Keswick Theology: The Exhaustion Of Trying To Yield More, Surrender More, And Let Go-Let God

stairs-qruquius-1415845-mHave you heard of the Keswick Movement? No? I bet you have. You can tell that Keswick theology has impacted you and others when you hear a Christian ‘testimony’ like this:

I was saved when I was nine years old, and I yielded to Christ when I was nineteen.

Did you catch it? I was ‘saved’ when I was nine (step 1). I ‘yielded’ to Christ when I was nineteen (step 2). Jesus saved them, but then they surrendered, emptied, let go and let God when they were nineteen. Do you hear the two-tiered progression? Typically these testimonies end with how the person is apparently living in a completely different Christian dimension; higher and more victorious than they were before. Yes, indeed they were ‘saved’ but they also ‘surrendered.’

Keswick theology is commonly known as higher life theology. Keswick theology tries to answer the problem of sin with what is frequently called the second blessing but steers away from the perfectionism of the American Holiness teachings often found among old Methodism.[1] Even though it originated in Britain, it was brought to the United States and promoted by D.L. Moody.[2]

Practically speaking, what Keswick theology looks like is a two-tiered Christianity. The first stage can be classified as a ‘carnal Christianity,’ and the second stage can be classified as ‘spiritual Christianity.’ “To move from the lower to the higher state takes a definite act of faith or ‘consecration,’ the prerequisite to being filled with the Spirit. This consecration means an ‘absolute surrender,’ almost always described by the Biblical term ‘yielding.’”[3] Thus the main idea is a movement from the Christian’s original conversion experience to receive a second experience within the realm of living the Christian life. Keswick theology is best explained in the following illustration:

Our sinful nature is like an uninflated balloon with a cart (the weight of sin) attached. Christ fills the balloon and the resulting buoyancy overcomes the natural gravity of our sin. While Christ fills our lives we do not have a tendency to sin, yet we still are liable to sin. Were we to let Christ out of our lives, sin would immediately take over.[5]

Why should this concern us? It should concern us because it creates a two-tiered Christianity: carnal and spiritual. This results in the focus of the Christian needing to yield, surrender and/or empty oneself to God in order that one can be filled. This filling would then free the Christian from committing any known sin and certainly eliminate any excuses for tolerating sin. Alas, ever so slightly directional language is introduced into the Biblical narrative, putting the focus on the Christian and not the Christ. Thus, this Keswick theology downplays the seriousness of original sin in the life of the Christian and emphasizes the Christian’s free will as being capable of starting and stopping sanctification as if it was as easy as 1… 2… 3… Frankly, the most tragic result of Keswick theology is that its material principle becomes a message of Law where the goal is the second level and the means to accomplish it is the Christian working to yield just a little more and to surrender just a bit more. Instead of returning to Christ saving blood and one’s baptism, Keswick theology shifts the focus away from Justification towards a man-centered Sanctification. I believe one could fairly state that Keswick theology separates Sanctification from Justification thus allowing for a Crossless Sanctification to emerge.

In summary, there is no such thing as a two-tiered Christianity. Furthermore, our goal is not to journey to a second level, rather it is to abide in Christ. We never journey away from Christ, even if that which we journey to is right, holy, and just. Rather, we progress by beginning again daily in Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

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[1] George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: New Edition (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006), 77-78.

[2] Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), 104-106.

[3]Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: New Edition, 78.

[4] Ibid.

 

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