I read a recent Lighthouse Trails article concerning A. W. Tozer’s relationships with mystics. I have great respect for my friends at Lighthouse Trails and do not disparage their article. The article was fair and well-written, and I have no intention of attempting to refute it. However, more needs to be said about Tozer than the article presented. The authors of the article implied as much.
It is true that Tozer admired several mystics and quoted them. From the surface of that information, one could conclude he practiced mysticism. That did not occur. His fruit does not identify him as a mystic. Apparently, his associations did not bother anyone at the time. I do not know of anyone who he encouraged to become a mystic from reading his books. The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) has embraced Contemplative spirituality. They may point to Tozer and quote him as inspiration, but people treat the apostle Paul likewise. Paul is labeled as a mystic by many spiritually compromised groups and individuals. That does not make him a mystic.
The term mystic defines embracing dark spirituality. Mystic was Christianized to include godly individuals who seek fullness and depth in God. I do not call the latter, mysticism, but normal Christianity. The godly one’s endeavor, inspired by the Scriptures, appears on the surface the same as the mystic. The difference is the objective of the Believer as opposed to the goal of mystics. Beyond its thin disguise, Contemplative mysticism and other darkness are clever satanic deceptions. Whatever appears similar to Christianity should not confuse us. Satan has always mingled lies with truth. He will use what identifies with Christianity, i.e., prayer, worship, et cetera, to identify his deception with Christianity.
I pray for long periods. Yes, I want to be as close to God as possible via the Holy Spirit. I seek the deep things of God and to know Him more intimately. What genuinely redeemed individual does not daily seek a deeper relationship with God? But I reject the term mystic. I believe the C&MA and others wrongly applied the term to Tozer.
What drew me, and other lovers of God, to Tozer was his passion and love for truth and longing to know God. He once wrote that if his book did not make you want to put it down and pick up the Bible, he had failed. Not once did I recognize a call to mysticism in his words. I did not even realize some of his words were also used by mystics. I have often used the phrases and words “experience of the Divine,” “spiritual realities,” “manifest presence,” or simply the word “presence.” I do not associate with mystics or have leanings toward their rituals.
The Bible uses the same words mystics use, especially “presence.” (Presence: Genesis 3:8, and over a dozen times in Psalms and Proverbs, et Cetera.) One of my favorite passages is 2 Peter 1:3-10, where he mentions the divine nature. I have heard the term “manifest presence” used often, and I have used it in sermons and teaching. It is a natural use of the English language to describe the awareness of the Holy Spirit.
If we cut out of our language every term used by an unredeemed individual, mystic, heretic, or other deceivers, we might be speechless. If we do not, how would we fare under the same scrutiny applied to Tozer?
Consider the following definition of Christianism mysticism.
“Mysticism is the sense of some form of contact with the divine or transcendent, often understood in Christian tradition as involving union with God. Mysticism played an important role in the history of Christian religion and emerged as a living influence in modern times.” (Encyclopedia Britannica; Christian Mysticism)
If striving to have contact and unity with God is mysticism, then many great Christians, and lowly ones such as I, were/are mystics., Some individuals consider Leonard Ravenhill and David Wilkerson two of Tozer’s dear friends (they wrote the forwards in each other’s books) to be mystics. They are both believed to have been prophets. Neither man accepted those titles. They spoke and wrote highly of Tozer. Apparently, they discerned nothing aberrant about his beliefs.
I began reading Tozer’s book as a young believer and read nothing that concerned me. How can a man be so used of God and be a mystic? I believe Tozer viewed the commitment of the mystics’ as a devout pursuit of God, commendable and inspiring. Had he known they were pursuing darkness masquerading as light, I believe he would not have accepted them. He erred in that regard. That does not make him a mystic—it makes him human.
Many quotes by Tozer are being shared by the individuals on the front line of opposition against the present apostasy. They are not weak and easily beguiled people. They draw none that I know into mysticism. Their heart’s quest for intimacy with God identifies with Tozer.
All that aside, there is more to the story of Tozer that may help us understand why the mysticism of Merton and others duped him.
During the period of his ministry and beyond the year he died, there was very little information about mysticism circulating in Christianity. Few people knew enough to recognize it as an unfruitful work of darkness. The same lack of knowledge was the norm when Richard Foster’s book, “Celebration of Disciplines,” arrived in 1978. It was readily and widely accepted because leaders and congregations did not know why it was corrupt.
