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Book Review: Reclaiming Christianity

A.W. Tozer is one of my all-time favorites so I devoured this book in just a couple of days. It’s the third book by Tozer that I’ve read and if I had to make a top-10 list of the books on Christianity that I’ve read, all three would be in there.

Reclaiming Christianity is one of the three and Tozer sets out to do just that. One of Tozer’s primary concerns for the modern church is that it was in danger of becoming too worldly. This book is essentially a treatise on that very topic and shows how the modern church is in fact getting away from the apostolic roots in the book of Acts.

There is nothing left to do but agree with everything Tozer writes although in the first few pages of the book Tozer says that he doesn’t mind if you do not agree with every position he takes. It’s difficult not too. Tozer has some of the best writing I’ve ever read and I sometimes wonder why Tozer is not put upon the same level as a guy like Jonathan Edwards or John Owen? I’m not a theological superpower by any stretch of the imagination, but Tozer is right up there with John Piper in my opinion.

Reclaiming Christianity is broken into 15 chapters. I’ll try to give a brief summary of all 15, and I’ll expound a bit further on the chapters that I especially liked. The book is certainly worth reading without question. In fact, it’s definitely a book that should be a part of anyone’s library and read multiple times. It is that good. By a mile.

Chapter 1: Christ is Lord over His Church

Fairly standard stuff about Jesus Christ’s lordship over the church. Tozer has a way in his writing though that allows you to learn something even though this is a very basic statement that most Christians would agree with. Remember that Tozer believes there is a problem with the modern church, thus the reason for the book and his main point is that true believers submit to the authority of Christ. Christ died for our sins and we are born anew. I thought an interesting take Tozer did in this chapter was tackle the issue of happiness in believers. He notes that the New Testament church was a very happy church and that it didn’t need a lot of bells & whistles to make it thus. Today’s church has many new technologies although I don’t think you can see the joy of the church the way you saw the joy of the New Testament church in Acts. That is the crux of Tozer’s statements here.

Chapter 2: The Relevant Authority of the Word of God

Again a fairly basic chapter reiterating the absolute authority of the Bible. I think this is a bigger problem today than maybe it was in Tozer’s time although that was only about 50-60 years ago. It’s amazing to me to see people think Biblical stories are nothing more than allegory and that the real thing to look at with the Bible is that moral stories instead of looking at it as actual history. Tsk Tsk! We’ll get to Tozer’s view on conversion shortly but I always thought it interesting that “Christians” will read some of the Bible as allegory but ignore the fact that John notes that Jesus is the Word. The Word is the Bible and thus if you don’t believe in the infallibility of the Bible then you of course cannot possibly believe in Jesus.

Chapter 3: This Thing Called Christendom

A great chapter indeed! Tozer points out how we can be in direct decent from the apostolic church that we read about in Acts & the epistles. I could try to summarize the chapter, but I think I’d probably screw it up. I’ll let Tozer summarize:

“I do not think there is a church in the United States but can have the same intensity of spiritual devotion that they had in the Book of Acts. If there is a church anywhere in the world that can have the same purity of life, intensity of worship and the same liberty in the Holy Spirit, and the same high moral level that we see in the Book of Acts and the epistles, then that church is in apostolic succession. If our churches do not have these marks of identification, then by no wild flight of the imagination can we dare to say that we are indeed in succession and in descent from the apostolic church. Physical decent is not sufficient, just as physical descent was not sufficient for Israel.”

Tozer explains these marks of identification within the chapter, but it is interesting how he points out that becoming more worldly is a false dichotomy within the church. It’s an oxymoron to have a worldly church and Tozer all but says that it wasn’t fancy technology or a loud and modern worship service that led to conversion in the New Testament church. It was that the people were indeed following Christ and were everything but worldly.

Chapter 4: The Ominous Ecumenical Movement

Some of the chapters are a bit tough. I think this is one of them. Tozer makes a distinction between Christendom and the Church. The Church is the true church of Christ, unwavering in its commitment to the Bible and true worshipers of the risen Lord. Christendom is defined as all those who are on the side of Christianity in any form. Obviously there is a difference. Tozer also goes on to state that the ecumenical movement is such that there are people who want to unify Christians even if it means compromising the tenets of true New Testament faith. Tozer warns against that. Tozer notes John 17:21 which says, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, are in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Essentially Tozer argues against movements touting this verse as something to aspire to if that object of that movement is to unify but compromise the words of Christ to obtain the goal.

