And He Dwelt Among Us: Book Critique

and-he-dwelt-among-us

Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897–1963) is considered by many to be one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. Tozer was a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Toronto and Chicago, from 1919 up until his passing. However, it was not until 1950, when he became the editor of Alliance Witness that he began to put word to paper. Much like John Wesley, he was, “a man of one Book, but a student of many.”[1]

The Gospel of John captivated Tozer’s imagination, as he would preach weekly Spirit-filled and anointed sermons, which had profound impacts on the congregation, to the point following the conclusion of the service, many were paralyzed in silence by the intensity of the message and the truth Tozer had clarified. Tozer believed, “any doctrine that did not rise to the height of identification with the Lord Jesus Christ was either misunderstood or not properly rooted in Scripture.”[2] On this assumption, Tozer sought to show doctrine must always establish truth, while also acting as a pathway to an intimate knowledge of God. Tozer understood in order to preach from John, a sound doctrinal foundation was imperative, especially since John was such a mystical thinker. James Snyder goes as far to describe Tozer being a “mystic with his feet on solid doctrinal ground.”[3] Another core reason, which compelled Tozer’s writing and preaching was the “spiritual boredom” that had overtaken the evangelical church. Tozer recognized the familiarity and complacency, which was taking root, especially in America and he sought to cast light on the darkness, which had attempted to eclipse the truth of the Word. “The heavens declare the glory of God,”[4] was a profound truth that resonated in Tozer’s soul as he saw John’s Gospel as a bright lens to view the love and nature of Jesus through. He recognized, “We are resting in the truth of the Word and are forgetting that there is a Spirit of the Word without which the truth of the Word means nothing to the human spirit at last.”[5]

Analysis

Tozer saw John’s way of presenting Christ in a mystical setting insightful, while other scholars viewed mysticism as something to avoid. Gnosticism was partly to blame for this and mid-nineteenth century literary criticism sought to discredit Johannine authorship as well. Instead, Tozer sought to highlight how John used sound theology in a way to truly define Christ’s nature. Right from the start of John, “In the beginning,” Tozer shows how mankind has been elevated into the realm of everlasting. This is an interesting point and something many fail to realize. Everyone has everlasting life, the only thing that determines where it will be spent is if one has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “From everlasting to everlasting, God is God” is profound, and the thought of an eternal separation from the Father should compel every follower of Christ to seek to help the lost and hurting comprehend the everlasting nature and love of God. Tozer demonstrates, “To ascend into the heart of God in this fashion is to begin to experience the Old Testament encouragement, ‘the eternal God is thy refuge.”[6] [7]

There is a God-shaped hole inside every man and woman and the reality of this statement means, “everywhere you go you see people who manifest a deep-seated restlessness, [which] shows there is something deep within the soul, put there by God, that yearns for the everlastingness that is only found in God.” Being created in the image of God and understanding He has put eternity into the mind of man, demonstrates why He puts the “everlasting beginningless” into the hearts of His children. God’s design was for mankind to always have freewill, however, hardwired into every mind, there has always been a longing for the everlastingness of God. Some call this quest for immortality a conditioned human response, but Tozer demonstrates, “God made man in His own image, and though man fell, He keeps the longing after eternity there and the appreciation of everlastingness there.”[8] There are many human responses God has placed inside men and women, but as Tozer highlights, “the most natural thing for a person who has been redeemed is for that person to lift his or her heart in prayer and praise to God. God put that response there, and redemption unleashes its capacity… [However,] when man fell in the Garden, it brought a dark cloud over the soul of all mankind.” This dark cloud is evidenced in the moral decline seen all across the world, as it attempts to suffocate the dreams, aspirations, and longings for a relationship with the Creator. Satan cannot stand anything God loves, so he attempts to counterfeit, destroy, or pervert anything that would create unity and oneness with God. This is evidenced by his early actions in the Garden of Eden.

Since mankind was cast out of Eden, everything has been tainted and Tozer argues everything is wrong until Jesus sets it right stating, “the kiss of death rests upon everything in our world [and] nothing in this world will help anybody toward God.”[9] Tozer rightly identifies the war being raged between the desires of the mind and the longings of the heart. He also demonstrates how the brain wants improvement and advancement, while the heart longs for everlastingness. The battlefield of the mind is a treacherous place where the greatest enemy is you. This is so true because the heart will never be satisfied with the desires of the depraved mind. An important concept here is the transient and finite nature of this world. Everything in it attempts to captivate one’s time, talents, and treasures, yet true meaning and happiness is only found in God. Toys, conveniences, games, hobbies, careers, will never satisfy because each of them is fleeting, here one moment, but gone the next. Only God is eternal and our souls will only be satisfied found in the divine everlastingness of the Word made flesh.

