Armand J. Azamar
Updated August 2017
Even with just a grammar school education, Aiden Wilson Tozer, known better as A. W., would become one of the most prolific Christian preachers and writers of the 20th century. Tozer was born on April 21, 1897, the third of six children. His meager family lived in the small farming community La Jose (presently Newburg), Pennsylvania. Due to his father’s chronic illness, Tozer needed to leave school after the sixth grade to provide for the family.
At the age of fifteen, Tozer and his family moved to Akron, Ohio, where the future preacher worked at the Goodrich Tire Company factory. One of the new neighbors asked him if he was Christian. “I don’t know,” Tozer replied. “but I’ll think about it.”
Three years later, while Tozer was walking home from work, he overheard an elderly street preacher on a corner. A crowd formed around the preacher, and Tozer stopped to listen.
“If you don’t know how to be saved,” The preacher said. “Just call on God, saying, Lord be merciful to me a sinner.”
The words lingered in his mind. Upon coming back home, Tozer climbed into the privacy of his attic, wrestling with the question. After several hours, Tozer emerged a changed man.
Soon, Tozer would stay in his basement for hours. Every day, he would be behind the furnace, silently reading his Bible and praying. He started attending a local church, meeting Ada Pfautz, who eventually became his wife. He eventually had seven children with Ada, six boys and one girl. His mother–in-law allowed Tozer to borrow Christian books from her library. Tozer devoured the books.
Tozer started street preaching himself. In 1919, five years after his salvation, he began to pastor a church, with no formal theological training. It was a tiny storefront church in Nutter Fort, West Virginia. Through his street preaching, Tozer met other preachers who were part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a Protestant evangelical denomination. He eventually was ordained in that denomination. In 1928, the Lord called Tozer to pastor Southside Alliance Church in Chicago; he ministered there for thirty-one years.
Tozer carried a gift for communication. As he prayed for his congregation, he noticed there a lack of desire to read Christian books. Tozer also noticed that in contemporary Christian living, the church was on the treacherous path of compromising with “worldly” matter. In 1943, Tozer began writing books to help Christians with their walk with God.
Tozer authored more then forty books, two of which are regarded as classics: The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy. Tozer began writing The Pursuit of God on a train trip from Chicago in the late 40s. He worked all night long, and by the dawn, when the train reached Texas, a rough draft was completed. Though written quickly, the insight and completeness of The Pursuit of God made it an lasting favorite: Nearly 1.7 million copies in print in 15 languages.
Tozer spent the final years of his life as the pastor of Avenue Road Church in Toronto, Canada. He and his wife lived a simple lifestyle. Most of his book royalties were signed away to the needy. He passed away in 1963. However, his epitaph reflects his simple, yet uncompromising Christian life: "A. W. Tozer – A Man of God”.
For more information on A. W. Tozer, read his bio here, or listen to his sermons here on SermonIndex.
A.W. Tozer portrait (2008) by Armand J. Azamar.
Armand J. Azamar is a teacher at New Life Assembly Church. He is also a freelance writer and founder of Broken Owl Productions.