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Disappointment - AW Tozer

I was really excited when I got hold of one of the latest AW Tozer books that was compiled by James L. Snyder, "The Crucified Life". When I began pastoring some 40 years ago I had everything that Tozer had written and they were incredibly formative in my approach to ministry. So to come across fresh material of Tozer's reignited the passion and got me looking at some of the other classics, like "The Pursuit of God" and "Knowledge of the Holy." Not content with that I started hunting around for anything Tozer on the internet and discovered that there is a biography out written by Lyle Dorsett, titled, "A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer." Then I read some reviews, of which there were many, but I was struck by the recurring theme that Tozer was a loner who was not even close to his wife and 7 children. This spiritual giant of a man was as alone in his death as he was in life. One of his colleagues noted that one of the last remarks he ever heard Tozer make was this: "I have had a lonely life." He died alone in a Canadian hospital room in the year 1963.

One reviewer said he was told that after A.W. died, Ada (his wife) was asked if she missed him. She had been remarried by this time. Her reply was telling as she said something like this, "A.W. was God's man, but my new husband is my man." Another review I read expressed it this way, "Aiden loved Jesus, Leonard Odam loves me." However it was said, the fact is that the family were unable to feel valued and get close to this man who spent hours each day in the presence of God. Tozer was known to have returned half his salary to the church on a regular basis and gave away all the royalties of the 40 books he had authored to other, more needy people. Meanwhile, we are given to understand, by documented family accounts, that Ada struggled to provide food and clothing for her large family. Even though A.W. travelled extensively on speaking engagements he always used buses and trains while the family never owned a car. While this is incredibly admirable for him and is the substance of his prophetic ministry to an indulgent christianity, it was not a cross that his family had voluntarily offered to bear. This too will have served to distance the family from this great man.

Even though Tozer recognised women among the famed mystics of the church, whose writings he devoured and whose lives he emulated, it is clear from the way he treated those closest to him, his wife in particular, that he believed that husbands were to lead their wives and families. In that respect he will have felt he was setting the very best example and that he would earnestly pray for them to accept this as the best way to live their lives before God. Perhaps he believed he was to be the priest of the family, interceding for them constantly and leading them also into the crucified life. Whatever it was he hoped for that was not the way it worked out in real life. He who shaped the spiritual lives of countless others, myself included, did not have the same influence over those closest to him.

This to me highlights only too well one of the failures of exclusive male leadership in the church and male headship, seen as male leadership, in the home. As much as I continue to admire all that A.W.Tozer stood for prophetically, it disappoints me that he was unable to be close to those within his own household. It stands as a warning to any of us that to hold to holiness of life and sound doctrine without influencing positively those who know us best, is a tragedy. Some may say that perhaps his wife and family were not on the same spiritual plane but that does not excuse an absence of the development of normal family relationships. It is one thing for one, or some family members to stray from the fold but for all to express that their father was distant and unknowable is extremely sad. This you might expect from an unmarried person whose rigorous piety and nearness to God affects no one but themselves.

Like Tozer, I too desire to walk in constant, intimate fellowship with God, my heavenly Father, but I want to walk that road in company with my immediate family and, by the grace of God, bring them along for the journey.


believer333 said…
I also loved Tozer. How sad that he wasn't able to bless his own family. Just think. If he had been balanced God might have used him even more.
Thanks for your comment. I wondered, in retrospect, if I had been a little harsh on Tozer in dubbing him as a hierarchialist but his sermon on 'Husband and wife in Partnership' puts that beyond any doubt. It can be viewed at:
Kathleen said…
Thank you for that behind the scenes look at Tozer's life. I also find his writings inspiring but am saddened by his choices in his family life.

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