Tozer skillfully illustrates how God has no beginning and no end, making Him completely self-sufficient and self-existent. He needs nothing outside of Himself and that includes His creation. Tozer uses this truth to show, “We are likely to forget that God once lived without help and without creation… [and] when we give God anything, we are only giving God what He gave us in the first place.”[10] As humans, it can be remarkably easy to forget one’s place in the metanarrative of God’s story and how everything is dependent on everything, except God. Created things only lead to other created things, but each of them can be traced back to God, Who had no beginning and will have no end. The governing laws of the universe attempt to place restraints on God, essentially trying to put Him a box, so He can be defined or quantified. This is impossible, as Tozer shows, “God Himself established all the laws of creation and He created life and spirit, in order that there might be creatures conscious of Him. Christ has every claim over His creation and He has prepared a hell for those who do not respond to His call. This is heartbreaking to contemplate, but as Tozer highlights, “We should never come to God as a gesture of pity, thinking that God desperately wants us; we should give ourselves to God because He is worthy.”[11] This section of the book would have considerable impact to any freethinkers or individuals wrestling with intelligent design or science versus God dilemmas.

Tozer’s unpacking of, “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not”[12] is enlightening. He shows the cause and effect relationship as the world is always an effect and the Word is always a cause. God created the world with order, beauty, harmony, and purpose. Tozer then explains, “Everything He created brought pleasure to Him in some way: ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’”[13] [14] The world was filled with the presence of God, first in the form of the Shekinah of the Word, and then in the incarnate form of Jesus Christ, becoming the light into the world.[15] John’s use of light and darkness is not accidental as light reveals was darkness attempts to hide. Pleasure, comfort, and luxury are dangerous in this sense, especially when there is no want or desire, as God can easily be forgotten. This writer believes Satan learned a valuable lesson when he persecuted Job. The worst things became and the more loss Job suffered, the closer he drew to God. The same thing is evident today as the church is being persecuted in many areas of the world, causing them to go underground, for fear of torture or death. The harder things become and the darker things get, the more people turn to God, but when man has no burdens and instead has all the comforts, desires, and pleasures one could hope for, God can quickly be forgotten. This is a profound truth!

This writer believes one of Jesus’s favorite miracles was the healing of the blind, so it is tragic how the very people He came to save were blind to Him being the prophesied Messiah. Tozer cites five insightful reasons why people continue to reject Him, even today, but each of them comes back to the blatant fact, humanity simply loves sin more than God:

(1) Change in priorities, meaning placing Christ first in life and no compromise in life; (2) Change in habit, allowing the patterns of life to be disturbed; (3) Personal Cleansing, requiring a pure heart; (4) Change in Direction, asking followers to “take up his [or her] cross and follow Me;”[16] and (5) Risking Wholehearted Trust, by showing faith in the unseen.[17]

The finite thinking of humanity denies the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice partly because they themselves would never be willing to do the same thing. Tozer demonstrates, “The most profound mystery of human flaw is how the Creator could join Himself to the creature… [making] the incarnation of Christ shrouded in an impenetrable mystery that we could never uncover with our finite thinking.”[18] Christ was no less deity when He became flesh and this would mark the first time since creation God was dwelt with man again. While God would sometimes appear in the form of a theophany, He never dwelt with man in quite the same way He did in the Garden, with Adam and Eve. Being in the physical presence of Christ must have been a fascinating experience, especially to those who believed during the time of Jesus. This was an area Tozer could have gone a little deeper in, as John’s Gospel is packed with Old Testament references. He mentions Moses briefly, but this work would have been even better if it included more references to Isaiah or some other encounters with prophets, priests, and kings.

