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

Since Calvinism look[ed] upon those human weaknesses which produce[d] a lack of conformity to the perfect will of God (mistakes, lapses of memory, ignorance, etc.) as sin, it [was] not conceivable that followers of Keswick could think of a perfect cleansing of the individual in the world. Wesleyans, on the other hand, ha[d] no such theological impediment, for “sanctification” connote[d] for them the cleansing of the affections and motives, but not the undoing of the non-moral effects of the Fall.68

The categories become, according to Bundy, “eradicationist” (Keswick term for the Holiness position) and “suppressionist” (Holiness Movement term for the Keswick position). The Keswick goal of “uniform sustained victory over known sin” was described as suppressionist, while the Wesleyan-Holiness goal of the elimination of sin from the heart of the believer was described as eradicationist. There was, however uniform agreement of the need for sanctification.69

Thus the distinction that Keswick made in its understanding of sanctification was the emphasis upon a daily surrender. The idea of surrender correlated with a modified Calvinist belief in the depravity of sin, where sin could only be overcome through the constant and active work of the spirit of Christ, but that it could never be completely elimination in this world. This understanding of sin and sanctification was different from the Wesleyan understanding of an inward change realized in the moment of perfection.

To summarize, the distinction of the more Reformed Keswick view of sanctification and the Wesleyan-Holiness view, Ralph Thompson identified both the similarities and differences. First, both offered a basic doctrinal agreement in its appraisal of the unregenerated human, which asserted that humans were sinners by nature and unable to cease sinning. Second, both based their hope of salvation in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Third, they believed that justification was by faith in Christ, attended by regeneration and thus the sinner was made a child of God. Fourth, even though the sinner was forgiven in justification, at which time sanctification commenced, sin remained in the believer. The complete victory in Christ came through a second crisis experience as a second act of grace. The distinction between Wesleyan and Keswick centred around the fact that Wesleyans considered the “second-blessing” was a normal procedure in the economy of God, but that Keswick leaders believed that the “second-blessing” was necessary not because God intended sanctification to come after justification, but because the sinner was ignorant of the need for God’s provision through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Finally, both believed that the sanctified believer would grow in grace, but that sanctification could also be lost.70

Thompson asserted, however, that there were differences in the Keswick/Wesleyan positions. Wesleyanism taught that the soul itself was delivered from sin in sanctification, while Keswick taught that the believer was not made holy because sin remained in the heart, but that one could live a victorious life over sin. The distinction was one of a realization of perfection (Wesleyan) as opposed to resting in the peace that God was able and would daily deliver the Christian from sin (Keswick). It was also a difference between a state of holiness (Wesleyan) and a condition of holiness (Keswick), and this was were the eradicationist/ suppressionist accusations came into play. For example H.W. Webb-Peploe objected to the Wesleyan holiness position by arguing that “The man who believe[d] in a sanctification which eradicate[d] sin from his person, as a principle, must be satisfied with his own condition, and be able to take his place more or less independent of the Saviour….”71 The Wesleyan response to Webb-Peploe centred around Wesley’s concern that sin was made a “necessity.” Thus D. Shelby Corlett responded to the Keswick position with the statement: “[Sin was] entirely removed from the heart of the Christian, because this sinful nature [was] enmity against God…[and that] it [could] not be incorporated into the Christian life, it [could] not be harmonized with the nature of God, nor [could] it be brought under perfect control.”72

Keswick theology was reintroduced back into the United States by D.L. Moody, who in the 1890s, conducted a series meetings known as the Northfield Conventions.73 Moody invited Keswick leaders such as F.B. Meyer, Andrew Murray, H.W. Webb-Peploe and G. Campbell Morgan to speak at a number of the conventions, Meyer returning five different years. Furthermore, the Keswick leaders linked up with Americans A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and A.J. Gordon, a Baptist whose work was known primarily through Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Both Simpson and Gordon adopted Keswick positions on sanctification, though strictly speaking they also influenced by the Oberlin school. They were also significant in establishing a link between Reformed/Keswick and Wesleyan-Holiness ideas to the Pentecostal emphasis of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.74

IV. Sanctification in Pentecostalism: Two Works of Grace or Three Works of Grace?

The influence of the Keswick view of sanctification on the development of Pentecostalism has been disputed among Pentecostal scholars. Both Vinson Synan and Donald Dayton saw Pentecostalism as a schism within the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, but with essentially Wesleyan theology. Synan’s thesis stated that “the historical and doctrinal lineage of American pentecostalism [was] to be found in the Wesleyan tradition.”75 Dayton was in general agreement with this position, for he argued that leaders of the Holiness movement recognized Pentecostalism as one of its own, with only the gift of tongues setting it apart.76

Yet there has been an alternate interpretation, primarily offered by Robert M. Anderson and Edith Blumhofer, which argued that Pentecostalism was something quite different than a Holiness schism. Anderson boldly stated:

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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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