Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology

Naselli, Andrew David. Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010. 459 pp. $24.95. Logos.com

Dr. Andrew Naselli, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary, helpfully dissects the movement known as Keswick theology. The conventions held in Keswick, England starting in 1875 and continuing to this day have promoted a unique perspective on sanctification. Taking the name from its progenitor, Keswick sanctification claims to be the key to spiritual empowerment in the Christian life. In this text, Naselli thoughtfully and painstakingly examines the claims of Keswick with careful attention to its key figures and theological assertions. By providing a critical, yet irenic, analysis of this movement which has become the warp and woof of evangelical teaching on sanctification, Naselli gifs the church with a work which should top the list of any theology course on the subject.

Chapter one presents an overview of the text including a definition of necessary terms (44f), previous research (49ff), and an outline of his procedure and approach (73f). Chapter two gives readers a historical survey of the movement and its early advocates. This includes movements that influenced and preceded Keswick as well as individuals and organizations responsible for its promulgation.  Chapter three captures the theological essence of Keswick sanctification, limiting the theological scope to its early teachings (1875-1920) in order to demonstrate the concrete foundation that subsequent Keswick teachers built upon. Chapter four puts the pieces together to offer a balanced critique of the Keswick view of sanctification. Chapter five summarizes the research and provides a conclusion. Naselli adds a handful of relevant Greek word studies and charts to help fill in the gaps.

Naselli states the thesis of this text clearly: Keswick sanctification is “theologically erroneous” (43). By analyzing this unique theological stream, Naselli demonstrates that Keswick sanctification finds its roots in Wesleyan Perfectionism and the Holiness Movement, blending elements of both with a modified Reformed view (222). He also highlights the suspect theological leanings of Keswick’s early promoters. Robert and Hannah Smith, former Quakers later influenced by Methodism, taught a blend of mysticism and emotionalism (104). Such teaching, promoted by Hannah Smith’s still popular The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, encouraged believers to “let go and let God” by surrendering all to him thus providing the possibility of freedom from the “power and dominion of sin” (106). Hannah and early Keswick teachers divorced the acts of justification and sanctification thereby creating two groups of Christians, the “carnal” and the “spiritual” (176ff).

Naselli helps readers to think about the theological implications of this teaching on sanctification. He also gives credit where credit is due. Naselli is quick to denounce the claim that Keswick theology is necessarily heretical. Many promoters of Keswick were simply men and women who desired to live a holy life pleasing to God. They were orthodox in their core convictions regarding the Christian faith and they strictly held to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Where Naselli finds fault, however, is in the implications of strictly dividing justification and sanctification and the creation of two classes of Christians among other key components. His thorough critique helps readers to think through Keswick’s claims biblically, logically and theologically. This text is not a Keswick witch-trial manifesto, but rather a summons to analyze and think critically about a vital precept of the Christian faith.

Naselli helps the church by providing a thorough survey of a potentially harmful theological stream. I personally swam in this stream for four years while pursuing my master’s degree at Dallas Seminary. While demonstrating the error of Keswick and promoting a Reformed view of sanctification, Naselli has helped me to put to bed many of my own theological worries regarding Keswick sanctification. No longer do I have to ask myself, “How much is enough?” I appreciate Naselli’s irenic approach to this subject as well as his conviction regarding the veracity of the Reformed doctrine of sanctification. This historical, theological and biblical approach has served its purpose well to at least one reader.

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