Tozer, insightfully illustrates, “What God thinks about a man is more important than what a man thinks about himself, [because] as far as God is concerned, what a man is always is more important to God than what that man does.”[19] Christ came into the world to show how much God values His creation and it is only through Christ God chooses to dispense His blessings on creation. God’s grace is ultimately the all-in-all and Tozer does a good job showing how God’s grace precedes everything from creation to the incarnation, even the mystery of the sacrificial atonement. For many, this is the part of the story where one cannot fathom why this had to happen and “why the eternal Father turned His back upon the Son – the Son of man, the sacrificial Lamb to be slain – and in blind terror and pain of it all, the sacrifice, the Lamb, temporarily became sin for us and knew Himself forsaken.”[20] Due to the requirements of the Law, atonement and the shedding of blood was needed for the remission of sins and Jesus allowed us to be redeemed, by taking upon Himself every sin and curse of the world. Through His crucifixion, He revealed God’s grace and mercy and made a way for humanity to have restored communion with the Father.

Tozer does demonstrate John’s strategic use of some Old Testament Scripture to confirm the Messianic prophecy had been fulfilled. John the Baptist rightly speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God Who had come to take away the sins of the world[21] and he points out Jesus was the only hope for salvation. Christ is often referred to as the second Adam and Tozer explains, “God began the redemption of the human race within the race so that there are now two races running parallel to each other. The unregenerate race that goes back to the loins of Adam and the regenerate race that goes back to the start of Jesus.”[22] The world, ruled by the unregenerate had a choice to make, as every sinner belongs to the old race, but every Christian becomes redeemed and part of the new race. Every person matters to God, yet Satan wants everyone to believe they have no worth or purpose, and many fall prey to this pernicious lie.

Understanding why Jesus came into the world is a crucial point many discount or simply do not comprehend. He did not come to pronounce judgment; instead, He came that the world might be saved. When mankind becomes aware of sin, there is a natural feeling of judgment because sin separates mankind from God and the “wages of sin is death.”[23] Fortunately, the last part of this verse is, “but the gift of God is eternal life found in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Contemplating how Jesus came into this world, as a baby born to a virgin, is even more complex. Tozer further explains Jesus had a fondness for babies, regularly performing miracles on them, so it makes one ponder the early life of Christ, especially since there is very little evidence found in Scripture. This, perhaps, is another area Tozer could have added some additional insight in, pertaining to the relationship Jesus as a child had with the Father. If Christ had come in the form of a grown man or a theophany, John 3:16 would probably be needed to assure people destruction and judgment were not imminent. Instead, Jesus came as a baby to a lowly family to begin His mission of saving the world. At Christmas time, Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior, but Easter represents a much different occasion. Tozer demonstrates, “Without the cross on which the Savior died, there could be no Scripture, no revelation, and no redemption, but [even in John 3:16] there is no mention of the cross.”[24] God simply reveals He sent and gave His Son, which has deep meaning when used in conjunction with the story of the prodigal son.[25] Mankind, living a life apart from God is like the prodigal son, as everything is only about him or her. This mindset leads one further and further away, until he or she hopefully has the realization how much better things were back at home. For many, this takes humility and courage to face what awaits one’s return, but this story represents the true heart of the heavenly Father as the earthly father runs out to meet his son when he sees him on the horizon. He runs to his son, to protect him from shame and because what was lost was now found, and he embraces his son with grace and mercy by putting a ring on his finger, by placing the best robe around him, and throwing a feast in his honor. This is the celebration God must experience every time one of His children come to his or her senses and comes back to His loving embrace. With over twenty-five million children in America growing up in a fatherless home, this section of the book will help anyone struggling with how a heavenly Father could love them when his or her earthly father abandoned or abused them.

As one comes to faith in Christ, he or she is being invited into the Godhead, which exists in perfect harmony. Tozer beautifully explains, “Whatever the Father does, the Son sees Him do and works in harmony. And the Holy Ghost is the perfect bond between the Father and the Son, energizing the eternal Son with the energies of the Father and so working harmoniously to a preordained end.”[26] The holy trinity has been a topic of debate in some scholarly circles, as Jesus possessed the nature of man and the nature of God, but Tozer rightly shows how even these seemingly contradictory states harmonized into one perfect personality.[27] The mystery of the three-in-one and the unbroken fellowship, which exists, is hard to fathom with finite minds and it is even harder to picture given mankind’s fallen and sinful nature. Despite this, even when Jesus walked the earth, He maintained perfect visibility with God and He remained in perfect love within the Godhead. Tozer offers great insight into the inadequate concepts of judgment, as “mankind did whatever was right in his [or her] own eyes.”[28] During this time period, God equipped the Israelites with Judges, but today’s moral decay only demonstrates the depravity and misunderstanding, which exists, as Tozer shows:

