A.W. Tozer. Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son. Chicago: Moody, 2017. See here to purchase the book.
This book is a collection of works by A.W. Tozer on Jesus Christ. At least one of the chapters was a speech, for Tozer shares in that chapter that he just said something that he was not initially planning to include! The book occasionally looks at Jesus’ life, in terms of highlighting that Jesus did miracles with the power of the Holy Spirit, was loving and compassionate towards people, and secluded himself, not out of misanthropy (unlike Timone of Athens), but to serve humanity. Mostly, however, the book does not focus on details from Jesus’ life and teachings; rather, it explores Jesus’ significance as God (both pre-existent and incarnate), atoning sacrifice, high priest, coming king, and initiator of the new creation.
Here are some reactions—-positive, a few negative, and mixed:
A. The book had a charm to it. Tozer had folksy anecdotes and analogies that explained the significance of the topics that he was exploring. While the book did not raise anything that was earth-shakingly new to me, there was an eloquence and a thoughtfulness to it, such that it was not boring. Tozer was also self-deprecating at times in this book, such that his human side came out, even though his usual spiritual intensity also shone through. Moreover, Tozer criticized what he considered to be popular Christian misconceptions, such as the ideas of God being different in the Old Testament and the New Testament, God’s justice and God’s mercy being contrary divine attributes that were resolved at the cross, and the atonement being like a business transaction.
B. Tozer said some things that I did not like, as when he criticized a geology book that disagreed with a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. (I wrote “It’s called science” in the margin.)
C. In one case, Tozer was criticizing people who did not interpret Genesis 1-3 as literal and historical, but he actually took his point in a profound direction. He observes that even those who do not interpret the Fall as literal and historical live under a lesson that Genesis 2-3 highlights: that we all die.
D. In another case, Tozer made a beautiful point but took it in a direction that was rather cold. He said that everyone has access to Jesus, which means that Jesus is equidistant from everyone and is available to everyone. What about those who do not accept Jesus? Tozer attributes that to their love for their sin and desire to be without a moral authority. Perhaps some empathy would have been better, or at least reflection on the question of how God interacts with those who never heard the Gospel.
E. There was one occasion when Tozer was making an important point, but he did not really flesh it out. On page 89, he says, “The idea that the cross wiped the angry scowl off the face of God and He began grudgingly to smile is a pagan concept and not Christian.” Tozer accepted penal substitution but was trying to argue that God’s mercy and God’s justice are not in conflict, contrary to how some Christians try to explain the substitutionary atonement. But Tozer did not explain how God punishing Jesus in place of sinners was just.
F. In another case, Tozer made a point that put other books that I have read of his into perspective. In his books about the Holy Spirit, he practically suggests that people need to be spiritually perfect to be filled with the Holy Spirit. (He does not use those actual words, and he would probably deny that he believes that way were he alive today and asked about it, but those books can give one that impression.) In this book on Jesus, he made a similar point: that Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles (as opposed to performing miracles through his own deity, which he retained even as a man) because of his perfect submission to God. Tozer acknowledged that other human beings have not arrived at the level of submission that Jesus did. Tozer’s reflections here put his points about the Holy Spirit in other books into a sensible context, one that can encourage people to submit to God in attitude, as Jesus did.
G. One of his discussions had potential to generate more research. For instance, Tozer was interpreting John 1:17, which states that the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Tozer disagreed with Marcionite-like interpretations that present God in the Old Testament as a God of wrath and law and God in the New Testament as a God of grace and love. He argued instead that the passage is saying that the law gave commands, but only Jesus could give grace (forgiveness and transformation). That is a standard Christian view, but an area of research would be whether that accords with Johannine themes.
H. There were times when it was unclear what exactly Tozer was addressing. Tozer was talking about people who see different nuances in Jesus’ appearances (at the second coming, I presume). Perhaps a footnote about the context of these comments would have been helpful. Maybe Tozer was addressing dispensationalism. He had harsh words for prophetic scenarios in this book!
I. This book contained a few elements of Tozer’s thoughts that were previously unfamiliar to me. Tozer seemed to speak in favor of once-saved-always-saved in speaking about Jesus’ high priesthood. He also maintained that God had beneficent plans for physical Israel in the eschaton, which means that Tozer did not exactly hold to replacement theology.
J. There were examples of compelling imagery in this book. Tozer, for instance, likened Christians who were wasting their potential to Einstein making paper dolls. He was almost like Joel Osteen there: encouraging people to live according to their potential! I am sure that Tozer would disagree with Osteen on significant issues, though.
Notwithstanding my critiques, I am still giving this book five stars because it was an edifying, thoughtful book.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!