Jul

22

2010

Kevin DeYoung|5:33 am CT

Andy Naselli on Hannah Whitall Smith’s Unhappy Life

GUEST POST from Andy Naselli

A husband-wife team in the early 1870s immediately preceded the early Keswick movement: Robert Pearsall Smith (1827–98) and Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911).

Hannah is most famous for her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. Her book’s essential message is Keswick theology: “entire surrender” or “entire abandonment” (i.e., “let go”) and “absolute faith” (i.e., “let God”).

But what most people don’t know is that she and her husband had anything but “happy” lives. The Smith family experienced a series of sad events, including the following:

  1. At the height of his success as a higher life revivalist, Robert fell doctrinally and morally, nearly destroying the entire Keswick movement.
  2. Robert and Hannah’s deteriorating marriage declined even further. Hannah’s intense feminism and independence, Robert’s manic-depressive nature, and Robert’s persistence in unrepentant adultery all contributed to a very unhappy marriage.
  3. Robert apostatized and became an agnostic.
  4. Hannah apostatized. She lost interest in the higher life, rejoined the Quakers in 1886, and embraced universalism and religious pluralism.

Her book, nevertheless, continues to sell as a “classic” in various evangelical circles.

Tidbit: My wife, Jennifer Joy (Becker) Naselli, is related to Hannah Whitall Smith through both the Whitall and Mickle lines. Jenni is Hannah’s second cousin six generations removed.

For further reading:

  1. Barbara Strachey, Remarkable Relations: The Story of the Pearsall Smith Women (New York: Universe, 1980).
  2. Marie Henry, The Secret Life of Hannah Whitall Smith (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1984).
  3. Melvin E. Dieter, “Smith, Hannah Whitall and Robert Pearsall,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals (ed. Timothy Larsen, David William Bebbington, and Mark Allan Noll; Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 616–18.
  4. Mary Agnes Rittenhouse Maddox, “‘Jesus Saves Me Now’: Sanctification in the Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith” (PhD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003).
  5. Andrew David Naselli, Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010). See esp. pp. 102–16.

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