Charles Finney’s Pelagian ‘Gospel’
A spiritual detox journey has moved me to be willing to ‘leave no stone turn’ in my re-examination of my Christian faith and walk, in the process, discovering things lurking in the ‘underbelly’ of Christian and charismatic history, prominent, popular, prolific, figures not excluded. I have discovered blights, unsettling errors, and other Biblical discrepancies, many times, scrub away, sanitized, rationalized, justified, eventually to be assimilated into doctrinal and theological constructs.
So is the case with highly regarded Charles Finney, whom I myself devoured every revival writing of. Many quotes from him are appearing of late, from other highly regarded spiritual persons and otherwise. Shock was a major response from myself as I began my spiritual detox research journey, as will be the response from many others as I share my journey of ‘no stone unturned.’
The eventual assimilation of aberrant and erroneous beliefs, even from simple acceptance thro’ lack of acknowledgement and correction, is a major motivating factor in communicating my research, which has revealed a longstanding problem of developing ‘christian folklore’, thro’ unchallenged exaggerations, fabrications, and manifestations. Digging into Charles Finney’s life and ministry turned up egregious doctrinal errors and practices that have been embedded into evangelicalism and it’s revivalism offspring. Please bear with me as I lay out some facts.
‘Redigging’ The Spiritual Wells Of Rochester
The ‘mainstream apostolic/prophetic’ movement, it has been established, has been corrupted from it’s inception. So what would prominent ‘prophetic figures’ be doing ‘re-digging’ wells in Rochester?
In the course of my own digging around, I came across a discussion Bob Jones had with church leadership at ‘Salvation Of God Church’ in Rochester. https://www.sogchurch.net/prophetic-words/the-angel-the-spirit-of-truth-appears-to-bob-jones
This is the account:
7/29/2017 By ‘Prophet’ Bob Jones Isaiah 11:1,2(Amp), Exodus 28:36
On March 10, 1998 Bob Jones told Patrick about his angelic visitation of the angel the spirit of truth.
After Bob read William Branham’s book “A Man Sent From God” and the account of the visitation of the Angel of the Lord to William Branham on May 7, 1946. Bob then told Patrick about when the angel of truth appeared to him on Valentines Day 1993. The angel said to him, “I was with William Branham and I was with Roland Buck. “
The angel also revealed to Bob the facts of the Charles G. Finney Revival of 1830,31. 95 % of the people in the City of Rochester, New York were saved. Every devil was thrown down all four levels according to Ephesians chapter 6:12.and there was less sin in the City of Rochester, New York than any City in the earth at that time. This was the Holiest City in the earth at that time.
The angel of truth told Bob that we were getting back the Revival because it was our inheritance and because we helped the slaves in the Underground Railroad.
Bob told Patrick that these angels would come back in God’s timing to bring to pass what they spoke, this happened. On February 14, 2014 Valentines Day Bob Jones died and went to Heaven. that night in our Church meeting the angel of truth came back to bring to pass what he spoke to Bob, the angel of truth manifested as he had when he was with Bob in the meeting on March 11, 1998 he manifested as wind and blew across the people in the meeting. It was 21 years after the angel the spirit of truth appeared to Bob on Valentines Day 1993 that Bob went home to Heaven on Valentines Day 2014. God moves in cycles.
God revealed to us that the angel the spirit of truth is a generational angel he was with the Healing Revival generation, then he was with Roland Buck’s generation, then he was with Bob’s generation, and now he is with our generation as the Charles G. Finney Revival is being restored.
The site below has several video clips of prominent ‘prophetic’ figures talking of and exp’ing the supposed ‘wind of truth/ change/revival,’ in Rochester, visited, 1st exp. by Charles Finney, then William Branham, Roland Buck, Bob Jones, then this ‘church,’ and others; Todd Bentley, David Hertzog, Jeff Jansen, Darren Canning, Charlie Shamp.
Bob Jones related what the ‘angel’ told him, which was either a lie to malign Charles Finney and what transpired in Rochester, or there was likely a connection between Finney, Rochester and the corrupted ‘prophetic’ movement.
Video clips of different ones @ ‘S.O.G. Church,‘ talking of re-digging the wells of Charles Finney ‘revival.’ *See Charlie Shamp*
The same corrupted ‘prophetic’ activity is seen transpiring in the Salvation Of God Church, Rochester
This is simply a point of interest connecting Bob Jones, the corrupted ‘prophetic’ and Charles Finney.
