Monday, March 16, 2015

The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer

This month's Reading to Know Classics Book Club read is The Pursuit of God. A classic? Well, it qualifies as a Christian classic and therefore qualifies it for the book club. To date, this might be the most widely read of all the book club reads, based on the statements of commitment! Time will tell but I rather suspect it will be well-read this month.

I couldn't remember if I had ever read The Pursuit of God before. Now having most definitely read it, I don't think I had spent time with it previously. (So thank you, Shonya, for picking it!)

While I'm glad to have read it, I cannot exactly say that I enjoyed the read. In true fact, I rather didn't. (Whaaa . . . ?!?!!) Oh well. You always need someone around who thinks about the book a little differently than the rest so that you can have something to talk about, right? The whole time I was reading this I was thinking to myself that I'm likely to be the odd man out. I guess we shall see, but I shall proceed expecting such a thing!

The chief reasons why I didn't care for The Pursuit of God is because I didn't care or Tozer's writing "voice." I felt like I was being condescended to the entire read and no one likes that feeling. His chief concern in writing the book in the first place was to address Christians that he felt were being sucked into a worldly mindset. He writes from what seems like a fear that the church is disintegrating into something almost unusable by the Lord. He writes with a wish and a passion that Christians return to right relationships with Christ. Now what is wrong with this? Well, nothing necessary. At least not on its face. We should be about the business of encouraging one another and building each other up to a deeper more meaningful walk with Christ. But while we do this we also need to keep in mind the following:

1. Jesus wins. In fact, He already won.
2. He has claimed the church. The church will be victorious.
3. We are His. Nothing can take us out of His hands.

The church is not going to fizzle out because we lack passion.  It is a fixture, a people that God has made His own and will not forsake. Will the church suffer problems and difficulties? Yes, of course it will. Must we be vigilant to stand for truth and repent of sins? Yes, we must. But we don't need to have a down-in-the-mouth attitude about the church at large being doomed because we only see a small picture of the life of the church in Christ. (Note: we can quickly and easily see a bigger picture by returning to the Scriptures.) Again, the church is the Lord's and He has won it. It will stand victorious in the end and so we ought to be cautious about how much we lambaste the church and its members. It is important to remember that the Church belongs to Christ and He is full ownership and authority over it. We are called to be a part of it, not an attacker of it. Christians in every age have lamented the state of the Church. Today (here I go a-Tozer-ing) Christians are rather ecstatically leaping about, ready to throw the church and its members under the bus at the least sign of differences or provocation. People today have a tendency to get all doe-eyed and sentimental and individualistic in their faith walks instead of wanting to stand with the church. Perhaps this is a different problem than what Tozer himself focused on but it tends to result in the same attitude: condescension towards "well meaning but misguided Christians." (He used that phrase multiple times throughout the entire book.) Tozer deigns to condescend to the church at large and so do the modern individuals who deem it their mission to defend of whatever their favorite topic is. ("The Church today is so misguided about _________." etc.)

Tozer bickered and moaned about various dilemmas that he witnessed within the church in the 1950's. Were he to see it now I can only imagine he would have become an individualist himself. He thought Christians were too on the fence, not passionate about their faith and that the world lacked any man so great (i.e., a Martin Luther) as to have global impact.  Ok maybe the world is "lonely" for a Luther. While we don't have a Luther we can be happy about the fact that we do have the church which includes a passionate people of God who go about their daily lives with a mission and a passion to see the Gospel spread. These congregants/individuals may approach things quietly and differently than Billy Graham but they still exist and are still useful and worth realizing. I am not sad that any one preacher doesn't have the ear of the entire world at his disposal. I am more sad that we would so easily attack the church when God has clearly claimed it for His own.

Tozer's book is useful if it does cause "the common Christian" to realize the deep need for a relationship with Christ in their life. However, I think the Gospel message has been preached far more hopefully, calmly, happily, compassionately and effectively than Tozer delivered it. I would probably choose another book over this one to spur another believer on in their faith walk. Tozer said a lot of things I simply disagreed with. Two things in particular that I took issue with were as follows:

1. He really passionately dislikes the idea of observing the church calendar. He said that a church calendar and liturgy are "Roman Catholic" and that the Reformation freed us from such slavery (see Chapter X, The Sacrament of Living). Tozer would argue that those who use the phrase "holy week" or "lent" are "misled." I disagree with him hotly on this point. But it makes sense that he would say that, having never attended seminary. That almost answers the question for me as to why he would take such a stand. It's a bit of that individualistic thinking in play wherein you fail to realize that you are called to a past history as well as to a glorious future in which you are connected with other believers into One Body.

