July 22, 2010

Keswick: A Good Word or a Bad One? Evangelist John Van Gelderen

Occasionally, I hear people use the label “Keswick” in a derogatory way. Yet others use the term quite positively. Someone who did not know the term would wonder if “Keswick” is a good word or a bad one. The issue, of course, is not the term, but what one means by the term.

Historical Background and Theology

Keswick is a beautiful town nestled in the Lake District of England. In 1875, a conference began there which continued annually as “The Keswick Convention.” Its original stated purpose was for the deepening of spiritual life. To accomplish this purpose a definite theological position was taught—sanctification by faith, sometimes called holiness by faith.

The focus of the theology was on Christ as one’s life. This was sometimes called “The Higher Life” or “The Deeper Life” or “The Victorious Life.” Although in later years other ideas were attached to some of these labels, their original usage was Christ-focused.

In other words, the “Higher Life,” the “Deeper Life,” the “Victorious Life,” the “Spirit-filled Life,” the “Christ-Life” is not a new line of teaching. It is not a mere set of doctrines; it is not a set of motions; it is not a conference, a convention, or a movement—it is a Life. That Life is a Person, and His name is Jesus! Jesus is the “Higher Life.” Jesus is the “Deeper Life.” Jesus is the “Victorious Life.” How can it be otherwise? Sanctification or holiness by faith is simply accessing the “Holy Life” by faith. It is “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…by faith” (Gal. 2:20). Holiness by faith is accessing the Holy Life of Jesus to empower holy living and serving. It is becoming “partakers of His holiness” (Heb.12:10), not imitators.

Keswick theology teaches that “progressive sanctification” does not mean an inevitable gradual sanctification, but rather that sanctification is accelerated by faith choices and is hindered by choices of unbelief. Obviously, the Holy Spirit keeps working, but believers are responsible to cooperate in faith for sanctification to progress according to God’s will. Keswick teaches that just as justification is by faith, so also sanctification is by faith.

To help people understand how to “progress” in sanctification, Keswick emphasized a specific theme each of the five days of their convention: Sin (sin is the problem, both outer man sins and especially inner man sins), Provision (Christ is the answer through the cleansing power of His blood and the enabling power of His Spirit), Consecration (the access to Christ’s provision is through surrender, by yielding to Christ’s leadership, and faith, by depending on Christ’s enablement), the Spirit-filled Life (surrender/faith accesses Christ’s Life—the Spirit-filled life for holiness and service), and Service (the whole point of sanctification by faith is to then serve by faith primarily in the declaration of the Gospel).

The Keswick Convention began in 1875 and continues to this day. However, as with many movements, eventually the original focus was lost so that today the Keswick Convention no longer truly represents its original purpose. The first two generations of Keswick (the first eighty years) held to the original theology. In other words, Keswick theology stayed largely true to its beginning from 1875 through the 1950s. During this time Keswick guarded itself from the extremes of certain factions within the “Holiness Movement.” However, ecclesiastically, Keswick began to weaken during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of the 1920s and 1930s. Their motto of “all one in Christ” set them up for compromise when this controversy came on the scene. This compromise eventually eroded their theology in significant ways by the 1960s.

First-generation Keswick included as speakers Evan Hopkins (who spoke annually for 39 years), F. B. Meyer (regular speaker from 1887 to 1925), Handley G. C. Moule (regular speaker from the mid-1880s to his death), G. Campbell Morgan, A. T. Pierson, A. J. Gordon, S. D. Gordon, R. A. Torrey, Andrew Murray, Hudson Taylor, Jonathan Goforth, and W. H. Griffith Thomas. Second-generation Keswick was led by W. Graham Scroggie, and included Donald Grey Barnhouse and J. Oswald Sanders.

Notice how familiar many of these names are and how they are esteemed even to this day. R. A. Torrey was so respected in his day that he was the editor of The Fundamentals. The Fundamentals contain 90 articles. Speakers associated with Keswick theology wrote at least 21% of these articles. Of the authors used, at least 29% were associated with Keswick theology. This shows that Keswick was mainstream in the beginnings of Biblical Fundamentalism. Therefore, Keswick was clearly considered “orthodox.” To denigrate Keswick is to denigrate the roots of Fundamentalism.