This begs the question tho’; Is there something of the same essence from Finney and his ‘revivals’ as the corrupted ‘prophetic’ movement?
Peeling Open The Real Charles Finney Theology
Some say Charles theological communications were misunderstood, disturbing quotes taken out of context, calls of heretic, unfair libelous, yet writer after writer, when digging down into the essentials of his doctrine, have displayed clear contextual aberrancies in his theological thinking.
I was as surprised as anybody, in discovering this, having read all of his books on revival, as a revival junkie. Many will say his life, doctrine and influence have helped paint the evangelical revival scenery being exp’d today. Some argue from a Calvinism vs Arminianism approach, yet his focus on salvation being a moral application of the will, seeing Jesus Christ only as a supreme ex. would seemingly paint him semi to full Pelagian, a reaction perhaps against the Calvinism of his day.
The 1st site below gives a clear simplistic reading of some major doctrinal aberrancies and many referrals to more detailed evaluations of his numerous errors, that could be considered heresies.
“A revival is not a miracle according to another definition of the term “miracle” — something above the powers of nature. There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind become religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth. They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God. A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means — as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.” -Charles Finney, (Lectures on Revival, Lecture 1, 11)
THE DISTURBING LEGACY OF CHARLES FINNEY
BY MICHAEL HORTON
No single man is more responsible for the distortion of Christian truth in our age than Charles Grandison Finney. His “new measures” created a framework for modern decision theology and Evangelical Revivalism. In this excellent article, Dr. Mike Horton explains how Charles Finney distorted the important doctrine of salvation.
To demonstrate the debt of modern evangelicalism to Finney, we must first notice his theological departures. From these departures, Finney became the father of the antecedents to some of today’s greatest challenges within evangelical churches, namely, the church growth movement, Pentecostalism and political revivalism.
Who is Finney?
Charles Finney (1792-1875) ministered in the wake of the “Second Awakening,” as it has been called. A Presbyterian layover, Finney one day experienced “a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost” which “like a wave of electricity going through and through me … seemed to come in waves of liquid love.” The next morning, he informed his first client of the day, “I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours. “Refusing to attend Princeton Seminary (or any seminary, for that matter). Finney began conducting revivals in upstate New York. One of his most popular sermons was “Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts.”
Finney’s one question for any given teaching was, “Is it fit to convert sinners with?”
One need go no further than the table of contents of his Systematic Theology to learn that Finney’s entire theology revolved around human morality. Chapters one through five are on moral government, obligation, and the unity of moral action; chapters six and seven are “Obedience Entire,” as chapters eight through fourteen discuss attributes of love, selfishness, and virtues and vice in general. Not until the twenty-first chapter does one read anything that is especially Christian in its interest, on the atonement. This is followed by a discussion of regeneration, repentance, and faith. There is one chapter on justification followed by six on sanctification. In other words, Finney did not really write a Systematic Theology, but a collection of essays on ethics.
But that is not to say that Finney’s Systematic Theology does not contain some significant statements of theology.
First, in answer to the question, “Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?”, Finney answers:
“Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God … If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is forever set aside, or abrogated, I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept, for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys or Antinomianism is true … In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground (p. 46).”
Finney believed that God demanded absolute perfection, but instead of that leading him to seek his perfect righteousness in Christ, he concluded that “... full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed … But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not” (p. 57).
Finney declares of the Reformation’s formula simul justus et peccator or “simultaneously justified and sinful,” “This error has slain more souls, I fear, than all the Universalism that ever cursed the world.” For, “Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost” (p.60).
Finney’s doctrine of justification rests upon a denial of the doctrine of original sin. Held by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, this biblical teaching insists that we are all born into this world inheriting Adam’s guilt and corruption. We are, therefore, in bondage to a sinful nature. As someone has said, “We sin because we’re sinners”: the condition of sin determines the acts of sin, rather than vice versa. But Finney followed Pelagius, the fifth-century heretic, who was condemned by more church councils than any other person in church history, in denying this doctrine.
Finney believed that human beings were capable of choosing whether they would be corrupt by nature or redeemed, referring to original sin as an “anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma” (p.179). In clear terms, Finney denied the notion that human beings possess a sinful nature (ibid.). Therefore, if Adam leads us into sin, not by our inheriting his guilt and corruption, but by following his poor example, this leads logically to the view of Christ, the Second Adam, as saving by example. This is precisely where Finney takes it, in his explanation of the atonement.
