[Excerpts from Mysticism Crept In Unawares, by Heath Henning]

 

The Keswick/Higher Life movement is often overlooked or unknown of by popular discernment ministries these days that have written on mysticism creeping into churches. In reality, most apologists are influenced by and cannot recognize the theological issues or how mysticism has impacted their own thinking. Thomas Preston Pearce wrote, “The Higher Life movement has influenced the rise of other theologically conservative movements, the founding of a number of institutions, the growth of foreign missions, and the theological perspective of several denominations.”1)Thomas Preston Pearce, “An Examination of the Higher Life Concept of Sanctification with Respect to its Dependence upon the Trichotomous View of Man.” (Thd. diss., Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 1994), p. 1 It is in truth, the great emphasis that Keswick has on holiness, prayer, missions and evangelism which makes it so attractive to fundamentalists.

Jay Wegter’s criticism reached to the roots of Keswick movement: “The inception of the higher life movement is often identified with the publication of William Edwin Boardman’s book, The Higher Christian Life (1858). The book argued that Christ was to be received for sanctification sometime after justification…. Although the book was a great success, there were also those who found it to be based more upon experience than Scripture.”2)Jay Wegter, “A Critique of the Higher Life Movement,” 4/23/2012; http://gospelforlife.org/articles/2012/4/23/a-critique-of-the-higher-life-movement.html; accessed 12/27/16 Indeed, it was a mystical experience that was being interpreted as a second blessing to produce holiness contrast to the biblical doctrine of progressive sanctification. Andrew Naselli assessed their problem, “Keswick proponents so exalted the devotional and mystical aspects of Christian living that they in turn disparaged theology, which is reflected in the literature the movement produced.”3)Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Survey And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Sanctification In The Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 13:1 (Fall 2008), p. 55 J. Robertson McQuilkin admitted this “disparaged theology” when he wrote in defense of the Keswick position of sanctification, “Keswick is not a doctrinal system, much less an organization or denomination, which perhaps explains why participation in it has been so broad. Though leading churchmen and noted scholars led the movement, no Keswick leader has written a treatise on its teaching. Since there is no official theological statement, some outside the movement have misunderstood its teachings, and a broad variety of doctrinal positions have been held and taught by those associated with the name Keswick. Nevertheless, it is proper to speak of a common Keswick message or approach.”4)J. Robertson McQuilkin, in Five Views on Sanctification (ed. Stanley N. Gundry) Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapid, MI: 1987), p. 153

Andrew Naselli, who holds a double doctorates, wrote his first Ph.D. thesis on the Keswick movement after firsthand experience of the negative impact from being raised in a fundamental Baptist church that taught the false theology of Keswick.5)See Andrew Naselli, Let Go and Let God: A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology, Lexham Press, 2010, Preface; accessible at http://andynaselli.com/preface; accessed 12/27/16 “Keswick sermons and writings are characterized by humanly devised multi-step formulas, and their various formulas seldom perfectly agree with each other. The formulas are superficial because they are unrealistic and do not reflect accurate exegesis.”6)Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Survey And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Sanctification In The Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 13:1 (Fall 2008), p. 57 Steven Barabas acknowledges, “Keswick furnishes us with no formal treatise of its doctrine of sin, and no carefully prepared, weighty discourses of a theological nature”7)Steven Barabas So Great a Salvation: The History and Message of the Keswick Convention Wipf & Stock (Eugene, OR: 1958, 2005), p. 51 McQuilkin’s defense of Keswick exalted this opinion of Barabas, stating, “We are indebted to Steven Barabas for providing a definitive treatment of the history and message of the Keswick Convention. Although Barabas himself was not a Keswick leader, his scholarly and warmly positive analysis won the endorsement of Keswick leadership.”8)J. Robertson McQuilkin, in Five Views on Sanctification (ed. Stanley N. Gundry) Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapid, MI: 1987), p. 153 Thomas Ross writes in his Ph.D. dissertation:

 

This lack was abetted by the total lack of formal theological training on the part of many early Keswick leaders. Keswick’s neglect of carefully prepared theology is a definite weakness, although natural for those who accepted Robert P. Smith’s view that for “souls i[n] vital conscious union with Christ . . . the effects of any errors of judgment are neutralized.9)Thomas Ross, “Excursus XI:  An Analysis and Critique of Keswick Theology as Set Forth Particularly In So Great Salvation:  The History and Message of the Keswick Convention, by Steven Barabas,” (Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016), p. 43-44; citing Robert Smith, Pg.  186, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 187; accessible at http://46bza31pal0t21oxbq212zea.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/part-18-Analysis-and-Critique-of-Keswick-Theology-Barabas.pdf; accessed 12/27/16

 

