A.W. Tozer, born in the late 1800’s, was a self-taught theologian who, as a teenager, committed his life to the ministry of the Word as a pastor, teacher, and writer, penning a number of books such as The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God’s Pursuit of Man, which many now consider to be classics. Tozer wrote with a distinctive reverence, communicating in a clear and compelling way the grandeur of God while also possessing keen insight into cultural matters, both inside and outside the church. In our day, his is the kind of voice which we would benefit from listening to more often.
Discipleship As a Way of Life
In true Tozer style, Discipleship: What It Truly Means to be a Christian, is a book which is hard-hitting, unapologetically honest, and imminently profitable for the reader. The first thing that stands out as Tozer begins his work is the way in which he views the topic of discipleship. Whereas in our day, discipleship has evolved into a mechanical process of progression through the Christian life (which, to be fair, an aspect of discipleship is that it is clearly, in some respects, a process), Tozer, on the other hand, seems to see discipleship as being less concerned with a standard process and more concerned with a “state of being.” The subtitle of the book hints at this. It doesn’t say “what it truly means to grow as a Christian,” but “what it truly means to be a Christian.” So, Tozer’s insistence is that discipleship is fundamental to Christianity, stating that:
“In the New Testament salvation and discipleship are so closely related as to be indivisible. They are not identical, but as with Siamese twins they are joined by a tie which can be severed only at the price of death” (9).
Commenting on his understanding of discipleship, the publisher states in its introductory note that, “discipleship is not something we do, Tozer might say, but rather is a way of life” (7). Thus, when we take stock of the current evangelical church’s “method” of discipleship, which is often enamored by processes and efficiencies, and measure it up against that of A.W. Tozer, what we find is a thin, pip-squeak trembling in the shadow of this man’s robust, life-encompassing theology of discipleship. And Tozer’s theology of discipleship, or one like it, is one which the church must recover if we hope to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”
The final thing that I’ll mention is that if you plan to read this book, you must be prepared to do so humbly. Tozer is serious about the glory of God and the proper worship of Him and is less concerned about the reader’s feelings as he/she is confronted with this content. He is interested in calling men and women to true discipleship: right belief, right practice, right worship – whole Christianity. It would be easy for a reader to read this book and deflect all of Tozer’s critiques onto others who are clearly guilty of the erroneous beliefs and practices mentioned. But that wouldn’t be a faithful, humble reading of this text. Being a Christian who lives and worships in the west, many of us are likely more affected by our western culture than we realize. So, in a lot of ways, this book currently stands as a timely resource for the church, as much of the error and “puny” discipleship which Tozer confronts has only worsened since this book was authored. So, be prepared to have your toes stepped on, but be quick to consider it the kindness of God using Tozer to call you back to repentance.
I’ve alluded to this already, and I feel like I often make this statement in many of my book reviews, but I believe that Discipleship is a timely resource for the church. In a day of increasing secularism, when the “nominals” are disappearing and the “nones” are growing, our thinned-out versions of discipleship simply won’t cut it any longer. By God’s grace, this is a book which will confront us, humble us, and reveal our need for repentance. And all along the way, it will lay out a “thickened,” more biblical “way of being.” I would consider this book, and Tozer’s other classics, necessary reading. Go pick them up.
[I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]