The first thing we must note about the atonement, Finney says, is that Christ could not have died for anyone else’s sins than his own. His obedience to the law and his perfect righteousness were sufficient to save him, but could not legally be accepted on behalf of others. That Finney’s whole theology is driven by a passion for moral improvement is seen on this very point: “If he [Christ] had obeyed the Law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as a sine qua non of our salvation” (p.206)? In other words, why would God insist that we save ourselves by our own obedience if Christ’s work was sufficient? The reader should recall the words of St. Paul in this regard, “I do not nullify the grace of God’, for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” It would seem that Finney’s reply is one of agreement. The difference is, he has no difficulty believing both of those premises.
That is not entirely fair, of course, because Finney did believe that Christ died for something—not for someone, but for something. In other words, he died for a purpose, but not for people. The purpose of that death was to reassert God’s moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam’s example excited us to sin. Why did Christ die? God knew that “The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted … If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless” (p.209). Therefore, we are not helpless sinners who need to,’ be redeemed, but wayward sinners who need a demonstration of selflessness so moving that we will be excited to leave off selfishness. Not only did Finney believe that the “moral influence” theory of the atonement was the chief way of understanding the cross; he explicitly denied the substitutionary atonement, which.
“assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement … It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one” (p.217).
Then there is the matter of applying redemption. Throwing off Reformation orthodoxy, Finney argued strenuously against the belief that the new birth is a divine gift, insisting that “regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love or benevolence,” as moved by the moral influence of Christ’s moving example. (p.224). “Original sin, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence” (p.236).
Having nothing to do with original sin, a substitutionary atonement, and the supernatural character of the new birth, Finney proceeds to attack “the article by which the church stands or falls”— justification by grace alone through faith alone.
Distorting the Cardinal Doctrine of Justification
The Reformers insisted, on the basis of clear biblical texts, that justification (in the Greek, “to declare righteous,” rather than “to make righteous”) was a forensic (i.e., legal) verdict. In other words, whereas Rome maintained that justification was a process of making a bad person better, the Reformers argued that it was a declaration or pronouncement that had someone else’s righteousness (i.e., Christ’s) as its basis. Therefore, it was a perfect, once and-for-all verdict of right standing.
This declaration was to be pronounced at the beginning of the Christian life, not in the middle or at the end. The key words in the evangelical doctrine are “forensic” (legal) and “imputation” (crediting one’s account, as opposed to the idea of “infusion” of a righteousness within a person’s soul). Knowing all of this, Finney declares,
“But for sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd… As we shall see, there are many conditions, while there is but one ground, of the justification of sinners … As has already been said, there can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ’s obedience as ours, on the ground that he obeyed for us.”
To this, Finney replies: “The doctrine of imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption.” After all, Christ’s righteousness “could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us … it was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf ” This “representing of the atonement as the ground of the sinner’s justification has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many” (pp.320-2).
The view that faith is the sole condition of justification is “the antinomian view,” Finney asserts. “We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification. Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject.” (pp.326-7).
As the noted Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield pointed out so eloquently, there are throughout history only two religions: heathenism, of which Pelagianism is a religious expression, and a supernatural redemption.
With Warfield and those who so seriously warned their brothers and sisters of these errors among Finney and his successors, we too must come to terms with the wildly heterodox strain in American Protestantism. With roots in Finney’s revivalism, perhaps evangelical and liberal Protestantism are not that far apart after all. His “New Measures,” like today’s Church Growth Movement, made human choices and emotions the center of the church’s ministry, ridiculed theology, and replaced the preaching of Christ with the preaching of conversion.
It is upon Finney’s naturalistic moralism that the Christian political and social crusades build their faith in humanity and its resources in self-salvation. Sounding not a little like a deist, Finney declared, “There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind becomes truly religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth. They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God.” As the new birth is a natural phenomenon for Finney, so too a revival: “A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means—as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.”
The belief that the new birth and revival depend necessarily on divine activity is pernicious. “No doctrine,” he says, “is more dangerous than this to the prosperity of the Church, and nothing more absurd” (Revivals of Religion [Revell], pp.4-5).
When the leaders of the Church Growth Movement claim that theology gets in the way of growth and insist that it does not matter what a particular church believes: growth is a matter of following the proper principles, they are displaying their debt to Finney.