I prefer to call Keswick theology “revival theology.” When one is awakened to the need to access the indwelling Life of Christ by faith and begins to appropriate that Life for the steps of obedience, personal revival occurs. Revival is a restoration to spiritual life—the Life of Christ in you accessed by faith as the animating power to your personality! This doctrine did not begin in 1875 with Keswick. It began in the New Testament (John 10:10, 14-16; Rom. 6-8; II Cor. 3:5,17-18; 9:8; Gal. 2:20; 3:1-5,14; Eph. 3:17; 5:18; Phil. 1:21; Col. 1:27; 3:4). This is revival theology! In fact, in The Flaming Tongue, J. Edwin Orr’s account of the early twentieth-century revivals which affected at least 57 nations, Orr repeatedly documents that Keswick-type conferences were used of God to either ignite revival fire or to greatly fuel it.

In the work entitled Five Views of Sanctification, J. Robertson McQuilken wrote the Keswick view, and John Walvoord wrote the Augustinian-Dispensational view. After each author presented his view, he then had opportunity to respond to the other views. McQuilken said there is no real difference between the Keswick view and the Augustinian-Dispensational view. Also, Walvoord said there was no real difference between the Augustinian-Dispensational view and the Keswick view. Dispensational theology is broader than just sanctification, whereas Keswick deals primarily with sanctification. But on sanctification, Keswick theology is Dispensational theology embraced by many today.

Inaccurate Accusations


Some accuse Keswick of passivity. This is probably because Keswick emphasizes resting in Christ. However, the emphasis is not to sit back and do nothing, but rather trust to obey! The emphasis is not idle passivity, but active cooperation—the cooperation of surrendering to the Spirit’s leadership and depending on His enablement. This is walking in the Spirit, which obviously involves steps, not quietistic passivity. But the steps are steps of faith, not the mere motions of flesh-dependent activity. This is what brings rest, for when you yoke up with Jesus, He carries the load!

Keswick denounces “struggle theology,” which is flesh-dependence in an effort to live the Christian life, because works-sanctification is just as wrong as works-justification (Gal. 3:1-3). You do not get justified by faith, and then get sanctified by struggle. Sanctification is also by faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb.11:6). Obviously there are struggles in life, but flesh-dependence for frustrated Christian living is an unnecessary struggle. Faith for victory means you are depending on the victorious Life of Christ to enable you to obey. It is not a matter of you trying to live the Christian life (hollow motions), it is a matter of trusting the indwelling Christ to enable you for the steps of obedience (empowered motions). So victory without trying does not mean victory doing nothing; it means victory with trusting. True faith is not an inward, “navel-gazing,” self-focus; it is focusing rather on Christ, the true object of faith, that He might express His Life through yours. To accuse Keswick theology of passivity is simply not accurate.


Occasionally Keswick theology is labeled derogatorily as being too subjective. This is probably because of Keswick’s emphasis on the reality of the Holy Spirit. However, Keswick emphasizes the subjective reality of the Spirit based on the objective boundaries of the Word. The emphasis is by no means the Spirit without the Word. Nor is it the Word without the Spirit. Rather, it is the Word and the Spirit. The Spirit without the Word is delusion leading to strange fire. The Word without the Spirit is deadness leading to no fire. But the Word and the Spirit is dynamic leading to true Holy Spirit fire.

Interestingly, Robert Thomas rightly deals with the dangerous subjectivism of evangelicals in his book called Evangelical Hermeneutics. He names many names in the evangelical world who are guilty of true subjectivism. But when he seeks to show a right approach, he often quotes J. Robertson McQuilken as handling matters biblically. McQuilken, who wrote several helpful books, is the writer of the Keswick view of sanctification in Five Views of Sanctification, which we noted earlier. Keswick teaches the subjective reality of the Holy Spirit based on the Word, not subjectivism which leaves the scriptural foundation. To accuse Keswick of subjectivism reveals an inaccurate understanding of Keswick teaching.

Second Blessing

Some accuse Keswick of second blessing theology. But this shows great ignorance of both true second blessing theology and Keswick theology. Second blessing theology speaks of receiving a once-for-all second blessing which puts one on a new stage never to fall back to a former stage. Keswick speaks of alternating between two conditions of either walking in the flesh or walking in the Spirit. It is not once for all. Second blessing theology demands a “second” event. Keswick teaches you were given the whole package at salvation and that you can access the whole blessing immediately (and some do), but that many because of a lack of understanding do not until later. Even then it is not a second blessing, but a second, and a third, and a fourth, and so on. Second blessing theology says that you receive something you did not yet have. Keswick theology teaches that you by faith access your First Blessing! Some early Keswick writers used the terminology of second blessing (which confuses matters today), but they do so only in the sense that I have described above, which is different from true second blessing theology.

Sinless Perfectionism

I suppose this charge comes because Keswick theology emphasizes the Victorious Life of Christ. Obviously, He is perfect. But Keswick makes clear that we still live in the “body of sin” (Rom. 6:6). The focus of Keswick is not that you cannot sin, but that you are able not to sin because of the indwelling Christ. Keswick makes clear that tragically Christians sin, but that the focus should not be on being defeated, but rather on victory in Christ by faith. The provision of the indwelling Christ is perfect, but our consistent access of that perfect provision is sadly imperfect. This is quite different from a Wesleyan position. There is no such thing as a Wesleyan/Keswick position. Rather, there is an Augustinian-Dispensational/Keswick position. To accuse Keswick theology of sinless perfectionism is simply not being honest with the facts of Keswick teaching.

Reasons for the Attack


Amazingly, I have been in several settings where speakers had just taught Keswick theology and then said, “Now I’m not talking about Keswick,” or, “I’m not talking about the Deeper Life.” This shows that they do not really know what the labels actually mean, but are functioning off of hearsay and concepts which have been attached to the term “Keswick” by the critics of Keswick. First impressions are mind-setting. Someone “bent their ear,” or they read the critics of Keswick without actually reading the Keswick authors themselves. Then, when they criticize the term Keswick, they are shooting themselves in the foot because they are undermining what they themselves taught. Obviously this is unintentional, but it still is harmful to that which they believe.

Thoroughgoing Calvinism

Not all proclaimed Calvinists clash with Keswick, but those of a thoroughgoing system often do. Keswick emphasizes man’s responsibility of faith (sanctification by faith). Some Calvinists claim this is man-centered. But how can God-dependence theology be man-centered? This is a clash between inevitable faith (Calvinism) and responsible faith (Keswick). Does progressive sanctification just inevitably occur for every true child of God, or can it be hindered by unbelief and accelerated by faith? Keswick claims the latter. Interestingly, responsible faith (Keswick) also clashes with the misfocused faith of unfettered choice (Arminianism). Responsible faith means you are responding to the convincing work of the Spirit based on God’s Word. It is not unfettered choice, nor is it inevitable. It is a true responsibility.

When I hear or read what some Calvinists claim Keswick teaches, I’m amazed at the inaccuracy. Perhaps some read the critics of Keswick and not Keswick authors themselves. Others may perhaps read Keswick authors but do so with such bias that they do not read what the authors are actually saying. The outcome is major misrepresentation.

Personal Defeat

Some may attack Keswick because they supposedly tried it, and it did not work for them. However, the problem is not with the provision of Christ, but with a misunderstanding of truth or a misapplication of surrender and faith. Some are not truly surrendering (giving up) their sin; they just don’t like their guilt. Some may have misunderstandings regarding faith, what it is and how it works. If you have a besetting sin or are ineffective in service, it is always easier to blame something other than your own responsible choices.

Satanic Attack

Satan attacks revival truth! He is the master deceiver. Revival theology (Keswick) threatens his turf. Much of the controversy is stirred up by his deceptions. When you understand that Keswick-type conferences were used to ignite revival fires or fuel them in the early twentieth-century revivals, it is no wonder that Satan has attacked Keswick theology in order to prevent another great wave of revival blessing.


Obviously, an article which is brief in its nature cannot deal with all the details of the present confusion around the word Keswick. May I suggest that you read the Keswick authors themselves. Read G. Campbell Morgan’s The Spirit of God, Evan Hopkins’ The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, J. Elder Cummings’ Through the Eternal Spirit, Handley G. C. Moule’s Practicing the Promises and his treatment of Romans 6-8 in his commentary on Romans, F. B. Meyer’s many books, A. J. Gordon’s writings, A. T. Pierson’s works, and so forth. Steven Barabas quotes from many Keswick authors in his book entitled So Great Salvation: The History and Message of the Keswick Convention.

