Who was A. W. Tozer?

A.W. Tozer (1897—1963) was an American pastor, author, and spiritual mentor whose works have greatly impacted many of today's Christian leaders. He was born Aiden Wilson Tozer to impoverished parents in Western Pennsylvania in 1897. At the age of 15, his parents moved the family to Akron, OH where Tozer worked at a tire company. Two years later, on his way home from work, Tozer heard a street preacher say that all one needed to do to be saved was "call on God and say, 'Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.'" That night, Tozer prayed that simple prayer and turned his life over to the Lord.

Just five years later, without any formal theological training, Tozer became the pastor of a small Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) church that met in a storefront in Nutter Fort, WV. In 1928, Tozer became the pastor at Southside Alliance Church in Chicago. A.W. Tozer was slight statured and soft-spoken, but his lively wit and eloquent speaking style helped him convey deep spiritual truths. Being self-taught (he attended neither high school nor college), he read a wide variety of books in religion, philosophy, literature, and poetry. Tozer believed that sermons should challenge both the intellect (mind) and the soul (heart). Since his sermons were never merely academic or theoretical, but always practical, and he had a way of getting to the heart of what was important, Tozer was able to captivate his congregation. The church grew steadily from 80 to 800 congregants in eleven years. Eventually, Tozer was given two honorary degrees, one in 1950 from Wheaton College and one in 1952 from Houghton College.

Also in 1950, A.W. Tozer took on the role of editor for Alliance Weekly, the denomination's magazine. This role gave him a national platform and his popularity grew as he wrote installments for the publication. In 1951, Tozer also began a weekly radio broadcast, which increased his influence. After serving as pastor at Southside Alliance for thirty years, A.W. Tozer answered the call to pastor Avenue Road Church in Toronto, Canada. He continued serving as editor of the magazine while pastoring that church until his death, from a heart attack, on May 12, 1963.

A.W. Tozer's supreme interest in life was God. He delighted to speak of God's majesty, wonder, and grace. He believed man's duty was "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever," as the Westminster Shorter Catechism phrases it. Tozer continually sought to encourage others to make following God the purpose of their lives. He lived a simple, non-materialistic lifestyle with his wife and seven children, never even owning a car. In fact, Tozer signed away much of the royalties from his books to those in need. Over sixty books bear his name, but most of them were compiled after his death from the sermons he preached and the articles he wrote. Many of the books teach the importance of a deeper relationship with God and the need to abandon worldly comforts in order to follow Christ more whole-heartedly. Two of A.W. Tozer's books, The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy, are considered to be Christian classics.

Some have called Tozer a "twentieth-century prophet;" others have described him as an "evangelical mystic" for his emphasis on developing the "inner life." Tozer talked about the need for a deeper knowledge of God. Many current Christian leaders credit Tozer and his works as an important influence on their lives, beliefs, and current works. The music group BarlowGirl published a compilation of stories in 2011 from 59 artists, writers, and leaders who had been influenced by Tozer. Their book included stories from Charles Swindoll, Ravi Zacharias, Randy Alcorn, Darlene Zschech, Joni Eareckson Tada, Cynthia Heald, and Bruce Wilkinson, among others. At his funeral, Tozer's only daughter said, "I can't be sad. I know Dad's happy. He's lived for this all his life." And, indeed, his life had been spent in prayer and study pursuing a more intimate relationship with God. His epitaph in Akron, OH reads a simple, but profound, "A.W. Tozer—Man of God."

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