** From my old xanga blog posted in June, 2005. Edited in its present form in April 2007. Temporarily removed from May 2007 to August 2007.
These thoughts have been whirling around in my head for several weeks.
In my Moody seminar, we discussed the Keswick “movement.” I think we can call it a movement. It started as a camp in the mid-nineteenth-century in Keswick in the UK, a lake-front resort town. The kind of Christianity described and promoted in this camp resonated with D.L. Moody and contributed to his success in the British revivals there in 1873-1875. When Moody returned to the US for his American revivals, he had already digested this Keswick doctrine and became its chief American importer.If you’ve heard yourself repeating “Let go and let God.” you’re citing Keswick. If you’ve ever sung, “Oh, to be Nothing” or “I Surrender All.” you’re singing Keswick songs. If you’ve been vexed by the necessity for continuous consecrations, if you’ve heard about the “second blessing,” if you’ve heard sermons on “the victorious life,” if you’ve ever been motivated to “dedicate” your life to Christ, if you’ve ever participated in Campus Crusade, that’s a Keswick influence (Marsden 78).
Keswickian proponents try to negotiate among a Calvinist “total depravity,” a Wesleyan “eradication” or “perfection,” and a Pentecostal “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” George Marsden explains it as follows: “as long as Christ dwelt in the heart a Christian could be free from committing any known sin. There was therefore no excuse for tolerating any known vice, appetite, or sinful habit” (78). Marsden gives a lengthy description of Keswick’s influence on contemporary fundamentalism in his now classic, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelism, 1870-1925. Their popular metaphor is that “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 natral gravity of our sin. While Christ fills ours 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” (78). Marsden labels Keswick,
Such is the history, but M. James Sawyer lays out the Keswick theology. For the Keswickian there are two types of Christian: carnal and normal. For the normal Christian, the self is dethroned, yielded, absent. Any hint of self-identity, however, is carnal. Sin, in the Keswickian perspective, is overwhelmingly powerful. And while it can never be eradicated, it must be continually thwarted. Full surrender is the only solution; anything less is willful rebellion. What this comes down to is complete capitulation of anything human or anything personal. The self is useless. It has no rights, no personality, and no humanity.
Sawyer also points out the formulaic quality to the Keswick mindset. If you hear “there are just five simple steps to a successful Christian walk,” beware! This simplicity is only possible with an eradication of any difficult feelings. For the Keswickian, a strong faith is proven in positive “feelings.” Negative or strong feelings demonstrate self-rule and are, thus, to be avoided (read: denied) at all cost.
Keswick teaching assumes a Gnostic kind of dualism-the good angel and the bad devil sitting on the shoulders of every believer, ready to duke it out for ultimate control. When the believer remains completely passive, then the “good” side may take over. But any sign of will is certain doom.
But the fact of the matter is, as Sawyer points out, there is no metaphor of “control” in the New Testament. The Good Shepherd does lord not over His sheep. The husband does not strive to control his wife. Christ does not boss the church. Instead, there’s a metaphor of “leading.” “In fact, a result of the Spirit’s ministry on our lives is self-control, this would hardly seem possible if the regenerate self were still totally evil as Keswick claims,” Sawyer reminds his readers.
Sawyer’s principle critique is that Keswick is merely a kind of Holiness teaching that leads to introspection, elitism, and simplistic spirituality. By redefining sin from missing the mark (something we all do by our nature) to stubborn rebellion (something we choose to do by our will), they move the legalism from the objective sphere to the subjective. It is then even more impossible to be a good Christian because the standard is fuzzy and super-human.
So much for Sawyer and the 19th-century. In the drama of Keswick, believers are very much the actors, holding the reigns, controlling the outcome. They are acting upon God who is merely the scene. They seem to view the Christian walk as a tightrope that we must constantly balance all our weight upon. One little slip to the left or the right, one little glimpse down below, and we’re doomed.
The thing that’s so obnoxious to me is that I hear this Keswickian struggle at every turn. From a popular writer and speaker and counselor:
“Our greatest danger is always the flesh.”
“Dealing with such topics as learning to exercise self-restraint, recognizing reality, walking in wisdom, and setting a godly example, Changed Into His Image has been the key for thousands of believers to unlock the mysteries of overcoming and fruitful living.”
From an ever-present tract:
“Not far down this road you meet the second: the Cross of Dedication. It is you, not Christ, who must hang upon this cross. It is a cross of death to self. As a Believer, you realize this truth and place yourself upon this cross, believing that by dying to self you will be spiritually alive to serve Jesus Christ. Your life is saved and your works of faith will produce rewards in Heaven.”
But I hear it in conversations too. From my friend who is grieving the loss of her child and won’t admit her sadness because it doesn’t seem Christian. From a harsh counselor who insists that depression is just a sin problem and taking antidepressants indicates a weak Christian commitment. From an acquaintance who denies her vulnerability but pitifully and futilely shines the veneer of her perfect Christian life. From a preacher who insists that any whiff of self-esteem is ungodly. From a colleague who refuses to hear any appeals to our rights as citizens because we have no rights. From a friend’s cutesy knick-knack that quips “there are two choices on the shelf, pleasing God and pleasing self.” From a punitive culture that insists upon controlling rather than leading, dismissing rather than reflecting, inflicting pain rather than teaching. From a trenchant capitalism that perpetuates the idea that just one more product wil perfect our boring love lives, our overweight bodies, and our jammed careers.
I was discussing this with a seasoned professor that I admire who’s writing a book to counteract our culture’s avoidance of strong feelings. He reminded me that Dr. Bob, Sr. founded BJU in defiance of the Bible Institute movement and Keswick teaching. He saw the Christian walk as less a mysterious balance and more a plain common sense. And yet it has creeped in. Maybe because it sells so well.
The Christian walk is not a punitive balance on a tenuous tight-rope. It’s more like a walk in a state park, with God’s boundaries clearly delineated, through which we can wander fairly freely under His leading, enjoying the valleys and the hilltops, but always safe in His care. He is always sovereign, having created our personalities for His pleasure. We are human, and being human isn’t a sin. Trying to be super-human is.