Last week, we discussed the historical background and theology of Keswick. In our day, the orthodoxy that Keswick was once accorded has been replaced in many minds because of misunderstandings and a wealth of misinformation. Several critical charges have been leveled against it, but an examination of the supposed errors will show the inaccuracy of the accusations.
Some have argued that Keswick promotes passivity, probably because the theology emphasizes resting in Christ. However, this resting is not to be understood as encouragement to sit back and do nothing. It is a call to trust to obey. It is obedient faith, and, therefore, believing obedience. Resting in Jesus involves the due diligence of faith-filled (resting) obedience (labor) as stated by the Apostle, “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” This is not mere “labour,” but “labour” that is trusting in “his working.” The emphasis is not idle passivity, but active cooperation—the cooperation of surrendering to the Spirit’s leadership and depending on His enablement. This is walking in the Spirit, which obviously involves steps, not passivity. But the steps are steps of faith, not the mere motions of flesh-dependent activity. This is what brings “rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29).
Keswick confronts a performance-based sanctification or “struggle theology” that advocates flesh-dependence to live the Christian life. Sanctification by works is just as wrong as justification by works (Gal. 3:1-3). You are not justified by faith and then sanctified through struggle. Sanctification, like justification, is by faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb.11:6). Obviously, there are struggles in life, but flesh-dependence for frustrated Christian living is an unnecessary struggle. Faith for victory means you are depending on the victorious life of Christ to enable you to obey. It is not a matter of you trying to live the Christian life (engaging in hollow motions); it is trusting the indwelling Christ to enable you for necessary steps of obedience (making for empowered motions). Victory without trying does not mean victory from doing nothing. It is victory with trusting. True faith is not an inward self-focus, but rather, a focus on Christ, the true object of faith, that He might express His very life through your life. Because an expression of His life is necessarily an active, obedient walk, the accusation of Keswick theology promoting passivity is simply not accurate.
Keswick has also been branded as too subjective, most likely due to the emphasis placed on the reality of the Holy Spirit. However, Keswick theology emphasizes the subjective reality of the Spirit based on the objective boundaries of the Word. The emphasis is by no means the Spirit without the Word, nor is it the Word without the Spirit. Rather, it is the Word and the Spirit. The Spirit without the Word is delusion leading to strange fire; the Word without the Spirit is deadness resulting in no fire. But the Word and the Spirit is dynamic and leads to true Holy Spirit fire.
Interestingly, Robert Thomas rightly deals with the dangerous subjectivism of evangelicals in his book Evangelical Hermeneutics. He names many in the evangelical world whom he considers guilty of true subjectivism, but, when highlighting a proper, biblical handling of matters, he regularly quotes J. Robertson McQuilken—author of several helpful books and the Keswick contributor to Stanley N. Gundry’s compilation, Five Views of Sanctification. The teaching of Keswick stresses the subjective reality of the Holy Spirit based on the Word and not the subjectivism that forsakes a scriptural foundation. Thus, to accuse Keswick of subjectivism reveals an inaccurate understanding of Keswick teaching.
Keswick theology is sometimes equated with second blessing theology. This, however, shows great ignorance of both true second blessing theology and Keswick.
Second blessing theology speaks of receiving a once-for-all second blessing which puts one on a new stage, never to fall back to one’s former stage. Keswick speaks of alternating between two conditions, walking in the flesh and walking in the Spirit, and does not promote any once-for-all shift. Second blessing theology demands a “second” event. Keswick insists you were given the whole package at salvation and can access the whole blessing immediately. (Note that while some enjoy immediate access to the blessing in its entirety, others have had access deferred due to a lack of understanding.) Receiving something not previously possessed is at the heart of second blessing theology. Keswick teaches that you, by faith, access your first blessing!
For one who has yet to access the provision of the indwelling Christ (or who hasn’t done so for quite some time), the point of accessing His provision may seem like a second blessing, though technically it is not. This explains why some early Keswick writers described matters using terms like second blessing. It has proven an unfortunate choice of words that confuses matters today, but clearly these authors sought only to illustrate the situation of believers coming to understand the wealth of their provision. They did not intend to support a second blessing view at odds with their own. What Keswick describes is simply the possibility of being re-vived. For a more extensive treatment of this phrase, please refer to a previous article, Second Blessing or Second Rest.
I suppose this charge comes because Keswick theology emphasizes the victorious life of Christ. The provision for victory is perfect. It must be—His name is Jesus! But Keswick makes clear that we still live in the “body of sin” (Rom. 6:6). The focus of Keswick is not that you cannot sin, but that you are able not to sin because of the indwelling Christ. Keswick makes clear that, tragically, Christians sin. Yet it teaches that our focus should not be on the defeat, but rather on victory in Christ by faith. The provision of the indwelling Christ is perfect, but our consistent access of that provision is sadly imperfect. To accuse Keswick theology of sinless perfectionism is simply not being honest with the facts of Keswick teaching. The blog article Sinless Perfection versus Sinless Provision offers more information on this point.
Let Go and Let God
Sadly, this phraseology has had various aberrant concepts attached to it in recent decades, and therefore, I personally do not use the phrase. However, its original usage in the early Keswick era was simply to “let go” of self-will and self-dependence, and “let God” by yielding to God’s will in God-dependence. This is faith. It represents the words of the Lord Jesus, “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9:24). While the aberrations should be refuted, it is sad that the original God-centered and ultimately Christ-centered meaning of the phrase is denigrated by some as well. More on this matter is available in another article, Let Go and Let God.
Next week, we will conclude the series, examining some reasons for the inaccurate accusations.
John Van Gelderen