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The Way of the Mystics & The Roots of AW Tozer's Righteousness

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by asterisktom, Mar 24, 2012.

  1. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    May 29, 2007
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    Part one of two
    The Way of the Mystics &
    The Roots of AW Tozer's Righteousness

    "Lloyd-Jones, you and I hold just about the same position on spiritual matters, but we have come to this position by different routes."

    This comment from A.W. Tozer was made to the famous British preacher and author Martin-Lloyd Jones at a Bible Conference where both were scheduled speakers. Intrigued by this, Lloyd-Jones asked what he meant. Tozer responded:

    "Well, you came by way of the Puritans ... and I came by way of the mystics."

    Lloyd-Jones conceded the point. * But perhaps we should consider this point more closely, because this is the key to understanding the heart of A.W. Tozer's theology, and the serious error that is at that very heart.

    This article will examine the following:

    1. Was this an off-the-cuff remark of Tozer's, an unguarded comment that needs to be seen in the light of other comments?
    2. If not, who are these mystics to whom Tozer credits in the way of leading him to maturity in spiritual matters?
    3. Are they at all similar in basic orthodoxy to the Puritans - or even to the broader spectrum of Biblical Christianity - or are they quite the opposite?

    Please read this article with an unbiased heart and mind. I did a lot of research into this man, a man I once greatly admired - as perhaps you do - and I did it with an open Bible, just like Tozer oftentimes suggests. But the more I studied him the more admiration waned, and was replaced by alarm - and exasperation.

    First of all: Was this merely an unguarded or isolated remark? Or has he spoken elsewhere in the same vein?

    Consider the following three quotations. Italics added:
    1. "For myself, I am reverently concerned that I teach nothing but Christ crucified. For me to accept a teaching, or even an emphasis, I must be persuaded that it is scriptural and altogether apostolic in spirit and temper. And it must be in full harmony with the best in the historic church and in the tradition marked by the finest devotional works, the sweetest and most radiant hymnody and the loftiest experiences revealed in Christian biography."

    "It must live within the pattern of truth that gave us such saintly souls as Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, Molinos, Nicholas of Cusa, John Fletcher, David Brainerd, Reginal Heber, Evan Roberts, General Booth and a host of other souls who, while they were less gifted and lesser known, constitute what Dr. Paul S. Rees (in another context) calls "the seed of survival". And his term is apt, for it was such extraordinary Christians as these who saved Christianity from collapsing under the sheer weight of the spiritual mediocrity it was compelled to carry." From "Keys to the Deeper Life", "A New Yearning Among Evangelicals" (1957, Sunday Magazine)

    2."The devotional works that have appeared have been so varied as to make classification difficult. Some of the great names are Meister Eckhart, Bernard of Clairvaux, Jan van Ruysbroeck, Michael Molinos, John of the Cross, Thomas Traherne, Richard Rolle, William Law, Walter Hilton, Francis de Sales, Jakob Boehme and Gerhart Tersteegen. To those might be added the more familiar names of Fenelon, [Madame] Guyon and Thomas Kempis."

    "To a large extent these were universal Christians who experienced the grace of God so deeply and so broadly that they encompassed the spiritual possibilities of all men and were able to set forth their religious experiences in language acceptable to Christians of various ages and varying doctrinal viewpoints."

    Tozer ends this devotional with the following thought:

    "How much we owe to those who walked with God in days past and left to us a record of their experiences. Their religious context, terminology and practice may differ from ours but their love for Christ shines through. They goad us toward God!" From the devotional "Books to be Chewed and Digested", "The use and Abuse of Good Books."

