I was raised in a church group with abusive and cultic tendencies called The Assembly which was deeply influenced by Keswick “higher life” teachings and piety, including its famous hymnody. We were constantly told that we needed to “get out of Romans 7″ (defeated and constantly struggling with sin) and “into Romans 8″ (the higher Christian life).
So I was intrigued when I stumbled on these lectures by Andy Naselli which provide a historical survey and critical analysis of the movement.
The problem with the super-duper spirituality of Keswick (and the Charismatic movement that continues its legacy today) is that it inevitably numbs you to spiritual things and is thus counter-productive.
First of all, the constant devotional exercises, mountain-top experiences, and retreats begin to get real old after a few years. They become a grind that you have to go through in order to constantly re-energize your flagging spirituality.
Second, you can only lay yourself on the altar and consecrate yourself to the Lord so many times before you realize that your struggles with sin aren’t going away this side of glory.
Third, this realization can lead to one of two things: either you give up on the whole thing, perhaps on Christianity altogether, or you begin to lie to yourself and to others about how victorious you are, and you end up a pompous Pharisee.
For me personally, the challenge of my spiritual life for the last 19 years (I left The Assembly in 1989) has been how to recover a genuine spirituality in which one can enjoy communion with God and grow in sanctification by grace rather than by legalism.
I view the hyper-spirituality of Keswick like guys who work out and are all roided up but who have low self-esteem. They are constantly flexing their muscles in your face but they don’t know the first thing about true strength. True spirituality is more like the lean muscularity of the gangly Kenyan long-distance runner. The Christian life is a long haul, and there are times when we feel closer to the Lord and feel like we’re doing better in the area of sanctification, and there are times when we just have to put one foot in front of the other and slog on.
I think Christ lets us struggle with sin because he doesn’t want to let us get to the point where we think we don’t need him any more. The goal is not sinless perfection, or even reducing our sin quota. The goal is the deepening of our faith in Christ, our love for him, our enjoyment of him, and deep-seated loyalty to him. I say “loyalty” because it is too easy to say “obedience.” You can do all the right behaviors and avoid all the bad behaviors and yet not be loyal to Christ. Conversely, you can struggle with sin and be loyal to Christ. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 “righteous persons” who need no repentance (Lk 15:7).
Keswick theology fosters a self-centered spirituality where we are always preening in front of the mirror so we can revel in how spiritually ripped we are. But as Paul said, God forbid that I should boast, save in the cross of Christ.
HT: For His Renown