When leaders of the Vineyard movement praise this sub-Christian enterprise and the barking, roaring, screaming, laughing, and other strange phenomena on the basis that “it works” and one must judge its truth by its fruit, they are following Finney as well as the father of American pragmatism, William James, who declared that truth must be judged on the basis of “its cash-value in experiential terms.”
Thus, in Finney’s theology, God is not sovereign, man is not a sinner by nature, the atonement is not a true payment for sin, justification by imputation is insulting to reason and morality, the new birth is simply the effect of successful techniques, and revival is a natural result of clever campaigns. In his fresh introduction to the bicentennial edition of Finney’s Systematic Theology, Harry Conn commends Finney’s pragmatism: “Many servants of our Lord should be diligently searching for a gospel that ‘works’, and I am happy to state they can find it in this volume.“
As Whitney R. Cross has carefully documented, the stretch of territory in which Finney’s revivals were most frequent was also the cradle of the perfectionistic cults that plagued that century. A gospel that “works” for zealous perfectionists one moment merely creates tomorrow’s disillusioned and spent supersaints. Needless to say, Finney’s message is radically different from the evangelical faith, as is the basic orientation of the movements we see around us today that bear his imprint such as: revivalism (or its modern label. the Church Growth Movement), or Pentecostal perfectionism and emotionalism, or political triumphalism based on the ideal of “Christian America,” or the anti-intellectual, and antidoctrinal tendencies of many American evangelicals and fundamentalists.
Not only did the revivalist abandon the doctrine of justification, making him a renegade against evangelical Christianity; he repudiated doctrines, such as original sin and the substitutionary atonement, that have been embraced by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. Therefore, Finney is not merely an Arminian’, but a Pelagian. He is not only an enemy of evangelical Protestantism, but of historic Christianity of the broadest sort.
Of one thing Finney was absolutely correct: The Gospel held by the Reformers whom he attacked directly, and indeed held by the whole company of evangelicals, is “another gospel” in distinction from the one proclaimed by Charles Finney. The question of our moment is, With which gospel will we side? Michael Horton
Charles Finney’s Heretical Pelagian Theology Ravaged Evangelicalism – Heresy Language Not Too Strong
“Charles Grandison Finney was a heretic. That language is not too strong. Though he excelled at cloaking his opinions in ambiguous language and biblical-sounding expressions, his views were almost pure Pelagianism. The arguments he employed to sustain those views were nearly always rationalistic and philosophical, not biblical. To canonize this man as an evangelical hero is to ignore the facts of what he stood for.
Don’t be duped by sanitized 20th-century editions of Finney’s works. Read the “Complete and Newly Expanded” 1878 edition of Finney’s Systematic Theology, recently published by Bethany house Publishers (the unabridged 1878 version with a couple of Finney’s later lectures added). This volume shows the real character of Finney’s doctrine. (The unabridged 1851 version is now online, and it also exposes Finney’s errors in language not toned down by later redactors.) By no stretch of the imagination does Finney deserve to be regarded as an evangelical. By corrupting the doctrine of justification by faith; by denying the doctrines of original sin and total depravity; by minimizing the sovereignty of God while enthroning the power of the human will; and above all, by undermining the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, Finney filled the bloodstream of American evangelicalism with poisons that have kept the movement maimed even to this day.
That’s why you’ll find Finney listed in the “Really Bad Theology” category of my bookmarks, and in the “Unorthodox” wing of The Hall of Church History.“
IT IS IRONIC that Charles Grandison Finney has become a poster boy for so many modern evangelicals. His theology was far from evangelical. As a Christian leader, he was hardly the model of humility or spirituality. Even Finney’s autobiography paints a questionable character. In his own retelling of his life’s story, Finney comes across as stubborn, arrogant—and sometimes even a bit devious.
Playing with Fraud from the Outset
“Finney’s ministry was founded on duplicity from the beginning. He obtained his license to preach as a Presbyterian minister by professing adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith. But he later admitted that he was almost totally ignorant of what the document taught.”
“Finney’s credibility is further marred by the fact that when he later read the Westminster Standards and realized he disagreed on almost every crucial point, he did not resign the commission he had received under false pretenses. Instead, he accepted the platform he had duped those men into giving him — then used it for the rest of his life to attack their doctrinal convictions.”
