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A.W. Tozer was a great preacher and a man of God. But–as we all have our inconsistencies–he was not particularly a good husband. He wasn’t physically unfaithful, just emotionally unavailable.

Lyle Dorsett explains:

With a burning desire to learn and a keen sense of educational inadequacy, Tozer began to devote long hours to reading. He not only read a lot, his mind was preoccupied when he was home, as he continually sorted out ideas and wrote articles in his mind when he could not be alone to put them on paper.

By early 1928 the Tozers had a routine. Aiden found his fulfillment in reading, preparing sermons, preaching, and weaving travel into his demanding and exiting 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. (A Passion for God, 81)

Tozer refused to visit relatives and “seemed less than delighted if any of them showed up for a visit.” He also neglected family vacations. A.W. Tozer was a man of spiritual stature, but a man of little warmth when it came to his family.

Men, there would be worse ideas than to talk to your wife tonight, maybe your kids too, show them this blog and ask, “Is this me?” Just to be sure.

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26 thoughts on “Keep a Close Watch on Your Life (and the Good of Your Wife)”

  1. Dean P says:

    Was Tozer Reformed? That’s not to say that Reformed guys can’t treat their wives or family badly either. They of course can, I am just curious whether he was or not.

  2. Richard says:

    Tozer was NOT Reformed, by any stretch of the word. As well as Kevin’s advice to husbands, it would be good if we recovered the Lutheran/Reformed concept of VOCATION, where we see God working our sanctification through our roles as fathers, husbands, students, employees. I can’t recommend highly enough Dr. Gene Veith’s work on the subject, “God at Work,” or Gustav Wingren’s book, “Luther on Vocation.” Vocation goes a long way to resolving some of this schizophrenic behaviour we see around us of which Tozer is just an example.

  3. Chris says:

    If this is true, should we hold Tozer in as much reverence as many Christians (particularly pastors) do?

    Can we really say he was a man of spiritual stature if he failed to care for those closest to him?

    There is some inconsistency here.

  4. Dean P says:

    Ahhh. Because I have heard very similar stories about John Wesley and how he treated his wife and how he viewed marriage in general.

  5. Blaine Moore says:

    Thank you, Kevin, for this reminder.

  6. Rose says:

    Do you think there is something the church can do for people who really are schizophrenic, or for their wives (or husbands) and families? Does it all just depend on the schizophrenic changing?

  7. Jeffrey Brannen says:

    It is interesting (relating a discussion I had with my wife a few days ago) that we expect our pastors to be completely dedicated to the work of the ministray AS IF they were single. But, we only consider married men for the position.

    We demand single-minded devotion from our married ministers and then wonder why their marriages struggle and their children rebel.

    I wonder if there is a way to address this?

  8. Richard says:

    Look to the biblical concept of vocation! Martin Luther, by all accounts, had a marvelous marriage and family life. Recovering vocation is a real help in this area.

  9. Steve says:

    Hey Jeffrey, maybe there is something to clerical celibacy after all.

    Single men can devote more of themselves and their time to the Kingdom, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35.

    To late for me, though, I’m already married.

  10. Leslie Jebaraj says:

    This is exactly the problem with the church giving celebrity status to prominent Christians. If some unknown Christian had behaved the way Tozer did, he would have been criticized by his neighbors. But Tozer or other famous Christians get a free pass. Not fair; not fair at all.

  11. Richard says:

    It wasn’t all that long ago I apologized to my wife for doing the very thing you are writing about. She was incredibly gracious. She understood why I was doing it. She appreciated that I realized it could not always be that way. More and more we are doing it all together.

  12. Tozer’s less than desirable areas of his life should not take away from anything he has written. We all have areas that are weak, maybe downright aweful. Instead of worrying about what Tozer did, we need to worry about ourselves, all the while reading Tozer’s good books.

  13. Matt says:

    Thanks for posting this, Kevin. Sobering words, but we need to hear and heed them. I wish I would have heeded them much earlier in my ministry.

  14. Glenn Davis says:

    This is the third prominent Reformed blog which takes an opportunity to criticize Tozer’s family life. Dorsett’s book is not the whole story on Tozer’s life. It is easy to criticize from a distance the faults of another believer. Tozer lived in a different age and time.

    Tozer’s family struggles are not new information. James A. Snyder’s *In Pursuit of God* biography noted that inconsistency some time ago (1991).

