No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came from, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful. By Andrew David Naselli. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017. 123 pp. Paper, $17.99.
I came to faith and grew via the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. It taught a higher-life view of the Christian life, with two types of Christians. Then I was educated at Dallas Theological Seminary, which for the most part also taught a higher-life view, a Chaferian view, of justification and sanctification.
Over the years I found weaknesses in some aspects of the Keswick or Chaferian views. Yet I very strongly agree with the underlying point that there are two (or three!) types of Christians. So when I saw this title, I was drawn to the book.
Naselli does a good job of pointing out some of the weaknesses of higher-life teaching. Unfortunately, two of the major problems he sees
are actually its strengths.
The author is right to warn that some versions of higher-life teaching promote “a form of perfectionism” (pp. 48, 77-81), “emphasize passivity, not activity” (pp. 48, 81-83), “use superficial formulas for instantaneous sanctification” (pp. 48, 91), “foster dependency on experiences at special holiness meetings” (pp. 48, 91-92), and “misinterpret personal experiences” (pp. 48, 95-97).
Unfortunately, Naselli goes too far. He rejects aspects of higher-life teaching that are foundational to both justification and sanctification.
Throughout the book, Naselli promotes Lordship Salvation (see esp. pp. 25-27). He finds the idea that there are some Christians who are spiritual and others who are carnal to be “the fundamental reason [why] higher life theology is harmful…It divides Christians into two distinct types. This is the lynchpin reason that higher life theology is wrong” (p. 49).
Naselli goes so far as to say that “All Christians are spiritual” (p. 55); “All Christians are Spirit-filled” (p. 62); and “All Christians abide in Christ” (p. 69). To be fair, he does qualify each of those assertions. He says, “All Christians are spiritual; none are permanently carnal” (p. 55, emphasis added); “All Christians are Spirit-filled to various degrees” (p. 62, emphasis added); and “All Christians abide in Christ to various degrees” (p. 69, emphasis added).
Concerning all Christians being spiritual, Naselli adds, “Believers may temporarily live in a fleshly way, but believers by definition live in a characteristically righteous way” (p. 59, emphasis his). I don’t see how he can square that statement with the believers in Corinth. They were not living “in a characteristically righteous way.” And some of them died before they ever lived in such a way (1 Cor 11:30).
All of this is quite confusing. What evidence is there in Scripture that abiding in Christ and being Spirit-filled are a matter of degree? And how can one have assurance he is born again if assurance is found in our holiness and yet we may be fleshly for days, weeks, months, years or even decades?
Like other Lordship preachers, Naselli thinks that professing believers should have varying degrees of confidence that they are probably saved (pp. 88-90). His chart on degrees of assurance is something every JOTGES reader will want to see. He places people into different categories.
Category one are non-Christians who have either “strong evidence of unbelief” or “weak evidence of unbelief.” By looking at their works, category one unbelievers can be very confident that they are unregenerate.
Category two are non-Christians who have evidence sufficient to show they are unregenerate, but not as much as the category one non-Christian. This category two non-Christian evidently has some reason to believe that he might be born again, but not enough reason to move him into category three.
Category three is a type of person who cannot be assured that he is a Christian or a non-Christian. This person has “mixed evidence of unbelief and faith.” Naselli says, “They may profess to be Christian, but they should not have assurance that they are Christian because the evidence is mixed” (p. 89). That is quite an admission. That means that no one can have assurance because we all have mixed evidence regarding our works. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10).
Category four is the Christian with “weak evidence of faith.” That is, he has some works, but not enough to give him the stronger assurance of category five. This is evidently someone who doubts his salvation and has good reason to do so, but who has enough good works to make him think that he might have everlasting life.
The best a person can hope for is to be in category five and have “strong evidence of faith.” This strong evidence is not certainty. So Naselli thinks that God wants His children to go through their entire lives concerned that they might spend eternity in the lake of fire. God does not want His children to be sure they are His. But most human parents, even atheist parents, want their children to know that they are secure in their love.
While Naselli finds it encouraging that some professing believers have “strong evidence of faith,” there is always contrary evidence since
we are imperfect. When a person gets into an argument with his spouse or kids and yells or misbehaves, does he not move from category four or five to category three (or two)? Only perfect people can be sure of their eternal destiny under Lordship Salvation.
As a side note, I found the title to be a bit ironic. Naselli says that the higher life teaching is No Quick Fix. I agree with him on that point. Yet Lordship Salvation teaching—Naselli’s teaching—is also a quick fix. According to Naselli all who have everlasting life are transformed at the moment of the faith (or repentance and faith in his view). Though he specifically rejects the idea that there is some instantaneous victory in the Christian life when we let go and let God, he nonetheless sees essentially that, except that the instantaneous victory occurs at the moment of the new birth, not some time later. The “true Christian” is instantly spiritual, Spirit-filled, and abiding in Christ. For him to become temporarily carnal, he must backslide.
This is not a book to give to an unbeliever or a new believer. However, I highly recommend it for Free-Grace pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, and all who are well-grounded.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society