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Peter Althouse: Wesleyan and Reformed Impulses in the Keswick and Pentecostal Movements


Editor’s note: This academic paper by Peter Althouse, whom Jurgen Moltmann described in his autobiography as one of “the younger theologians of the Pentecostal movement,” investigates the roots of the Keswick movement and its influence on Pentecostalism.

1. Introduction

The first Keswick Convention convened in June 1875, when a few hundred men and women gathered in the Northwestern British town of Keswick for a series of Bible studies, addresses and prayer meetings designed to promote “practical holiness.”1 This convention was directly influenced by Robert Pearsall Smith, a Quaker glass maker with Holiness leanings who, with his wife Hannah Whithall Smith and Presbyterian friend W.E. Boardman, conducted a series of meetings in 1873 in an effort to foster a “higher Christian life” for both clergy and lay-persons. In August 1874, R.P. Smith, Theodore Monod, Otto Stockmayer, Evan Hopkins, Asa Mahan and W.E. Boardman conducted a conference at Oxford, one which had significant influence on the later Keswick conference. Finally, just a month prior to the Keswick conference Smith, Hopkins, Mahan and Monod conducted a meeting in Brighton with the same goals in mind. T.D. Harford-Battersby and Robert Wilson then invited the Smiths to Keswick to conduct a “Union Meeting for the Promotion of Practical Holiness,” but just before the conference Smith withdrew from the meeting for reasons shrouded in mystery. The leadership of the first Keswick Convention consequently fell to Battersby.2

The Keswick Convention was evangelical in its orientation,3 but unlike the American revivalism which influenced it, Keswick would more accurately be defined as a renewal movement. Keswick, while meeting annually to this day, had not formed an “official” theology, had not schismed into a new denomination and, like its first meeting, consisted of an interdenominational constituency with its own organizational structures.4 Yet the Keswick movement was an important development in the history of British Christianity, particularly in its validation of a Christian life of holiness for those who were uneasy with Wesleyan perfectionism. It had significant influence as well, specifically in its impact upon the development and tensions within American Pentecostalism as Keswick theology was reintroduced into North America.

More generally, the Keswick movement was impacted by two streams of theology: the “new light” and New School Calvinism of American revivalism, particularly in the figures of Charles G. Finney and Asa Mahan of the Oberlin school and Wesleyan perfectionism particularly in the Holiness movements. Yet, in the interplay of Wesleyan and Calvinist theological streams, tensions existed, particularly in the doctrine of sanctification. J. Robertson McQuilkin, a Keswick scholar, has pointed out that Keswick was accused by Presbyterian minister B.B, Warfield of teaching perfectionism of the Wesleyan kind5 and from the other side, H.A. Baldwin, a Free Methodist minister, objected to Keswick holiness when he commented “‘Keswickism’ is described as ‘one of the most dangerous enemies of the experience of holiness…for they give us to understand that such a thing as the entire eradication of the carnal nature from the soul is an impossibility in this world.”6 This friction was due, in part, to the diversity of leadership. While the leadership of the Keswick conferences was dominated by evangelical Anglicans and American revivalists, there were some Wesleyans in the group. However, modern scholarship generally agrees that the Keswick view of sanctification had more of a Reformed view.

This paper will argue that the Keswick understanding of sin and sanctification did in fact adopt a “New School” Calvinist view distinct from the Wesleyan perfectionist view, even though there was a definite interplay of Wesleyan perfectionism in both New School and Keswick thought. Furthermore, this understanding had a direct and divisive impact on the formation and development of American Pentecostalism. This position will be argued by first examining the theological environment of Wesleyan Holiness and American Revivalism’s understanding of sin and sanctification as a prolegomena to the Keswick Conferences. Second, the Keswick view will be examined with its distinctiveness from its forbearers. Finally, the implications that the Keswick view had on the formation and development of American Pentecostalism will be examined, particularly in the sanctification controversy of 1910 centred around the theological distinctions of William Durham. At the same time, it will be argued that the very seeds of the controversy were in place at the very onset of the Pentecostal movement in 1900/1908 and that this was part of the reason for the formation of the movement.

II. The Perfectionism of Wesleyan Methodism and the Holiness Movement

John Wesley’s theology of salvation, as it related to his understanding of sin and sanctification, has had significant impact upon Protestant Christianity (including the Keswick movement) for the past two centuries. Unlike subsequent Wesleyan and Pentecostal movements which understood elements of salvation as stages of Christian experience, i.e. conversion, perfection as the “second blessing and/or baptism of the Holy Spirit, Wesley understood salvation as moments or dimensions of faith. Thus conviction of sin, repentance, justification and sanctification were dimensions of salvation which spanned across the life of the Christian.7 Wesley preached that

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Category: Church History

About the Author: Peter F. Althouse, PhD (University of Toronto), is Assistant Professor of Religion at Southeastern University. He is the author of Spirit of the Last Days: Pentecostal Eschatology in Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann (T & T Clark, 2003), and has written many articles on eschatology, pneumatology and Pentecostal studies. Faculty page. Facebook.

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