Andy Naselli on Why “Let Go and Let God” Is a Bad Idea
Andy Naselli is a smart dude. He has two Ph.D’s and currently serves as D.A. Carson’s research assistant. His first Ph.D. was on the Keswick theology of sanctification. His dissertation is now available through Logos. I commend it to you. Here’s the blurb I wrote.
As a pastor, I don’t get asked to read many dissertations. I can’t say I was pining for more. I have enough to read without having to slog through a bazillion footnotes on the role of dyslexic cobblers on the development of pre-industrial French mercantilism. But alas, my suspicions of nascent scholarship were born of ignorance. At least Andy Naselli proved them wrong in a big way on this occasion. Andy’s work on Keswick theology is first-rate. I knew it would be. But I didn’t know it would be so interesting . . . and edifying . . . and applicable . . . and easy to read. This is a model of scholarship serving the church. I’ve already incorporated his analysis of Keswick’s history and his tight theological work on sanctification into my preaching. I enjoyed this book. I learned from this book. I was able to help my congregation by reading this book. I couldn’t ask for more from a few hundred pages and a few thousand footnotes.
Many evangelicals may only be vaguely familiar with traditional Keswick theology. So I asked Andy a few questions about it. He’s condensed several years of research and several hundreds of pages of writing into 1000 words, so I encourage you to take five minutes and benefit from Andy’s expertise.
1. Give us a brief history of the Keswick movement.
Keswick (pronounced KEH-zick) is a small town in the scenic Lake District of northwest England. Since 1875, it has hosted a week-long meeting in July for the Keswick Convention. In my book, “the early Keswick movement” refers to a movement from 1875 to 1920 that was
- conservatively evangelical;
- based on and distinguished by the belief that the majority of Christians are living in defeat and that the secret to living the victorious Christian life is consecration followed by Spirit-filling; and
- stimulated by annual conventions at Keswick, England, and literature by its propagators.
So “Keswick theology” (as I use the term) refers to the view of sanctification shared by the prominent propagators of the early Keswick movement.
Beginning in the 1920s, the Keswick Convention’s view of sanctification began to shift from the view promoted by the leaders of the early convention. William Graham Scroggie (1877–1958) led that transformation to a view of sanctification closer to the Reformed view. Today its speakers include people like D. A. Carson and Sinclair Ferguson, whose views on the Christian life differ significantly from the Keswick Convention’s first generation.
2. Who were some of the significant people involved with Keswick, both those who influenced it and those influenced by it?
People who influenced Keswick theology:
- John Wesley, John Fletcher, and Adam Clarke (Wesleyan perfectionism)
- Phoebe Palmer and camp meetings (Methodist perfectionism)
- Charles Finney and Asa Mahan (Oberlin perfectionism)
- W. E. Boardman, Robert Pearsall Smith, and Hannah Whitall Smith (the higher life movement)
Significant proponents of Keswick theology:
- T. D. Harford-Battersby and Robert Wilson (Keswick’s founders)
- J. Elder Cumming (Keswick’s exemplar)
- Evan H. Hopkins (Keswick’s formative theologian)
- H. W. Webb-Peploe (Keswick’s orator)
- H. C. G. Moule (Keswick’s scholar and best theologian)
- F. B. Meyer (Keswick’s international ambassador)
- Charles A. Fox (Keswick’s poet)
- Andrew Murray (Keswick’s foremost devotional author)
- J. Hudson Taylor and Amy Carmichael (Keswick’s foremost missionaries)
- Frances Havergal (Keswick’s hymnist)
- A. T. Pierson (Keswick’s American ambassador)
- W. H. Griffith Thomas, Charles G. Trumbull, and Robert C. McQuilkin (Keswick’s leaders of the victorious life movement)
People who were influenced by Keswick theology:
- A. B. Simpson (Christian and Missionary Alliance)
- D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, James M. Gray (Moody Bible Institute)
- Lewis S. Chafer, John F. Walvoord, Charles C. Ryrie (Dallas Theological Seminary)
3. I really like how you explain Keswick theology by going through a typical Keswick conference. Would you explain the conference and theology for us?
I survey Keswick theology in five parts corresponding to the five days of a typical week at an early Keswick Convention. The convention viewed itself as “a spiritual clinic.”
- Day one focused on sin (the diagnosis). Keswick views sin as an indwelling tendency or law that can be counteracted but never eradicated. When the Holy Spirit counteracts the believer’s sinful nature, he can live without “known sin.”