I do believe that following a Church calendar and observing times and seasons is not only completely scriptural (see the entire Old Testament which was never made completely irrelevant) but practically useful in examining one's heart and spiritual health. Also, any argument about "not liking liturgy" is going to fall on deaf ears with me because every church has a liturgy, even though they might not call it such. Every church service follows a particular pattern. You know when the call to worship will be given, and when the sermon is, and when the offering will be taken, etc. Liturgy. It's there whether you want to call it that or not. You might instead choose to call it, "The Order of Service" to make it sound less high brow but it's the same thing. Different words, same meaning. Creating order and liturgy is an inescapably human thing to do. Why? Because it's an attribute of God Himself to desire order and we who are created in His image desire order also.

But let's move along.

2. Tozer made the following statement which really lit my fuse:
"Again, it does not mean that every man is as useful as every other man. Gifts differ in the body of Christ. A Billy Bray is not to be compared with a Luther or a Wesley for sheer usefulness to the Church and to the world; but the service of the less gifted brother is as pure as that of the more gifted, and God accepts both with equal pleasure." (Chapter X, The Sacrament of Living)
To that I can really only say, "What a dunderhead."

But I expect others would like it if I explained myself a bit more.

There is neither slave nor free, Jew, nor Gentile, Wesley or Bray, Tozer or Lewis, male or female. (I paraphrased but there really is a period in the Bible after that statement. See Galations 3:28.) For? For we are all one in Christ Jesus. One in the Church. One in the Body of Christ. Each of us made with a purpose. Each of us called with the same calling. Each of us called with a different gifting, yes, but each for the same thing. There may only be room for one on a stadium platform but that doesn't mean that there aren't forty more worth knowing in the audience. Some listen more, some speak more, some plan, some are "flexible", some are old, some are young, some have media attention, some are only noticed by a handful. Each one is part of the Body so each one matters equally because it's not about us, is it? No, it is not. I personally cannot preach a sermon. But there are things I can do that my pastor cannot that will connect widely with others. We are both needed within the Body. We are both equally sinners. We are both equally worthy of having a relationship with Christ NOT because of anything within us but because of Who Christ Is and what He has chosen to do. It's not of me, so I cannot boast. I can merely be grateful and connect myself to the Body which He has named as His own and make myself useful there in the manner I am called.

Perhaps I am being terribly uncharitable towards Tozer. I fear so. However, when someone holds themselves out as being Chief in Knowledge and purports to lead a flock of believers they are subject to examination themselves and I can't say I'm impressed with the general attitude expressed. There is a distinct lack of humility which was really glaring to me and, as I say, made it hard to "hear" what he wanted me to hear.

Know this (as I do truly understand!): Tozer was passionate about developing a deep relationship with His Lord and Savior. I believe that. He was passionate about others feeling the same. I believe that's why he wrote this book and it's as good a reason to write a book as any! The best! If I were to summarize I would simply say that he was so passionate about talking to others and instructing them in their endeavors to obtain this relationship that I think he failed to listen and to observe. There's not much room for debating any subject with him, I think. He doesn't give off the impression of being much open for having a conversation with anyone that he felt was "misguided" and, I confess it, when I meet with that personality I feel compelled to walk away. It doesn't seem that much good will come of an argument with them. But when two parties are ready to and want listen to one another, then you begin to see amazing things happen, not just between them but within the church also. Note too that when I run into this attitude it always causes me to examine myself and my personality and see if I've been overbearing and harsh with others. (I have a tendency towards this and it's something I've been taking care to pay attention to. For this reason, chiefly, I think this was a good book for me to read.) I know too that even when a person appears not to be listening, they really are. And that's an invitation to talk to me, yes, even when you aren't sure that I'm hearing you. I am therefore willing to give Tozer the benefit of the doubt that he's not so condescending as he sounds but I still don't agree with the above statements in particular.

On that note, I'm personally looking forward to a lively but respectful discussion about this book. I'm curious to hear what other people are getting from it that I am not. Would I say it's a good book to read? Hmmm.... I don't know. Convince me.

Or, in the words of another lofty fellow, "I'm listening..."


Barbara H. said...

I waited to read this until after posting my own review - and I am glad I did. :-) It's always amazing to me how different people can read a book and get different and even opposite impressions of it, but I guess it is that way with everything. I never got the feeling of being condescended to. I wouldn't necessarily agree with every single sentence in the book (one thing I had a major disagreement about I understood differently when I reread it for my review), but overall I was greatly ministered to.

Annette Whipple said...

