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.

 

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Keswick Theology: The Exhaustion Of Trying To Yield More, Surrender More, And Let Go-Let God — 20 Comments

  1. “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.”

    “Crossless Sanctification” — this is what is happening in some Lutheran preaching in the LCMS. We are losing Grace. :

    “We want to encourage reconsideration on the part of those who would replace entirely the voices of the past with the voice of the present.”

    //steadfastlutherans.org/?p=33091#comment-842719

    “Voice of the present” being followers of B.H., R.W., B.M., etc. who have distorted true biblical doctrine–who believe the Law works better than the Gospel.

    This focus on self truly is exhausting. And wrong.

  2. Keswick was exactly who I thought of while watching ‘Solomon Kane’ this weekend. Even when attempting to deftly straddle theological points (while slaughtering minions of evil in righteous fury, mind you), it still boils down to replacing Justification with Sanctification.

  3. I heard this, every sunday and sunday nite in the Free Will Baptist church. The preacher would have no problem filling the alter during alter call.

  4. @Abby #2

    Isn’t this just Methodism?

    Christian perfection (also known as perfect love; heart purity; the baptism of the Holy Spirit; the fullness of the blessing; Christian holiness; the second blessing; the second work of grace; and entire sanctification) is a doctrine of Methodism and its emerging Holiness movement, which holds that the heart of the regenerant (born-again) Christian may attain a state of holiness in which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and where there is a total love for God and others wrought by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_perfection

    It seems the opposite of “at once saint and sinner.”

    Or is their “yielding to Christ” just meaning “fear, love and trust in God above all things.”

    I am trying to give the benefit of the doubt here, such that their poor choice of words could possibly also describe a faithful meaning. I am kind of stumbling around.

  5. Mrs. Hume,

    The teaching of John Wesley is somewhat convoluted. But he definitely had some of it right. It seems he would reject simul Justus et peccator as a “letting down” of the “striving” toward perfection in this life. He would not want us to be too comfortable with it. I know that we Lutherans teach “to strive.” But I don’t see or hear it taught as towards “perfection” or holiness in this life. We do not focus on a “crossless Sanctification.” But rather: “. . .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.”

    We progress always by “beginning again daily . . .” at the cross.

    I am wondering if the Keswick Movement had roots in Methodism.

    “Wesley’s quest for genuine faith and inward holiness ended in the early evening of May 24, 1738, in a meeting house on Aldersgate Street not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wesley himself describes the experience in his Journal entry for that day: In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.14 . . .

    In his theology, as in his daily life, John Wesley was a pragmatist. As easily as he changed liturgical practices to conform to human need, he rearranged his theology to coincide with his own experience. Whenever a theory conflicted with his experience of the nature of God, he dismissed the theory without reservation.

    John Wesley’s understanding of Christian perfection is therefore rooted in his personal experience with the Holy Spirit. This personal quest for holiness supplied the focus for Wesley’s theology. . .

    In the year 1764, upon a review of the whole subject, I wrote down the sum of what I had observed in the following short propositions:
    1. There is such a thing as perfection; for it is again and again mentioned in Scripture. . .

    No man was ever more positive than John Wesley that holiness evidenced itself in a life of active, strenuous obedience to the will of God. As Albert Outler accurately phrased it, Wesley’s characteristic emphasis was that we are pardoned “in order to participate.”21 The holy life is not an accomplished act, but is a continual walk of faith. If a person does not constantly abide in Christ and grow in holiness of life, he or she is cut off from the Vine. Wesley viewed the “if” recorded in John’s Gospel as the most dangerous pitfall to holy living: “If a man abide not in me, Jesus said, he is cast forth as a branch that is thrown away and withers . . .” (John 15:6). For Wesley, believing must be both a moral act and a continuing moral commitment. . .

    It was at this point where Wesley introduced a radical shift in emphasis. Wesley taught that holiness was not acquired by a lifelong struggle, but could be received by simply seeking the experience and claiming the blessing by faith. John Wesley preached holiness as a present privilege that is attainable by all and that calls for immediate and positive action. . .”

    http://salvationarmyusa.org/usn/Publications/WD_1999_May_2_John_Wesley_and_Holiness.pdf

    “Unlike the Reformers, who had taught that sanctification only occurs at death, Wesley argued that he could see no reason why it could not occur ten, twenty, or even thirty years before death. Certainly, he said, there is no biblical evidence that would lead one to think otherwise. Though he never himself claimed to be entirely sanctified (he believed that claiming it was a fair sign that one was not so), Wesley recorded the experiences of others whom he had no doubt were delivered from all sin and filled entirely with the pure love of God.”

    http://www.asbury.edu/about-us/cornerstone-project/holiness-initiatives/wesleyan-holiness-theology

  6. “Unlike the Reformers, who had taught that sanctification only occurs at death, Wesley argued that he could see no reason why it could not occur ten, twenty, or even thirty years before death. Certainly, he said, there is no biblical evidence that would lead one to think otherwise.

    LOL, no evidence? Uh, what about the clear statements that all are fallen?

