A.W. Tozer. God’s Pursuit of Man. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015. See here to purchase the book.
A.W. Tozer was a pastor and Christian author who lived from 1897 to 1963. The page of the book that has the copyright information states: “God’s Pursuit of Man was originally published under the titles The Divine Conquest and The Pursuit of Man and is a sequel to The Pursuit of God.”
Overall, this book is about having a tangible, vibrant experience of the divine, in which the Holy Spirit actually dwells inside of a Christian. Tozer advocates that Christians read the Bible, but he is against them substituting that for an experience of the living God, calling that seeking the living among the dead (a la Luke 24:5). According to Tozer, a spiritual experience is what can nourish a Christian.
In what sense is the book about God’s pursuit of human beings? Tozer makes Calvinist-like statements about the sovereignty of God in calling certain people to be Christians, as if who becomes a Christian is God’s choice, and God is the one who enables sinful human beings to receive God. (For a thoughtful post about whether or not Tozer was a Calvinist, see this post by John H. Armstrong: http://johnharmstrong.typepad.com/john_h_armstrong_/2008/06/was-a-w-tozer-a.html) At the same time, Tozer also includes statements that are supportive of human free will, and he discusses what people can do to be filled with the Holy Spirit, or to prepare themselves for such an experience. Tozer appeals to the story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32) and the story of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon becoming a beast (Daniel 4) as examples of God conquering human beings and yielding them to God; in those cases, God works through circumstances. Tozer does not dismiss human free will, but he also wants Christians to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and proactive role in their call, including their ability to believe.
Tozer also presents the Christian’s possession of the Holy Spirit as a rough ride. According to Tozer, the Spirit inside of a person will conquer that person’s sinfulness and self-will. Tozer says this within the context of asking people if they are sure that they want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. There are tensions within Tozer’s book, and he does not successfully resolve them. On the one hand, Tozer presents God as one who proactively conquers a person. On the other hand, Tozer presents being filled with the Holy Spirit as the result of human choice: humans have to do things (i.e., have a cheerful faith, forsake things contrary to God’s character, read the Bible) if the Holy Spirit is to dwell inside of them. Is the Holy Spirit a conqueror, or a gentleman? Does the Spirit meet people in their halting attempts to know God, or give up on those who fail to meet a certain spiritual standard? Tozer is all over the place on this, but he may hold these tensions together in some manner, in his own mind. The Puritans, too, stressed God’s sovereignty and role in converting people, while encouraging people to seek God continually in hope of a saving experience.
Tozer thoughtfully engages a variety of questions and topics. A few times in the book, he discusses the question of what it looks like for the Holy Spirit to enter and live inside of a person. Does the Holy Spirit possess the person and void that person’s humanity and free will? Tozer answers in the negative. For Tozer, the Spirit burns wickedness, while preserving a person’s humanity; plus, the Spirit works with the Christian’s volition. Tozer does not clearly describe what it looks like for the Holy Spirit to dwell inside of a person, but he does make the effort.
Tozer talks about the Trinity: how the Holy Spirit is equally God and interacts with the Father and the Son. Tozer discusses how the Spirit has all of the divine attributes, works with the other members of the Trinity in union, and yet performs specific tasks. Tozer has this discussion because he believes that the Holy Spirit has been a neglected member of the Trinity within the Christendom of his day. Tozer’s insights about the Trinity, and also God’s attributes, are arguably relevant to contemporary debates about the Trinity within the theological-blogosphere (as of July 2016), over the question of whether the Son has eternally been obedient to the Father.
Tozer’s discussion on how the world refuses to receive the Holy Spirit was helpful, in terms of explaining what Jesus may have meant when he said in John 15:19 that the world loves its own. Tozer did well to highlight the importance of character in this discussion: meekness and humility, as opposed to the world’s values of pride, power, and bribery. While there is no honor among thieves, the world often does admire those who thrive according to the world’s values, or lack thereof.
Tozer was slightly unclear on the question of whether a person can be saved without having experienced the sort of tangible spiritual renewal that he discusses. On the one hand, he does seem to present that tangible spiritual renewal as an aspect of salvation, and being filled with the Holy Spirit as the normal for truly regenerate people. On the other hand, he is critical of Christians who believe that the measure of the Holy Spirit that they received upon regeneration is all that there is for them. Tozer, in that case, may acknowledge that these people are true Christians, while thinking that they are selling themselves short.
The book did make me feel spiritually insecure, since I tend to rely on a book (the Bible) for my knowledge of God, plus I am not dogmatic about what does or does not constitute God’s activity in my life. God is aloof in my Christian experience, and also in the experience of many other Christians, I have gathered. Some people do not condemn those in that situation, saying that God works in different ways, for different people. Others, by contrast, are critical of people in that situation, blaming them for God’s aloofness. Tozer seems to me to belong more in the latter category, even though, to his credit, he does at least offer suggestions for those who experience God as aloof, and yet desire a deeper spiritual experience. The spiritual experience that he presents is one in which God is nourishing, even as God puts people through a rough ride.
I give this book four stars. It was thoughtful. Yet, it could have done more to portray God as one who woos people to Godself. Plus, as I said above, it did have tensions, which were not resolved overly well.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.