Tozer on Books and Reading

Tozer was a firm believer in the value of reading:

A. W. Tozer is known as a great man of God, someone who was so very close to God and whose life was a wonderful showcase of a man fully dedicated to his Lord. It might be thought that such a highly spiritual and God-filled man might discount the place of things like learning and reading.

But quite the opposite is the case. Tozer not only loved to read and study, but he regularly encouraged believers to do the same. In fact he felt believers who did not routinely read would not grow as they should as Christians. Many would say that lack of prayer will hinder your Christian growth. Yes, Tozer believed that as well, but he also stressed repeatedly the vital importance of reading.

While Tozer once famously said, “Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aide to the life of faith may be Christian biographies,” he also encouraged Christians to read widely in many areas and in various genres. In the many editorials that he penned for the Alliance Weekly and Alliance Life we find lots of articles on this theme of being well-read.

Indeed, one series of articles he did on the topic was entitled, “The Use and Abuse of Books”. They can be found in the book, The Size of the Soul (compiled by Harry Verploegh – WingSpread, 2010). Of interest, the subtitle of this volume is “Principles of Revival and Spiritual Growth.” Again, we see the connection for Tozer between godliness and growth in grace with reading.

Here then are some quotes from this series of articles:

Why does today’s Christian find the reading of great books always beyond him? Certainly intellectual powers do not wane from one generation to another. We are as smart as our fathers, and any thought they could entertain we can entertain if we are sufficiently interested to make the effort. The major cause of the decline in the quality of current Christian literature is not intellectual but spiritual. To enjoy a great religious book requires a degree of consecration to God and detachment from the world that few modern Christians have. The early Christian Fathers, the Mystics, the Puritans, are not hard to understand, but they inhabit the highlands where the air is crisp and rarefied, and none but the God-enamored can come. . . . One reason why people are unable to understand great Christian classics is that they are trying to understand without any intention of obeying them.” (“The Use and Abuse of Books,” Part I)

Image of The Size of the Soul: Principles of Revival and Spiritual Growth
The Size of the Soul: Principles of Revival and Spiritual Growth by Tozer, A. W. (Author), Verploegh, Harry (Compiler) Amazon logo

The book that informs us without inspiring us may be indispensable to the scientist, the lawyer, the physician, but mere information is not enough for the minister. If knowledge about things constituted learning, the encyclopedia would be all the library one needed for a fruitful ministry. The successful Christian, however, must know God, himself and his fellow men. Such knowledge is not gained by assembling data but by sympathetic contact, by intuition, by meditation, by silence, by inspiration, by prayer and long communion. I therefore recommend reading, not for diversion, nor for information alone, but for communion with great minds. The book that leads the soul out into the sunlight, points upward and bows out is always the best book.


The man who can teach me to teach myself will help me more in the long run than the man who spoon-feeds me and makes me dependent upon him. The teacher’s best service is to make himself unnecessary. The book that serves as a ramp from which my mind can take off is the best book for me. The book that follows me into the pulpit and intrudes itself into my sermon is my enemy and an enemy to my hearers. The book that frees me to think my own inspired thoughts is my friend. (Part I)

I have never subscribed to the doctrine that we Christians should live in an intellectual vacuum, refusing to hear what the world has to say. A faith that must be “protected” is no faith at all. If I can retain my faith in Christ only by closing my mind against every criticism, I give proof positive that I am not well convinced of the soundness of my position. The soul that has had a saving encounter with God is sure beyond the possibility of a doubt. His happy testimony will be, “To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side” (Psalms 3:4-6). Such a man will not need to shield himself from the classics nor from comparative religions or philosophy or psychology or science. The Spirit bears witness to Christ deep within his consciousness. His heart knows, though his reason may not yet have caught up with his heart.


When a very young minister, I asked the famous holiness preacher, Joseph H. Smith, whether he would recommend that I read widely in the secular field. He replied, “Young man, a bee can find nectar in the weed as well as in the flower.” I took his advice (or, to be frank, I sought confirmation of my own instincts rather than advice) and I am not sorry that I did.


John Wesley told the young ministers of the Wesleyan Societies to read or get out of the ministry, and he himself read science and history with a book propped against his saddle pommel as he rode from one engagement to another. Andy Dolbow, the American Indian preacher of considerable note, was a man of little education, but I once heard him exhort his hearers to improve their minds for the honor of God. “When you are chopping wood,” he explained, “and you have a dull axe you must work all the harder to cut the log. A sharp axe makes easy work. So sharpen your axe all you can.” (Part II)

Intimate association with a great literary figure within the covers of a book will do more to teach us skill in the use of words than twenty years’ study of grammar could do. It is a notorious fact that those who teach English in our schools are frequently the worst possible examples of their art. If you want heavy sledding, read an essay written by a professor of English. It is sure to be very correct and just as sure to be very dry. Bone is jointed to bone with anatomical precision, but there is no breath nor hearing. The writer is grammar conscious and tone deaf. He is eager to have his sentences parse correctly, but seems unable to make them live.


Good speaking as well as good writing has its pitch, its tempo, its balance and rhythm, its tone and timbre. And these things cannot be learned in the popular sense of the word; they can only be acquired by unconscious imitation. If we listen long and sympathetically to someone who uses English with style and artistry, something of his art will seep through the pores of our minds and improve our own style greatly. And remember that reading is hearing with the mind. We listen to a man when we read his book with a congenial spirit. (Part IV)

Through the foresight and zeal of certain publishers within the last few years many of the great religious classics of the past have been revived and made available to the Christian public in attractive editions. These have been mostly of two kinds, viz., the works of the Puritan divines and those of the mystic theologians and devotional writers from St. Augustine to John Woolman.


The great Puritan writers and those closely related to them in doctrine and spirit were the spiritual forebears of our present day Fundamentalists, though candor requires that we note that, for reasons that need not be enumerated here, the noble fathers were not able to beget sons equal to themselves.


The devotional works that have appeared have been so varied as to make classification difficult. Some of the great names are Meister Eckhart, Bernard of Clairvaux, Jan van Ruysbroeck, Michael Molinos, John of the Cross, Thomas Traherne, Richard Rolle, William Law, Walter Hilton, Francis de Sales, Jakob Boehme and Gerhard Tersteegen. To those might be added the more familiar names of Fenelon, Guyon and Thomas a Kempis.


To a large extent these were universal Christians who experienced the grace of God so deeply and so broadly that they encompassed the spiritual possibilities of all men and were able to set forth their religious experiences in language acceptable to Christians of various ages and varying doctrinal viewpoints…. (Part V)

Many more such quotes can be offered here, but these should give you a good feel for his firm insistence that the believer is to be a reader. If you want to be all you can be in Christ, you need to read.

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2 Replies to “Tozer on Books and Reading”

  1. Thanks Bill for encouraging us to keep reading. When I was young I didnt read much as I was more active then and couldn’t find anything interesting to read, but now that I am getting older I read a lot more as someone like yourself said Readers are Leaders which I believe is true.

  2. I opened a book by Tozer at random from a friends bookcase , I related instantly to the words , a spiritual encounter. I now have a number of his works and have been enriched ever since. That was many years ago.

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