Book Review of Andrew Naselli’s No Quick Fix
The vast majority of contemporary evangelicals have had their view of sanctification affected by the Keswick movement in one way or another. This is a somewhat ironic reality since most people are not even sure how to pronounce “Keswick” (the “w” is silent). Sadly, the confusion about how to pronounce “Keswick” could serve as a metaphor for the confusion about the Christian life that has arisen from this movement, because many of God’s people have been unwittingly caught up in its teaching. For instance, if you have ever heard the phrase “let go and let God,” you have been exposed to Keswick teaching. If your view of the Christian life was shaped by the study notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, you have sat under Keswick teaching. If you have ever been taught or tempted to think there is an attainable higher level of the Christian life that will make the battle with sin easier, you have received a form of Keswick teaching. If you have ever “rededicated” your life to Christ, you have practiced a form of Keswick theology.
The subtle but prevalent influence of Keswick teaching on the modern evangelical world is what makes No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful by Andrew David Naselli such a relevant work for the church today. Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) serves on the faculty of Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis and as an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Having come to the Lord and grown up under Keswick teaching, Naselli is no stranger to “higher life” theology and therefore his treatment of the subject derives from firsthand knowledge. His description of the formative years of his Christian life will sound familiar to many readers:
Young people in my youth groups or at summer camp commonly told their stories 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 (1).
There were always two steps: first you get saved, then you get serious. Too many of us Christians were saved but not serious. We were living a lower life rather than a higher life, a shallow life rather than a deeper life, a defeated life rather than a victorious life, a fruitless life rather than a more abundant life. We were “carnal” not “spiritual.” We experienced the first blessing but still needed the second blessing. Jesus was our Savior, but he still wasn’t our Master. So preachers urged us to make Jesus our master. How? Through surrender and faith: “Let go and let God” (2).
Eventually, Naselli became frustrated with this form of teaching when it didn’t work in his own life and, more importantly, when he realized it wasn’t consistent with what the Bible teaches. This exasperation led him to further study and research on the subject, which resulted in him writing his PhD dissertation on the issue (available in digital format under the title, “Let God and Let God?” A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology). No Quick Fix is a condensed version of his dissertation research that was repackaged “to make it more inviting for thoughtful lay people” (3).
One might wonder why this view, despite the biblical and practical problems, remains so influential in the church. Naselli sheds light on part of the reason for the popularity of Keswisk theology:
It 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. Higher life theology offers a quick fix to this struggle, and its shortcut to instant victory appeals to people who genuinely desire to be holy (4).
The body of the book is divided into four chapters, which are intended to explain where “higher life theology” came from (1), what it is (2), and why it is harmful (3-4). Before the reader arrives at the body of the book, the title of this volume alone goes a long way in diagnosing the core problem with Keswick theology: It seeks to replace a life-long battle for sanctification with a one-time experience and active submission to the means of grace with mystical passivity. In the words of the author:
The “let go and let God” approach to Christian living is a quick fix. A quick fix, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a quick and easy remedy or solution”—or negatively, “an expedient but temporary solution which fails to address underlying problems.” That’s what I think higher life theology is…. And that is why the title of this book is No Quick Fix (3).
The history and meaning of higher life theology and the Keswick movement detailed in the first two chapters is a fascinating account of modern church history that traces its way back to two main influences: Wesleyan perfectionism and the holiness movement (8). Wesley taught a form of Christian perfectionism that includes a second work of grace after initial conversion allowing a believer to live without any intentional sins in his life. Thus, even though absolute perfection was impossible, Wesley espoused a view of the Christian life that made “entire sanctification” (9) an attainable goal in this life. “When Wesleyan perfectionism blended with American revivalism, the holiness movement emerged” (10). The holiness movement took Wesley’s two-stage view of sanctification and infused it with pentecostal language. Thus, the second work of grace taught by Wesley was referred to as “Spirit Baptism” or “Spirit Filling.” These extra works of grace were said to be received passively by “entire surrender (‘let go’) and absolute faith (‘let God’)” (12). As a consequence of this view of sanctification, two different classes of Christians emerged, those merely forgiven and those who were also sanctified. Thus, a “higher life” was created.
