A.W. Tozer on Christian Writing
You don’t have to talk to me very long before you find me quoting A.W. Tozer (author of numerous Christian books, including the classics, The Knowledge of the Holy and The Pursuit of God). I have to say he is my favorite Christian writer. Whenever I am feeling spiritually dry, I can always find refreshment in one of his essays or books. Sometimes just a sentence or two of his sage advice can keep me going.
I describe his writing as refreshing, but don’t get the wrong idea. It is often less like drinking a cool glass of water and more like a splash of cold water in the face. (And don’t we all need a spiritual kick in the pants sometimes?) And yet he always seems to “bind up the bones he has broken” with an encouraging word.
I’ve heard some complain that Tozer’s writing is too strong and harsh, but I am reminded that the apostle Paul was accused of the same thing. Seems to me that Tozer had that unique capacity to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”!
James Snyder, in the authorized biography, The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God, includes a full chapter on Tozer’s practices as a writer. There is a lot we can learn from him, especially in his example of striving for excellence and setting high standards for himself. He once turned down an offer from one of the major publishers of his day to publish a collection of his editorials, because he felt they needed to be rewritten, and he didn’t have time to do it. (He later carved out the time to compile and reedit several volumes of essays.) He also never allowed “transcripts” of his sermons to be published (a common practice among preachers today), because, he said, preaching and writing are decidedly different.
Tozer felt that writing a book was an important task, and he urged Christian authors to get their marching orders from God. “The only book that should ever be written is one that flows up from the heart, forced out by the inward pressure,” he said. “Don’t write a book unless you just have to.” When invited to speak to a group of Christian writers, he surprised the group by delivering a strong argument against popular Christian fiction, saying that it tended to imitate the world and sought only to entertain. The result, he concluded, was fiction that was “unrealistic, affected and false.” What would he think of today’s Christian fiction, I wonder?
I don’t think Tozer was necessarily against fiction, because his writings are peppered with quotes from and admiring comments about the fictional works of Shakespeare, among others. His concern and criticism was reserved for the shallow, simplistic and trite religious drivel being cranked out by some Christian publishers, to slavishly follow the lead of the shallow, simplistic and trite secular drivel being cranked out by secular publishing houses. Besides, Tozer was writing sixty years ago. I believe that today we are seeing Christian fiction produced that is imaginative, original, and profound — along with a lot of imitative drivel!
Tozer argued that the only way to produce material of real depth and spiritual insight, which focused on the eternal rather than the superficial and trivial, was to begin with disciplined Bible study and prayer. He followed this up with good research and with careful wording, often writing and rewriting sentences over and over to keep out the excess verbiage and vague phraseology. “Hard writing makes for easy reading,” he often said.
If there is one supreme thing that Tozer taught me about writing (as well as all aspects of my Christian life), it is simply this: watch your motives. Whenever we start thinking of developing our reputations or making big money through Christian writing, we can be sure that real ministry is going to get lost in the shuffle. Besides, if you want to make big money, forget Christian writing; dig ditches — it pays better!