No Quick Fix, Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, & Why It’s Harmful by Andrew David Naselli
Andrew Naselli is associate professor of New Testament and Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis. Believing himself and others to have suffered spiritual harm as a result of higher life teachings, he writes this small volume (which is a miniature version of his longer and more detailed book Let Go and Let God? (p. 3), that pinpoints higher life’s history, theology, and errors.
While Naselli never actually defines higher life theology, he describes it as the “Let go and let God” approach to Christian living. It was formed out of a combination of Wesleyan perfectionism coupled with teachings drawn from the holiness movement. The higher life movement itself began in 1858 and culminated in the early Keswick movement in 1875. Keswick, with its annual conference, developed and spread higher life teachings until 1920 when, largely due to the influence of Graham Scroggie, the Keswick conference shifted closer to Reformed views (pp. 3, 10-11). The annual conference in England continues today, but no longer promotes higher life theology.
As one of the five major views on sanctification found within evangelicalism (p. 7), higher life sanctification has in the past and continues to have significant influence upon many Christians. The author identifies the key leaders of the movement (pp. 14-18), including F.B. Meyer, Andrew Murray, Hudson Taylor, A.T. Pierson, W.H. Griffith Thomas, and Charles Trumbull. Its teachings spawned four important institutions in America: the Christian Missionary Alliance, Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary and Pentecostalism (the first three no longer promote higher life) (pp. 18-27). The steps that describe higher life teaching are well exemplified in the five days of sequential, progressive teaching at the early Keswick conferences (pp. 29-41).
- Day one: the diagnosis – sin
- Day two: the cure – God’s provisions for victorious Christian living
- Day three: the crisis for the cure – consecration
- Day four: the prescription – Spirit-filling
- Day five: the mission – powerful Christian service
It is the necessity of a crisis experience that is central to higher life. Rejecting efforts by the believer in the sanctification process (p. 34), higher life followers rely on a crisis experience which precedes sanctification and is wholly of God (p. 36). Prior to this crisis, spiritual growth is inconsequential but afterward substantial growth, peace and victory will result. The only responsibility for the Christian is to “Let go” by getting out of God’s way and “letting God” do His consecration work in his life (pp. 39-41). Thus “Let go and let God” not only is a motto for higher life, it adequately defines the movement. Naselli recognizes several commendable aspects of higher life teaching including the exaltation of Christ, its pursuit of holiness, and fundamental orthodoxy (pp. 45-48). But he believes the teaching is harmful, offering 10 areas of concern (pp. 48, 99). Chapter three deals exclusively with the author’s main disagreement with higher life which is that it creates two categories of Christians: the carnal and the spiritual (pp. 49-76). In this chapter, the author defines progressive sanctification (p. 50), addresses pertinent scriptural text such as 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; 12:13; Ephesians 5:18 and John 15:1-10, attempting to demonstrate that higher life’s understanding of these passages is in error. I appreciate Naselli’s explanation of the first three, especially that the filling of the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 means influence rather than control. However, his exegesis of John 15 was not as convincing and relied, in my opinion, more on his preconceived theological position than on the reading of the text itself.
Chapter four addresses the author’s other nine reasons for believing higher life is harmful (pp. 77-97). Some of these are more obvious than others. I think he has good reasons to be concerned about higher life’s promotion of quietism (or passive Christian living as defined by “Let go and let God”) (pp. 81-83). The misuse by the higher life teachers of the aorist tense in Romans 6:13 and 12:1 is rightly corrected (pp. 86-88). That higher life can offer false assurance of salvation to non-Christians who have been convinced they are saved but are living permanently in a state of carnality, is truly dangerous (pp. 88-90). But when it comes to higher life’s view of sin and the sin nature, in contrast with the Reformed view, I believe the author is slicing pretty thinly. There are some minor differences in understanding of the flesh and how it is to be combated, but the end result is much the same. The flesh is our enemy throughout life. We will battle it until we are with Christ (see pp. 77-80).
The book ends with a short, blunt testimony by John MacArthur of his moving from higher life theology to his present Reformed view (pp. 100-104). This is followed by an appendix of recommended resources on the Christian life. This is truly a mixed bag of resources, some of which would be most helpful, others more destructive than higher life itself. I have reviewed books by most of these authors which can be found on our website: www.tottministries.org.
Overall No Quick Fix is an excellent resource for higher life teachings. While many readers will disagree with some of the conclusions drawn, all will benefit from its concise, accurate analysis of this important movement.
No Quick Fix, Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, & Why It’s Harmful by Andrew David Naselli (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017) 123 pp., paper $15.00
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel