If you prefer your spiritual heroes air-brushed and fitted with halos you might want to skip this most recent biography of A. W. Tozer. Dorsett paints Tozer as a man of God but one with more than his share of flaws. Tozer’s passion for God and his intolerance of superficial spirituality are legionary. Some of his books, such as The Knowledge of the Holy, and The Pursuit of God, are Christian classics which have had profound affect on generations of serious believers. In his lifetime Tozer was a most sought after preacher, calling his hearers to a deeper commitment to God. He was especially effective with high school and college age young people who heard a fresh and authentic voice in Tozer’s message.
But there were at least three troubling elements in Tozer’s life. First, his involvement with the Christian and Missionary Alliance was far more active than most realize. The C & MA was founded on what they called a “Four-fold Gospel:” Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer and coming King (pp. 74-78). At least two of these elements could present doctrinal problems to many of Tozer’s followers. Christ as Sanctifier meant the Holiness movement’s understanding of a second work of grace complete with baptism by the Holy Spirit which supposedly brought the believer into a higher level of Christian life. As Healer, physical healing was seen as part of the atonement. While Tozer apparently did not conduct healing services himself, he believed in them and participated with others who conducted such services.
Secondly, Tozer’s endorsement and love for Catholic mystics is problematic. While not agreeing with all their theology, Tozer truly believed that mystics such as Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Abelard, Frederick Faber, Jeanne Guyon, Meister Eckhart and Thomas Merton knew something about intimacy with God that the evangelical world had missed. Much of Tozer’s methodology for seeking God was shaped not by Scripture, but by the mystics. Even his natural tendency to remain aloof from people was justified by Thomas á Kempis’ brand of Christianity, not the Bible (p. 183).
On the personal front, while Tozer sought, and apparently found, intimacy with God, he neither sought nor had intimacy with people. After church services Tozer shunned conversation with adults and often slipped into the nursery. He refused to do counseling, pastoral or hospital visits. Very few people were ever allowed to get to know him and this included his family. He rejected involvement with extended family which was a source of pain for his immediate family. With the exception of his younger child and only daughter, his children felt estranged from their father. Tozer had time for God and preaching but little time for family. But the greatest estrangement was from his wife Ada. Tozer seemed to lack closeness with Ada almost from the beginning of their marriage, and he did not seem to consider her feelings nor consult her even on important matters. A year after Tozer’s death, Ada remarried and, when asked about her happiness, consistently replied: “I have never been happier in my life. Aiden (Tozer) loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me” (p. 160). One has to wonder how a man who sought such intimacy with God could shun intimacy with his own wife and children. Perhaps we will never have the answer to that question but it does leave a dark blot on Tozer’s legacy.