Book Review: “And He Dwelt Among Us” by A.W. Tozer (2009)

After years of study, meditation, and prayer through the Gospel According to John, A. W. Tozer once presented to his church people an exposition of the Gospel each Sunday for a year, an exposition filled with his keen insights, with his very human awe in the face of Jesus the Word made flesh, and with his ever-present burden against the growing apathy of the modern evangelical church.[1] An edited form of select sermons from this exposition makes up the book And He Dwelt Among Us, and while not a commentary, Dwelt treats certain passages of John with such intricate detail and meditative thought that one might think that it actually were a commentary. This critical book review will first summarize the purpose and themes of Dwelt, and then analyze some of the material found within.

Summary of Purpose and Themes

Tozer’s purpose in writing the material found in Dwelt is to help readers already familiar with John to move past the point of mere understanding, but instead to move into the realm of appreciation and fascination over Christ’s unique nature.[2] For too many believers, John is nothing more than a quick read of familiar passages, or the fourth in a series of Jesus biographies, or the book we give new believers so they can learn the basics of Christianity. For Tozer, however, John is the master work of the great mystic apostle, and, much like an art aficionado would do if writing about Monet’s Starry Night, Tozer ignores the obvious features of the work and instead dwells on the most intricate the most awe-inspiring details. James Snyder, the editor of Dwelt, describes Tozer not simply as the theologian for which he is most famous, but also as an evangelist-pastor and as “a mystic with his feet on solid doctrinal ground.”[3]

The themes of Dwelt vary from chapter to chapter, but as John’s purpose in writing the Gospel was to convince his readers of Jesus’ deity and to convict them towards repentance (John 20:31-31), so also Tozer seeks in each chapter to emphasize the truths of who Christ is and what He accomplished in taking on flesh. This summary will interact briefly with themes and quotations from each chapter. For example, in Chapter 1: “God Has Put Everlasting into Our Souls,” Tozer dissects the truths of John 1:1, concluding that we human beings, created in God’s image, crave the eternal Word, forever with God and forever God.[4] In Chapter 2: “A Time Before Time Began,” after helping his readers think time out of existence, Tozer begins to scratch the surface of John 1:3-5 and God’s infinite self-being, the absurdity of his desire to create, and the mystery of our predestined redemption from before time began. In Chapter 3: “The Beauteous World as Made by Him,” Tozer describes God’s creation and the two worlds of John 1:10, both the natural world in its beauty and utility, and the human world in its spirituality and profanity.[5] “You are not alone in this universe,” he writes, “but [God] is here…and you owe it to God to turn to Him with all your heart.”[6]

While Tozer’s evangelism shines through Chapters 1 through 3, he proves that in order for good news to exist, there must necessarily be bad news as well, the theme of Chapter 4: “The Tragic Side of Christ Becoming Flesh.” Here Tozer focuses on John 1:11, moving nearly word by word through the verse, and building to the great anti-climax that although God Himself came, and He came to his own, humanity rejected Him in favor of our sin.[7] In Chapter 5: “The Mystery of the Word Made Flesh,” Tozer meditates on John 1:14 and the great mystery that the universe consists only of “two things: God and not God…[and that] the mystery is compounded by the fact that between that which is God and that which is not God is a great and impassable gulf.”[8] One is hard pressed to conjure up the immense reality of the gulf between God and men, that impossible gulf which Christ bridged for the sake of the atonement.[9] Tozer concludes John 1 in Chapter 6: “The Old Testament Messiah Versus the New Testament Christ,” by discussing verses 29 through 37 and the reality that Jesus the Lamb of God is the same One whom the prophets foretold, and that He had come to redeem profane humanity and restore the world.[10]

Thus far, Tozer’s emphasis on John 1 has laid the groundwork for the remainder not only of the Gospel but also of the book, and while he continues in his common vein of deep theology, he capitalizes more on the practical application of this theology than he had previously. In Chapter 7: “What Really Matter’s to God?” the aged Tozer expounds on John 3:16 so masterfully that his remarks ought to be required reading for all seminarians. The answer to the chapter title’s question is of course “Me,” and the application of this truth (i.e. salvation) is so overwhelmingly positive that we, like the mother of the redemptive thief on the cross, can never truly know how far this saving grace might extend to even the vilest offenders.[11] Chapter 8: “The Personal Application of Christ’s Coming into the World,” continues the previous chapter into John 3:17 and the “proclamation extraordinary” that Christ not only came into the world, but also that He came into the world to save it, not condemn it.[12] After imaging what our hope could be without this verse, Tozer rightfully challenges the apathy of believers everywhere: “What is the matter with us? What is the matter with Christians, and what is the matter with the unsaved man who has this message?”[13] In this reader’s opinion, a more convicting passage in Dwelt does not exist. In Chapter 9: “Perfect Harmony and Unity in the Trinity,” Tozer develops the mystery of the Trinity, and practically challenges the believer’s practice of prayer and understanding of discipline.[14]

Tozer spends the next two chapters focusing on Christ’s roles as Judge, Savior, and Man, before turning his attention towards the believer’s response to Christ’s coming and work. In Chapter 10: “The Eternal Christ is Both Judge and Savior,” Tozer deduces from John 5:22-29 that when believers fail to consider their ultimate accountability to their Savior the Judge, they become “soft, spineless Christians and churches without any meaning in them at all.”[15] In Chapter 11: “The Wonder and Mystery of the Eternal Christ Identifying with Man,” Tozer takes John 6:1-13 and expounds on the concept that Jesus did not simply want to be with people on earth, He wanted people to be with Him in Heaven, and this fact of togetherness is emphasized in Tozer’s critique of vicarious atonement: “There never was a moral transfer of responsibility…When [Jesus] died, as Paul said, we all died…Every man dies for his sins. The sinner dies alone and the Christian dies in Christ” and is then raised together with Him.[16] In Chapter 12: “Living Victoriously in Two Kingdoms,” Tozer recounts from John 5:24 how humanity is both physical and spiritual, animal and angelic, and that we tend to get so engrossed in the physical that we ignore the spiritual altogether.[17] To quell this trend, Tozer gives due credit to “religion” for its reminding humanity of the spiritual, though religion really is nothing when compared to God and his Christ.[18] Tozer closes Dwelt with John 14:7-11 in Chapter 13: “The Importance of a Proper Concept of God” by stating that no person, nation, or religion will ever rise above its concept of God and that the true God, the God of the Bible, is the Christ Jesus we meet in the book of John.[19]

