A.W. Tozer was a minister who lived, wrote, and preached in the early-to-mid 1900’s. Known for his soundly and unapolgetically Biblical teaching, his most famous book, The Pursuit of God, has been in print constantly since it was written in 1948, and is still as insightful and challenging today as it was when it was first published.
In the early 2000’s, James L. Snyder received rights from Tozer’s estate to sift through Tozer’s many recorded sermons and compile them into books. Thus, in the last ten years, several “new” Tozer books have appeared, even though Tozer himself died in the 1960’s. Living as a Christian is one of these books. Challenging and gritty, Tozer’s writing isn’t afraid to make the reader examine her life. Reading Tozer is like opening the curtains of a dark room to let the sunshine in so you can really, really get down to the cleaning the room needs.
Tozer thoroughly understands the strange balance that is the Christian life: that our good deeds do not save us or make us better. Only Christ’s sacrifice, and our acceptance of it, allows us to eternal life. But that very acceptance is only the first step in our pursuit of God and holiness. Our good works stem from this. Tozer preaches a strong line of no-compromise holiness to those who have agreed to follow God. Not only does he not expect non-Christians to live up to these standards of holiness, he doesn’t really expect them to understand why anyone would. Tozer’s writings are, for the most part, directed to Christians, to strengthen, challenge, and encourage them.
Someone may say, ‘Mr. Tozer, how can a man cleanse his own heart? How can a man purge his own soul?’ I might ask you how can a man wash his own hands? He cannot; he can only subject his hands to water and detergents and they do the washing. If he does not subject himself to water and detergent, he will not be cleansed. Just as a man is clean by washing his hands and yet cannot wash his hands, so a man’s heart is cleansed when he cleanses himself, yet he cannot cleanse himself.
Living as a Christian is a collection of writing based on the book of 1 Peter, which is actually one of my favorite epistles. Peter wrote to a group of Christians who were being persecuted for their faith following the burning of Rome. Peter encourages his readers to stand firm in their faith, and helps them to understand why trials and trouble are a part of our lives even after we have come to Christ. Tozer expands on Peter’s writing, show how what he said then is just as applicable to our lives today.
Snyder has given us seventeen chapters, most only about 10-15 pages long, making them very accessible chunks to digest. Tozer is never condescending or superior, but he is also never soft and never compromises. Some people may have trouble with his hard-line approach, especially in our day of universal acceptance and the constant fear of – gasp! – offending someone, but I don’t think that anyone who genuinely reads Scripture can deny its overall hard-line approach. It is not called the Sword for nothing.
One of the things that I love (LOVE) about Tozer is his insistence that Scripture is not inaccessible or difficult to understand. He believes that God has given us a letter that is very clear in its terms and conditions, and that our efforts to make it muddy or complicated are because we don’t like what it says, not because it is actually hard to understand.
You can throw your flesh into the effort, and with strong religious determination break your teeth and batter your own head black and blue but never get anywhere. You can do that in theology too. The simplest explanation of any text it just what it says. you read it, get on your knees and take it at its plainest meaning. As Mark Twain quipped: ‘Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they don’t understand, but for me I have always noticed that the passages that bother me are those I do understand.’ You will have time enough following the text you understand without seeking piously underneath the surface to bring up some esoteric meaning that God never put there.
Tozer’s emphasis is always that God intends us to start where we are and work towards Him, and that the best way to get anywhere is to start on the path you can see and follow it, rather than worrying about where the path is a few miles away from where we’ve begun. Those parts of the path will be clear when you get there. So many people refuse to accept any Scripture unless they can understand all of it, rather than beginning with what they do understand, accepting that, and building from there.
A heresy always hunts obscurity, and false teaching always hunts the difficult text. You see, it is as if I were to take you to my farm and say to you, ‘Here you will find apples and peaches and grapes and watermelons and cantaloupes and sweet potatoes … now, this is all yours, take over.’ And then I came back a month later and found my guests half starved, and said to them, ‘What’s the matter? You look undernourished.’
They would say, ‘We are undernourished because we have found a plant we cannot identify. There is a plant behind the old oak stump back there in the near end of the far field, just over the hill, and we have stayed one month trying to identify this plant.’
‘But you’re starving! You’ve got so many other plants around you, but you look sick. What’s the matter with you?’
And they would reply, ‘We’re worried about this one plant.’
That is exactly what many of God’s children do. They starve themselves to death knee-deep in clover because there is one little old plant … that they cannot identify. Heretics are always starving to death while they worry about that one passage of Scripture.
While this is an excellent book and one that I definitely recommend to anyone wanting to know what the Christian’s life ought to look like, it is, at times, obvious that this book was mostly transcribed from sermons. There are sections that are a bit repetitive, as Tozer reviews something he covered in last week’s sermon – which would make sense if you were listening to him and it had been a week since you heard the last lesson, but can bog down the book a bit when you read the last lesson just yesterday.
Still a challenging and insightful book that is a really wonderful contrast to the lazy compromises so prevalent in our churches today.