Friday, October 24, 2014

Do Keswick Critics Routinely Misrepresent Keswick Theology? Part 2 of 3

Keswick apologists Price & Randall, discussing J. C. Ryle and J. I. Packer’s critiques of Keswick, join McQuilkin in bringing the standard charge of misrepresentation of Keswick.[1]  Again, no actual documentation of misrepresentation is forthcoming.  Packer, for instance, is criticized for “misunderstand[ing]”[2] Stephen Barabas’s Keswick work, So Great Salvation, when Packer simply quoted Barabas’s own words without any distortion whatever.  Keswick authors have had a century[3] to put in print actual evidence of Warfield or other Keswick critics misquoting Keswick authors or otherwise engaging in misrepresentation, manipulation, or misunderstanding.  They have provided no proof of this kind.  The hard facts indicate that the prominent Keswick critics Warfield, Packer, and Ryle understood Keswick theology very well. 
            Shortly after Warfield published his critique of the Higher Life, Keswick, and Victorious Life movements in the Princeton Review, W. H. Griffith Thomas wrote two articles in the Bibliotheca Sacra as a response to Warfield’s critique of the Victorious Life.[4]  Thomas affirmed that advocates of the Keswick theology “do not believe Dr. Warfield’s interpretation of their position is always and necessarily the true one,”[5] possibly originating the common affirmation by later advocates of the Keswick theology that Warfield misrepresented the Higher Life doctrine.  Thomas made “[n]o attempt . . . to deal with every contention, but only an effort to consider the more outstanding of [Warfield’s] criticisms.”[6]  Griffith Thomas makes some striking and eye-opening statements in his response to Warfield, such as:  “I am convinced that Dr. Warfield has failed to recognize the element of truth, even in what he calls Pelagianism,”[7] and: “‘Keswick’ stands for perfectionism.  I have heard that scores of times, and so have you—and it does.”[8]  Modern Keswick apologists who charge critics with misrepresentation for associating Keswick with perfectionism need to similarly affirm that early defenders and promulgators of Keswick theology like Griffith Thomas also were guilty of misrepresentation.  Not only early critics of Keswick, such as Warfield, but also early defenders, such as Griffith Thomas, must have failed to see Keswick’s opposition to perfectionism—only modern Keswick apologists have apparently discerned the truth invisible to those living far closer to the time the Higher Life system originated.
While making striking concessions to Warfield, Griffith Thomas also seeks to moderate Keswick errors, sometimes through a certain historical revisionism.  For example, he wrote:  “[H]ow free Mr. Pearsall Smith really was from the errors attributed by some people to him[!]”[9]  Griffith Thomas’s revisionism leads him, at times, to  affirm positions directly contrary to those of central leaders of the Higher Life and Victorious Life movement whom Warfield critiques.  Nonetheless, one can be thankful for whatever Scriptural affirmations Griffith Thomas makes, even if they contradict the actual affirmations of Keswick founders and promulgators.
Thomas makes a variety of criticisms of Warfield’s affirmations,[10] a few of which are valid,[11] but many of which are not themselves especially accurate.  Thomas criticizes Warfield’s affirmation that the Keswick theology denies the possibility of actually becoming more sanctified or holy, but then strongly affirms that “there is no present . . . deliverance from corruption . . . . [no] essential difference between the youngest and the oldest Christian in regard to remaining corruption . . . no eradication . . . or even improvement . . . [only] counteraction,”[12] demonstrating that Warfield has not misunderstood the Keswick position at all.  Thomas attempts to separate the Keswick theology from its roots in Wesleyan, Oberlin, and other earlier perfectionisms.  Nonetheless, he concedes that the first Keswick convention had Oberlin leader Asa Mahan as speaker and admits that Warfield can “quote [Keswick] writers”[13] that support his affirmations.  Griffith Thomas himself even stated elsewhere that “the roots of the distinctive teaching . . . [of the] Keswick Convention . . . can easily be traced in the writings of . . . John Wesley [and his proposed successor in the Methodist movement] Fletcher of Madeley.”