Summary: AW Tozer is one of the great spiritual writers of the 20th century, and a prime example of God using less than perfect people.
I read A Passion for God first about three years ago. It is one of those books that has stuck with me more than most.
The main reason is that Tozer is a perfect example of something that theologically I don’t really have a category for. Tozer, by nearly everyone that knew him’s estimation, was a real and passionate man of God. But at the same time he was distant from his family (especially his wife), personally lonely and probably leaned toward clinical depression.
It is not that I don’t think Christians can be depressed or lonely. I certainly think they can. But Tozer, like several other pietistic leaning pastors that I have read or read about seemed to lack many of the interpersonal tools of relating to those closest to him (while pouring forth energy on others.)
As with the first time I read the book, the most damning sentence in the book is a quote from Tozer’s wife who remarried after Tozer died. Her standard answer when people asked how she was doing after re-marrying was a variant of: ‘Aiden loved Jesus but (her new husband) loves me.’
Dorsett unlike most Christian biographers does not shy away from this difficulty. In fact, I suspect that it is this difficulty that drew him toward Tozer as a subject.
In spite of the fact that as a Christian that believes in the universality of sin and the fact that God frequently uses broken people for great things, I (and I think most other Christians) still expect our Christian leaders to be whole, healthy and examples. But no one today would look to Tozer as an example of how to relate to your wife or raise your children. While none of Tozer’s children left the faith or held long term resentment toward Tozer that is not the case with many other family members of some of our less exemplary Christian heroes.
Tozer is just one example of many recent and older pastors and Christian leaders that did great things for God and genuinely seemed to have the anointing of God on them, but were far from perfect in their personal lives. One of my personal heroes, Brennan Manning is an alcoholic and in his recent memoir has said the only thing that keeps him from drinking now is that he is too weak to do anything by himself (including getting a drink.) John Yoder, a great theologian and pacifist, is now known for his sexual harassment and abuse of women around him. Jonathan Edwards (and many others) owned slaves.
In small and great areas, many of our great heroes of the faith were far from sanctified and holy. And I am torn about how and whether to recommend some of the spiritual writings of those whose sins seem most repugnant to me. But does that just hide the fact that all who have gone before have been sinners? Is it just my personal blindness to sins that are less repugnant to me that allow me to embrace some while having difficulty with others? (Let alone all those that I just don’t know enough about to know about their sins.)
I do not have a theological answer for why God seems to still work through broken people (and people that are still broken and filled with sin after their conversion and throughout their ministry). I do not have an answer about how sanctification really works (although I do believe that sanctification is a real goal of all Christians and that we should be striving after becoming more Christlike, of which, a part of being Christlike is becoming more holy.)
The dustup between Tullian Tchividjian and some of the Gospel Coalition over sanctification is something I don’t have an answer for. I think both sides are right (and wrong). We are fully saved by Grace and adding anything to the gospel distorts the gospel. But I am like those that Tullian calls legalists in that I also think that we have a responsibility after conversion to strive after holiness through spiritual disciplines and other means to become more like Christ. The goal is not earning our salvation, but becoming fully the person that God desires us to be in order to serve Him as He intends.
I re-read this book in large part because I want to keep this story in the front of my consciousness. That tension seems to be part of the long term issues within the Christian church. We will not solve it. I think living with the awareness that God does use us in spite of our weakness, and at the same time, our sin keeps us from being fully used by God in some areas, is difficult but a necessary part of Christian maturity.