So, is Keswick a good word or a bad one? If you mean sanctification by faith thus accessing the victorious Life of Christ, that is gloriously good! However, I prefer to use the label “revival theology.” The issue, of course, is not a label, but truth.

Jesus Christ is the only one who can live the Christian life! Jesus is the Christian Life. But He lives in you so that you, yet not you, but Christ in you can live the Christian life! When you got saved, Christ moved in—to live His life, not yours! But this is not automatic. As you received Christ by faith, you also must walk by faith one step at a time (Col. 2:6). This is accessing the eternal Life as the abundant Life. This is sanctification by faith. Ultimately, this is revival reality.

For those of us who believe the theology of “Christ in you accessed by faith,” the derogatory slurs against this truth are not small matters. Jesus is the Victorious Life, the Higher Life, the Deeper Life, the Spirit-filled Life, the Revived Life, the Hidden Life,—the Christ-Life! To us, when holiness by faith—the Holy Life accessed by faith—is attacked, the attack is ultimately on the indwelling Life of Christ.

Evangelist John R. Van Gelderen
Originally published 31 October 2007. Reprinted by permission of Revival Focus Ministries, formerly Preach the Word Ministries.

You may print the PDF and/or e-mail this article from the
Baptist College of Ministry web site.


  1. Hey,

    Really nice overview! Thanks.

    In my own reading I know that Packer's book on the Holy Spirit (Keep in Step with the Spirit) mis-characterizes Keswick.

    Personally, I think much of this gets down to whether or not one is under law or grace. Those under law (sadly, Covenant-Calvinism often drifts this way)don't have much of a way to understand the work of the Spirit in the believer except to focus on obedience to the law (empowerment).

    Alas Galatians 3:12 tells us that law and faith are clearly opposed...though the law is certainly holy, and righteous, and good.

    As a child of Keswick, I'm pro righteousness by the Spirit, rather than by the law. I'm necra-nomian (see www.backtofaith.com), or dead to the law---not antinomian, against the law.

    Good job, many thanks,

    Fred Lybrand

  2. Dr. Lybrand:

    Thanks for the input on this important discussion.

    I think this article is an important clarifying read that should give pause to the opponents of Keswick so that they might reflect on and reconsider what they presently think about Keswick.


  3. Lou,

    Keswick is a bad term for two reasons (and I am speaking from total experience coming from a Keswick background.) First, allows people to remain "saved" and still live a sinful lifestyle. The argument is that you can be saved by faith, but if you never surrender, you will never live for the Lord. This is unBiblical. There is no carnal an in the Bible. Yes it is mentioned in I Corinthians 3, but that is the only place. To day that someone can live a persistent carnal life, flies directly in the face of the theology of I John. Second, like it or not, Keswick is after a total perfection type of living. What John Van Gelderen had done in this article is simply re-defined terms. Keswick teaches that if you fully surrender to God, you will be able not to sin...did you catch that...able not to sin. What is the difference between that statement and a Wesley who says that a person can reach a place in their life when they no longer sin? It is the all the same.
    IMO, this is a very dangerous way of thinking, and one that is not Biblical, regardless of who wants to preach it and claim it. I have seen life after life destroyed by it's teaching, and it almost destroyed my life. No one can ever live up to it's expectation of full surrender, and many have made shipwreck and given up totally after realizing that truth. I say again, Keswick theology is BAD! It does have a great part in the ani-Lordshio crowd though. It is a way to justify people's salvation even though they live like the devil. This is sad and tragic IMO!

  4. Ben:

    Let me say that I am not the expert in Keswick. I am posting John VanGelderen's article because he is one whom I consider a reliable authority on Keswick and its history. I suggest you read his article once again and consider if you might have read something into it that is not there.

    It seems you are bringing what might have been a bad experience that you say was from a Keswick environment and that bad experience has made you somewhat less objective in your reading, IMHO.

    I do appreciate what you are trying to communicate here, but you have some areas with which I disagree that flow from the errors of a Lordship Salvation interpretation of the Gospel. Your notes on the carnal Christian in particular.

    You might recheck the Bible because there you’ll find that “carnal” appears in Rom. 7:14; 8:6-7.