[14]  Indeed, Thomas very rarely seeks to demonstrate that Warfield quoted any Higher Life writer out of context, and Thomas never quotes any Keswick writer warning about or reproving the errors Warfield exposes in those founders and writers of Keswick theology that the Princetonian examines.  The best Thomas can do is to find, in certain situations, certain Keswick writers who are more sane and orthodox than Higher Life and Keswick founders such as H. W. and R. P. Smith or Mark Boardman, and then state that these authors—rather than the Keswick teachers, leaders, and founders upon which Warfield focuses his critique—truly represent the Higher Life position.  However, while criticizing Warfield for exposing the errors of Keswick founders, Thomas freely admits:
[T]he modern Holiness Movement came to England very largely, if not almost entirely, through Mr. R. Pearsall Smith . . . Humanly speaking, but for him there would probably have been no Conventions, beginning with that at Oxford, extending to Brighton, and spreading all over the kingdom, of which the Conventions at Keswick are best known[.] . . . [M]any thousands who have been definitely helped [by Keswick theology] little know how much they owe to “R. P. S.” for the life more abundant that they enjoy.[15]
Griffith Thomas avers that “Mr. Trumbull . . . H. W. Smith . . . Mr. Boardma[n] . . . [are] men and women . . .sincere and . . . earnest”[16] and fails to whisper the slightest warning about the severe errors they held.  Thomas’s critique of Warfield is largely unsuccessful.
Griffith Thomas’s response to Warfield, very regrettably but perhaps unsurprisingly, is not based solely on the results of grammatical-historical exegesis.  In addition to making some very curious and unsustainable affirmations about the meaning of passages,[17] Thomas argues for the Keswick theology based on what he has “observed,” on “experience,” and on “very many a Christian experience.”[18]  In Griffith Thomas’s mind, Warfield is wrong because “experience in general gives no suggestion” of his position and “there is no general evidence of” Warfield’s doctrine “in Christian lives.”[19]  While affirming, though not expositing passages to prove it, that Warfield contradicts Scripture in affirming progressive eradication and renewal, Thomas also argues that “Warfield . . . is disproved . . . by experience of everyday life.”[20]  Thomas’s second article, “The Victorious Life (II.),” is almost useless for someone who wishes to build doctrine from Scripture alone, as the great majority of it is essentially nothing but testimonials from various people about how wonderful the Keswick theology is and how it has helped them, a sort of compilation that the most extreme Word-Faith proponent, or a member of Mary Baker Eddy’s cult, or a Mormon, could compile to support their respective heresies.  After telling stories about how people adopted Higher Life theology and felt better afterwards, Griffith Thomas concludes:  “I submit, with all deference to Dr. Warfield, yet with perfect confidence, that the convinced acceptance of the Keswick movement by such [men] . . . is impressive enough to make people inquire whether, after all, it does not stand for essential Biblical truth.”[21]  Griffith Thomas would have done far better had he carefully exposited Scripture to develop his theology of sanctification, and to have placed “perfect confidence” in the Word of God, the true sole authority for faith and practice, rather than placing such confidence in men and their testimonials.  Properly exegeted Scripture, not testimonial, is the touchstone for truth.  Unfortunately, rather than arguing from Scripture alone, Thomas concludes that since “Evangelical clergymen . . . have found” the Keswick theology “to be their joy, comfort, and strength,” it must be true:
[We are] more and more certain that in holding [Keswick theology] and teaching it we are absolutely loyal to the “old, old story.” . . . [A]ble and clear-minded Christian men bear testimony to [Keswick] experience . . . [n]o experience which carries moral and ethical value can be without a basis of some truth . . . the rich experiences to which testimony is given . . . the possession of an experience which has evidently enriched their lives . . . [is] not to be set aside by any purely doctrinal and theoretical criticism.[22]

