Many modern Keswick advocates deny that Keswick / Higher Life theology is a form of perfectionism. But what do classic Keswick authors, those who themselves accepted, loved, and defended the Higher Life theology, say? They readily confess themselves that Keswick theology is a form of perfectionism.
W. H. Griffith Thomas:
“‘Keswick’ stands for perfectionism. I have heard that scores of times, and so have you—and it does" (Pg. 283, “The Victorious Life (I.). Bibliotheca Sacra (76:303) July 1919, 267-288).
A. T. Pierson:
“There is one kind of sinless perfection in which every Keswick teacher believes—the sinless perfection of instantaneously and for ever renouncing every known sin.” Pierson proves this sort of perfectionism in the following manner: “There is no mistake in the attitude of our Lord. He says: ‘Sin no more;’ and He would not say that if He did not mean it.” That is, God’s obligation on man and man’s ability to obey are coextensive (which is false; see here.), Pierson believes, so if God commands man not to sin, a fallen man with indwelling sin is able to be perfect; and, furthermore, “Paul preach[ed] perfect holiness,” meaning the Keswick doctrine of perfectionism. However, other sorts of perfectionism were not accepted at Keswick, according to Pierson—only their peculiar brand was acceptable. Other than the distinctive Keswick perfectionism, “being sinlessly perfect” is not for the “present” (pgs. 8-10, A Spiritual Clinique: Four Bible Readings Given at Keswick in 1907, Pierson. New York, NY: Gospel Publishing House, 1907. Italics in original). During the “‘turn of the century’ era” from “1897 to 1909 . . . Dr. Pierson came to Keswick more often than any other speaker from America . . . and assumed from the first . . . a position of leadership unique in a speaker from overseas. Again and again we read of him guiding the proceedings in times of particular moment.” The editor of the Keswick Life of Faith periodical verified that Pierson “dominated the Convention by his spiritual and intellectual powers, and thousands hung upon his words with an intense eagerness” (pg. 405, Keswick’s Authentic Voice, ed. Stevenson).
While Pierson was generally correct that the distinctive perfectionism of Hannah W. and Robert P. Smith was dominant at the early Keswick convention, he was not correct in his affirmation that other forms of perfectionism were not also acceptable at the Convention. Asa Mahan’s early influence makes it clear that Oberlin Perfectionism was acceptable from the beginning. Keswick leader H. G. Moule was converted to the Keswick theology at a convention which included both Evan Hopkins and “an ardent Salvation Army captain,” an advocate of the Army’s standard Wesleyan perfectionism (pg. 42, Transforming Keswick: The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall). Likewise, the “Japan Evangelistic Band . . . formed at the Convention of 1893 . . . looked to Wesleyan holiness speakers” (pg. 115, Transforming Keswick: The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall; cf. pg. 81, The Keswick Story: The Authorized History of the Keswick Convention, Polluck; the Band was founded by Webb-Peploe’s curate Barclay Buxton). “Another vital link between Keswick and the Wesleyan holiness tradition was through Charles Inwood,” who spoke at twenty-one Keswick conventions and represented Keswick internationally while receving prophetic impressions through which he predicted the future (pg. 112, Transforming Keswick: The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall). “As a Wesleyan Methodist himself, Inwood actively sought to influence Keswick thinking from within the movement . . . Inwood was deeply indebted to the Wesleyan revivalist tradition” (pg. 50, ibid). The Methodist perfectionist, continuationist, and woman preacher Amanda Smith, who preached at Keswick and was then invited to and preached at Broadlands by invitation of Evan Hopkins and Lord Mount-Temple in the 1880s, is another example of Methodist perfectionism being propagated at Keswick (pg. 116, The Keswick Story: The Authorized History of the Keswick Convention, Polluck; The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life: The Unpublished Personal Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith, ed. Dieter, entry for December 30; Chapter 20-21, An Autobiograpy: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, The Colored Evangelist, Containing an Account of her Life Work of Faith, and her Travels in America, England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Africa, as an Independent Missionary, Amanda Smith. Chicago, IL: Meyer & Brother, 1893; pgs. 71-73, 114, The Life that is Life Indeed: Reminiscences of the Broadlands Conferences, Edna V. Jackson. London: James Nisbet & Co, 1910).
Thus, the facts are clear that the ecumenicalism of the Keswick Convention embraced a variety of conflicting perfectionisms, predominently the type taught by Hannah W. and Robert P. Smith, but also that of the Oberlin and Wesleyan theologies, in its seeking for a Higher Life spirituality. To argue that Keswick is not perfectionism involves a clear misunderstanding of the facts.
See here for more on Keswick theology.