    Though he never himself claimed to be entirely sanctified (he believed that claiming it was a fair sign that one was not so), Wesley recorded the experiences of others whom he had no doubt were delivered from all sin and filled entirely with the pure love of God.”

    Deja vu, it is Roman Catholicism all over again. This time with Pope Wesley beatifying some while demanding that individuals still doubt. It is the same line of reasoning that the Roman church uses! It smacks of unbelief, first because our hope is in Christ not our own righteousness, and second because we are to trust Him at His word, not our feelings.

  7. @Mrs. Hume #9

    “Deja vu, it is Roman Catholicism all over again.” That’s what I was thinking. Calvinism, too, retained too much RC. It’s clear to me, over and over, we Lutherans have it right — biblically.

  8. In Wesleyanism, I also did not find any reference to the Sacraments at all. They must be symbolic there as well. After Grace, their entire focus is works righteousness. Works would then replace Grace in this thinking. It seems to me that Grace would be very hard, if not impossible, to hold onto.

  9. You can drive a Christian nuts with this theology. The Methodist/Wesleyan/Arminian doctrine which has infiltrated a great deal of American Evangelicalism is a one way ticket to despair.

    Lutherans razz Calvinists for some of their doctrines, and understandably so. But believe me, the Arminian doctrines do far more damage in far greater ways than Calvinism. Having been in both movements, I can attest to this.

  10. “But believe me, the Arminian doctrines do far more damage in far greater ways than Calvinism.”

    Amen, brother!

    Lutherans have much more in common with Calvinists than they do with Arminians. The animosity with which some Lutherans hold the Calvinists is very unfortunate. It’s unwarranted. mostly. And a lot of it, sadly, based on caricature and ignorance.

    Maybe pick up some Calvin and read him, rather than basing one’s perceptions on blubs and soundbites, eh?

    Gosh…I hear such foolishness, esp on Issues etc, regarding Calvinism from the usually astute Mr Wilken quite often. It’s sad.

  11. One Keswickian fad amongst the Arminian youth these days is this ‘training school’, called Ellerslie. They promise to ‘pour white hot Chrsitianity’ into young people willing to plop for 5K for a few weeks under the tutelage of this Eric Ludy fellow(who has no ministerial credentials, from what I can tell). Creepy, to my mind:

    http://www.ellerslie.com/

  12. @J. Dean #13
    Calvinism is just perhaps a little easier to spot and thus an easier target. It is no less dangerous though. The confessions refer to Calvinist teachers frequently as those “cunning sacramentarians”.

    @Elizabeth #14
    Can you give an example of “good” Calvinism? I can’t think of any.

  13. “When faith and life are reduced to the formulations and clichés of dogmatic propositions and jingled slogans — asserted and assented to, repeated ad nauseam, and given lip-service while “anything else goes,” in the great free-for-all, the banner over which is “adiaphora” — it is no longer Christianity that we are dealing with, but the latest non-incarnation of gnosticism. Whether the list of facts is long or short, intricate or simplistic, if that is all there is to it, then that is not the faith which is reckoned as righteousness for the sake of Christ; it is a farce and a fiction, which relies upon itself and on the self-righteousness of its own mental mastery.

    Twenty years ago, when I was a seminary student, the powers that be and their clever speech-writers suggested that several of my favorite professors were guilty of a “confessional Lutheran gnosticism,” because, it was claimed, those men insisted on right doctrine, supposedly to the detriment of missions and evangelism. The politicos who made such claims knew not the good people they accused, nor the things concerning which they made such confident assertions . . .” Rev. Rick Stuckwisch

    http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-faith-and-life-of-body-vs-missional.html

  14. J Dean,
    You are so right! I listened to many chaplains preach the law like it was life giving only to the despair of the hungering Soldiers needing to hear Christ and Him crucified. I seldom heard the Gospel. Every Pastor who doesn’t think purity of Chistocentric doctrine is hogwash should be encouraged to spend 6 months counseling Soldiers in the midst of bullets and bombs. Most of the chaplains and Christian family of other denominations will say it’s all about Jesus but when it comes down to life and death, they fall back to what they hear ever Sunday which for most is nothing but the law. The law kills! The Gospel gives life and refreshes despairing children of God. What a joy and privilege to simply proclaim the Good News with no strings attached. It was a real privilege to proclaim Christ and Him crucified and announce forgiveness to Soldiers who seldom every heard it! Purity of doctrine is all about Christ and Him crucified and when we equip our children with that purity of doctrine it will point them to the cross of Christ alone when bullets and bombs are a flying.

  15. Just heard this today in my brother’s church, where I went for my niece’s “infant dedication” (which is essentially an infant baptism without the water). The preacher mingled law and gospel horrendously, and it was dizzying trying to follow him-at times he sounded very grace-oriented, but at other times he laid the law on thick, and not necessarily in the right way.

    But what bothered me the most is that he talked about God wanting a relationship with us and that we should be considering ourselves worthy of it (!), and DID THIS ALL WITHOUT ONCE MENTIONING THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CROSS.

    This was moralism underscored with a crossless grace at best.

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