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


John Wesley made clear and decisive distinctions between his theology and that of the Calvinists, but these distinctions would blur as Methodism and Calvinism interacted in the United States. While perfectionist theology was clearly Wesleyan, it would be picked up by a number of Reformed theologians and remoulded according to Calvinist views of sin and predestination. Though Calvin’s theology of predestination did not survive intact, neither did perfectionism as articulated by Wesley. However, in the interplay of Wesleyan/Calvinist theology in the United States, particularly in Wesleyan-Holiness and New School Calvinist articulations, the emphasis of holiness as an experience of grace or “second blessing” would start to dominate.

This holiness emphasis was to also dominate the Keswick Conferences in Britain, but in an effort to distinguish itself from Wesleyan perfectionism, Keswick would follow more in the Reformed tradition of the Oberlin school. Thus, Keswick defined sanctification as a crisis leading to a process, where sin was daily subdued by the activity of the Holy Spirit. This definition allied more with Reformed notions of utter depravity, than the Wesleyan notion of eradication.

The Keswick understanding of sanctification had direct historical and theological influences upon the early Pentecostal movement, but unlike Keswick, which believed that the second act of grace was an act of sanctification that would initiate a process of holiness, Pentecostal leaders focused around the issue of whether there were two or three acts of grace and whether or not the “second blessing” was an experience of sanctification or an experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit accompanied by the gift of tongues. The two or three acts of grace issue would fracture the fledgling movement. Nevertheless, the Keswick notions of sanctification not only influenced the more Reformed/Keswick Pentecostals, but Holiness Pentecostals as well.

Finally, research into the historical and theological connections between the Keswick and Pentecostal movements was sorely lacking and in need of further research. Indeed, both the Keswick movement and the Pentecostal movement taken separately have been overlooked by many researchers. Furthermore, while beyond the scope of this paper, what was the relationship between Keswick and Fundamentalism in the United States and why did Pentecostalism diverge from the Fundamentalism stream? Nevertheless, the Keswick movement has had significant impact upon twentieth century Christianity.  



1John Pollock, “A Hundred Years of Keswick,” Christianity Today: 19 (June 20, 1975): pp. 6-8.

2See David. Bundy, “Keswick and the Experience of Evangelical Piety,” Modern Christian Revivals, eds. Edith L. Blumhofer and Randall Balmer (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), pp. 125-8.

3David Bebbington developed a helpful definition of evangelicalism which included an emphasis upon conversionism, activism, biblicism and crucentrism (a focus on the cross). D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), pp. 2-3. Keswick emphasized all four, though generally speaking, most people who attended the conferences were already Christians who desired a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ through the activity of the Holy Spirit. There has been, however, a dissenting view regarding a definition of evangelicalism. Donald Dayton argued the evangelicalism has become such a convoluted category that it has become meaningless. Sixteenth-century Reformational theology, eighteenth-century pietism and conversionist theology and twentieth-century fundamentalism formed subsets which were isolated and unrelated. See Donald W. Dayton, “Some Doubts about the Usefulness of the Category `Evangelical’,” The Variety of American Evangelicalism, eds. Donald W. Dayton and Robert K. Johnston (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1991), p. 245.

4The Keswick convention was a bit of an anomaly to the sect/church typology articulated by sociologist Max Weber and theologian Ernst Troeltsch. Weber and Troeltsch argued that a new religious movement would soon schism from its host church and form a sect. This sect would be antagonistic to the culture around it (Neibuhr’s Christ against culture type). Over time, the sect would adopt the customs, mores and organizational structures of its culture, developing an alliance between the church and culture (Neibuhr’s Christ and culture). The sect consisted primarily of the lower classes, those who had little access to the resources of the church or society, while the church consisted of the middle and upper classes, which involved an easy allied between the two. See Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), pp. 306-7; 316-7; Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1960), p. 33; and H. Richard Neibuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper Touchbooks, 1951).

5J. Robertson McQuilkin, “The Keswick Perspective,” Five Views on Sanctification, eds. M. Dieter, et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1987), p. 156.

6From Objections to Entire Sanctification Considred, as cited by David D. Bundy, The Higher Christian Life: A Bibliographical Overview (New York: Garland Publishers, 1985), p. 45.

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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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