I have been considering the thought of the late A. W. Tozer for several days. I have personally been reading Tozer for well over thirty-five years. I even had the privilege of knowing the man who best knew Tozer and his work, for several years, prior to his death. He lived only a mile from my home in a retirement village. I once called this dear brother and said, “I have a Tozer quote in a book of mine and no data for where it came from. The publisher insists I document this two sentence quotation. Can you help me?” In three days he called me back and knew precisely where it came from. Quite amazing! We had more than one conversation about A. W. Tozer.
Anyway, we have seen that Tozer spoke of seven “conditions” for coming to the saving knowledge of a holy God. I have listed three. I will now list the other four.
Step Four: As we must turn from sin, we must also turn from the fallen world that used to be our comfort. We must live lives dedicated to God that are absent of idolatry for what the world has to offer. Our lives should reflect a new commitment—a new focus. By this statement Tozer meant to underscore the fact that we must break from idolatry if we would be real Christians. In the light of all the Bible says, in both the commandments and the precepts, I do not see how anyone could disagree. How can you be a consistently idolatrous person, one who lives for your idolatry, and also be a real Christian?
Step Five: We must spend time in prayer and the worship of God. God can be known in greater detail through communion with him, through study of his Word, and through reflection on his creation. Our personal relationship with God requires us to want to seek to know him more and more in order to continue to grow in him. The more we know him by such experience the more likely it is that we will seek to live for his will in our lives. Here Tozer’s mysticism is more obvious. He believes in contemplation, meditation and lectio divina (sacred spiritual reading). He learned this, generally speaking, from non-Protestant sources, or at least non-modern, non-evangelical sources.
Step Six: As we grow in our knowledge of God, we should have a greater desire to serve others as Christ taught us to do. A natural response to God revealing himself to us includes demonstrating that knowledge in the way we live. Through greater knowledge of his abundant love and mercy, believers will automatically share that which has been given freely to them and others through kindness and love to our fellowmen. Tozer writes: “The God who gave all to us will continue to give all through us as we come to know Him better.” Here Tozer is clearly linking the love of God with love for our neighbor. The first and second great commandments cannot be separated as we so often do in our generation.
Step Seven: The final step breaks away from the pattern of the previous six. Each of the previous six dealt with our personal relationship with God and then how this reaches out in love to others, step six. But in the last step Tozer says we will purposefully share all that we have received in this wonderful gift of grace through active involvement in the church. Our light must shine before the world, but it must first shine actively before our fellow believers and we must have rich, real fellowship with them in the church. Tozer, in other words, had a fairly high view of the church, at least much higher than most modern evangelicals. (The outline of these seven steps is given in 2,002 Surprising Things About God and the Bible, Jerry MacGregor and Marie Prys, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002, pages 225-26).
What I find remarkable in this outline of Tozer’s thinking from his classic book on knowing God is that Tozer so obviously moved beyond the popular thought of his own time. The reason he did, as a man formally uneducated, was that he had deeply anchored his soul in the entire Christian tradition, East and West. He was an evangelical ecumenist long before there was such an idea, before Vatican II, before the famous "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" debate, etc.
I read Tozer, as I have noted, when I was a young man. I just didn’t get him at all. Now, after all these years, I find him more interesting than ever. His works will endure beyond our time and thus be appreciated when the popular books of modern evangelicals are forgotten. There is a reason. He was deeply rooted in the Bible and the tradition. Both are needed and this is why I believe in advancing the Christian tradition in the third millennium. I do not pretend to think that I have made a serious contribution but I am giving what I do have toward this end.
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To call these “conditions for salvation” will raise howls of protest in evangelical circles today, because the words “conditions” and “salvation” are likely to be misunderstood. Those misunderstandings stem from the forensic or legal approach to evangelism used in recent decades, which many believe to be the “true gospel,” when in fact it is only one useful but limited metaphor to help us understand the gospel.
When many people hear “salvation” they think of it as a legal status, a kind of membership card, which will give them future entry into heaven. And when people hear “conditions” they are likely to think of preconditions or requirements that must be met before God gives them that membership card.
But that’s not what the Bible teaches. Real salvation is to know God, not intellectually but experientially (Jn 17:3). It is to have the kind of relationship with God that is described in Genesis chapter 2, where you live in God’s presence, where God provides for you, where you are continually working together with God to manage his world, and, yes, continually obeying his will.
The seven conditions that Tozer mentions are not requirements that prequalify one to receive salvation. They are vivid descriptions of salvation itself. Salvation without those conditions is not salvation at all.
