Here is Tom Schreiner’s foreword to Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology.
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I became a Christian when I was seventeen years old, and the first theology I knew was Keswick theology. I read many books and heard numerous sermons that exhorted me to “let go and let God,” to live the victorious Christian life, to surrender absolutely and completely to the Lord, to live in unbroken victory for significant periods of time, to live as a spiritual Christian instead of a carnal Christian. I read Hannah Whitall Smith, Charles Trumbull, Andrew Murray, Watchmen Nee, Major Ian Thomas, John Hunter, etc. My youth pastor, who discipled me and taught me the rudiments of the Christian faith, gave a steady diet of Keswick teaching as well. When I attended seminary, at my youth pastor’s suggestion, I attended a church that promulgated Keswick theology because I was convinced that those who did not share such a theology were less biblical.
Let me be quick to say how much I learned from Keswick theology. It upholds the Scriptures as the authoritative and inerrant word of God. It highlights the majesty and beauty of Christ. It embraces and rejoices in orthodox Christian theology. Most important, it takes the Holy Spirit seriously. Christians can and should live in a way that pleases God through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a theological cipher; his presence is vital and energizing so that believers can triumph over the flesh.
Nevertheless, Keswick theology, which was so wonderful to read about, did not match my experience. I didn’t enjoy the sustained victory over sin that I read and heard about in books and sermons. I comforted myself with the thought that I was a young Christian. I hoped that when I was more mature I would experience consistent victory. In my seminary years, however, two things weaned me away from Keswick theology. For the first time in my life I started doing serious exegesis. It became apparent to me fairly quickly that Keswick theology does not match up with what the scriptures teach. The Christian life has an already-not yet tension, and sanctification is progressive and partial. Believers do not and cannot live on clouds during their earthly sojourn. Second, I was getting older and more mature. I noticed that my pastor who espoused Keswick theology, although he was a godly man, was not adept at recognizing his own sin. His “theology,” unbeknown to him, did not match his experience either.
Keswick theology is still popular today. Unfortunately, thoughtful and helpful evaluations of the movement are relatively hard to find. I received much help over the years by reading B. B. Warfield’s Perfectionism and J. I. Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit. Warfield’s analysis is perceptive, though he could have shown more sympathy for Keswick thinkers. Packer’s summary and evaluation are the most accessible for believers today. Andy Naselli, however, provides us with a thorough explanation of Keswick theology and uncovers its biblical and theological weaknesses. Naselli’s work is judicious but kind. The Keswick movement has done much good, and we are allies and friends in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, iron sharpens iron, and Keswick theology has too often produced discouragement and despair with its exalted and finally unbiblical view of sanctification. Naselli’s work helps us to see why Keswick doesn’t measure up, and he provides a more satisfying and biblically faithful alternative.
Thomas R. Schreiner
James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation
Associate Dean, Scripture and Interpretation
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary