What lies behind the criticism of Keswick theology? In this article, we will cover some key factors that fuel objections and cause some problems for those seeking the truth.
Amazingly, I have been in some settings where a speaker taught the truths of Keswick/Deeper Life theology and immediately followed by saying, “Now, I’m not talking about Keswick; I’m not talking about the Deeper Life.” Such a contradiction indicates that one is largely unaware of the history and the meaning of the labels and likely is functioning from hearsay and charges of unorthodoxy that critics have attached to Keswick and Deeper Life. First impressions are mind-setting. Someone bent their ear. They read or listened to critics of Keswick without reading Keswick authors themselves, and now, joining in the criticism, they unwittingly attack and undermine their own teaching. The damage done is unintentional but is still harmful to that which they believe.
Though not all Calvinists clash with Keswick, those of a thoroughgoing system often do. Keswick emphasizes man’s responsibility of faith. One of the major descriptions of Keswick is sanctification by faith. Some Calvinists claim that a faith emphasis is a man-centered emphasis, but how can God-dependence be man-centered? Faith is not a work; it is dependence upon the worker—God. The inspired Word says, “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him” (Rom. 4:5). Therefore, faith is the opposite of works. Faith says, “I can’t, but God can,” and so depends upon God. The focus of true faith is, of necessity, on God, who is the object of faith. This is undeniably God-centered.
The clash is between inevitable faith for thorough-going Calvinism and the responsible faith of Keswick. Does progressive sanctification just happen, inevitably occurring for every true child of God, or can it be hindered by unbelief and accelerated by faith? Keswick insists on the latter. Interestingly, Keswick’s promotion of responsible faith also clashes with the misfocused faith of unfettered choice that is advanced by thoroughgoing Arminianism. Responsible faith means you are responding to the Spirit’s convincing work, based on God’s Word. It is neither unfettered choice nor inevitable. It is a true responsibility.
When I hear or read some Calvinists claims regarding Keswick teaching, I’m amazed at the inaccuracy. Certainly, some such commentators have limited their study to criticisms of Keswick without spending significant time with primary sources. Others have indeed read the Keswick authors—albeit, with a crippling bias that blinds them to the clear facts and arguments championed by those authors. Assessments offered from this perspective muddy the waters and perpetuate misrepresentations that obscure important truths made plain in Keswick teaching.
For some, the refrain is, “Tried it—didn’t work.” But, is an apparent application failure an indictment of Keswick theology, a problem with the provision of the indwelling Christ, or something no more complicated than a misunderstanding of truth or a misapplication of surrender?
First, we must take care to understand faith, what it is and how it operates. Like a triangle with three sides, faith involves all three parts of the soul of man (the mind, affections, and will), otherwise it is not true faith. The mind must understand the foundation of truth revealed in God’s Word. The affections must be affected (convinced) by what is understood. Then, the will must engage in God-dependence based on Spirit-convincement of the reality of God’s words. Regarding sanctification by faith, it seems to me that some may attempt to move from mere intellectual understanding to a choice of the will without being convinced by the Spirit of the truth involved. This short-circuits the process because it would not involve real faith. It would be wishful thinking rather than convinced confidence. When this is the case, one might look back and conclude that trying out Keswick just didn’t work. However, when the Holy Spirit illumines truth, His convincement leads to genuine faith—and that always works.
With surrender/faith properly applied, ones give all to Christ, trusting Him to take it. One also takes His all, trusting Christ to give it. A failure to give all or to take all is, therefore, a misapplication that in no wise invalidates accessing the provision of the indwelling Christ by faith. In such a case, maintaining that Keswick doesn’t work merely shifts blame away from the individual. Pinning responsibility on the teaching may be convenient and easy, but masking the truth behind the situation ultimately helps no one.
Satan hates and attacks revival truth! Keswick revival theology threatens his turf. He is the master deceiver, and much of the controversy is stirred up through his deceptions. Remembering that Keswick-type conferences were used to ignite and fuel revival fires in the early twentieth century, it should not be a surprise then to discover that Satan continues attacks on Keswick theology in order to prevent another great wave of revival blessing.
I suggest that you read the Keswick authors and let them speak for themselves. Their writings have been blessed of God to point many to Christ and the Word, and away from self and the world (which gloriously passes the tests of 1 John 4). Where to start? There are many good options:
- G. Campbell Morgan – The Spirit of God
- Evan Hopkins – The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life
- J. Elder Cummings – Through the Eternal Spirit
- Handley G. C. Moule – Practicing the Promises (and his commentary on Romans chapters 6-8)
- F. B. Meyer’s many books
- Andrew Murray’s writings
- W. H. Griffith Thomas’ treatment of chapters 6-8 in his commentary on Romans
- A.J. Gordon’s writings
- A.T. Pierson’s works
Steven Barabas quotes many Keswick authors in his book, So Great Salvation: The History and Message of the Keswick Convention. If you want to understand Keswick and the differences from other theologies, this book clearly demonstrates the contrast.
So, what about the term Keswick? Is it a good word or a bad one? If you mean sanctification by faith thus accessing the victorious life of Christ, that is gloriously good! Personally, I prefer using the label “revival theology,” mindful that the primary issue is, of course, not a label but truth.
The Christian life is not merely a set of doctrines, nor just an array of moral actions. Unsaved moralists have that. The Christian life is a life—a person—and His name is Jesus! Jesus Christ is the Christian Life. Therefore, Jesus Christ is the only one who can live the Christian life. When you were born again, Christ, the Christian life Himself, moved into you to impart His life to you. He lives in you so that you (yet not you, but Christ in you) can live the Christian life. When you got saved, Christ moved in to live His life, not yours! But this is not automatic. As you received Christ by faith, you also must walk by faith one step at a time (Col. 2:6). This is accessing the eternal life of Christ as the abundant life in Christ. This is sanctification by faith. Ultimately, this is revival reality on the individual level.
For those who believe the theology of “Christ in you accessed by faith,” derogatory slurs and full-blown attacks against this truth are not small matters. Jesus is the Victorious Life, the Higher Life, the Deeper Life, the Spirit-filled Life, the Revived Life, the Hidden Life—the Christ-Life! When holiness by faith (the Holy Life accessed by faith) is attacked, the attack is ultimately on the indwelling life of Christ.
I published this article in a shorter form in Revival magazine, Issue Five, 2006. The only significant changes in this present publication are expansions. Since 2006, the term revival theology has taken hold, and my hope was that using this would avoid unnecessary confusion surrounding the word Keswick. However, I have discovered some cases where attacks simply switched targets, aiming no longer at Keswick but at revival theology instead. This indicates that the issue does not center on terminology, but rather on the truth behind the terms. It is becoming more apparent that the real problem for some is “ye do always resist the Holy Spirit,” and the point of tension is “the offense of the cross.” The cross repudiates self in both justification by works and sanctification by works. Furthermore, not only does the cross repudiate the works of the flesh (self-indulgence), it repudiates the work of the flesh (self-dependence). The cross demands “not I, but Christ” (Gal. 2:20). The heart of Keswick theology is accessing this Holy Life of Jesus by faith—nothing less, nothing more.
John Van Gelderen