Book Review: No Quick Fix, by Andy Naselli
Andy Naselli, No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What it Is, and Why Its Harmful. Lexham Press, 2017. 160 pps, $17.99.
Maybe it was the warm, amber glow of the campfire. Or maybe it was the soft, alluring melody and words of “I Surrender All” cycling in the foreground. But something compelled me to walk in front of my entire high school class and throw my stick in the fire, the stick that represented my life offered to God in its entirety. Through tears and fear, I made my way to the front and surrendered my life to God.
At that point, everything changed—or at least it was supposed to. God was supposed to take control of my life and give me a dynamically increased power to overcome sin. Sinners would repent and believe every time I talked about the gospel. Or so I had been led to believe.
Yet how many times had I sought out God’s anointing like this to live the “surrendered” life! Yet sanctification came slowly. If I had only known that there was “no quick fix.”
A SHODDY SHORTCUT
When I made that emotional campfire decision in September of 2001, Andrew Naselli’s book had not yet been published. I didn’t know my beliefs fell into the category of something called “higher life theology.” Nor do so many evangelicals who suffer under this teaching.
Like the fish in water, the church today swims unconsciously in this well-meaning but biblically uninformed movement. Perhaps even you have sought spiritual shortcuts to personal purity or powerful ministry. Don’t make that mistake.
The belief in quick and immediate spiritual results is one feature of “higher life theology,” sometimes called Keswick theology. Naselli’s excellent new book No Quick Fix exposes the dangers of this teaching, as promised in the subtitle: “where higher life theology came from, what it is, and why it is harmful.”
Naselli intimately and exhaustively understands the points and pitfalls of this movement. He grew up under this teaching and had to fight his way out. Thus, he’s an excellent guide for those who languish under its influence and need to get out.
But No Quick Fix has a broader appeal than to those who have been inundated with “higher life theology.” It deserves a spot in the toolbox of most disciple makers since the prevalence of this teaching is more pervasive than many of us would dare to admit.
THE WELL-WORN PATH
The most shocking aspect of this book is the opening chapter’s history on the broad impact of this movement. It’s impossible to grasp the breadth of these teachings apart from a study of how it has impacted prominent evangelical leaders and institutions. With plenty of documentation and support, Naselli ties these teachings to prominent 19th century church leaders such as Andrew Murray, J. Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, F. B. Meyer, and H. C. G. Moule. Pastoral training institutions like the Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary were also infected by this teaching and exported it broadly throughout the world. Hearing these names helps one appreciate this movement’s overwhelming impact.
Naselli then unpacks the theology of the movement under five themes that were prominent in the early Keswick conventions. In short, higher life theology
- creates two categories of Christians (carnal and spiritual);
- advocates for a “let go and let God” (surrender and consecration) approach to sanctification;
- and encourages believers to seek a special experience with the Holy Spirit that would suddenly and supernaturally empower them for service.
As I read this section, I found myself stunned by the innumerable ways this teaching had negatively impacted my own spiritual development—as well as many evangelicals around me.
While content should always trump presentation, I must say that the order of the book seems a little counter-intuitive. It’s hard to appreciate the history of something if you are not really sure what that something is. So Naselli could have better served first-generation Christians and believers who did not grow up in American evangelicalism by first unpacking the distinctives of the movement (chapter 2) before presenting its overview and history. That being said, the book is so neatly packaged that one can jump in anywhere.
MAJOR DANGER AHEAD
What’s so dangerous about higher life teaching? This becomes clear in the second half of the book. Here, Naselli’s analytical prowess and biblical faithfulness shine brightly. Like a skilled doctor, he diagnoses the problems and provides biblical solutions. Even though this movement enjoyed such a wide following, Naselli charges us to evaluate theology not on the basis of popularity but faithfulness.
While he targets ten different problems with higher life theology, he spends the majority of his firepower on the greatest error of the movement—its artificial creation of two categories of Christians. At first glance, this doesn’t seem very threatening. A Christian is a Christian, right? Not in higher life thinking. Yet Naselli walks through biblical text after text, demonstrating beyond any doubt that all those who are justified will be sanctified; that all Christians are spiritual, and none are carnal; that all Christians have been baptized by the Spirit; and that all Christians are Spirit-filled and abide in Christ to various degrees.
Higher life theologies work of driving an artificial wedge between justification and sanctification leads to devastating consequences. First, the unregenerate could deceive themselves into thinking they are in Christ even though they neither enjoy spiritual victory nor submit to the Lordship of Christ. Second, believers who already have the Spirit of God inside them could vainly struggle against sin by looking for extra-biblical experiences instead of the clear means of grace provided in the Word. Struggling believers don’t need a new relationship with the Holy Spirit; they need to enjoy the relationship they already have with him.
While there’s no quick fix, Nasselli points out that Christians have a sure fix for the sin that so easily besets us. Ironically, by pointing out the problems of this theological system, the book reinforces a proper understanding of sanctification by negation. Thus, it may be that the appendix provides one of the most valuable portions of the book as scores of resources that speak to the biblical doctrine of sanctification are offered along with helpful explanations.
FOR WHOM AND WHEN
Despite how well-argued, thoroughly-researched, and biblically-grounded the book is, it may not be useful to everyone. At the same time, it’s probably more applicable than you think. Whether one has been directly influenced by the movement or not, you have likely (albeit indirectly) experienced its devastation. So while the book may not be essential for your own Christian growth, it’s indeed helpful for anyone who’s been directly affected by this teaching or for those who are trying to disciple others who’ve been influenced by it. Newer believers will be helped in their understanding of Christian growth by referring to the recommended resources in the appendix.
Ultimately, Naselli wants us to remember: “Bad theology dishonors God and hurts people.” In the conclusion, he informs the readers of his proposed title that actually provides the most informative summary of the book: “Why ‘Let Go and Let God’ Is a Bad Idea: or, Why Higher Life Theology’s Quick Fix to Your Struggle with Sin Will Not Result in a Higher Life, Deeper Life, Victorious Life, More Abundant Life, or Anything Other Than a Misguided, Frustrated, Disillusioned, and/or Destroyed Life.” Misguided, frustrated, and disillusioned—that indeed is where higher life theology led me. I pray others would learn these lessons well so as to avoid the same pain and frustration.