(1) the law of compensation only serves to counterbalance any action; (2) we are accountable only to our society has partial truth, [however,] when we do something against God, we are accountable to Him for our actions; (3) we are accountable to human law, which demonstrates an outlaw is never a happy man because he is accountable to the law even while he is breaking it, and he is miserable even while he is flaunting the law; and (4) man’s accountability is to himself alone, which seeks to show man is a law unto himself and is the worst concept of judgment in all of society.[29]

Ultimately, every human being is accountable to God and Scripture is quite clear on this point.[30] Fortunately, God is all knowing, impartial, and empathetic, acting as both Savior and judge. Tozer says, “Those of you who do not want Jesus as a judge, had better think seriously now about Him as a Savior and stand like a penitent or kneel like one and confess your sin.”[31]

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He passed on His mission to the church. During His earthly ministry, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”[32] Even though Jesus had left earth, He had not abandoned humanity. The omnipresence of God assures He is infinitely everywhere at all times. This concept can be hard to fathom, especially given mankind’s coexistence in two worlds: we are in this world, but not of it.[33] The dualistic physical and spiritual worlds are at odds with each other, but Tozer explains, “When I say there are two worlds, I do not mean to out the material world. God made it also, but not to last. He only made it temporarily…”[34]

There is no denying religion has improved morality and culture, but at the same time, the legalism found in many denominations has caused immense heartache and pain. America, while founded on biblical principles and responsible for much of the early evangelism and missions around the world, is now a nation where Christianity is no longer the fastest growing religion. Tozer further explains, “No religion ever rose higher than its concept of God and a nation can go below its religion.”[35] As a result, America is no longer one nation under God, America is far from being one church under God, and very few people can truly attest to being one people under God. The only hope is, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”[36]

Conclusion

John could not be clearer about the mission of Jesus. He became flesh, so everyone could know Him and thus know God. Previously, The Pursuit of God was this writer’s favorite Tozer work, but And He Dwelt Among Us is now a close second. Tozer masterfully tackles the mystery of the incarnation. He then shows how God is calling His children to come home to Him, just as the father of the prodigal son awaited his son’s return, God is waiting for us to call upon His name. He calls out to the weary and the broken and wants to give them the bread of life and living water, so he or she will no longer hunger or thirst anymore. He wants to give them rest by taking on Himself all the burdens and worries of life. That is why God sent His Son to save the world, so if anyone would simply believe in Him, God would grant forgiveness of sins and give the gift of eternal life. This promise releases the believer from judgment and condemnation, but one will only find Jesus Christ through faith, confession, and humility. Tozer closes saying, “Humility is a beautiful thing, but not very many people have it.”[37] This is tragic because when one seeks Christ in humility, He will reveal Himself to us and as we know Christ, we will know God. This masterpiece would be well suited for anyone wanting to know the true nature of God, regardless of where one is on his or her spiritual journey. It also would be beneficial to anyone taught since John was not considered part of the Synoptic Gospels, it did not deserve as much attention.

Tozer, A.W. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Edited by James L. Snyder. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009, 218 pp. $14.99 (Paperback).

 Bibliography

Tozer, A.W. And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Edited by James L. Snyder. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009.


[1] A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary, (Redding, CA), “Who is Tozer?” http://tozer.simpsonu.edu/Pages/About/Tozer-AWTozer.htm (accessed September 16, 2016).

[2] A.W. Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings From the Gospel of John, Ed. by James L. Snyder, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishing Group, 2009), 8.

[3] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 9.

[4] Psalm 19:1

[5] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 11.

[6] Ibid., 17.

[7] Deuteronomy 33:27

[8] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 20.

[9] Ibid., 23.

[10] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 32-33.

[11] Ibid., 41.

[12] John 1:10

[13] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 48.

[14] Revelation 4:11

[15] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 53.

[16] Matthew 16:24

[17] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 70-73.

[18] Ibid., 78-79.

[19] Ibid., 83.

[20] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 91.

[21] John 1:29

[22] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 103.

[23] Romans 6:23

[24] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 134.

[25] Luke 15:11-32

[26] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 140.

[27] Ibid., 141.

[28] Judges 17:6

[29] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 156-158.

[30] John 5:22, Romans 14:10 & Philippians 2:10-11

[31] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 168.

[32] Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

[33] John 17:16

[34] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 194.

[35] Ibid., 204.

[36] 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

[37] Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us, 217.

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