!!
    Thanks for sharing, I would like to post it on my Twitter to share with my families?

  2. Are you aware that many famous Christians endorse Tozer? Those include Dr. James Montgomery Boice, Rev. Leonard Ravenhill, Dr. Tony Evans, Dr. Stephen F. Olford, Dr. Robert A. Cook, Dr. David Moore, Dr. David Enlow, Dr. Stuart Briscoe, Dr. Neil Anderson, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, Dr. Larry Keyes, Charles Colson, Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, Dr. Jack W. Hayford, and Dr. Erwin W,. Lutzer, just to name a few. Also, Dr. Charles Swindoll who has quoted Tozer in his articles on his website–e.g., see “Unambitious Leadership” at this link: http://bit.ly/1G052Sj; and J.I. Packer–see a Packer quote in this article titled, “Are There Disagreements Between Reformed Theology and the Teachings of A.W. Tozer?” at this link: http://bit.ly/1xG6ZCs

    The J.I. Packer quote states the following “Through all of Tozer’s books and articles there shines a passion for God that puts our shallowness to shame. Reading him is like drinking at an oasis in the desert.” (J.I. Packer). I agree with that statement as Tozer’s writings, even 52 years after his death, hit the mark on a number of critical areas we choose to ignore in our day which is to our detriment. He wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers even if he had to stand alone while doing it. Anyway, that is just my two cents worth on A.W. Tozer. 😉

    • Sara,
      I find it interesting that in your defense of Tozer, you cannot provide any backing from the word of God which refutes what I have said. Instead, you have to rely on a propaganda technique called “bandwagoning”–in which you cite all these Christian “celebrity” endorsements of Tozer, with the inference that anyone who disagrees with these people, must be wrong.
      Their support cannot be considered objective or reliable in light of the fact that the same “authorities” you cite in support of Tozer have also embraced the same occult practices he advocated–such as chanting mantras and other indicia of contemplative mysticism as normative expressions of Christianity–none of which have any precedent in Scripture–except that they are condemned as forms of divination.
      REgardless, the names you cite as supportive of Tozer’s theology are irrelevant. The only standard for truth is God’s word, not man’s endorsements. Tozer advocated occult, demonic practices and had views of God and creation which were in accord with pagan pantheism/panentheism. So it doesn’t matter who endorses him, he’s still wrong according to the standard of God’s word–and anyone who endorses the beliefs and practices promoted by Tozer uncritically is convicted by the word of God as a false witness in this area.
      And for the record, there are a growing number of Christian teachers who promote a critical re-evaluation of the teachings of Tozer according to Scripture–such as John MacArthur, Bob DeWaay, and James White.

      • I didn’t sent the names of those men as a “defense.” And I have to be honest in that I haven’t even begun to read everything Tozer has written or listened to any of his sermons that are available online. But what I have read regarding the issues going on in the church in his day and his clear stand against the world’s system invading the church have vastly increased in our own time. And many of the things he wrote are right on target. He did not compromise with the culture.

        Also, the only reason I “named names” was because you did so in your article using a couple of famous men who didn’t support Tozer. I was just sending you a few names of those who did.

        And I agree that God’s word is the only standard for truth that there is. All the writings by any man or woman down through the ages pale in comparison. Also, since you listed more names in your response, John MacArthur is a favorite of mine. My own background is Baptist (I grew up in a Baptist church) but I consider myself nondenominational now with a bent towards Reformed theology.

      • Sara,
        The entire tenor of your comments is to suggest I am wrong in my assessment that what Tozer promoted is a form of occultic mysticism which elevates the self, and not true Biblical worship. Actions speak louder than words. Tozer may have claimed to believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, but his constant deference to occultic writers such as Julian of Norwich, Meister Eckhart, and Brother Lawrence as superior revelation to Scripture shows the true intent of his heart.
        You have not provided any documentation which uses sound Biblical exegesis to prove my assessment of Tozer is incorrect.

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