- Day two focused on God’s provision for victorious Christian living (the cure). This cure is based on the fundamental proposition that there are two categories of Christians: (1) those who have been justified but have not experienced a crisis of sanctification and (2) those who have been justified and have experienced a crisis of sanctification. According to Keswick, the problem is that wrong views on sanctification result in defeat (category 1), and the solution is that sanctification by faith results in victory (category 2).
- Day three focused on consecration (the crisis for the cure). This consecration involves two steps: surrender (“let go”) and faith (“let God”).
- Day four focused on Spirit-filling (the prescription). Keswick proponents give various multiple-step lists of the conditions and results of Spirit-filling.
- Day five focused on powerful Christian service (the mission).
4. What are the chief problems with the Keswick view of sanctification?
My book lists fifteen negative theological critiques of Keswick theology. I’ll mention just seven:
- Disjunction: It creates two categories of Christians. This is the fundamental, linchpin issue.
- Perfectionism: It portrays a shallow and incomplete view of sin in the Christian life.
- Quietism: It tends to emphasize passivity, not activity.
- Pelagianism: It tends to portray the Christian’s free will as autonomously starting and stopping sanctification.
- Methodology: It tends to use superficial formulas for instantaneous sanctification.
- Impossibility: It tends to result in disillusionment and frustration for the “have-nots.”
- Spin: It tends to misinterpret personal experiences.
5. Where do we still see Keswick’s influence today? Is their’s a common error that resurfaces often in the church? If so, what makes its so attractive?
Keswick’s influence permeates modern evangelicalism to various degrees, but since it’s relatively recent in church history, I wouldn’t say that it resurfaces often.
Perhaps my experience with Keswick theology will resonate with some others and illustrate one way that Keswick’s influence continues today. When I shared my Christian “testimony” in my high school and early college years, I would say something like this: “I was saved when I was eight years old, and I surrendered to Christ when I was thirteen.” By “saved,” I meant that Jesus became my Savior and that I became a Christian. By “surrendered,” I meant that I finally gave full control of my life to Jesus as my Master and yielded to do whatever he wanted me to do.
Most of the Christians I knew—especially preachers—used those categories, so I did, too. Young people in my youth groups or at summer camp commonly told their story the same way: “I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was eight years old, and I accepted Christ as my Lord when I was thirteen.” That was the standard God-talk lingo. There were always two steps: first you get saved, and then you get serious. Too many Christians were saved but not serious. They were living a defeated life rather than a victorious life, a lower life rather than a higher life, a shallow life rather than a deeper life, a fruitless life rather than a more abundant life. They were “carnal,” not “spiritual.” They experienced the first blessing but still needed the second blessing. Jesus was their Savior, but he still wasn’t their Master. So preachers often urged them to make Jesus their Master or “dedicate” themselves through surrender and faith (i.e., “let go and let God”).
Second-blessing theology is pervasive because countless people have propagated it in so many ways, especially in sermons and devotional writings. It is appealing because Christians struggle with sin and want to be victorious in that struggle—now. Second-blessing theology offers a quick fix to this struggle, and its shortcut to instant victory appeals to genuine longings for holiness. When I was thinking of a title for my book, one of the options I came up with was a parody of the book you wrote with a thirty-five word title:
Let Go and Let God? Examining a Popular View of Christian Living: or, Why a Quick Fix to Your Struggle with Sin Will Not Result in a Victorious Life, Higher Life, Deeper Life, More Abundant Life, or Anything Other Than a Misguided, Frustrated, Disillusioned, and/or Destroyed Life.
6. What projects are you currently working on, either for yourself or for Dr. Carson?
I’m co-editing two books (one on evangelicalism and the other on the extent of the atonement) and working on a couple of others along with some forthcoming articles.
My most recent project is a chapter I’m coauthoring with Doug Moo called “The Problem of the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament” for The Scripture Project: The Bible and Biblical Authority in the New Millennium (ed. D. A. Carson; 2 vols.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming in c. 2012). The nearly forty authors plan to meet together for four days later this month to discuss each other’s chapters, so I’m looking forward to that. Other authors include John Woodbridge, P. J. Williams, Simon Gathercole, Graham Cole, Peter Jensen, Henri Blocher, Craig Blomberg, Kevin Vanhoozer, Paul Helm, and Dan Doriani.
Don Carson always seems to have about a dozen books in the queue, and I help proof them at various stages of the publication process. The next two manuscripts I see should be Evangelicalism: What Is It and Is It Worth Keeping? and The Intolerance of Tolerance.