Robert Pearsall Smith’s idea of the soul in conscious union with Christ is essentially a mystical altered state of consciousness which should be expected when one is negligent of proper theology and sound doctrine. McQuilkin guards the Keswick message, saying, “…Keswick theology overall is basically mainstream Protestant theology; thus, it has been possible for the leadership to be drawn from virtually all major streams of theological thought.”10)J. Robertson McQuilkin, in Five Views on Sanctification (ed. Stanley N. Gundry) Zondervan Publishing House (Grand Rapid, MI: 1987), p. 154 However, it is the lack of theology that allows this ecumenical bond, and a shared mystical experience that allows them to ignore the different theological contentions that should arise. Is McQuilkin accurate when calling Keswick “mainstream Protestant theology”? Thomas Ross writes:

 

On the other hand, the problems in the Keswick theology are severe. Because of its corrupt roots, Keswick errs seriously in its ecumenical tendencies, theological shallowness or even incomprehensibility, neglect of the role of the Word of God in sanctification, shallow views of sin and perfectionism, support of some tenants of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, improper divorce of justification and sanctification, confusion about the nature of saving repentance, denial that God’s sanctifying grace always frees Christians from bondage to sin and changes them, failure to warn strongly about the possibility of those who are professedly Christians being unregenerate, support for an unbiblical pneumatology, belief in the continuation of the sign gifts, maintainance of significant exegetical errors, distortion of the positions and critiques of opponents of the errors of Keswick, misrepresentation of the nature of faith in sanctification, support for a kind of Quietism, and denial that God actually renews the nature of the believer to make him more personally holy. Keswick theology differs in important ways from the Biblical doctrine of sanctification. It should be rejected.11)Thomas Ross, “Excursus XI:  An Analysis and Critique of Keswick Theology as Set Forth Particularly In So Great Salvation:  The History and Message of the Keswick Convention, by Steven Barabas,” (Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016), p. 110; accessible at http://46bza31pal0t21oxbq212zea.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/part-18-Analysis-and-Critique-of-Keswick-Theology-Barabas.pdf; accessed 12/27/16

Amy Carmichael became known as a “Keswick Missionary.”12)Sam Wellman, Amy Carmichael: A Life Abandoned to God, Barbour Publishing (Uhrichsville, OH: 1998), p.58 “The first missionary whom the Keswick Convention supported was Amy Carmichael, the adopted daughter of Robert Wilson.”13)Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Survey And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Sanctification In The Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 13:1 (Fall 2008), p. 24 Amy Carmichael was introduced to the Keswick meetings in 1875. One of her biographer explains what she discovered there:

 

All discussions of forming a new sect were forbidden. Discussions of doctrine were discouraged, yet an informal “Keswick” doctrine had developed over the ten years since then.14)Sam Wellman, Amy Carmichael: A Life Abandoned to God, Barbour Publishing (Uhrichsville, OH: 1998), p. 29

 

One of Carmichael’s biographers stated, “As her mystical experiences increased, so did her humility.”15)Sam Wellman, Amy Carmichael: A Life Abandoned to God, Barbour Publishing (Uhrichsville, OH: 1998), p. 40 It is further reported:

 

She had a stable of favorite authors that she studied. Some were lesser known, like Brother Lawrence and Samuel Rutherford…. Others she read were widely known, like Thomas a Kempis and John Bunyan…. It was no surprise that she was attracted to the writings of the “English Mystics”—a medieval group that included Raymond Lully, Lady Julian or Norwich, and Richard Rolle.16)Sam Wellman, Amy Carmichael: A Life Abandoned to God, Barbour Publishing (Uhrichsville, OH: 1998), p. 45-46

 Contemporary Keswick teachers have these same mystical influences, either directly or indirectly through reading the early Keswick authors made popular primarily through devotional literature which allows such mystical expression to be read with less guard.