I read it 15ish years ago. I liked it then...likely needed it then. But I haven't been able to read much of it this month. I don't care for his style either, but think for not as deeply thought out reasons as you. :)

Becky said...

I just started it last night. I've read Tozer before. (I love, love, love his Knowledge of the Holy). I like his zealous style, for the most part, but I'm not sure I agree with his theology. He always makes me think, but he doesn't always convince me in other words ;)

Barbara H. said...

Just another thought that occurred to me just after my previous comment, but it was a while before I could get back to the computer. I didn't see Tozer's observations as "attacking" the church but rather pointing it to Christ. As you said, in every generation the church has had its issues and its preachers dealing with them. The church is Christ's, yes, and He has already won and nothing will take us out of His hands - but we're not perfect yet (and won't be until heaven), and until then God will send ministers to deal with whatever issues we're facing. Even the NT epistles did that - pointed out errors, wrong tendencies, and even potential wrong tendencies, that the church might be more purified and more accurately reflective of her Lord.

Anonymous said...

Nobody was "harder" on the church than Paul...unless it was James...unless it was John...unless it was Christ. I guess my point is, Pastors have this terrible burden for the church, and in the historical context of the 1950s the church was inundated with worldliness, anti-family mindsets, and even the beginnings of Marxism! I can understand how a Pastor seeing these influences on the church might be sad, even a little afraid for his people. I agree with Barbara H.'s last comment. We're not perfect yet, and it's our pastors' job to point out where we're messing up and show us solutions, even harshly when need be. Paul was very hard on the Corinthians, but even that didn't hold a candle to the way Christ talked to the churches of Asia in Revelations - THAT was fire and brimstone at times! We're not to be stricter than the Bible or course, but neither are we to be softer when there's clear principles. That said, I haven't read this whole book, and I'm sure there are some issues with it. A defeatist attitude is never a good thing, but our pastors have a great and terrible burden for the church, that I don't think we can ever fully understand. They have to call them as they see them. That's their job.

Shonya said...

Hmmmm, I maybe shouldn't have read your post yet, as I'm not finished with the book yet. (There SHOULD be some sort of rule that no one can finish the book before the person who CHOSE the book! lol) I've been reading too many other loooong books, and I'm reading his biography alongside Tozer's work (which is REALLY interesting!)

Stephanie said...

I'm like everyone else - I should have probably waited! : ) I'm about half-way done with the book and so far, I think my biggest struggle is getting into the groove with his writing voice. I've been immersed in prereading for the girls too much of late and this is stretching (in a good way) my tired mommy brain. : )

Becky said...

my review in case you're interested.

Susan said...

Interesting! I've heard Tozer mentioned a lot over the years, but have never read anything by him. And after this review, I'm not that eager to! :) I do love the church calendar as well, increasingly so the older I get. And if he despaired in the '50s, oh my -- what would he say today?

Tarissa said...

Posted my review this morning!
Really enjoyed this read!

BerlinerinPoet said...

Like the other people I read this before I even started reading so...woopsie!

My review is more scathing than I meant it to be, but I really didn't care for the book at all.

Carrie said...

:D I LOVE that this is creating conversation. (I also hope everyone will link up to the wrap-up post which Shonya wrote up for us. This post here are my own personal thoughts to contribute to the book club discussion.)

I agree with you, Barbara. I can see how my review sounds very lopsided. I think the church needs to be called out on several things at the present moment and, of course, it needs correction in any age. This is true.

I guess that one of the things I see modern day Christians needing to be called out on is their quickness to judge the church. And so reading Tozer is more of the same to me. I hear a lot about how Christians are in the wrong in so many ways and the church has hurt people, etc., that I think TODAY one of the things Christians need to realize is the importance and significance of the church - that it is, in fact, the bride of Christ. If there's to be calling out to the church today, I think this is a significant problem. (We can also see this by the number of books being published today trying to encourage Christians not to leave the church in some sort of disgust but to come back. And then arguments to make church more "seeker friendly" so that we sinners are pacified and contented.)

Whiiiiich in a way I can see how Tozer is trying to build up the church. But then I can't hear him for his tone and it bugs me. Hence my review is more slanted in a negative direction. But ultimately, yes, I do agree with you.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Well, I loved this one, Carrie. I think I'm more of an "individualist" than perhaps I should be, and I think part of that probably comes from my background. (We're currently in a church that functions more as a church than we have been in, well, ever, so perhaps that will change. . . ) Also, my life experience of the past year or two has also colored my opinion of this book: it met a need in me. I didn't find his tone offensive at all; but again, that's perhaps because (as one raised in what I imagine is a similar church to the one Tozer himself pastored) I'm used to it. :)

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