Question: "Who was A.W. Tozer?"
Answer: Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897—1963) was an American pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance and an author who emphasized the need for a deeper knowledge of God and development of the “inner life.” For this reason he has been described as an “evangelical mystic.” A.W. Tozer was extremely influential in evangelical Christianity in his generation and was often called a “twentieth-century prophet.”
Tozer, as he preferred to be called, was born April 21, 1897, in western Pennsylvania and lived in poverty during his youth. When he was about 15, his family moved to Akron, Ohio. Before he was 17, he heard a street preacher who challenged his listeners to call on God, saying, “Be merciful to me a sinner.” This stuck with Tozer, and he went home and did just that, accepting Christ by faith. He began studying the Bible and reading good books, and he grew in his faith. He had no formal education (neither high school nor college), but he taught himself and would eventually receive two honorary doctorates. Throughout his life Tozer read in a wide variety of subjects including religion, philosophy, literature, and poetry.
In 1919, A.W. Tozer became the pastor of a small church in West Virginia and later of churches in Indiana and Ohio. In 1928, he became the pastor of the Southside Alliance Church in Chicago, with a congregation of about 80. Tozer was of slight stature, not very fashionable, and not a forceful speaker. However, the spiritual content of his messages along with his choice of words and clear presentation of ideas captivated his congregation. The congregation grew steadily, and eleven years later a new building was built to accommodate 800. In 1950, Tozer became the editor of Alliance Weekly (now Alliance Life), the official magazine of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. His editorials and articles gave him a nationwide platform and made him a popular spokesman for evangelical Christianity. In 1951, he began a weekly radio broadcast, which extended his influence. After 31 years as pastor of the Southside Alliance Church, Tozer accepted a call to the Avenue Road Alliance Church in Toronto, where he served until his death on May 12, 1963.
At his funeral, his daughter said, “I can’t feel sad. I know Dad’s happy. He’s lived for this all his life.” Tozer’s ministry was marked by an emphasis upon knowing God. He had the ability to get at the heart of what was truly important, putting the superficial and extraneous to the side. Tozer believed that he needed to challenge both intellect and soul, both mind and heart, and he did this consistently and with eloquence.
The ministry of A.W. Tozer continues today. Audio recordings of his sermons are readily available online. However, he is best known through his books, two of which are considered spiritual classics: The Knowledge of the Holy and The Pursuit of God.
Some quotes from A.W. Tozer will help to illustrate the passion of his life:
“Go back to the grass roots. Open your hearts and search the Scriptures. Bear your cross, follow your Lord and pay no heed to the passing religious vogue. The masses are always wrong. In every generation the number of the righteous is small. Be sure you are among them.”
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. . . . Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech.”
“The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us.”
“I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven.”
“We are saved to worship God. All that Christ has done . . . leads to this one end.”
“We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.”