    *As a family man, Tozer had his share of contradictions and incongruities. Tozer was the product of his rural upbringing and its division of labor. His mother had major responsibility for the household and the children, himself included. His father devoted his attention to the farm work. Although urban church ministry was very different from the farm, Tozer saw his wife’s role as essentially similar to his mother’s.Tozer’s goal was God. His pursuit of God demanded that all else be secondary. After all, Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). He also said, “Any one who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). In a sense, Tozer saw his family as a distraction from his supreme goal of knowing God. (pg. 179).*

    Tozer behaved like many men of “the greatest generation ever” who placed work and career ahead of family nurture and personal availability. This is no excuse, but Tozer’s lack of response to his wife’s needs was very typical of the fathers/husbands of that time. I live near what was once a great steel producing town. I remember as a child, the workers coming out of those factories and driving straight to the closest bar, Elk’s lodge, or labor union hall. From five p.m. to ten p.m., they would smoke, drink, shoot billiards, and neglect their families. As long as these men were materially providing for their families, all was considered right by them in the world. To my knowledge, Tozer neither smoke nor drank, but he did give his all to the task of seeking God. By being completely involved in his work to the neglect of his family, Tozer may have taken on the mentality of that age.

    I do find it hard to believe that Tozer loved his family as poorly as described:

    *1) In Snyder’s “In Pursuit of God” (a biography on Tozer), there is a quote from a Tozer sermon regarding his daughter: “We dedicated her formally in the church service, but she was still mine. Then the day came when I had to die to my Becky, my little Rebecca. I had to give her up and turn her over to God to take if He wanted her at any time… When I made that awful, terrible dedication I didn’t know but God would take her from me. But He didn’t… She was safer after I gave her up than she had ever been before.” (p187-188) Chapter 2 of The Pursuit of God “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing” is believed to be how Tozer came biblically to believe he must surrender his daughter to God. A father who struggles so deeply with this, it seems to me, is likely to love his daughter deeply.

    2)From a website, “Tozer’s love for words also pervaded his family life. He quizzed his children on what they read and made up bedtime stories for them. “The thing I remember most about my father,” reflects his daughter Rebecca, “was those marvelous stories he would tell.”” She appears to have positive memories of her father.

    3) From a website, “At the funeral his daughter Becky said something typical of what Tozer himself would have said. “I can’t feel sad; I know Dad’s happy; he’s lived for this all his life.”” This does not sound like someone who did not feel loved by her father.*


    Warren Wiersbe relates in one of his preaching books this story about Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and A. W. Tozer meeting. They both were invited to speak at the same Bible conference. (I wish I could have been there.) At dinner one evening, Tozer turned to Lloyd-Jones and said, “We are both trying to get to the same place—intimacy with God. You are doing it through the Puritans and me through the Mystics.” After a brief pause, the good Doctor responded, “I agree.”

    A. W. Tozer’s *Pursuit of God* and *Man: The Dwelling Place of God* are two books that draw me into the secret place of God. This secret place is the resting place of enjoying the Holy Trinity’s constant, conscious presence. I do not abide in Christ continually like I should, but Tozer’s writings assist me in getting there. I am most grateful for A. W. Tozer’s writing and preaching ministry for his words lead me to love my Lord more deeply and intimately.

  15. John Thomson says:

    While there is no excuse for any of us ignoring our spouses I am not too happy about family as a vocation. I see too many who are rather ‘precious’ about family. Glenn’s cited texts are apposite.

    Paul, the apostle writes,

    1Cor 7:29-31 (ESV)
    This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

    Of course there is a balance in all of this and each family must discover what the Lord has given them faith for in this regard (husband and wife together).

  16. Richard says:


    I think you may be mistaken about how family is our vocation. God calls (vocatio) us to be faithful in our roles as fathers, husbands, and employees. We are called to love and serve our neighbors in those roles. I don’t find very many Christians (including me) over-doing these roles. The idea of abiding in “the ssecret place of God,” while ignoring your duties as a husband seems to me a pretty peculiar one. Augustine and some of the church fathers had a way of describing sin as “being curved in on oneself.”

  17. John Thomson says:


    How do you understand the text I quoted?

  18. Richard says:

    That we are to live in light of Christ’s soon return. The verse does not tell us to forsake our duties as husbands according to the rest of Scripture such as Ephesians 5:25. On the other hand, we are not to set our families up as idols, and maybe that is what you meant?

  19. Ben says:

    this post was really convicting. I am printing it off and taping it to the inside cover of my bible as a constant reminder.

  20. John Thomson says:


    Yes, I am with you here.

  21. Jonah Rosaroso says:

    @Glenn: good comment. worthy of our attention. :)

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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