Chapter 5: The Daunting Spirit of the Pharisees

This is basically a chapter that talks about the story of Christ healing the leper on the Sabbath and the Pharisees condemning Him for doing so. The main thrust of the chapter is Tozer comparing the modern church and its ability to stay within the walls of a building per se. It makes sense when you think about the modern Church and Christ himself. In the epistles we are told often not to have the heart of a Pharisee and Tozer goes on to say that Christ did not stay within his inner circle of converts. He went out among the masses to heal the sick and help the poor. It is easy for us in modern churches to ignore the call to go out unto all nations. It is scary to encounter people who don’t believe as we do, but that is what Christ calls us to do.

Chapter 6: Beware of the Religious Word Game

I felt like the first 5 chapters of the book were foundational. When Tozer hits chapter 6, he begins to be a master diagnostician. I won’t go into great detail in any of these chapters as this review already feels a bit too long, but Chapter 6 begins the real juicy meat of the text. This chapter Tozer starts to dig into the heart of the modern church. Essentially he chastises us for playing a “word” game in that we are nominal christians only. We say we are outwardly but inwardly we are nothing of the sort.

Tozer starts to hammer the notion of “believing in Christ” being the only requisite of becoming a Chrisitan. He’ll dig into that more in a few chapters, but the seeds are planted that people who lead others to “accept” Christ only are paving the way for their damnation rather than their salvation. Tozer gives us some insight into what happens when a person truly stops playing religious word games and becomes a true believer. The believer has new priorities, a new moral code and transforms his attitude towards earthly goods as one from ownership to stewardship.

Chapter 7: The Nature of God’s Kingdom: Not in Words Only

This is sort of continuation of Chapter 6 in that Tozer notes that the kingdom of God lies in power and not just in words alone. Tozer writes that “the gospel is statement that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures PLUS the Holy Ghost i that statement giving it meaning and power. Just the statement itself never will do it.” Tozer says this power is is the ability expose sin and exalt Christ. Tozer also goes on to contrast a church in words only that is a social network and a true church who exhibits power and sees true transformations in lives by exposing sin and experiencing true worship.

Chapter 8: The Characteristics of a Carnal Christian

Outstanding chapter and possibly my favorite one. Tozer describes the attributes of a carnal Christian by comparing them to babies. Tozer notes the following characteristics of a carnal Christian: self-centered, feelings oriented, dependent on the external, without purpose, unproductive, shifts blame away from self & eats a limited diet. Was Tozer talking about carnal Christians or women?

I KID! I KID!

One interesting thing Tozer does is breakdown the Church into 4 classes. He notes the first class to be the people who attend church but are never converted. The 2nd class of people are the trained Christians but who aren’t true believers. These are the people who appear to be Christians and who have learned the language. Tozer says these are the people usually in charge of church activities! The third class is composed of the carnal Christians while the fourth & final class are those of the true spiritual believers.

Chapter 9: The Remnant: An Alarming Doctrine

A very tough chapter. Tozer notes Romans 9:27 that says, “Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.” Tozer also notes Luke 17:26 that says, “And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.

Tozer says this is an alarming doctrine because not many people want to believe it. One thing he said that I thought interesting is that we today in the modern church take it for granted that we will recognize Christ, but that this also happened with Jesus truly did come. Only a small remnant recognized Christ for who he truly was. Why should we expect anything different? It is also a hard teaching because not many people want to believe that they aren’t going to be saved although the Bible makes it pretty clear there will only be a remnant.

Chapter 10: The Sacred Obligation of Judging

Tozer tackles the notion today that nobody can judge anything although the Bible clearly teaches different. It’s really best simply to read the chapter for yourself. The whole idea that is rampant in today’s world of “not judging” anyone is one that annoys me to no end and I’d rather not comment on it because it makes me tired just thinking about it. Needless to say that Tozer completely blows this notion up. It’s one of the shortest chapters in the book which leads me to think Tozer thought this issue was so easily defended he didn’t put much time into it. I agree.

The best part of the chapter for me is the rebuke from Tozer to stop living worldly and return to New Testament living. Tozer states, “We are to deny ourselves and forsake the world on every level possible and always keep in mind that Christianity and the world do not mix. You cannot have a Christian world, but unfortunately, you can have a worldly Christian.

Chapter 11: The Haunting Memory of Dead Words

This was one of the most interesting chapters in that Tozer talks about how some words might mean different things in different generations. He notes that holding onto words without meaning in the modern church is very costly. The first word Tozer murders is “accept”, as in accept Christ. Tozer notes that in past generations, Christians would try to obtain their salvation through works which is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that belief in Christ as Savior is the way to heaven, not works should grace be devoid of power. However, in the modern church we are often told that the way to salvation is to accept Christ and that’s the end of it.

