A.W. Tozer. The Counselor. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015. See here to buy the book.
A.W. Tozer was a pastor and Christian author who lived from 1897 to
1963. I have seen him quoted numerous times. I have finally read a
book by him. Or, actually, this book is an edited version of two
classics that Tozer wrote. It is still quotable, though!
This book was not exactly what I expected. I thought that this book
would be about how the Holy Spirit dwells inside of Christians and
counsels them. The book, after all, is entitled The Counselor.
Instead, this book talks about the importance of being filled with the
Holy Spirit. Tozer addresses the question of why so many Christians or
professing Christians are not filled with the Holy Spirit. He also
discusses what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like.
What does being filled with the Holy Spirit mean, according to
Tozer? As far as I can recall, Tozer in this book does not answer that
explicitly. But he does talk about what being filled with the Holy
Spirit looks like. He looks at the Book of Acts, in which the apostles
were filled with the Holy Spirit. He also examines church history, as
he refers to such examples as Martin Luther, John Wesley, and others.
For Tozer, being filled with the Holy Spirit includes a variety of
characteristics: joy, an intense hunger and thirst to know God, speaking
with authority, God anointing one’s preaching so that it produces
results, spiritual transformation, and knowing God through the Holy
Spirit rather than through intellect. For Tozer, being filled with the
Holy Spirit is not a process that stretches out over time. Rather, it
is a single event of spiritual empowering.
How does one become filled with the Holy Spirit, according to Tozer? There is another book by Tozer, How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit, which may give more practical steps. But The Counselor does make significant points.
Tozer says that the Holy Spirit exalts Jesus Christ, which implies
that those who desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit must do the
same. In discussing why so many professing Christians are not filled
with the Holy Spirit, Tozer says that one desiring to be filled must
surrender to God; so many Christians, by contrast, want to be in the
driver’s seat when it comes to their lives. In some cases, Tozer
states, people can arrive at a state of loneliness and desperation, and
that opens them up to being filled with the Holy Spirit. To be filled
with the Holy Spirit, one must be in agreement with God. Hatred, lust,
and egotism are irreconcilable with being filled with the Holy Spirit,
whereas praying for others with an attitude of kindness is the proper
frame of mind for Christians to have. For Tozer, Christians need to
clean up their thoughts and spend more time in the Bible, and that can
set the stage for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Tozer interacts with other questions, as well. Is speaking in
tongues a sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit? Tozer does not
regard it as a necessary sign, for he observes that several Christian
luminaries, such as Luther and Wesley, did not speak in tongues. Can
one be a saved Christian without being filled with the Holy Spirit?
Tozer does not address this question head-on, but he raises various
considerations, some of which lead in different directions. He says
that the disciples were converted before they were filled with the Holy
Spirit. Sometimes, Tozer expresses agnosticism about whether the
Christians he criticizes are genuine Christians; at other times, he is
Tozer addresses certain Christian views in his day, views that he
believes obscure the truth. On the one hand, Tozer is critical of those
who believe that speaking in tongues is a necessary mark of being
filled with the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, he is critical of the
view that being filled with the Holy Spirit only related to the time of
the apostles. Tozer rejects the view that the disciples were
unconverted when Jesus was on earth, for he believes that many
Christians use that position to excuse their own carnality. (Maybe
Tozer is criticizing an attitude that I have encountered in
evangelicalism: Look, Christ called imperfect disciples and used them
for God’s glory, so that must mean that we do not need to worry about
our own sinful imperfections!) Tozer believes that treating being
filled with the Holy Spirit as a process rather than a single event
likewise allows Christians to excuse their sins and their fears about
being filled with the Holy Spirit. (They fear letting God be in the
driver’s seat, or they are afraid of doing embarrassing things under the
Spirit’s influence, or that God will place them in insecure
situations.) And, as you can probably tell, Tozer did not care for the
over-emphasis on grace, God’s unmerited favor for Christians, within
I found what Tozer said to be interesting, especially when he was
critiquing Christian perspectives of his day and regarding some of those
perspectives as excuses. I have to admit that I felt spiritual
insecurity in reading this book, for a variety of reasons (i.e., wanting
to run my own life, not feeling sure that I can obey God’s commands,
not wanting to be obsessed with religion, as Tozer seemed to suggest
that Spirit-filled people are). Still, I could identify, somewhat, with
what Tozer said about the hunger to know God.
Tozer could have been a little more pastoral in his tone. Rather
than bragging (or so it seemed to me) about how he never holds a grudge,
he could have offered advice to people who struggle with sins, or at
least he could have expressed sympathy and understanding towards their
I was surprised that Tozer in this book never engaged Ephesians
5:18-21: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled
with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the
fear of God” (KJV). That passage seems to imply that being filled with
the Holy Spirit is not just a one-time event, and it describes what
being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like.
In reading this book, I wondered if being filled with the Holy Spirit
could occur outside of Christianity. Tozer would probably answer “no,”
since he says that the Spirit exalts Jesus Christ. Still, there are
mystics and ecstatic spiritual experiences outside of Christianity.
Maybe they are more prominent within Christianity, but they do occur
outside of it, as well.
I hope to read more books by Tozer in the future.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.