Have you ever been so sick of your sinful self that you tried just to let go and let God? Did your walk with God become easier? For how long? Did you find yourself bewildered and delirious at the remaining sin and your continued struggle against it, disappointed that God didn’t take it away? Did you declare Jesus him as your Lord again? Are you afraid that you’re a carnal Christian instead of a spiritual Christian who pleases God?
No Quick Fix is an abridged version of Andrew Naselli’s book Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology (revised from his PhD dissertation). The academic language has been stripped down, and the book has been repackaged for thoughtful lay people.
Higher life theology (coming from the early days of the Keswick [pronounced KEH-zick] theology, though distinguished from the Keswick Convention today) promotes a quick fix to the Christian life. Rather than growing in one’s sanctification and walk with God, Higher life theology says that you can be with out (intentional) sin now if you would only consecrate your life to Jesus. He may be your Savior, but he needs to be your Lord.
Naselli divides his book into two parts, two chapters per section. Part one explains the story and history of higher life theology (ch. 1) and what this theology teaches (ch. 2). This is no witch hunt. Naselli isn’t writing this book to disagree with a theology that’s different from his own. In part two, Naselli looks at the fundamental reason why higher life theology is harmful (ch. 3) and follows up with nine more reasons why this theology is harmful for the Christian life (ch. 4). Naselli wants to help those who have taught or have been taught higher life theology to know what the Bible teaches about the Christian life, and he wants to expose higher life theology to those who have no experience with it so they can better minister to those who have been influenced by it.
“Higher life theology has two main influences: Wesleyan perfectionism and the holiness movement” (8). For John Wesley, a Christian could receive a second work of grace that would bring “salvation from all sin” along with “entire sanctification, perfect love, holiness, purity of intention, full salvation, second blessing, second rest, and dedicating all your life to God” (9). Later Christians believed Christian perfection began “the instant a believer experiences the outpouring of the Spirit, is baptized with the Spirit, is filled with the Spirit, or receives the Holy Spirit as the promise from the Father” (10).
Higher life Theology was popularized by many people, some noteworthy ones being Charles Finney, H. C. G. Moule, F. B. Meyer, Andrew Murray, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and Frances Ridley Havergal (who wrote “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace”  and “Take my Life and let it be” ), D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, and even Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary (though not anymore). At DTS, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, and Charles C. Ryrie promoted these teachings. Chafer taught that “Believers are in one of two distinct categories: (1) those who are not Spirit-filled and (2) those who are Spirit-filled. The first are powerless, and the second are powerful (21-22). However, “unlike Moody, Torrey, and Meyer, he insisted that Spirit-baptism occurs at conversion for all Christians” (22).
In higher life theology, there are three kinds of people in the world:
- natural (unconverted)
- carnal (converted but characterized by an unconverted lifestyle)
- spiritual (converted and Spirit-filled)
Unfortunately, a Christian who consecrates his life to Christ, received the filling of the Spirit, and is relinquished from a life of sin can still choose to unconsecrate his life. This is strange considering what Naselli says later, that “after you ‘let go and let God,’ God is obligated to keep you from sin’s power” (40). When the Christian is loosed from sin how would he be able to intentionally choose to not be under the Lordship of his Savior and, thus, sin? And why would he want to?). Doing so stops the sanctification process and will lead to the believer needing to consecrate his life to God again.
“A Spirit-filled Christian must not ‘relapse’ and experience ‘spiritual leakage.’ That would require ‘a refilling.’ There is no guarantee that a Christian who is Spirit-filled will remain Spirit-filled” (43).
The biggest reason why higher life theology is harmful for Christians is its division of Christians into “carnal” and “spiritual” categories. Carnal Christians have the Spirit, but spiritual Christians are filled by the Spirit. Again, Naselli is not on a witch hunt. He presents five commendable characteristics of higher life theology: It exalts Christ, it is warmly devotional, it emphasizes spiritual disciplines, it affirms fundamental orthodoxy, and it has a legacy of faithful Christian leaders.
However, Naselli spends the second part of his book explaining higher life’s theology defects. He lists ten reasons (though I’ll only give a few of them). Higher life theology emphasizes passivity, not activity, as God is 100% the one who keeps us from sin. there is truth to this, but it severely downplays our role in fighting against sin. “It portrays the Christian’s free will as autonomously starting and stopping sanctification” (a form of Pelagianism, though not the full-fledged heretical Pelagianism) (48, 84, 99). It does not interpret and apply the Bible accurately, and it assures false “Christians” they are saved by telling them they are just carnal. It frustrates those who aren’t “filled” with the Spirit because they still struggle with sin (which is actually normal to every Christian). It also misinterprets personal experiences. Sometimes a Christian may have a spiritual experience of some kind, a great sense of God’s overwhelming presence. Just as one remembers Christmas dinner more than Tuesdays leftovers, these experiences leave a lasting impression on our lives. Yet that doesn’t mean that we have received a second filling or are now free from sin. Naselli looks at texts in Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 2–3, 12, Ephesians 5, and John 15 for evidence of progressive sanctification in the normal Christian life and how all Christians are filled by the Holy Spirit.
No Quick Fix ends with a lengthy and solid afterword by John MacArthur and an appendix with a list of twenty-eight resources on the Christian life.
With numerous charts throughout Naselli’s book which helpfully portray the beliefs of both higher life theology and what the Bible teaches, Naselli’s book is short enough to get a hold on what higher life theology is and why one shouldn’t hold to it. Higher life theology is pervasive, but the Bible shows us a better way: walking and growing with the God who saved us, redeemed us, walks with us, and promises to return for us. This God can be understood and known (Jer 9.24), and he is fighting for us and with us.
After commending higher life theology’s emphasis on the Christian’s devotional life, J. I. Packer, says,
It is not much of a recommendation when all you can say is that this teaching may help you if you do not take its details too seriously. It is utterly damning to have to say, as in this case I think we must, that if you do take its details seriously, it will tend not to help you but to destroy you. (98)
This is a book I wish I would have had in high school. I heard it occasionally in school, in church, and a bit in Bible college too. Knowing what higher life theology is and how to reason against it biblically will save you and others a lot of worry over having to “consecrate” themselves all over again… again.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.
Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog.