Friday, October 17, 2014

Do Keswick Critics Routinely Misrepresent Keswick Theology? Part 1 of 3

The contradictory nature and unintelligibility of the Higher Life position[1] explains why defenders of Keswick can complain that its critics employ “inaccuracy” and “major misrepresentation” when discussing the movement.[2]  Unlike Scripture, which is the non-contradictory and clear revelation from God about how to live a holy life for His glory, the contradictions, shallow understanding of theology, and ecumenical confusion evident at Keswick produced the following self-assessment by Keswick leaders:
Defining the fine points of Keswick teaching is not a simple exercise, for there has never been in its history an agreed system of the particular truths it has purported to proclaim.  A supposed Keswick view on something may depend on who is speaking at the time.  When it is stated fairly emphatically that “Keswick teaches such and such,” as has often been done, it is usually possible to find teaching from the Keswick platform that has given a different slant, an alternative interpretation, or a completely contradictory one altogether. . . . Critiquing “Keswick teaching” is a little like trying to hit a moving target, or getting hold of a piece of soap in the bath. . . . It is important to keep in mind the . . . sharply different views of different speakers. . . . [M]any phases of the doctrine of holiness have been presented by a wide variety of speakers, some of them contradictory. . . . Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Brethren, Reformed, charismatics, and those of other persuasions can stand shoulder to shoulder [at Keswick.] . . . Any attempt, therefore, to survey the preaching at Keswick and create a systematic picture . . . is bound to be unsatisfactory.[3]
Rather than following the Biblical model and allowing no other doctrine than the truth (1 Timothy 1:3), separating from all error (Romans 16:17), and earnestly contending for all of the faith (Jude 3), Keswick will allow speakers to contradict each other and mislead their hearers with false teaching.  Keswick critics are then accused of misrepresentation when they point out heresies and errors in Keswick writers and speakers.  In a similar manner, separatists who point out that goddess worship goes on at the World Council of Churches can be accused of misrepresentation by ecumenists, since only some, but not all, those at the World Council worship goddesses.  Thus, certain Keswick critics may represent Keswick inconsistently because Keswick is not itself consistent—inconsistency in representations of Keswick may, ironically, be the only consistent representation of the movement.  Of course, a critic of Keswick certainly may fail to present its position fairly, just as critics of any position are not universally fair and accurate.  However, a statement by a critic of the Higher Life such as Bruce Waltke that “the Keswick teaching [affirms] that from the inner passivity of looking to Christ to do everything will issue a perfection of performance”[4] is an accurate statement of the dominant classical formulations of Keswick theology as taught by its founding leaders, not a misrepresentation. There is no evidence that critics of Keswick are more liable to engage in misrepresentation than others engaged in theological critique.
            J. Robertson McQuilkin, arguing for the Keswick doctrine of sanctification in Five Views of Sanctification, wrote:  “Two authors who attack the [Keswick] movement and are universally held by Keswick speakers to have misunderstood the teaching [are] Packer [in his] Keep in Step With the Spirit [and] Warfield [in his] Studies in Perfectionism.”[5]  The only evidence McQuilkin advances that Warfield misunderstood the Keswick theology is an anecdote.  McQuilkin recounts:
[M]y father, Robert C. McQuilkin, a leader in the movement known as the Victorious Life Testimony, told me that when [Warfield’s Studies in Perfectionsim] was published, he went to Warfield and discussed the matter of Keswick teaching and perfectionism at length.  Afterward Warfield admitted, “If I had known these things, I would not have included the last chapter [“The Victorious Life”] in my work.”[6]
J. R. McQuilkin provides no actual instances of misunderstanding of the Keswick theology, misquotations of Keswick writers, or any other kind of hard evidence of misrepresentation by Warfield.  Such hard evidence is very difficult to come by since more objective historiography describes Warfield’s Studies in Perfectionism as “meticulous and precise . . . extensive and detailed analysis . . .  [of] the higher life, victorious life, and Keswick movements.  Warfield’s treatment of these teachings . . . serves as a vivid sample of his thoroughness as a historical theologian.”[7]  Recording in 1987 in his Five Views chapter what McQuilkin claims his father told him Warfield had said in the early 1930s, long after the parties who allegedly engaged in the conversation were dead, is hardly actual evidence of misrepresentation, especially since both McQuilkins have a clear and strong interest in undermining the credibility of Warfield.  Furthermore, J. R. McQuilkin has overlooked the overwhelming historical problems that make it certain that his anecdote is inaccurate.  David Turner notes:  “Something is amiss here, since Warfield’s . . . will provided for the publication of his critical reviews in book form, which occurred in 1932. Thus Warfield . . . could not have referred to retracting this last chapter of his book—he had been dead eleven years when it was published.”[8]  Similarly, Warfield scholar Fred G. Zaspel indicates:
Interesting as this [quote by McQuilkin] may be, the quote cannot be accurate.  First, Warfield never saw the publication of his book Studies in Perfectionism.  This two-volume work is a collection of essays that were originally published in various theological journals from 1918 to 1921, the last of which was published posthumously (1921);  the two-volume work to which McQuilkin refers was not published until 1931-1932, some ten or eleven years after Warfield’s death.  Second, the “last chapter” of the book to which this McQuilkin quote refers is the chapter on the higher life, which was in fact not the last but the very first article of the series published (1918).  As to the accuracy of the substance of the remark . . . [w]e only know that while Warfield continued to write on the broader subject of holiness-perfectionism, he made no retractions.[9]
Unless a Keswick continuationist raised Warfield from the dead so that he could recant of his critique of the Higher Life, McQuilkin’s quote concerning Warfield is historically impossible mythmaking.  McQuilkin does not even provide hearsay to support his statement about Packer’s alleged misrepresentation.  Perhaps these severe problems with McQuilkin’s affirmation explain why he affirms that Packer and Warfield are “universally held by Keswick speakers to have misunderstood the teaching”—Keswick writers might have to provide actual evidence, while speakers can simply make undocumented and inaccurate statements.  Then again, McQuilkin does not just speak his attempt to discredit Warfield and Packer—he does register his charge in writing.  While McQuilkin did actually write down the alleged but mythological recantation by Warfield, the Keswick apologist did not put his quotation in the main body of his chapter in the Five Views book, but in a concluding section, with the result that the other non-Keswick contributors were unable to point out the problems with and the vacuity of his affirmation.  If one wishes to prove that Keswick has been misunderstood and misrepresented, mythmaking about Warfield and a passive voice verb, that Warfield and Packer “are universally held” to have misunderstood the system, fall abysmally short of the standard of real evidence.

