Romans 12:1–2 and the Doctrine of Sanctification, Part 2

Reproduced with permission from DBSJ 11 (2006). Read the series.

It is universally acknowledged that the Keswick or Victorious Life Movement was the immediate successor to the Higher Life Movement.25 Historically, Keswick began as an outgrowth of a series of breakfast meetings designed to promote Holiness teaching during Dwight L. Moody’s 1873 London campaign.26 These meetings were led by Robert and Hannah Smith, and included other Holiness leaders like William E. Boardman and Asa Mahan (1799–1889). The spirit of these meetings was continued by the Broadlands conference in 1874 and a meeting at Oxford a few weeks later. An even larger gathering was held at Brighton from May 29 to June 7, 1875. Moody threw his support behind it and said, “Let us lift up our hearts to seek earnestly a blessing on the great Convention that is now being held in Brighton, perhaps the most important meeting ever gathered.”27 One of the converts to the Victorious Life at these meetings was Rev. T. D. Harford-Battersby, Vicar of St. John’s, Keswick, a parish in the lake district of northwest England. He organized a conference for July of 1875 that was held in a tent on his church grounds with about three or four hundred attending. Annual Keswick conferences have been held each summer ever since.28

Keswick theology teaches that the average Christian is a carnal Christian. He is justified but there is little or no sanctification, no spiritual growth, no victory over sin in his life. He needs, as John Wesley and Phoebe Palmer taught, a second, transforming work of grace—the second blessing. This comes in a crisis act of dedication or total surrender that is spoken of in Romans 12:1–2. For instance, Evan Hopkins (1838–1918), who was a key leader at the Keswick Convention for forty consecutive years (1876–1915) and widely considered to be “the theologian” of Keswick,29 insisted that the believer must “first yield in a spirit of entire submission.”30 To prove his point Hopkins exposits Romans 12:1, focusing on the once-for-all nature of the believer’s consecration as demanded by the aorist tense of the verb “present.”31

Keswick teaching was first spread in America through Moody’s Northfield Conferences in Massachusetts.32 In 1910 Charles G. Trumbull, the editor of the Sunday School Times, became a convert to Keswick beliefs, and he used his editorial energies to promote Keswick teaching in America. He along with his assistant at the Sunday School Times, Robert C. McQuilkin (founded Columbia Bible College in 1923), began an “American Keswick” conference in 1913, which permanently settled at Keswick Grove, New Jersey in 1923.33 Numerous well-known authors spread Keswick theology, including A. T. Pierson. F. B. Meyer, Andrew Murray, H. C. G. Moule, W. H. Griffith Thomas, C. I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer, J. Hudson Taylor. J. Oswald Sanders, J. Robertson McQuilkin, Alan Redpath, Ruth Paxson, and W. Ian Thomas.

Keswick theology was linked with the founding of a number of evangelical Bible schools and missionary agencies, such as Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, Columbia Bible College, Prairie Bible Institute, and Dallas Theological Seminary.34 Books written by many of the early faculty members of these schools helped spread this theology into most of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.35 Though not often recognized as such, Keswick, Higher Life, and Holiness teaching that emphasizes the importance of total consecration as essential for sanctification is still taught in numerous classrooms and heralded from many pulpits.

In a review of a somewhat recent volume comparing and contrasting five common views of sanctification (Wesleyan, Keswick, Pentecostal, Augustinian-Dispensational and Reformed), Turner is led to conclude, “There may only be two views of sanctification presented in this volume.”36 This is because the Wesleyan, Keswick, Pentecostal, and Augustinian-Dispensational views, as presented, are in general agreement, all emphasizing the requirement for total consecration. The so-called Augustinian-Dispensational viewpoint presented by John Walvoord, who followed Chafer as president and professor of theology at Dallas Seminary, is misnamed since dispensationalism has nothing to do per se with any particular view of sanctification, though it is often mistakenly identified with Keswick theology.37 Walvoord’s view, as he himself is quick to admit, is essentially the same as Keswick.38 And earlier Dallas professors like Chafer, Walvoord, and Ryrie were prominent in spreading Keswick theology and the need for entire consecration in much of evangelicalism and fundamentalism in the twentieth century.39 This emphasis on the requirement of entire consecration from texts like Romans 12:1–2 was not limited to Dallas Seminary but could be found throughout evangelicalism and fundamentalism.40 Anecdotally, a colleague of mine recently pointed me to the web page of a theology professor at a fundamental/evangelical seminary whose résumé included not only the date he was born again, but also the date of his “dedication,” obviously emphasizing the once-and-for-all nature of the event. Recent articles by two fundamentalists continue to laud the theology of Keswick.41 The idea of an act of total consecration as essential for sanctification is alive and well.