    In this next quote Tozer laments the fallen state of Christianity today. We would agree, but look at who he points back to as our former high point:

    3. "The passionate adorations of Teresa and Madame Guyon are a thing of the past. Christianity has fallen into the hands of leaders who knew not Joseph. The very memory of better days is slowly passing from us and a new type of religious person is emerging. How is the gold tarnished and the silver become lead! If Bible Christianity is to survive the present world upheaval, we shall need to recapture the spirit of worship." From "That Incredible Christian", chapter entitled "The Art of True Worship"

    These three excerpts from Tozer sufficiently demonstrate the high regard he has for the mystics of the past. More than this, they demonstrate that he regards them as not the extremity or fringe of Christianity, but as the epitome of "Bible Christanity" and exemplars of the "spirit of worship". It should not be missed that, whatever necessary prefatory praise is first given to the Bible and the teaching of "Christ crucified", these saints that he lists - and a minority that he lists, like Brainerd, truly are - are set forth as our true examples to be emulated. These are Tozer's "extraordinary Christians", "universal Christians". They are the very "seed of [the church's] survival" who "saved Christianity". This is a common motif with him. Anyone who has a read a number of his books has come across this recurring theme.
    According to Tozer, these extraordinary people experienced very much what we need today.

    But is this true? And are all these - scripturally speaking - saints? Not at all. Many of them were not only well-within the Roman Catholic Church (as would be expected for the times), but were also avowedly anti-Reformation and, thus, anti-Christian.

    Continued below
  2. asterisktom

    asterisktom Well-Known Member
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    May 29, 2007
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    The Way of the Mystics & The Roots of AW Tozer's Righteousness (Part 2)

    Second part of previous post

    Teresa of Avila, one of Tozer's "incredible Christians", in her book "Way of Perfection" (a book highly praised by him) complained about "the harm and havoc being wrought in France by these Lutherans and the way in which their unhappy sect was increasing." She continued:

    "This troubled me very much, and, as though I could do anything, or be of any help in the matter, I wept before the Lord and entreated Him to remedy this great evil. I felt that I would have laid down a thousand lives to save a single one of all the souls that were being lost there." **

    Of whom is she speaking? These are none other than the Huguenots, many of whom paid the ultimate price for their faith during the infamous Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. And who does AW Tozer praise as being examples for modern Christians? Not them - but her!

    So what's the big deal?
    A Reformed brother warned me in a friendly manner that I shouldn't go off on this "rabbit-trail against Tozer", but should rather tackle the real enemies of biblical Christianity like Rick Warren. But Rick Warren already has - and even more since the time this well-meaning advice was offered - plenty of critiquers, especially among Reformed writers.

    But such is not the case with A.W. Tozer. The Bibles have not been so readily applied to Tozer as to Warren. He, surprisingly, is often even showcased, prominently blurbed on many of their sites, and spoken well of by some of those same writers who critique Warren. This seems to be true, especially, of Reformed writers. This is where, I believe, their blind-spot is. The Bible is not applied to him as much because Tozer seems to already apply it to himself, and to preface and pepper his mystic encomiums with requisite Scriptural references.

    Yet here is what seems to missed all too often: Tozer does not apply Scripture nearly as much as he alludes to it. He applies it selectively and illustratively ***, and not in context "To the Word and to the Testimony. If they do not speak according to this Word, there is no light in them!", Isa. 8:20.

    More on this topic soon.

    This article is part of an ongoing project. Previous entries on this topic are these:
    AW Tozer Reconsidered
    Tozer and Calvinism
    Tozer's Order of Salvation (Who's initiative is it in salvation?)
    Tozer's Dangerous tenets

    The first and last articles, especially, deal with this influence of mysticism in Tozer's teaching. It is much greater than is recognized or acknowledged today, even among Reformed writers.

    * Martin-Lloyd Jones, sadly, as it turned out, toward the end of his life, conceded more than this point. His less-than-vigorous resistance to "mystic Christianity" bore unforeseen fruit in his own ministry and, especially, in his legacy to the next generation in his own congregation. I believe his unwillingness to hold all experiences to a strict spiritual account, and his undiscerning allowance for continuity of spiritual sign-gifts in his church, resulted in the downfall of his very own church after his death. His successor took his church much further down the Charismatic road than Lloyd-Jones had intended.

    All of this underscores the importance of not deviating from the left or from the right of what the Bible teaches.

    ** Read more of Teresa's writings at catholicsclassics.com.

    *** One example out of many that could be found is how he uses the Bible in chapter five of "I call it Heresy!" Further exploration of this is found in this article.
    #2 asterisktom, Mar 24, 2012
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 24, 2012