Accept therefore becomes a dead word. I’ve seen this a lot in my time. I was a part of Campus Crusade for Christ during my collegiate years and I remember sharing the 4-Laws with other students. I remember telling them that sin separates us from God and that Christ dying allowed a bridge for the sinner to be saved, if all I did was believe in Christ. That’s not even half of the story.

Tozer notes that accepting Christ isn’t the answer. This is one of my favorite passages of the book so I’ll rewrite what Tozer says here:

“To give you an illustration of what I mean, there is one place that specializes in reaching out to young men in the service and talking to them about the Lord. They have a staff that is supposed to witness to them of the Lord Jesus before they go overseas.

One day, one of their workers, a Baptist preacher, came to me in my study. He threw himself down on a little old davenette and said, “Brother Tozer, I’m in agony. I’m working at such and such center. Do you know what the trouble is down there? They will not let me mention repentance. All I can dare tell the boys going out to die is that they accept Jesus. The result is that they bow their heads and say, ‘yes I accept Him,’ get up with sort of a smile in a pitiful way and shake my hand. Some of them are sacred kids on their way out. They may not come back, and I don’t even dare talk to them about repentance of life or sin, or of sorrow for sin. I’m bound to say only to accept Jesus.”

The damage of this will be seen in future generations when the Church will be anemic and worldly oriented in all aspects. To “accept” Jesus and not demand a transformed man or woman will result in actually rejecting the Christ of the New Testament. (emphasis mine)

Tozer also describes “receive” as a dead word too. I won’t go into that. Read it for yourself as it’s well worth the time and I’ve spent a great length on “accept”.

Chapter 12: Some Live Words for Today’s Church

With the dead words come so live words although you won’t hear them much in today’s modern church! Tozer notes they should be live words although whether they are or not is up for debate. The words Tozer has are: purgation, illumination, renunciation, immolation & adoration. My favorite one was purgation and Tozer had some very interesting things to say. The best was saying that modern church goes are more accepting of sin instead of having the desire to purge sin.

Chapter 13: God’s Way in His Church

A wonderful chapter basically outlining God’s characteristics of omnipotence and omniscience. Basically Tozer outlines the way God works within and throughout his church and in my opinion it’s a very uplifting and reassuring chapter. Tozer really tries to drive the point home that God’s plan will always come to pass even if you think you are going through troubles. I oftentimes wonder why some Christians have it so easy but that my walk with Christ is riddled with doubt and hurt and fatigue and worry and hardships. Tozer notes that God disciplines those He loves and I take heart in that fact because it oftentimes feels as if I’m going through discipline on a continual basis. I suppose it’s good for me.

Chapter 14: The Ministry of the Night

This chapter is more of a continuation of Chapter 13. Typically in the Bible the night is reference is sin and the light is reference to God and the illumination of a Savior. Tozer points out that going through time of night & rain are necessary for spiritual growth and that God is both Lord of day & night. He makes the analogy to crops in that if the sun only shone then the ground would be bakes beyond all comprehension, but because God made rain & night we are able to enjoy the bountiful flora upon the earth. It’s a neat chapter.

Chapter 15: How to Know when a Thing is from God

This is pretty interesting because it sort of follows Chapter 10 which focused on judging. Tozer notes that knowing when a thing is from God is dependent on how are attitudes change towards: God, Christ, the Scriptures, yourself, other Christians, the world, and finally your attitude towards sin. I thought this was interesting because in today’s world it seems that everyone is always saying that have something from God.

When my wife and I were first married we had a home church and loved it so. Unfortunately that church dissolved as the pastor felt he was called to a different post and the associate pastor felt like he should plant his own church somewhere else. We went looking for another church and found one we really liked. Unfortunately about a year into it the pastor got up to the pulpit to preach and said that we should close our Bible because God gave him something to tell us.

Immediately I whispered to my wife that it was time to go and we were back to looking for a new church.

This was a great chapter to end with because it think as Christians today we need to be ever vigilant to these wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.

This was a longer review than I would normally write, but it was a great book and I feel as if Tozer isn’t as widely read as he should be. He is a national treasure and I wish more of our churches would make an example of Tozer’s life and the way he thought about Christianity.

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February 15, 2010 - Posted by | A.W. Tozer, Book Review, Christianity

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