If I had to choose one dead theologian to sit under for the rest of my life, who would I allow to disciple me from afar?
John Piper stated:
When I was in seminary, a wise professor told me that besides the Bible I should choose one great theologian and apply myself throughout life to understanding and mastering his thought.
As I struggled to find my personal theologian, the process became pretty obvious the more I thought about it. I didn’t have to pick the theologian, I already had. I began to realize that there is one dead theologian with which I have always felt a kindred spirit. When I read him, I feel like he gets me. I get him. He makes me want to love Jesus more.
My dead theologian discipler is A. W. Tozer.
I first read A. W. Tozer when I was in college. As part of a training program, someone gave me a copy of The Pursuit of God. I had never read anything like it. It opened my eyes to a lifestyle that refused stagnation.
Later, someone quoted the opening line from The Knowledge of the Holy, and that one line revolutionized my life:
“What comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”
While there is so much to unpack in that one statement, it really changed the way I thought about preaching and teaching. I desired to correct inaccurate or unworthy thoughts of God. When I look back over my ministry, that one line left an imprint on me.
That’s why this decision was very simple. Here is why I really want to unpack his life and ministry more:
#1. Tozer was a man of the Book.
Tozer was never formally trained in seminary. Coming from a farming family, he worked hard to learn on his own through books and mentors. It caused him to devour the Bible intensely.
#2. Tozer was a soul in pursuit.
Reading his writings indicate it, but reading others’ memoirs of him is overwhelming. He was addicted to walking in the presence and power of God.
#3. Tozer was a family man unaware.
While Tozer stayed faithful to his family, he seemed to be emotionally unavailable even when physically present. I desire to learn from his apparent shortcomings as a husband and father.
#4. Tozer was a theologian de-tribalized.
It isn’t difficult to pin Tozer’s theology down, but it is difficult to put him neatly into a particular camp. That’s a good thing. We oftentimes get so tribalized that we are afraid to follow doctrine when it crosses a party line.
#5. Tozer was a weekly “blogger.”
Many of his books come from his weekly writings to papers and church newsletters. He used radio where he could for a regular “podcast.” I connect with how he tried to use any written form to equip the saints.
#6. Tozer was a voice you could believe.
When I read some theologians, I agree with them, but I don’t always believe them. Their heads are correct, but sometimes their hearts are lacking. When Tozer speaks of theology, you believe him.
#7. Tozer was a denominationalist with a big staff.
He didn’t play politics or seek out esteem among other leaders. He disdained current trends to grow a church or a platform. He often offended others due to his blunt biblical exhortations. We honestly need more of that today.
#8. Tozer was a follower of the Holy Spirit.
Tozer was often criticized for his Christian mysticism. What that translates is he tried to live and walk by the Spirit. I believe much of the Church today has neglected the Holy Spirit to our demise.
#9. Tozer was a preacher of a different ethos.
Many people would hear Tozer preach and remark that it was completely different to the other sermons of the day. They were holy. Set apart. There was power in his proclamation.
#10. Tozer was an example in discipleship.
Tozer discipled young men going into the ministry. He would go out of his way to pass on what he had into others.
Like all of us, Tozer was progressing. He wasn’t perfect. I’ve read his biographies and want to learn from his flaws. I’ve read his writings and want to learn from his pursuit.
While I plan to learn from other theologians, I plan to pursue the example of a man who pursued God. I can’t wait to share what God continues to teach me through his example.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.