The higher life view of sanctification that emerged through the various figures of Wesleyan theology and the holiness movement was propelled forward through the Keswick Convention, a week-long conference held each year since 1875 in the town of Keswick located in northwest England. During these conferences, attendees were encouraged to enter into the higher life through a “crisis moment” of total passivity and dependence upon God. Like walking the aisle in American revivalism, this “crisis moment of faith” provided a definite point of entrance into the higher life. This “crisis” event was taught to be an instantaneous event whereby a believer consecrated his life to the Lord. Early Keswick teachers associated this event with a “Spirit-filling” or a “Spirit-baptism” (42), although later proponents dropped this association. No matter the nomenclature, the crisis moment is when a believer enters the higher life, and thus when the actual process of sanctification begins (37-43).
As Naselli points out, the view of sanctification promulgated by these conferences influenced to various degrees countless Christian leaders, including H. C. G. Moule, Andrew Murray, Robert C. McQuilken, D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, and Charles Ryrie. These views spread especially within dispensational circles where the “Scofield Reference Bible more or less canonized Keswick teachings” (21).
Higher life theology spawned four institutions or movements that have greatly influenced American evangelicalism: the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Moody Bible Institute, Pentecostalism, and Dallas Theological Seminary. Those four successors to higher life theology each began as influential variations on higher life theology (emphasis on began as—today the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Moody Bible Institute, and Dallas Theological Seminary do not promote higher life theology like they used to) (18).
One of the most notable remaining influences of the higher life movement was its impact on the various debates concentrated on the relationship between justification and sanctification. For those influenced by higher life teaching, sanctification was an additional work for some believers instead of a necessary consequence of justification. This controversy, known by most as “the Lordship salvation debate” was heavily influenced by the two-stage view of the Christian life exported through the Keswick Convention (24-27).
Naselli’s description of the higher life movement is engaging, and his evaluation of it in chapters three and four is exceptional. After explaining that not everything about every member of the movement is completely bad, he provides ten reasons why the higher life movement is harmful:
- It creates two categories of Christians (49-76).
- It portrays a shallow and incomplete view of sin in the Christian life (77-81).
- It emphasizes passivity, not activity (81-83).
- It portrays the Christian’s free will as autonomously starting and stopping sanctification (84-86).
- It does not interpret the Bible accurately (86-88).
- It assures spurious “Christians” they are saved (88-91).
- It uses superficial formulas for instantaneous sanctification (91).
- It fosters dependency on experiences at special holiness meetings (91-92).
- It frustrates and disillusions the have-nots (92-94).
- It misinterprets personal experiences (95-97).
In his criticism of the higher life movement, Naselli demonstrates a faithful understanding of how sanctification works and how the Keswick view falls short of Scripture’s teaching. Furthermore, he demonstrates a pastor’s heart in warning susceptible sheep of inaccurate teaching:
Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people. That’s why I wrote this book evaluating higher life theology. I love God, and I don’t want higher life theology to hurt people. Higher life theology hurt me, and it has hurt many others. Don’t let that happen to you (99).
Naselli’s evaluation crystallizes the key issues that the average Christian needs to understand, and it deals with many of the relevant passages that need to be addressed. His interaction is not thorough, but readers can consult his doctoral work for more information.
The one difficulty readers will have is discerning his many charts and graphs, especially when he attempts to work exegetically through Romans 6. His phrase diagram on this chapter is difficult to follow unless the reader happens to understand the exact process he employs. That being said, his overall point from Romans 6 is thought-provoking and challenging for any who would hold onto a higher life view of sanctification. It is refreshing to read a work on polemical theology that is both pastoral and exegetical.
In addition to Naselli’s work on this issue, readers of this book will be treated to a fascinating afterword by John MacArthur. In his brief biographical contribution, MacArthur traces his spiritual development from his early influences of Keswick teaching to his robust affirmation of Reformed soteriology. These four pages provide a window into MacArthur’s life and ministry development that readers have never had access to before. In fact, for some readers, the whole book might be worth buying just for this brief excerpt of MacArthur’s life.
Even if the afterword does not compel an individual to pay almost twenty dollars for a hundred and twenty-three page book, the totality of this work is worthwhile for every believer who wants to know more about how to grow closer to Christ. The church would benefit if the number of individuals who read this book matched the number of individuals affected by higher life theology and Keswick teaching.
Paul Shirley is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and has served as the pastor of Grace Community Church in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011.