Steven Barabas identified Bishop Handley Moule as the greatest scholar to adopt Keswick theology.17)Steven Barabas, So Great a Salvation: The History and Message of the Keswick Convention Wipf & Stock (Eugene, OR: 1958, 2005), p. 175 Dr. Moule expresses a mystical experience that seems to parallel the Kundalini awakening: “At my interview, he laid his hands on my head, and gave me his solemn blessing for the work. I distinctly felt that it was something very real. This was not a matter of faith, but a distinct physical experience, as definite as an electrical shock. It was not like an electric shock, but something both spiritual and physical which I cannot properly describe. . . . It had results, for both in my parish, and where I was Bishop’s Messenger, the Mission was much more successful than it usually was”18)Handley Carr Glyn Moule, Bishop of Durham: A Biography, John B. Harford & Frederick C. Macdonald, pgs. 222-223; as cited by Thomas Ross, “Excursus XI:  An Analysis and Critique of Keswick Theology as Set Forth Particularly In So Great Salvation:  The History and Message of the Keswick Convention, by Steven Barabas,” (Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016), p. 110; accessible at http://46bza31pal0t21oxbq212zea.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/part-18-Analysis-and-Critique-of-Keswick-Theology-Barabas.pdf; accessed 12/27/16 If this was their greatest theological scholar, it is no surprise that Jay Wegter can say, “Higher Life teaching overemphasizes experience and mysticism.”19)Jay Wegter, “A Critique of the Higher Life Movement,” 4/23/2012; http://gospelforlife.org/articles/2012/4/23/a-critique-of-the-higher-life-movement.html; accessed 12/27/16  Robert Pearsall Smith and his wife Hannah Whitall Smith were the two major figures in the early development of the Keswick movement. The Smith’s “higher life meetings and conferences did much to set the pattern for the Keswick Movement. Their emphasis arose as the result of their own entry into deeper spiritual experiences.”20)W. Ralph Thompson, “An Appraisal of the Keswick and Wesleyan Comtemporary Positions” Wesleyan Theological Journal, vol. 1 no. 1 (Spring 1966), p. 12 Thomas Ross wrote,

there were also very significant background influences of Roman Catholic mystics and heretics such as the monks “Thomas á Kempis [and] Brother Lawrence,” and especially the Catholic mystical quietist “Madame Guyon.” Catholics and Quakers were essential theological background for the rise for the rise of the Keswick movement21)Thomas Ross, “Excursus XI:  An Analysis and Critique of Keswick Theology as Set Forth Particularly In So Great Salvation:  The History and Message of the Keswick Convention, by Steven Barabas,” (Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016), p. 2; accessible at http://46bza31pal0t21oxbq212zea.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/part-18-Analysis-and-Critique-of-Keswick-Theology-Barabas.pdf; accessed 12/27/16

Paul King concurred, “Quiteism stressed passive faith, as did mystics and also some in the Keswick holiness movement who were influenced by these earlier movements.”22)Paul L. King, Only Believe: Examining the Origin and Development of Classic and Contemporary Word of Faith Theologies, Word & Spirit Press (Tulsa, Oklahoma: 2008), p. 103 The Smith’s had much in common with the mystical expression of Norman Vincent Peale with his positive thinking and the contemporary Word-Faith teachers of positive confession.

 

[Hannah Whitall] Smith was influenced by Guyon to exercise positive attitude and confession, as well as trusting the Lord passively, saying, “Thy will be done.” She testified, “I was much helped, too, by a saying of Madam Guyon’s, that she had learned to be thankful for every snub and mortification, because she had found that they helped to advance her in the spiritual life; and in time I learned something of the same lesson.” Smith also refers to a collection of Guyon’s and Fenelon’s writtings called Spiritual Progress, saying, “This book was very dear to me.”23)Paul L. King, Only Believe: Examining the Origin and Development of Classic and Contemporary Word of Faith Theologies, Word & Spirit Press (Tulsa, Oklahoma: 2008), p. 49; citing Hannah Whitall Smith, The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It (New York: Garland Publishers, [1903] 1985), p. 164; Hannah Whitall Smith, The God of All comfort (New Kensington, Penn.: Whitaker, 1984), p. 174

 

Interestingly, the scholars currently debating the origins of the Word-Faith movement are discussing whether these false doctrines originated from the Keswick teachers or occult based metaphysical cults such as New Thought. Paul King says, “[D. R.] McConnel’s error was in not recognizing the parallels and similarities between New Thought (which was unorthodox and more secular) and Keswick/Higher Life teaching (which maintained evangelical orthodoxy).”24)Paul L. King, Only Believe: Examining the Origin and Development of Classic and Contemporary Word of Faith Theologies, Word & Spirit Press (Tulsa, Oklahoma: 2008), p. 65 Paul King is writing from a position to defend the Word-Faith movement, therefore he is desiring to call Keswick orthodox while most scholars would not. Another Pentecostal author discussing Word-Faith doctrines and origins stated, “[Dale] Simmons may be underplaying the difference between New Thought and Higher Life, as [Robert] Bowman claims.”25)William P. Atkinson, The ‘Spiritual Death’ of Jesus: A Pentecostal Investigation, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden (the Netherlands), 2012, p. 53 Bowman’s claim about Simmons is that he “rightly emphasizes Kenyon’s debt to the evangelical faith-cure tradition but sees more commonality between that tradition and the metaphysical religions than I would.”26)Robert M. Bowman Jr., The Word-Faith Controversy: Understanding the Health and Wealth Gospel, Baker Books (Grand Rapids, MI: 2001), p. 243 So Bowman views Keswick with more orthodoxy than most would, yet Pentecostal author William Atkinson understands “New Thought was not in certain aspects especially different from the Keswick and Higher Life movements.”27)William P. Atkinson, The ‘Spiritual Death’ of Jesus: A Pentecostal Investigation, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden (the Netherlands), 2012, p. 52 The discussion about the relation between Keswick and Word-Faith will be expanded upon in a later volume of this series.

Naselli observed, “The higher life movement began with the publication of William E. Boardman’s immensely popular and influential The Higher Christian Life in 1858 and dissolved with Robert Pearsall Smith’s removal from public ministry in 1875. It was transdenominational and not primarily Methodist, and it combined emphases from Wesleyan, Methodist, and Oberlin perfectionism, modifying their doctrine of sanctification with terminology that did not offend non-Methodists.”28)Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Survey And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Sanctification In The Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 13:1 (Fall 2008), p. 21 It was thus able to evolve into the Keswick movement impacting Christendom as an ecumenical movement, which makes it absolutely counterintuitive when fundamentalism (which is emphatically separatist) to be influenced by Keswick. Naselli referred to “the victorious life movement, which was the American version of the Keswick movement.”29)Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Survey And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Sanctification In The Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 13:1 (Fall 2008), p. 25 “Many of the speakers at American Keswick conferences have been prominent evangelical leaders. These include, C. I. Scofield, A. W. Tozer, Alan Redpath, Stephen Olford, Major Ian Thomas, Ruth Paxson, Harry Ironside, Vance Havner, Theodore Epp, Lewis Sperry Chafer, James O. Buswell III, John Walvord, Kenneth Wuest, Charles Feinberg, Arthur Glasser, L. E. Maxwell and Harold J. Ockenga.”30)Jay Wegter, “A Critique of the Higher Life Movement,” 4/23/2012; http://gospelforlife.org/articles/2012/4/23/a-critique-of-the-higher-life-movement.html; accessed 12/27/16

George Marsden spoke of the Scofield Bible which “more or less canonized Keswick teachings,”31)George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: 1870–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 79; as cited Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Survey And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Sanctification In The Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 13:1 (Fall 2008), p 27 and Naselli noted, “Moody Bible Institute’s first three leaders enthusiastically broadcasted elements of Keswick theology.”32)Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Survey And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Sanctification In The Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 13:1 (Fall 2008),  p. 26 Those three men were: Moody, Torrey, and Grey. Furthermore, “DTS [Dallas Theological Seminary] is probably the most influential factor for the prevalence of a Keswick-like view of sanctification in modern fundamentalism and evangelicalism.”33)Andrew David Naselli, “Keswick Theology: A Survey And Analysis Of The Doctrine Of Sanctification In The Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 13:1 (Fall 2008), p. 27 Thomas Ross reported on how the ecumenical tendency of Keswick was responsible for deteriorating the doctrine of the local church:

 

The piety of Keswick is such that “the dividing-lines between church and church are forgotten.”34)Footnote #201 cited as Pg. 177, pg. 11, Evan Harry Hopkins:  A Memoir, Alexander Smellie Indeed, Keswick founder Canon Harford-Battersby’s goal was “the Re-union of the Churches . . . bringing together on a common basis members of all Christian churches,”35)Footnote #202 cited as Pg. 221, Memoir of T. D. Harford-Battersby, Harford a goal which shall be fulfilled in the one-world religious system centered in Rome and described by the Apostle John as “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Revelation 17:5). Keswick follows the pattern of Robert and Hannah Smith’s “preaching[,] [which] was not sectarian; they led no exodus from any of the Churches, but taught only the need for the Higher Life.”36)Footnote #203 cited as Pg. 13, Religious Fanaticism, Strachey Robert Smith “presented himself as an unattached teacher, who would fain serve all denominations alike.”37)Footnote #204 cited as “The Higher Life Movement,” Chapter 4 in Perfectionism, vol. 2, B. B. Warfield He would not visit a city and proclaim the Higher Life without broad and ecumenical support.38)Footnote #205 cited as Pg. 432, pg.  12, Record  of  the Convention  for  the Promotion  of  Scriptural  Holiness  Held  at Brighton, May 29thto June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875 39)Thomas Ross, “Excursus XI:  An Analysis and Critique of Keswick Theology as Set Forth Particularly In So Great Salvation:  The History and Message of the Keswick Convention, by Steven Barabas,” (Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016), p. 43-44; accessible at http://46bza31pal0t21oxbq212zea.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/part-18-Analysis-and-Critique-of-Keswick-Theology-Barabas.pdf; accessed 12/27/16

 

This broad ecumenicism is bound together by exalting mysticism and eradicate biblical doctrines.

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