Here is my preface to Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology.
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It is not much of a recommendation when all you can say is that this teaching may help you if you do not take its details too seriously. It is utterly damning to have to say, as in this case I think we must, that if you do take its details seriously, it will tend not to help you but to destroy you.
That’s what J. I. Packer wrote about a teaching that has destroyed many people and continues to destroy more today. It nearly destroyed me.
Trying to “Let Go and Let God” in High School and Bible College
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. How? Through surrender and faith: “Let go and let God.”
The small college I attended was a ministry of my church, and preachers in my college and church took this carnal-spiritual dichotomy to another level. It became their primary focus and distinctive passion. Whether the text was from Exodus, Jeremiah, Matthew, or Revelation, nearly every sermon applied the same way to Christians: Be Spirit-filled. That’s the key.
At first I genuinely tried to go along with the program, but it just didn’t work for me. During my freshman and sophomore years, I became frustrated, then disillusioned, and then suspicious. Was this teaching really biblical? It didn’t seem to fit with what I was reading in the Bible.
I appealed to Mike Harding, one of my former pastors, for guidance, and he guided me safely through this storm. He recommended books, articles, sermons, and syllabi from his seminary in Detroit, and I devoured them. By the time I was a senior in college, I was nearly expelled for not embracing my school’s two-tiered view of Christian living. I was definitely not the school’s poster boy. A deacon at the church who disagreed with its direction gave me some wise advice not to make any waves in the last months of my senior year: “Andy, when you’re in prison, don’t spit on the guards.” I graduated and gladly moved on.
Exposing “Let Go and Let God” in Grad School
I entered grad school with this issue still on my front-burner. I wanted to go deeper, so I wrote several class papers related to the issue as I completed an MA in Bible and then worked on a PhD in theology. I met more and more people who had experienced the same frustration with this view of Christian living and became aware of even more people who continued to propagate it.
When it came time to choose a dissertation topic, I decided to try to drive a nail in the coffin of what I had then pegged as “Keswick theology.” So my first dissertation surveys the history and theology of that two-tiered view of sanctification and then analyzes it.
Still Exposing “Let Go and Let God”
I finished my first dissertation in summer 2006 and immediately moved to Deerfield, Illinois, to work on a second PhD at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. That one was in New Testament Exegesis and Theology and focused on other issues, but second-blessing theology has remained on the back-burner. People regularly contact me with questions about it; colleges and seminaries have asked me to lecture to their faculty and students about it; and churches have asked me to speak to their congregations about it. Just recently someone else brought it up again in my care group. Why so much interest? Because it’s not a dead issue. And that’s unfortunate.
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.
This book lightly updates my first PhD dissertation: “Keswick Theology: A Historical and Theological Survey and Analysis of the Doctrine of Sanctification in the Early Keswick Movement, 1875–1920” (Bob Jones University, 2006). I later condensed it to about twenty percent of the original size for the 2008 William R. Rice Lecture Series, delivered on March 19, 2008 at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and published as “Keswick Theology: A Survey and Analysis of the Doctrine of Sanctification in the Early Keswick Movement,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 13 (2008): 17–67.
Who Should Read This Book?
Many people have a form of second-blessing theology in their background: some of them still embrace it enthusiastically; some embrace it unknowingly; some know there’s something not right about it but can’t clearly explain why; some reject it and would like to know more. This book is for them. I deeply desire to help.
Some people don’t have much second-blessing theology in their background. Some of them aren’t sure why it’s wrong, and others believe it’s wrong but would like to know more. This book is for them, too.
How This Book Exposes “Let Go and Let God”
This book’s thesis is simple: Keswick theology is not biblically sound. It demonstrates this by answering three basic questions:
- Where did Keswick theology come from (chap. 2)?
- What exactly is it (chap. 3)?
- And why is this second-blessing theology not a blessing (chap. 4)?
If you’ve encountered some aspect of second-blessing theology, you’ll be fascinated to see how it fits in the story in chapters 2–3. And you’ll be challenged to consider its serious flaws in chapter 4. My goal is not to make you an arrogant know-it-all who pugnaciously goes on a second-blessing witch-hunt. My goal is to edify you by warning and equipping you. I’ll consider this book a success if it helps you understand second-blessing theology better, see why it’s not a blessing at all, and follow a better—more biblical—way in your Christian walk.
Most of this book is controversial, but I don’t want to end solely on a negative this-is-why-that-view-is-wrong note. So the last appendix recommends works on sanctification from a Reformed viewpoint. These works will also help you move beyond the destructive elements of second-blessing theology by constructively moving forward in your Christian life.
I’m grateful for the encouragement and insightful comments from my dissertation committee (Dan Olinger, Mark Sidwell, Mark Minnick, and Layton Talbert), family (especially Charles Naselli and Doug Becker), and friends (especially Phil Gons). I’m also grateful to my subsequent doctoral mentor, D. A. Carson, and my pastor, Mike Bullmore, for mentoring me academically and pastorally during my time at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Their influence has helped to deepen my conviction that this book’s thesis is sound.
Most significantly, my wife, Jenni, has been supportive, interested, patient, sacrificial, and unselfish in my theological studies. Writing this book was a team effort, and she enjoyed reading and discussing it as it developed. She is a delight to love and lead, and I could not have made it this far without her.
“Because from him and through him and unto him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.”