This entire study can be accessed here.

[1]           For example, Jacob Abbott, reviewing the foundational The Higher Christian Life by William Boardman, notes:
[W]e will proceed to state, as clearly as fairly as we can, the results of our investigation [of Boardman’s book]. . . . [T]he book is a difficult one to analyze satisfactorily[.] . . . In a word, the book has no method at all;  no development, no progress, no “lucidus ordon.”  We are not sure it would suffer (with trifling qualifications) by arranging its eighteen chapters in any order different from the present, even if that were by chance.
         But to the treatise.  What is the subject treated?  What does the writer mean by the “higher life?” and by “second conversion?” as its equivalent, or the stepping-stone to it?  Precisely what he does mean, we will not attempt to say;  because it is not said intelligibly in the book, and cannot be inferred from the book.  On the contrary, it can be inferred, most certainly, from the book, that he had no well-defined idea, in his own mind, on the subject (see p. 57). . . . Let us now pass on to that which is obtained in “second conversion.”  And here . . . we have got to the end of the author’s self-consistency, and shall henceforth wander about, in fogs thicker than those of the Grand Bank. . . . We are aware that he, or a defender of his system, may take the same book and convict us of unfairness[,] [f]or we have already given some examples of the contradictions it contains.  There are others.
(pgs. 508-509, 516, 527, Review of William E. Boardman’s The Higher Christian Life, Bibliotheca Sacra, Jacob J. Abbott. Bibliotheca Sacra (July 1860) 508-535)
Similarly, Stephen Barabas notes:  “Keswick [has] furnishe[d] us with no formal treatise of its doctrine of sin, and no carefully prepared, weighty discourses of a theological nature . . . for over seventy-five years” (pg. 51, So Great Salvation:  The History and Message of the Keswick Convention).  Since the Higher Life position itself is a murky muddle of confusion it is just about inevitable that those who criticize specific representative statements and affirmations by Keswick advocates will be accused of misrepresentation by those who can cite conflicting and contradictory Higher Life statements.
[2]            Keswick’s defenders regularly affirm critics misrepresent;  see also, e. g., the defense of Keswick and critique of Warfield on pgs. 213-215 of Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall.
[3]           Pgs. 34-35, 222-226, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall.
[4]           Pg. 22, “Evangelical Spirituality: A Biblical Scholar’s Perspective.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 31:1.
[5]           Pg. 183, Five Views of Sanctification.  Melvin E. Dieter, Anthony A. Hoekema, Stanley M Horton, J. Robertson McQuilkin & John F. Walvoord, authors;  Stanley N. Gundry, series ed.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1987.
[6]           Pg. 245, Five Views of Sanctification, Dieter et. al.
[7]           Pg. 465, The Theology of B. B. Warfield:  A Systematic Summary, Fred G. Zaspel.
[8]           Pg. 98, Review by David L. Turner of Five Views on Sanctification, by Melvin E. Dieter, Anthony A. Hoekema, Stanley M. Horton, J. Robertson McQuilkin, and John F. Walvoord. Grace Theological Journal 10:1 (1989) 94-98.
[9]           Pgs. 473-474, The Theology of B. B. Warfield:  A Systematic Summary, Fred G. Zaspel.


Bill Hardecker said...

Producing no evidence reminds me of a famous line from the Mexican bandit in The Treasure of Sierra Madre: "Badges? We ain't got no badges, We don't need no badges, I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!” Just substitute evidence for badges. Seriously, good point about inconsistency within Keswick theology & proponents. All around helpful.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Bro Bill,


By the way, going on testimonials rather than Scripture, or even accurate history, is sadly too typical for Keswick. People receive testimony of having entered into the Blessing, and others believe that the Higher Life doctrine is true on that basis. Similarly, here someone testifies that Warfield recanted, so the Higher Life is validated, even if the recantation is historically impossible.