Tozer's Critique of Modern Evangelicalism: As Relevant Today As Then
In the 67 years since the original publication of pastor-theologian A.W. Tozer's classic book, The Pursuit of God, the world including and perhaps especially the great land I call home, the USA, has undergone monumental changes culturally and economically. But as I reread Tozer's timeless words of wisdom, it is apparent to me that much remains the same in the culture and economy of the evangelical church to the present day.
As a passionately committed evangelical and pastor, the health and maturation of the church is one of my foremost occupations and preoccupations. As a shepherd, when I see God's flock going astray (I speak here not specifically of my own congregation but of the American Christian movement in general) the Spirit compels me to take up my staff and lead the flock back toward the green pastures and quiet waters of God's grace.
In this spirit, I am moved to share at length an excerpt from Tozer's book which I perceive to be as relevant to our Christian context today as it was nearly seven decades ago. Reflect on these words and ask yourself, Do I succumb to these temptations? Is my congregation, my denomination, association or other institution guilty of perpetuating them? Take an honest inventory and share your thoughts with a trusted friend, even here in the comments of this blog.
In answering the question, what was it that has set the great saints of old--as well as great saints in the present--apart from the life of the average Christian, Tozer suggests that "the one vital quality which they had in common was spiritual receptivity... that they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives... They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response" (p. 63). He went on:
"Receptivity is not a single thing; rather, it is a compound, a blending of several elements within the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have. From this it may be gathered that it can be present in degrees, that we may have little or more, depending upon the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible force which comes upon us as a seizure from above. It is a gift of God indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any other gift if we are to realize the purpose for which it was given.
Failure to see this is the cause of a very serious breakdown in modern evangelicalism. The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast-flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.
The tragic results of this spirit are all about us: shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit. These and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul." (A.W. Tower, The Pursuit of God, pp. 64-65, emphasis mine)