Analysis

A.W. Tozer has presented in this book a clear picture of how the mysteries of Jesus Christ’s coming to earth and his atoning for the sins of humanity can and must affect the holiness of all believers. This critical book review will analyze the content of this book in light of the following three major topics: theology, missions, and personal application.

With regards to theology, Tozer takes the opportunity of preaching through John to develop the setting of several key doctrines. One could only imagine the learning available in a year-long exposition of John under the teaching of A.W. Tozer, but Dwelt offers its readers at least a taste. For example, in discussing how God became flesh, Tozer teaches the wonder of the God-man relationship as hinted at in the lives of Enoch and Abraham, and as ultimately verified in the life of Christ.[20] In doing so, Tozer clears up what has always been a foggy issue for me, the reality that God had forsaken Christ on the cross. How this truth is possible in relation to the whole spectrum of God’s attributes, not to mention the Trinity, has always escaped me. But in Tozer’s description of the Father’s forsaking Christ’s humanity stained on the cross with sin, he shows that the Father and Son need never have separated their deity.[21] Another issue of theology discussed in Dwelt is that of the vicarious atonement already referenced from Chapter 11, where Tozer challenges the common Christian understanding that because “Christ died for our sins” (I Corinthians 5:3), we need not die for our sins! Though some would argue that this is a weakness of Tozer’s theology, certainly logic says otherwise, for death truly is inevitable, and the Scriptures agree (Galatians 2:20; II Timothy 2:11-12). Tozer’s explanation is helpful for clearing the air as I seek to understand my own doctrinal stands.[22]

As a missionary myself, I am always struck by the references of writers to missions in any form. With regards to missions references in Dwelt, Tozer not only emphasizes evangelism, which is essential for all believers, whether missionaries or not, but he also discusses missions at two key points in his text. First, in referencing the poor practices of missionaries and pastors alike who reduce the challenge of world evangelism to “giving God a hand,” Tozer identifies the sin of elevating man and diminishing God and he writes: “A God who needs my help does not deserve my worship,” and “We should never come to God as a gesture of pity, thinking that God desperately needs us. We should give ourselves to God because He is worthy.”[23] Second, in discussing the need for a nation’s having a high concept of God, Tozer writes that “A missionary cannot go to a heathen land and immediately preach the Gospel…[he has to] talk about the high God and purge the minds of the people from low and unworthy and ignoble concepts of God.”[24] These two references to missions have affected my own mission, both at home and on the field, for it reminds me that when all is said and done, missions is not about people. Missions is about God alone, for He called me, He is the One I preach, and He ultimately draws believers to Himself.

With regards to personal application beyond this better perspective in missions, Dwelt has also challenged me in the areas of pride and prayer. First, after discussing at length the process of sanctification in light of God’s eternality, Tozer states that “It makes the praise of man a cheap thing, and it makes me careless of whether anybody likes me or not.”[25] Having considered lately the concept of personal legacy (I Timothy 2:1-10), I found this passage to be a healthy reminder of what life and living is all about. Second, in the context of the Trinity, Tozer writes that we believers have the freedom and right to pray to any of the three Members of the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and even the Holy Spirit. This has long been a practice of mine in my own spiritual walk, and I have found the various perspectives I gain in prayer to heighten my awareness of God’s presence, whether it is the Father on the throne, the Son interceding, or the Spirit living within me. To hear this recommendation from a great mind such as Tozer encourages me.

Conclusion

While in this reader’s opinion Tozer’s And He Dwelt Among Us contains virtually no weaknesses, the book is filled with strong content that has challenged my thinking and built my faith. I enjoyed especially Tozer’s method of meditating, pondering, and questioning his way through the text of John, for it has taught me to do the same. I would recommend this book to those long-time believers who have only seen John as a book for beginners and who have never personally set foot into the diamond mine that the Gospel truly is.[26]


[1] Tozer, 7, 11.

[2] Ibid., 15.

[3] Ibid., 7, 9.

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5] Ibid., 53, 54, 57.

[6] Ibid., 57.

[7] Ibid., 61-62, 64, 69, 74.

[8] Ibid., 78.

[9] Ibid., 78, 90.

[10] Ibid., 103-105.

[11] Ibid., 109, 117.

[12] Ibid., 123.

[13] Ibid., 124-125.

[14] Ibid., 151-152.

[15] Ibid., 159-160.

[16] Ibid., 171, 181.

[17] Ibid., 189, 194.

[18] Ibid., 196, 199.

[19] Ibid., 203-204, 212-213.

[20] Ibid., 80-82.

[21] Ibid., 90-91.

[22] Ibid., 181-182.

[23] Ibid., 40-41.

[24] Ibid., 205.

[25] Ibid., 43.

[26] Ibid., 108.

©2013 E.T.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Bible, Bible Commentary, Bible Doctrines, Book Review, Non-Fiction, The Gospel, Worship. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: “And He Dwelt Among Us” by A.W. Tozer (2009)

  1. Pingback: 400th Book Review! | Elliot's Blog

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