As part of an online book discussion group, I’ve been reading The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. As a teenager, Tozer (1897-1963) heard a street preacher speak the gospel, went home and prayed to become a Christian. Without a theology degree or any formal theological training, he accepted his first church pastorate – at 24. He spent more than three decades as a pastor within the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination, and ended up the author of several books still widely read today and with two honorary degrees (one from Wheaton College).
Tozer published The Pursuit of God in 1948. The date’s important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a discussion he has in chapter 5, “The Universal Presence.”
He is talking about the idea of “spiritual receptivity,” a combination of characteristics and factors that lead us to be open and understanding of God in our midst. He calls this receptivity a gift of God, “but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any other gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given.”
Then he says this (and I’m to quote at length, because I believe it’s critically important):
“Failure to see this is the cause of a very serious breakdown on modern evangelicalism. The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer returned from afar.
“The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.”
This was written a few years before television became a major cultural force, more than 30 years before computers, 35 years before the internet, 40 years before the rise of personality-driven mega-churches, almost 60 years before social media.
I feel the heaping of burning coals upon my head.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. To see more posts on this chapter, please visit Jason’s blog, Connecting to Impact. Next week we’ll begin a discussion of chapter 6, “The Speaking Voice.”