In this essay I will argue that this emphasis on entire consecration is wrongheaded, and this use of Romans 12:1–2 is really a misuse. This text is no doubt using the imagery of dedication, but it cannot and does not support the theology of sanctification through a single, once-for-all act of dedication. It does not teach that sanctification begins and depends upon such a dedication. In truth sanctification begins at the time of justification and is the normal and inevitable result of regeneration.42

Notes

25 J. C. Pollock, The Keswick Story: The Authorized History of the Keswick Convention (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964), pp. 12–46; Steven Barabas, So Great Salvation: History and Message of the Keswick Convention (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1952), pp. 15–27; Charles Price and Ian Randall, Transforming Keswick (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: OM Publishing, 2000), pp. 14, 21–33; Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, s.v. “Palmer, Phoebe Worrall,” by H. E. Raser, p. 503; Beacon Dictionary of Theology, s.v. “Higher Life,” Melvin E. Dieter, p. 257; Dictionary of Christianity in America, s.v. “Higher Christian Life,” by W. S. Gunter, p. 526. Dictionary of Christianity in America, s.v. “Keswick Movement,” by B. L. Shelley, p. 613.

26 Pollock, The Keswick Story, pp. 18–19; Dictionary of Christianity in America, s.v. “Keswick Movement,” p. 612.

27 Quoted in Barabas, So Great Salvation, p. 23.

28 David Bebbington suggests Keswick Conventions lost their distinctive “Keswick” teaching in the 1960s (Holiness in Nineteenth-Century England Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000], p. 90).

29 Herbert F. Stevenson, ed. Keswick’s Authentic Voice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959), p. 16. Price and Randall call Hopkins the “formative theologian of Keswick” (Transforming Keswick, p. 39).

30 Evan H. Hopkins, The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Sunday School Times, 1952), p. 66.

31 Ibid., p. 67. This is a common emphasis among Keswick speakers. For the same argument by a Keswick speaker, based on the aorist tense in Rom 12:1, see J. Oswald Sanders, Christ Indwelling and Enthroned (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1949), p. 55.

32 Dictionary of Christianity in America, s.v. “Keswick Movement,” p. 613.

33 George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 96.

34 Dictionary of Christianity in America, s.v. “Keswick Movement,” p. 613; Edwin W. Tait, “The Cleansing Wave,” Christian History & Biography, Spring 2004, p. 25; Dictionary of Christianity in America, s.v. “Chafer, Lewis Sperry,” by J. D. Hannah, p. 238.

35 For example, Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967).

36 David L. Turner, review of Five Views on Sanctification, by Melvin E. Dieter, Anthony A. Hoekema, Stanley M. Horton, J. Robertson McQuilkin, and John F. Walvoord, Grace Theological Journal 10 (Spring 1989): 98.

37 See Jonathan R. Pratt, “Dispensational Sanctification: A Misnomer,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 7 (Fall 2002): 95–108; Mark A. Snoeberger, “Second-blessing Models of Sanctification and Early Dallas Dispensationalism,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 15 (Spring 2004): 93–105.

38 Responding to the Keswick presentation by McQuilkin, Walvoord says, “Those holding to the Augustinian-dispensational perspective on sanctification will find little with which they need to take issue in J. Robertson McQuilkin’s presentation of the Keswick perspective” (“Response to McQuilkin,” in Five Views on Sanctification, p. 194). Similarly, responding to Walvoord’s view, McQuilkin says, “Many Keswick teachers and the basic Keswick approach are in harmony with John Walvoord’s presentation” (“Response to Walvoord,” in Five Views on Sanctification, p. 236).

39 Another Dallas teacher, J. Dwight Pentecost, has said, “Experiential sanctification…begins with the act of presenting oneself unto the Lord Jesus Christ” (Things Which Become Sound Doctrine Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965], p. 118).

40 It is only fair to mention that this Keswick emphasis has dissipated at Dallas and some other evangelical schools in more recent years.

41 John R. Van Gelderen, “Keswick—A Good Word or a Bad One?” Revival, May–August 2006, pp. 14–16; Robert Delnay, “What Happened to Keswick?” Revival, May–August 2006, pp. 17–18. Revival magazine is published by Preach the Word Ministries, P.O. Box 429, Exton, PA 19341, www.ptwm.org.

42 For a fuller treatment of sanctification, see my “The Disjunction Between Justification and Sanctification in Contemporary Evangelical Theology,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 6 (Fall 2001): 17–44.

wcombs Bio


Bill Combs serves as Academic Dean as well as Professor of New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, where he has been teaching since 1983. He earned his BA at Tennessee Temple University, and his MDiv and ThM degrees at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a ThD from Grace Theological Seminary. Dr. Combs has also served in pastoral ministry. He and his wife Pansy are members of Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI.

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