When was the last time you simply meditated on the person of Christ?
We are by nature prone to imbalance, majoring in the minors. We are prone to forget how earthshaking the essential truths of our confession are. To this ailment, Moody Publishers’ Jesus: The Life and Ministry of God the Son is the antidote.
Compiled from the meditations of A.W. Tozer’s on the person and work of Christ, Jesus draws together cutting prophetic insight on the contemporary church with pure, sweet reflections drawing readers back to the bedrock of the faith—our Lord himself.
The epitaph of 20th century American preacher and self-taught theologian A.W. Tozer reads simply, “Man of God,” and a simple man of God is exactly whom modern readers encounter today in a collection like Jesus. He writes with piercing simplicity, without himself becoming simple. At no point does Tozer write to sound impressive or intellectual.
And it’s for all these reasons that Jesus is probably the exact book I needed to read.
Not a Small Jesus
Though Jesus comes in at just over 160 pages, make no mistake—Tozer’s Jesus is no lightweight.
Chapter by chapter, Tozer’s exposition of Christ’s attributes and accomplishments, along with the probing reflection questions appended to each section, make Jesus a formidable devotional companion. What’s more, Tozer’s terseness makes Jesus digestible for all audiences. Tozer dusts off tried-and-true concepts which many evangelicals simply assume (if they ponder them at all), aims those truths at the culture and church of his day, and fires off application with timeless relevance.
Fresh packaging notwithstanding, Tozer’s insights still drip with blood from the 20th century’s battle with theological liberalism. Against those who would hold up the fatherhood of God as the trump card against the doctrine of hell, exclusivity, and the atonement, Tozer presents the full biblical scope of God’s attributes, from love to justice, as seen in the gospel. The Jesus drawn out by Tozer is no mere sweet Jesus meek and mild, as much of the mainline evangelical culture of the 20th century made him to be; rather, he shines forth as a fully armed, flaming-eyed, white horse-riding King and Lord.
Amidst countless truncated gospel presentations which pit God’s grace against all his other attributes, or which misunderstand entirely the purpose for which Christ died, Tozer proclaims with no reservations a Savior who absorbs the wrath of God in our place. Tozer also turns his guns on petty pietism, dead formalism, and overblown revivalism in his reflection on the nature of true conversion:
“The man who throws himself on the mercy of God has had the moral situation changed. God doesn’t say, ‘Well, we’ll excuse this fellow. He’s made his decision, and we’ll forgive him. He’s gone into the prayer room, so we’ll pardon him. He’s going to join the church; we’ll overlook his sin.’ No! When God looks at an atoned for sinner He doesn’t see the same moral situation that He sees when He looks at the sinner who still loves his sin. When God looks at a sinner who still loves his sin and rejects the mystery of the atonement, justice condemns him to die. When God looks at a sinner who has accepted the blood of the everlasting covenant, justice sentences him to live. And God is just in doing both things.” (p. 88)
To a church distracted by many fleeting fascinations, Tozer’s unflinching focus on Christ’s power and essential person both reorients and evokes true worship.
A Living Jesus
Many years ago, a Muslim lady who sold jewelry was looking over her crucifixes for sale and remarked to me, “I cannot worship a god who is dead.” Perhaps no other remark better captures the powerlessness of the Jesus of postmodern, post-Christian, post-whatever, “Jesus is my homeboy” churchianity.
Tozer saw that false Christ—the one still on the cross, garnering pity but not obedience—looming on the horizon. In contrast, the Christ whom Tozer sets before us is alive, reigning, and commanding all to repent and believe. In chapter 13 (“The Ascended Lord”), Tozer writes, “Should the Church shift her emphasis from the weakness of the manger and the death of the cross to the life and the power of the enthroned Christ, perhaps she might recapture her lost glory. It is worth a try” (p. 117).
Not only does Tozer give a wonderful treatment of Christ’s current authority over heaven and earth, but he also makes much of his current intercessory ministry. Consider one such thought-provoking observation on Hebrews 9:16:
“No man ever died to make his will valid and then came back to earth as the executor of his will. No one. Some other person always acts as executor and administrator of the estate that has been left. But what no mortal has done, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, has achieved. He has accomplished this kind of enduring administration and divine beneficence. Jesus died to activate the terms of the will to all its beneficiaries; Jesus rose in victory from the grave to administer the will.” (p. 98)
Whereas few of us today give adequate thought to Christ’s present ministry and activity, Tozer goes on to emphasize the ongoing benefits of Christ’s intercession in terms of securing the believer’s perseverance (p. 127). The result is a clear vision of a Christ who not only accomplished my salvation in the past, but who both rules over me and loves me today.
Cutting Through the Squabbles
Tozer’s style is both winsome and weighty, and one does well to read him slowly. His winsomeness serves him well in chapter 16 (“The Second Coming”), where he cuts through the sort of bickering over eschatology to which we’ve all become accustomed, stirring reading instead with the simple, pure teaching of the blessed hope:
“The Word of God was never given just to make us curious about our Lord’s return to earth, but to strengthen us in faith and spiritual holiness and moral conduct! … I fear that we have gone to seed on this whole matter of His return. Why is it that such a small proportion of Christian ministers ever feel the necessity to preach a sermon on the truth of the second coming? Why should pastors depend in this matter upon those who travel around the country with their colored charts and their object lessons and their curious interpretations of Bible prophecy?” (pp. 148-149).
Staying above the fray, Tozer reminds believers to fix their hope on the final advent of Christ in the manner prescribed in 1 Peter 1:13—as a source of joy and soberness spurring us to holy living. We can join Tozer in his prayer that more pastors would emphasize this doctrine to strengthen the people of God living in such a cultural climate of complacency.
Not Always a Clean-Cut Systematic Theology
Tozer’s presentation from Ephesians 1 of the total self-sufficiency and sovereignty of God the Son in chapter 1 (“The Self-Existent God”), Tozer himself confesses, will make his Arminian brothers sweat. He also gloriously defends the doctrine justification by faith alone (p. 89). However, his treatment of the atonement is somewhat inconsistent from a Reformed standpoint.
Tozer remarks that the atonement is perfect and lacking in no regard (p. 86), but he later states that the one who is unatoned for is he who “simply thinks it doesn’t apply to him” (p. 88-89). Rather than treating the atonement as that which God both intends for and applies to his undeserving elect people (c.f. Psalm 65:3-4, Eph. 1:4-7), Tozer’s articulation of the atonement falls more in line with traditional Arminian explanations. His soteriology would have taken clearer shape had he, drawing from his emphasis on the sufficiency of the atonement and the sovereignty of God in salvation, taken those things to their logical extent in terms of particular redemption/definite atonement.
At the same time, for those of us tempted to cloister ourselves inside the Reformed tribe, it’s good to read something that makes us sweat every now and then.
Read Tozer’s Jesus slowly, devotionally, and prayerfully. Give this book to your unbelieving friends. Give it to your younger Christian friend who has been shaped by the easygoing Jesus of popular Christianity and needs, as we all do, a fresh encounter with the powerful Lord of lords. Give it to your liberal Protestant friend whose Jesus is mainly a moral example and for whom Jesus’ deity, virgin birth, and atonement are religious vestiges.
Then read it again. It is impossible, after all, to meditate too deeply on the person of Christ amidst a cacophony of other spiritual topics.