The Keswick experience, Griffith Thomas avers, is not to be set aside by criticism of its doctrine from Scripture alone.  Thomas illustrates, in the final paragraph of his critique, his paradigmatic response to Keswick critics.  He tells a story about a time when he was in the presence of an “Evangelical clergyman in England who took a very strong line against Keswick and reflected on it for what he regarded as its errors, in the light of . . . old-fashioned Evangelicalism.”[23]  Thomas did not, in response, show from the Bible alone the truth of the Keswick theology;  rather, he “told” the critic of his “experience in the spiritual life” and entrance into “a spiritual experience of light, liberty, joy, and power,” so that “the messages . . . of the Keswick Convention” provided “confirmation . . . of my personal experiences.”[24]  Thus, Scripture must be interpreted in light of Keswick experiences.[25]  While one who rejects sola Scriptura might find such argumentation of value, those who build their doctrine from the Bible alone and evaluate spiritual experience from the truth of its teaching alone will find Griffith Thomas’s case remarkably unconvincing.  If the Apostle Peter’s incredible experience of seeing the transfiguration of Christ was subordinate to Scripture, a “more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:16-21), what place can the experiences of Keswick proponents have in comparison to Scripture?  Thomas does, however, effectively illustrate the methods through which the Keswick theology spreads among the people of God.  By means of personal narrations of having “received the blessing,” entered the Higher Life, and the like, by means of written testimonials and devotional works, and by means of special conventions and gatherings where careful exegesis and Bible study are not undertaken, the Keswick theology spreads among those who are not well-grounded in a Biblical doctrine of sanctification, despite its abysmal failure to effectively deal with devastating, unrefuted, and irrefutable exegetical and theological critiques of Keswick.[26]

This entire study can be accessed here.

[1]           Pgs. 210-227, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall.
[2]           Pg. 221, Transforming Keswick, Price & Randall.
[3]           The chapter on the Victorious Life movement by Warfield, as reprinted in his Perfectionism, volume 2, was originally printed in The Princeton Theological Review 16 (1918) 321-373. 
[4]           “The Victorious Life (I.).”  Bibliotheca Sacra (76:303) July 1919, 267-288; “The Victorious Life (II.).”  Bibliotheca Sacra (76:304) October 1919, 455-467.
[5]           Pg. 267, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[6]           Pg. 267, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[7]           Pg. 279, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[8]           Pg. 283, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[9]           Pg. 285, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[10]         Pgs. 267ff. “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[11]         E. g., Griffith Thomas is correct that Warfield downplays the resistibility of grace (pg. 279, “The Victorious Life (I.).”).
[12]         Pgs. 272-274, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[13]         Pg. 269, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[14]         Pg. 223, “The Literature of Keswick,” Griffith Thomas, in The Keswick Convention: Its Message, Its, Method, and Its Men, ed. Charles Harford.  In this work, Thomas also lists other antecedents to Keswick theology, such as the Roman Catholic mystic and heretic Madame Guyon.
[15]         Pgs. 285-286, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[16]         Pg. 463, “The Victorious Life (II.).”
[17]         E. g., Romans 8:1ff., pg. 271-272, “The Victorious Life (I.).”  Thomas also states that he has “long ceased to be concerned about whether [Romans 7:14-25] refers to a believer or an unconverted man” (pg. 276) and makes arguments that would lead to the conclusion that he is neither saved nor unsaved.
[18]         Pgs. 273, 275, 277, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[19]         Pg. 464, “The Victorious Life (II.).”
[20]         Pg. 275, “The Victorious Life (I.).”
[21]         Pgs. 462-463, “The Victorious Life (II.).”
[22]         Pgs. 465-466, “The Victorious Life (II.).”
[23]         Pg. 466, “The Victorious Life (II.).”
[24]         Pg. 467, “The Victorious Life (II.).”
[25]         Pg. 466, “The Victorious Life (II.).”
[26]         For other examples of the spread of the Keswick theology by testimonial rather than exegesis, see, e. g., pgs. 54, 71, Evan Harry Hopkins:  A Memoir, Alexander Smellie.

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