Bertha Smith & Keswick Theology in the Shantung Revival

The two revivalists who frequented Cowpens, SC, made a lasting impact upon the life of Bertha Smith.[1] Rev. Troy and Luther Manness had attended God’s Bible School, founded by Martin Wells Knapp in 1897 in Cincinnati. Knapp was a Methodist holiness pastor who “believed that the key to world evangelization was God’s Pentecostal power: the evidence for whether one was baptized in the Holy Spirit was her/his zeal for missions.”[2] The influence of this view of sanctification made an impression on Bertha Smith as can be seen in her summary of the Manness’s preaching:

They preached that people who are saved belong to the Lord—mind, body and soul—that we should acknowledge that fact, confess all of our sins of failing the Lord, so as to be cleansed, and then hand over ourselves and let the Holy Spirit fill us. We would then be empowered to live to please the Lord all the time. We had never heard anything like that.[3]

Bertha experienced her first “filling of the spirit” as a teenager; later she took a correspondence course at God’s Bible School. Thus, at a young age, Bertha was being steeped in a view of sanctification whose concentrate flavored the Shantung Revival. It must be noted, though, that while there are differences between Holiness and Keswick views of sanctification, particularly regarding the doctrine of perfectionism,[4] Bertha learned to reject the perfectionist doctrine from  self-reflection—“I began to discover that the sin principle in me was not removed.”[5]Once in China, she became exposed to the more purely Keswick revivalists whose influence left an indelible mark on the North China Mission.

Bertha Smith arrived in China in summer 1917. For the next three summers, she attended the North China Conferences at the Peitaiho resorts. Speakers included Ruth Paxson, Marie Monsen, R. A. Torrey, and Charles G. Trumbell, among others. Each of these, except perhaps Miss Monsen, have been squarely identified with a Keswick “victorious living” view of sanctification.[6] Norwegian scholar, Lisbeth Mikaelsson connects Miss Monsen’s spirituality to the Hauge movement in Norway.[7] Hans Nielson Hauge started a revival movement Norway emphasizing lay preaching,[8] by both male and female.[9] However, as will be seen below, one can easily discern an affinity between Monsen’s preaching and the Keswick view. Returning though, to the Summer Conferences at Peitaiho, Bertha Smith found her victory after her third conference where Trumbell and Paxson headlined the meetings. Trumbell spoke on “Christ in You, the Hope of Glory.” It was by putting into practice Trumbell’s lesson in 1920 at Peitaiho, “that the secret of victorious living [was] through faith in the crucified and risen Christ and by union with him in that death and resurrection”, which Bertha Smith claimed was “transforming.”[10] Through these life experiences, Bertha Smith developed a distinctively Keswick view of sanctification.[11]

[1] Smith, How the Holy Spirit Filled My Life (Nashville: Broadman, 1973), 12–21.

[2] Dana L. Robert, American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1996), 232.

[3] Smith, How the Holy Spirit, 20.

[4] For a complete survey and analysis, see Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation. Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 390–8, 406–420, 426–8.

[5] Smith, How the Holy Spirit , 25.

[6] Cf. Naselli, “Keswick Theology,” 79–133; George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2d edition (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press), 72–101; Kevin Xiyi Yao, “Missionary Women and Holiness Revivals in China during the 1920s” in Gospel Bearers, Gender Barriers: Missionary Women in the Twentieth Century, ed. Dana L. Robert, American Society of Missiology Series No. 32 (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002), 79–84.

[7] Lisbeth Mikaelsson, “Marie Monsen: Charismatic Revivalist—Feminist Fighter”, Scandinavian Journal of History 28 (2003): 121–34.

[8] Frederick Hale, “Insights from Norwegian ‘Revivalism’” in Modern Christian Revivals, ed. Edith L. Blumhofer and Randall Balmer (Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press,1993), 106–7.

[9] Mikaelsson, “Marie Monsen,” 124

[10] Bertha Smith, “Olive Bertha Smith”, article written for WMU Training School, in the Bertha Smith Collection, AR 856, Box 6, Folder 12, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, TN. Cf. Bertha Smith, Go Home and Tell (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 28–30.

[11] See also, Lewis A. Drummond, “Introduction” in Go Home and Tell, 7–8.

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