The big problem, as I see it, is that people want to be “saved” but they don’t want salvation. They like to believe that they will go to heaven someday, but until then they don’t care to experience the magnificent relationship with God which is the privilege and identifying mark of God’s children. I see this tendency in others and I also see it in myself. That’s a real shame. Tozer is right. We need to repent.
JLS is right on in his comment above.
John, you used the word SHOULD in the steps Tozer outlined. I would rather use WILL. If you are truly saved you WILL naturally do these things, Should isn’t necessary.
It’s a natural maturation. If a person doesn’t follow thru it is an indication of spiritual incompleteness.
As a pentecostal I would be remiss if I didn’t give an apologetic for a position I struggled with that follows Tozer’s progressions.
My son is a pastor in a fundamentalist pentecostal denomination that has as part of it’s doctrine that you must be baptized in water in Jesus name and speak in tongues to be saved.
When I argued with him about this and tried to nail him down his answer was Tozerlike.
He said that as we grow in our salvation why wouldn’t we want to follow Jesus in being Baptized and in His name and why wouldn’t we want to be Baptized in the Holy spirit and speak in tongues as he commanded. To carry it even further, he said that if we knew the call of God to this level of sanctification and holiness that Tozer calls us to and we know there is more that is commanded from Jesus why wouldn’t we follow his command? Why do we stop short of what God has called us to? Isn’t resisting the completeness God calls us to spiritual rebellion?
It has caused me to think about how willing I am to go where God is calling me.
Of course, in Part One of your thesis there is Henry’s comment relying on religious tradition and institution to save him. An approach I wouldn’t be too sure of.
I’m glad you now “Get” Tozer. I don’t know if I fully do yet. I believe you reflect a very positive maturity in evangelical Christianity that is sorely needed. Thank you for having what I believe it took courage to do. We MUST become more than Christians in name only who live as practical atheists and show nothing to the world that could possibly motivate them to ask, “What must I do to be saved”.
If I may be permitted, I would like to interject some words from another evangelical mystic, George MacDonald.
“The Lord never came to deliver men from the consequences of their sins while those sins yet remained. That would be to cast out the window the medicine of cure while still the man lay sick. Yet, feeling nothing of the dread hatefulness of their sin, men have constantly taken this word that the Lord came to deliver us from our sins to mean that he came to save them from the punishment of their sins.
This idea has terribly corrupted the preaching of the Gospel. The message of the Good News has not been truly communicated… The mission of Jesus was from the same source and with the same object as the punishment of our sins. He came to do more than take the punishment for our sins. He came as well to set us free from our sin.
No man is safe from hell until he is free from his sin. But a man to whom his sins are a burden, while he may indeed sometimes feel as if he were in hell, will soon have forgotten that he ever had any other hell to think of than that of his sinful condition. For to him his sin is hell. He would go to the other hell to be free of it. Free of his sin, hell itself would be endurable to him.”
Taking what George MacDonald so eloquently expressed, and summarizing it, I would say that salvation is most essentially from sin itself, its power and presence in our lives. As we are delivered from sin, we are naturally delivered from its consequences, the ultimate of which is hell itself.
Using this to directly respond to Tozer, I would say that Tozer’s “conditions of salvation” might be better understood as signs of salvation. We know we are saved, and are being saved, when we obey the Lord, when we no longer seek the false consolation of the world, when we repent of idolatry, when we genuinely seek to commune with him.
I once read somewhere that MacDonald said in a sermon something to the effect that he did not consider himself saved, and that he would not consider himself so until by the grace of God he had been brought into the perfection that God desires for him in Jesus Christ.
This kind of challenges our modern evangelical notions of salvation, doesn’t it?
You should know that Tozer was anything but sympathetic towards Calvinism and was part of a Arminian tradition ( much like Chesterton who take on Calvinism is even more strident).Regardless of areas where we might find argeement with Tozer this, in and of itself, is a major roadblock for those of us who take the Reformed Confessions serious.
While it is true that Tozer was not a confessional Calvinist his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, was a book any Calvinist should be able to rejoice in with charity and true blessing for the soul. I do not think of Tozer as an anti-Calvinist and I am certainly not alone in reading him this way. Noteworthy Calvinists agree with this assessment.
Chesterton is another story. I agree with this statement about him, for sure, but this does not mean that he is neither valuable or faithful to Christ. I have learned so much from people I do not agree with and Chesterton is a case in point. The same could be said for a multitude, including most of the 20th century Catholics and Anglo-Catholics; e.g., C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, Sayers, Williams, MacDonald, etc.
I am a Reformed minister of the gospel but I am a Christian first and foremost. Because of this I benefit from all who love Christ even it they do not understand or respect John Calvin as I do. This is my missional ecumenism and it guides almost everything that I write and teach.