Lessons From Flawed Saints

A couple of new biographies (one on A. W. Tozer by Tony Dorsett, and one on George Eldon Ladd by John A. D'Elia ) show that God uses imperfect people to expand his Kingdom and glorify himself. Tozer, known for his piety and devotion to God, seemed to neglect his family. G.E. Ladd who largely followed Vos in popularizing inaugurated eschatology, is known for destroying classic dispensationalism and bringing dispensationalism and covenant theology closer together (see this book). His desire to be pleasing in the eyes of both the evangelical world and the academy led to "depression, bitterness, and alcoholism."

From Tim Challies (on A.W. Tozer):

Tozer was a man who loved Scripture and loved nothing more than preaching its truths to all who would listen. “A.W. Tozer heralded biblical truth. He loved the Bible and unflinchingly preached what he believed people needed to hear, regardless of what they wanted.” Yet he was a man who neglected the mission field in his home. “On and off over the years, Aiden exercised his role as head of the family by encouraging times of family devotions. These never lasted more than a few weeks. As one son explained, the children just did not want it and they were seldom all together for extended periods in any case.”
Tozer was a man who dedicated himself to reading, study and prayer and who delighted to be in the presence of God. “There is no way to measure the hours he spent in a typical day or week reading books and wrestling with ideas, but it was substantial. In a similar vein, we know that he increasingly devoted many hours each week praying, meditating on Scripture, and seeking deeper intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ. During the 1930s Tozer read voraciously, and he also developed a magnificent obsession to be in Christ’s presence- just to worship Him and to be with Him.” Yet he was a man who was emotionally and spiritually distant from his own wife. “By early 1928 the Tozers had a routine. Aiden found his fulfillment in reading, preparing sermons, preaching, and weaving travel into his demanding and exciting schedule, while Ada learned to cope. She dutifully washed, ironed, cooked, and cared for the little ones, and developed the art of shoving her pain deep down inside. Most of the time she pretended there was no hurt, but when it erupted, she usually blamed herself for not being godly enough to conquer her longing for intimacy from an emotionally aloof husband.”
These strange inconsistencies abound. Tozer saw his wife’s gifts for hospitality and encouraged her in them; yet he disliked having visitors in his own home. He preached about the necessity of Christian fellowship within the family of Christ; yet he refused to allow his family or his wife’s family to visit their home. For every laudable area of his life there seemed to exist an equal and opposite error. This study in opposites leaves for a fascinating picture of a man who was used so greatly by God, even while his life had such obvious sin.

From Sean Lucas (on Tozer):

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.

From Oxford University Press (on George Ladd):

Ladd's main focus, however, was to create a work of scholarship from an evangelical perspective that the broader academic world would accept. When he was unsuccessful in this effort, he descended into depression, bitterness, and alcoholism. But Ladd played an important part in opening doors for later generations of evangelical scholars, both by validating and using critical methods in his own scholarly work, and also by entering into dialogue with theologians and theologies outside the evangelical world.

One of the reviews of the Ladd bio was by Marianne Meye Thompson, who now serves as George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. She wrote, "although he wrote extensively of the presence of the kingdom, he struggled to taste its fruits in his own life." That is sad, and scary. These recent biographies should break our hearts, point us to Christ, and spur us on to finish well. May we never claim to love Christ, yet fail to cherish our wives and children. We honor Christ by loving our wives. May we also be much more consumed with pleasing God, than peers. Christ's 'opinion' is the only one that will matter at the end of the day, and we should live in light of this reality.


(HT: JT & TheoSource)