A.W. Tozer. The Counselor. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015. See here to buy the book.
A.W. Tozer was a pastor and Christian author who lived from 1897 to 1963. I have seen him quoted numerous times. I have finally read a book by him. Or, actually, this book is an edited version of two classics that Tozer wrote. It is still quotable, though!
This book was not exactly what I expected. I thought that this book would be about how the Holy Spirit dwells inside of Christians and counsels them. The book, after all, is entitled The Counselor. Instead, this book talks about the importance of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Tozer addresses the question of why so many Christians or professing Christians are not filled with the Holy Spirit. He also discusses what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like.
What does being filled with the Holy Spirit mean, according to Tozer? As far as I can recall, Tozer in this book does not answer that explicitly. But he does talk about what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like. He looks at the Book of Acts, in which the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. He also examines church history, as he refers to such examples as Martin Luther, John Wesley, and others.
For Tozer, being filled with the Holy Spirit includes a variety of characteristics: joy, an intense hunger and thirst to know God, speaking with authority, God anointing one’s preaching so that it produces results, spiritual transformation, and knowing God through the Holy Spirit rather than through intellect. For Tozer, being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a process that stretches out over time. Rather, it is a single event of spiritual empowering.
How does one become filled with the Holy Spirit, according to Tozer? There is another book by Tozer, How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit, which may give more practical steps. But The Counselor does make significant points.
Tozer says that the Holy Spirit exalts Jesus Christ, which implies that those who desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit must do the same. In discussing why so many professing Christians are not filled with the Holy Spirit, Tozer says that one desiring to be filled must surrender to God; so many Christians, by contrast, want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to their lives. In some cases, Tozer states, people can arrive at a state of loneliness and desperation, and that opens them up to being filled with the Holy Spirit. To be filled with the Holy Spirit, one must be in agreement with God. Hatred, lust, and egotism are irreconcilable with being filled with the Holy Spirit, whereas praying for others with an attitude of kindness is the proper frame of mind for Christians to have. For Tozer, Christians need to clean up their thoughts and spend more time in the Bible, and that can set the stage for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Tozer interacts with other questions, as well. Is speaking in tongues a sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit? Tozer does not regard it as a necessary sign, for he observes that several Christian luminaries, such as Luther and Wesley, did not speak in tongues. Can one be a saved Christian without being filled with the Holy Spirit? Tozer does not address this question head-on, but he raises various considerations, some of which lead in different directions. He says that the disciples were converted before they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, Tozer expresses agnosticism about whether the Christians he criticizes are genuine Christians; at other times, he is more skeptical.
Tozer addresses certain Christian views in his day, views that he believes obscure the truth. On the one hand, Tozer is critical of those who believe that speaking in tongues is a necessary mark of being filled with the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, he is critical of the view that being filled with the Holy Spirit only related to the time of the apostles. Tozer rejects the view that the disciples were unconverted when Jesus was on earth, for he believes that many Christians use that position to excuse their own carnality. (Maybe Tozer is criticizing an attitude that I have encountered in evangelicalism: Look, Christ called imperfect disciples and used them for God’s glory, so that must mean that we do not need to worry about our own sinful imperfections!) Tozer believes that treating being filled with the Holy Spirit as a process rather than a single event likewise allows Christians to excuse their sins and their fears about being filled with the Holy Spirit. (They fear letting God be in the driver’s seat, or they are afraid of doing embarrassing things under the Spirit’s influence, or that God will place them in insecure situations.) And, as you can probably tell, Tozer did not care for the over-emphasis on grace, God’s unmerited favor for Christians, within Christendom.
I found what Tozer said to be interesting, especially when he was critiquing Christian perspectives of his day and regarding some of those perspectives as excuses. I have to admit that I felt spiritual insecurity in reading this book, for a variety of reasons (i.e., wanting to run my own life, not feeling sure that I can obey God’s commands, not wanting to be obsessed with religion, as Tozer seemed to suggest that Spirit-filled people are). Still, I could identify, somewhat, with what Tozer said about the hunger to know God.
Tozer could have been a little more pastoral in his tone. Rather than bragging (or so it seemed to me) about how he never holds a grudge, he could have offered advice to people who struggle with sins, or at least he could have expressed sympathy and understanding towards their situation.
I was surprised that Tozer in this book never engaged Ephesians 5:18-21: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (KJV). That passage seems to imply that being filled with the Holy Spirit is not just a one-time event, and it describes what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like.
In reading this book, I wondered if being filled with the Holy Spirit could occur outside of Christianity. Tozer would probably answer “no,” since he says that the Spirit exalts Jesus Christ. Still, there are mystics and ecstatic spiritual experiences outside of Christianity. Maybe they are more prominent within Christianity, but they do occur outside of it, as well.
I hope to read more books by Tozer in the future.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.