A couple of weeks ago, I purchased and read the new biography on A. W. Tozer entitled A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer. Authored by former Wheaton and current Beeson Divinity School professor Lyle Dorsett, the telling was a breezy and focused look at the life of Tozer. Relying heavily on oral history as well as caches of unpublished correspondence, Dorsett related the story of Tozer's life, from the rural hills of western Pennsylvania through northeast Ohio to his preaching ministries in West Virginia, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Toronto. For what it is, namely a life narrative, A Passion for God was a worthwhile read.
And yet, Dorsett exposes a fundamental contradiction in Tozer's character that raises all sorts of questions about holy zeal and its effect on the whole of life. The contradiction could be summed up: how did Tozer reconcile his passionate longing for communion with the Triune God with his failure to love passionately his wife and children? Perhaps the most damning statement in the book was from his wife, after she remarried subsequent to his death: "I have never been happier in my life," Ada Ceclia Tozer Odam observed, "Aiden [Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me" (160).
Now, certainly all human beings have flaws; that is not the point here. Rather, the point that Dorsett failed to explore adequately is how Tozer reconciled his pursuit of God with his failure to pursue his wife. This reconciliation--or failure to reconcile--should have raised questions about Tozer's mystic approach and prophetic denunciation of the church and nuanced the value of his teaching on the Christian life. After all, if his piety could spend several hours in prayer and also rationalize his failure at home, then it should raise questions about his approach to piety.
Then again, we all live divided lives. And thankfully, God used his Word as proclaimed through Tozer to bring Leonard Odam himself and hundreds of others to a saving knowledge of Christ. When God promises that his Word will not return to him empty (Isaiah 55:11), it gives all of his servants hope that the working is from God, not from ourselves (Col. 1:28-29). After all, God is able to use clay pots (2 Cor 4:7): he used A. W. Tozer with this glaring personal contradiction and he can use you and me.