Book Review: The Price of Neglect

The Price of Neglect by A.W. Tozer

I was lent this book by a friend the other day.  It’s a quick and easy read, a compilation of various editorials written by A.W. Tozer as editor of Alliance Life.  Each editorial is almost uniformly between 2-4 pages in length.  His style is easy and straightforward, and his flow of thought is easy to track with.

I’m familiar with Tozer by name but have never read anything of his.  In reading this anthology, it’s important to remember they were editorials for a magazine and as such, short, to the point, and light on detailed support or explanation.  I would hope that the themes laid out briefly in these editorials were delved into in more depth in the publication as a whole, saving Tozer the time and space of elaborating and fleshing out his ideas more fully in these short pieces.

Overall, I appreciate his general view.  He was skeptical of modern theological trends and movements.  Skeptical of the revival associated with post-World War II America, viewing it as shallow and commercial in nature, something which definitely seems to have played itself out as true in the subsequent decades.

My biggest criticism – and this in light of  the strong characterizations of Tozer as a modern prophet on the back of the book  – is that he is light on specifics.  Again, I trust this is  in part due to the fact that these are editorials rather than full-fledged theological writings.  But he offers criticisms without supporting examples most of the time.  He is critical of American Christianity, exhorts American Christians to a truer Christianity, but provides few examples of what he means.

This is very un-prophetlike.

Read through Isaiah, and you’ll see he offers very specific criticisms and examples to demonstrate what he’s talking about.  Rather than just criticizing shallow faith and a greater concentration on worldly riches, he calls out vanity in specific terms, like tinkling jewelry (3:16).  In criticizing reliance on foreign policy and alliances rather trust in God, Isaiah  points to specific issues, like alliances with Egypt (31:1).

Tozer provides few specifics in his laments of American  Christianity,  but is always exhorting people to something better and truer and more authentic.  As such, his words will indeed be timeless, as there’s never a time or situation when the faithful could not be better – more faithful, more trusting, more fervent.  But therein lies the problem as well.  Tozer clearly has ideas in mind about how the modern Christian should look and act, but doesn’t specify what he means.  As such, his criticisms can never be vetted, and his criticisms will always stand valid.  And under his criticisms it’s pretty clear he doesn’t consider many people who call themselves Christian to actually be Christian.  And this is where it gets tricky.

You can call out specific sins, but to question the faith of someone who doesn’t meet your undefined standard of what a Christian ought to be is unfair.  I’m struck in contrast by Paul’s first letter to the congregation in Corinth.  As he greets them at the start of his letter, he unhesitatingly calls them sanctified and saints, giving thanks for the outpouring of God’s blessings on them.  This despite the fact he’s going to have to criticize them for some very specific things in this letter.  Sexual misconduct and an acceptance or resignation to this reality.  Uncharitableness and false faith and understanding concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Some pretty major issues that would undoubtedly lead Tozer to claim the Corinthians are not true Christians – but St. Paul doesn’t make that move!

In other places Tozer’s theology is questionable.  Fair enough, as all of us fall short in that department in one place or another!  For example  he claims that Satan was not able to stir Jesus to  sin during his temptation in the wilderness because there was no evil in Jesus to respond to the temptation.  Tozer’s overall point is that when people react poorly in situations it is because their true character is being revealed.  The problem is that God the Father declared Adam and Eve to be good – free from evil – and yet they succumbed to temptation.   Is this because there was evil in them before the Fall?  I’m pretty sure most traditional theologians would not take this stance.  Further, if Jesus was not capable of sinning, then his temptations were not really temptations at all.  He was just going through the motions, as it were, which is a problem with Christology in making it sound as though Jesus wasn’t truly and fully human as well as divine, as though his human will didn’t exist, that it was replaced with the divine will of the Second Person of the Trinity.  Problematic on multiple levels.

Finally, for all his talk about the primacy of the Gospel, he spends an awful lot  of his time and effort talking about the Law, asserting that Christians are not living up to their name and therefore are not really Christians.  Rarely does he spend any appreciable time elaborating grace and forgiveness and mercy.  This might be part of the nature of the publication he edited and the purpose he saw for it, but as a conglomeration his editorials are decidedly Law-oriented while criticizing Christians for not living up to their potential in accepting the grace of God in Jesus Christ!

Again, I agree with much of what Tozer asserts, I just wish  he was more specific.  Again, I try to  remember what these writings represent, and assume they are only one part of a larger publication that could better elaborate on his themes.  God uses many different voices to communicate his Word, each voice at times focusing more on one issue than another.  But it’s a good reminder to me to be more specific and to make sure I’m not just critical but also acknowledge the grace of God at work in even the worst of repentant sinners.

Including myself.

 

 

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