There is a way of “[delving] into secret, shadowy regions of the heart” that is helpful. But there is also a way of “idol mining” that is dangerous and deadly to your soul. It is this deadly digging that we will look at today.
The Keswick Effect
Keswick (pronounced KEH-zick) theology is a very popular view of Christian sanctification. If J.I. Packer is correct (and he probably is), unless you belong to a Lutheran or confessionally Reformed fellowship chances are you have been heavily influenced by Keswick theology*.
Fundamental to Keswick theology is the belief that most believers live their Christian life in defeat. Keswick desires to turn defeat into victory. Believers can (indeed should) live Christian lives marked by victory—consecration to the Lord and Spirit-filling. As a result of this teaching there are two classes of believers: those that are living victoriously and those that are living in defeat.
What separates victorious believers from defeated believers? Those who are victorious have surrendered in faith. They have “Let go, and let God”. This is what happens when a believer allows Jesus to become Lord in their life. Previously, he had been Savior but not Lord. Because the flesh is sinful the only thing for us to do is surrender everything to God. Our only “effort” is the effort of letting go of our feeble attempts to live the Christian life. Simultaneous to “giving up” we then trust in the Lord to accomplish our holiness for us.
Usually all of this takes place at a moment of crisis. After this moment of crisis (which usually takes place at a weekend or week long renewal) when the believer surrenders and believes then he/she is now has taken a spiritual leap. He/she now lives the Higher Life (hence the name Higher Life Movement).
The problem, though, is that we have a tendency to “leak” the Spirit. And so the Christian life is a constant process of surrendering and believing (letting go and letting God). Most who adhere to Keswick theology do not believe that you can lose your salvation, but you certainly can slip back into being a carnal Christian. And as such you surrender your fellowship with God. If you are not surrendering and believing then you are doing things in the flesh. As such, you are not living the victorious Christian life in fellowship with God, because as Paul said, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God”.
When Keswick Meets Idol Mining
What happens, then, when a person who has bought into the Keswick view of sanctification begins idol mining? Consider these wise words from M. James Sawyer:
Another great problem with Keswick teaching in its various forms is the tendency to morbid introspection. If one’s spiritual relationship to God is dependent upon confession of known sin, and absolute yieldedness, how can one be sure that he has actually confessed all sin. If a sin has been missed somewhere, the individual is still out of fellowship with God and devoid of spiritual power. Thus instead of a relationship with God producing holiness, Keswick demands holiness before communion.
J.I. Packer was rescued out of this muddy mysticism at a young age. But, according to Packer it almost destroyed him. Listen to his experience of Keswick theology meeting idol mining:
It didn’t work and that was a deeply frustrating and depressing thing. It made me feel like a pariah, an outsider, and at the age of eighteen that was pretty burdensome. In fact, it was driving me crazy. [p. 169] The reality of its [i.e., Keswick theology’s] passivity program and its announced expectations, plus its insistence that any failure to find complete victory is entirely your fault, makes it very destructive…So all [I] could do was repeatedly reconsecrate [myself], scraping the inside of [my] psyche till it was bruised and sore in order to track down still unyielded things by which the blessing was perhaps being blocked.
Dan Phillips shares a similar experience:
The effect of all this was that I was constantly taking my spiritual pulse, constantly checking within, freezing up, paralyzed, spiraling down into deeper and deeper morbid introspection and depression. In the name of “looking to Jesus” (revealed in His Word) I was constantly looking to myself, within myself. (Phillips, The World-Tilting Gospel, 251-52)
The problems with this view of sanctification are multiple and its effects are devastating—especially to believers that may be prone to morbid introspection in the first place. Another problem is that it hi-jacks an actual helpful and biblical view of sanctification. What happens when Keswick hijacks idol mining is that the believer is looking for idols to destroy because while they still exist he cannot be in right fellowship with the Lord, he cannot have communion, he cannot have victory. Idol destruction then becomes a means to a more intimate fellowship with the Lord. It’s a way to fill in the gaps of our spiritual development.
Idol mining then becomes about me and my quest to surrender more for God, to let God have more control of me, and inevitably to be a better Christian and more acceptable to God. In essence it hijacks the gospel and the work of Christ.
But who destroys idols in the first place??? That is where we will turn next time.
*There is more to Keswick than will be dealt with in this brief article. If you are interested in the topic you are encouraged to check out two helpful articles. The first is on Wesleyan/Holiness Movement and Keswick Theology from Bible.org. The next place to look is the work of Andy Naselli. Andy did his doctoral work on the Keswick movement and he has a good amount of free resources available here: Keswick-Theology, Let Go and Let God?