As a young evangelist and later a pastor, I had not a scintilla of understanding about anything remotely associated with Contemplative spirituality. I only knew about Sun Myung Moon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons. It was not until the PC and Internet became available that I began gathering knowledge about the invasion of New Age influence into Christianity. Imagine how much more ill-equipped Tozer was about that clever and subtle work of darkness. Would he have viewed Merton and the other ones the same way if he had the information now available?
Until Ray Yungen and Lighthouse Trails (and others) exposed the New Age and Contemplative darkness, few people, including Denominational leaders, knew anything about mysticism and how to identify it. I had a lengthy exchange with the leader of a large denomination concerning Contemplative guru Ruth Haley Barton’s invitation to speak at their largest convention in Orlando. He never understood why Contemplative Praying was wrong and refused to rescind the invitation. That denomination has now embraced the likes of Leonard Sweet and believes that his New Age spirituality is a key to reviving the sagging spirituality of their denomination.
The lack of knowledge continues today. Consider over 30 million copies of “Jesus Calling” has been sold. Heretical books and movies sell because people don’t care if spirituality comes from Satan or God, as long as it entertains them. How easy it is for anyone, no matter his or her dedication to God, to be lured by dark spirituality. How much easier did deception lure people in Tozer’s period.
There was also an observation that Tozer was somewhat gullible. He was one of those people that could or would not see the bad in individuals. While corresponding with Merton, he may never have clearly understood something was wrong. Deceivers often use language that seems biblically sound, but they intend something very different. I have encountered that deceptive tactic numerous times when dealing with cults. I contend Tozer had a very different understanding of Merton than what we know today. Consider that Merton deceived millions of people, including individuals that should have recognized what he was. Plenty of information exposes him and other equally deceptive ones, but it has not slowed down the current great apostasy.
The bottom line is Tozer was a godly man. He did not pray contemplatively. He prayed, lying on the floor with his face on a piece of leather. Tozer spent so much time in prayer and studying God’s word that his wife felt neglected for most of their marriage. Association with a mystic would not have converted him to mysticism. If that were not true, then we are at a loss to explain why so many godly people standing strong against the current invasion of darkness find common ground in his books. Are they all deceived mystics? I am opposed to mysticism and have not had an unction from the Holy Spirit to reject Tozer.
No one I know who reads his books has as a result converted to Contemplative spirituality. Instead, he inspired and encouraged them to know God more fully and oppose the darkness that he also exposed.
In conclusion, I see a schism developing as people position themselves to confront anyone quoting Tozer. Someone labeled him the “Rick Warren” of his period. That is a sad and unnecessary accusation. The vitriol will only get worse as they accuse more people. The focus will shift from what the Believers, truth speakers, and watchmen should expose, to beleaguering fellow apologists. There will be a great division in the ones still standing and exposing the unfruitful works of darkness. Sadly, I cannot recognize anything beneficial to God’s Kingdom in such a schism.
I implore people to consider everything before forming an opinion about a man from a different era. That period was deficient in knowledge and understanding of alternative spirituality. Neither Merton nor the other mystics changed Tozer. His single-minded determination to know God deeply never wavered. Perhaps some grace is needed so we may not burn the man and his books. Otherwise, who in history should we assail next? Shall we dismiss Wesley for associating with Whitefield (Whitfield)? Will people reject Moody for associating with a man that promoted Higher Criticism? What about the many famous Christians that associated with Madame Guyon, the Roman Catholic mystic? Will they reject John Nelson Darby for his written fascination with and praise for French mystic Madame de Krudener?
I don’t currently read Tozer’s or anyone’s books. However, as a young preacher, It encouraged me to know and read that God was speaking to someone as He had spoken to me and others. Tozer, Ravenhill, and others inspired and ministered to me. I have since put down books to spend most of my reading time in the Scriptures.
If there is any value in reading extra-biblical material, I find no harm in Tozer’s books and have no compunction about recommending them. I hope and pray that the matter does not take on a life of its own and cause more harm than good. We witnessed politics divide Gods people in 2015 and 20016. Those burned bridges have not been and may never be rebuilt. How sad it would be if another such inamicable division occurred.