April 25, 2017

Reformed Theology vs. Keswick Theology

The following Q&A recently appeared at Dr. John VanGelderen’s Revival Focus blog.

Dear John: Would you please explain the main difference between the Reformed theology sanctification model and the Keswick model?
Thank you for this relevant question! Much misinformation has been communicated on this subject,
Dr. John VanGelderen
so I’m glad to address it. Although pages could be written on the various differences, dealing with the main difference can be addressed briefly. For years I have maintained that the underlying issue between Reformed theology and Keswick theology (and for that matter Arminian theology) revolves around one’s view of faith.
Basically, there are three views of faith: unfettered choice, inevitable faith, and responsible faith.
  1. Arminian theology (at least with those of a thoroughgoing persuasion) views faith as unfettered choice. Man is responsible to believe and can believe when he wants to.
  2. Reformed theology (with those of a thoroughgoing persuasion) views faith as inevitable for “the elect.” Faith is viewed as a human work. So, to insure salvation by grace, and keep “works” out of salvation, those whom God elects are regenerated in order to believe. Regeneration precedes faith. If you are regenerated, it is inevitable that you will believe, and it is inevitable that you will persevere in progressive sanctification.
  3. Keswick theology views faith as responsible faith. Faith is not viewed as a work, but rather as dependence on the Worker—God. Faith is man’s response of God-dependence to God’s convicting work. But man can resist or respond to God’s conviction. It is not inevitable. This principle would apply to salvation and Christian growth. Faith is a responsibility that is not a human work. Faith is the cooperation of a relationship of trust in God, both His will and power. Keswick is often defined as “sanctification by faith.”
Personally, I believe God’s divine order is divine initiation, human responsibility (faith), and divine enablement. For example Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The phrase “it is God which worketh in you” reveals the need for divine initiation. Man does not choose right without God convicting him to do so. The phrase “to will” highlights man’s response of faith. The phrase “and to do of his good pleasure” expresses God’s divine enablement. This order holds true for salvation and for Christian growth. Arminian theology minimizes divine initiation. Reformed theology minimizes the responsibility of faith by making it inevitable. Keswick theology embraces divine initiation, the faith response, and then divine enablement.
The key here is discerning whether or not faith is a human work. Some Reformers thought of faith as a human work, and thus the system of inevitable faith. But faith is not a work. Romans 4:5 makes this abundantly clear by saying, “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him.” Faith then is not a work, but dependence on the Worker. Faith says, “I can’t, but God can.” Faith is man’s responsibility, but it is not a work—the Bible says so. But because of misunderstanding regarding this truth, some Reformed theologians tend to accuse Keswick of being man-centered because Keswick emphasizes faith. But this reveals a misunderstanding of faith. For it is impossible for God-dependence to be man-centered!
John R. VanGelderen

Related Reading:
Keswick: A Good Word or a Bad One?

Keswick theology teaches that “progressive sanctification” does not mean an inevitable gradual sanctification, but rather that sanctification is accelerated by faith choices and is hindered by choices of unbelief. Obviously, the Holy Spirit keeps working, but believers are responsible to cooperate in faith for sanctification to progress according to God’s will. Keswick teaches that just as justification is by faith, so also sanctification is by faith.

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