    I dedicated an entire chapter of my to the subject of carnal Christian because of LS’s mishandling of this doctrine. here is a very small sample,

    While it may be commonplace for “Christians to live like unbelievers,” it certainly should not be “normal” for any Christian. The “carnal Christian” is not a category “devised” by “contemporary theologians.” It is a category of believers (“brethren”) identified in the Word of God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by the Apostle Paul. Walter Chantry and John MacArthur must ignore the clear teaching of Scripture to arrive at the conclusion that the “carnal” Christian has been “devised,” invented or fabricated only in recent times.

    Kind regards,


  5. Thanks for the reply, Lou. You might want to understand Keswick a little better before you post an article like this. I know John personally and he is a great and godly man, but is mistaken on this theology IMHO.

    I am telling you my experience with Keswick theology as well as others. I know personally where it leads, in my own life and in the lives of others. I am not sure how it makes things less objective when you have taken the objective truth and tried to make in subjective and almost destroyed your own faith.

    I wanted to clarify the carnal Christian comment. The term "carnal" occurs other times in Scriture, but never as a category of people. There is the natural man and the spiritual man as true categories. In your comment from you book, you don't make it up with Scripture. Living like an unbeliever should not even be commonplace, and that is the excuse making that I am talking about here.

  6. Great article. A very fair and balanced view.

  7. Ben:

    Fair enough, I appreciate that you've shared your opinion. Since you know Evang. VanGelderen you could contact him for further discussion. The link to his website is at the end of the article.

    I posted this article because I believe it is an important subject for NT Christians to consider objectively.

    Yours in Him,


  8. Bob:

    Good to hear from you and I agree with your reaction to this timely article.


  9. Brian Ernsberger7/22/2010 2:56 PM

    Thanks Lou for the article. Indeed, a fair and balanced presentation.
    A thought for Ben that I did not see addressed. John presented the historic version of Keswick, if you will. He did note that the movement has left its original moorings, so if Ben has come out of the Keswick movement he has come out of the anomaly not the authentic, original version. As John noted Keswick has strayed.

  10. Having never been to a Keswick conference myself, I can neither confirm nor deny Ben's account.

    However, Miles Stanford, an avowed identification truths advocate and teacher, has written several articles on the drift of Keswick.

    Here are two important ones:



    I do find that the teachings of the original Brethren men (Stoney, Darby, Kelly, etc.) are spot on, especially concerning their emphasis on the application of the cross in the life of the believer. It is this doctrine that seems to have been thrown out of the Keswick movement, whether intentionally or not, for the obvious reason that the suffering entailed is so abhorrent to the flesh. Perhaps it is this omission that caused the trouble for Ben and those he knows.


  11. Thank you for posting this article. I enjoyed it very much. I also appreciated your response to the person who expressed the erroneous view that Scripture does not acknowledge such a thing as a carnal Christian. We could add a hundred more verses that speak of the concept of carnality in the Christian life, including several in 1 John (e.g. 1John 1:8; 5:16). I appreciate that you also have a chapter in your book that refutes the erroneous view that denies the reality this fact.

  12. Greg:

    I’m pleased that you found this article and my response to Ben helpful. I think he did too. I do not want to get this thread off the subject of Keswick, but here is a little more from my book in the chapter Can There Be a Christian Who is Carnal?

    First Corinthians 3:1-4 is clear—there are born again men and women who can and do become carnal Christians and remain carnal for a length of time. How does the Lordship advocate arrive at a position that is contrary to the explicit statements of Scripture? The answer may be found in John MacArthur’s rejection of the believer having two natures, a new nature and the old nature.

    I believe it is a serious misunderstanding to think of the believer as having both an old and new nature. Believers do not have dual personalities…there is no such thing as an old and new nature in the believer…. Salvation brings about a radical change in the nature of the believer…The old man has ceased to exist. (Freedom from Sin, pp. 31-33.)

    I close the chapter with this quote from J. C. Ryle,

    We may take comfort about our souls if we know anything of an inward fight and conflict. It is the invariable companion of genuine Christian holiness. . . . Do we find in our heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Do we feel anything of the flesh lusting against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, so that we cannot do the things that we would? Are we conscious of two principles within us, contending for the mastery? Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. . . . Anything is better than apathy, stagnation, deadness and indifference. (J. C. Ryle, Holiness, p. 82.)