Baggage from the Years of Unbelief
Finney’s disagreements with his denomination’s doctrinal standards clearly were not opinions he formed after his examination by the council. By his own admission, he had consciously rejected the basic theological framework of the Presbyterian confession long before he stood before those men. He writes of doctrinal debates he had provoked with his pastor, George W. Gale: “I could not receive his views on the subject of atonement, regeneration, faith, repentance, the slavery of the Will, or any of their kindred doctrines” [Memoirs, 46].
Even prior to his conversion, Finney had raised many of the very same issues and objected strongly to Gale’s teaching on such points. He wrote,
I now think that I sometimes criticised his sermons unmercifully. I raised such objections against his positions as forced themselves upon my attention. . . . What did he mean by repentance? Was it a mere feeling of sorrow for sin? Was it altogether a passive state of mind? or did it involve a voluntary element? If it was a change of mind, in what respect was it a change of mind? What did he mean by the term regeneration? What did such language mean when spoken of as a spiritual change? What did he mean by faith? Was it merely an intellectual state? Was it merely a conviction, or persuasion, that the things stated in the Gospel were true? [Memoirs, 10-12.]
Finney’s “conversion” does not seem to have altered his skepticism about his denomination’s stance on any of these crucial evangelical doctrines. After his experiential crisis, those were the very issues on which he dissented from the Presbyterian Confession—only now with more vigor than ever. The intense emotional experience Finney regarded as his new birth seems merely to have confirmed his feeling that he was right about Christianity and Scripture—and that most of the leaders of his denomination were either stupid or deluded.
In fact, in his own account of his conversion and theological “training,” Finney comes across as utterly unteachable. He meticulously recounts the issues on which he and Pastor Gale disagreed. They are for the most part the same points Finney says he objected to before his conversion. Never once does Finney acknowledge conceding any point to Gale (or to anyone else, for that matter). He obviously believed that his intuitive grasp of spiritual truth, combined with his legal training, automatically made him more doctrinally adept than all the seminary-trained Presbyterian preachers combined. He consistently portrays church leaders who adhered to the Confession of Faith as dupes and dullards. He was convinced they had nothing to teach him, and from the point of his conversion on, he casts himself in the superior role, as a reformer of their outdated and indefensible doctrines. He writes,
The fact is that Brother Gale’s education for the ministry had been entirely defective. He had imbibed a set of opinions, both theological and practical, that were a strait jacket to him. He could accomplish very little or nothing if he carried out his own principles. I had the use of his library, and ransacked it thoroughly on all the questions of theology which came up for examination; and the more I examined the books, the more I was dissatisfied. [Memoirs, 55.]
Now convinced that his tutor (Pastor Gale) and all the Reformed and Puritan books in Gale’s library were utterly worthless, Finney set out to devise a theological system more to his own liking.
At first, being no theologian, my attitude in respect to [Gale’s] peculiar views was rather that of negation or denial, than that of opposing any positive view to his. I said, your positions are not proved.” I often said, “They are insusceptible of proof.” So I thought then, and so I think now. . . . I had nowhere to go but directly to the Bible, and to the philosophy or workings of my own mind as they were revealed in consciousness. My views took on a positive type but slowly. I at first found myself unable to receive his peculiar views; and secondly, gradually formed views of my own in opposition to them, which appeared to me to be unequivocally taught in the Bible. [Memoirs, 55, emphasis added.]
In other words, Finney’s earliest opinions on “the subject[s] of atonement, regeneration, faith, repentance, the slavery of the will, [and] kindred doctrines” became baggage he dragged along into his own peculiar systematic theology. Having objected to Pastor Gale’s doctrinal stance on these issues since before his conversion—and especially now that Finney realized these ideas came from the Confession itself—he grew to despise “Old School” doctrinal standards. He was not about to study books that defended such doctrines.
Without any “positive view” of his own (other than his obvious contempt for Reformed doctrine), he was content for a while to rebuff Gale’s tutoring with “negation or denial.” But Finney soon realized he needed something more than denial to answer the doctrines of the Presbyterian Confession. So he set to work scouring the pages of Scripture in search of arguments against the doctrines he despised, while devising new doctrines more suited to “the philosophy or workings of [his] own mind.” Ideas Finney had toyed with since his pre-conversion days thus became the heart of the theology he espoused until the end of his life. In other words, as a new “convert,” Finney simply devised a theology that fit his already-established prejudices.
In his Memoirs, his Lectures on Revival, and his Systematic Theology, what comes through, frankly, is not a man with a high regard for Scripture, but a man with an inflated view of himself. Where Scripture does not suit him, Finney resorts to sophistry to explain it away. Whole sections of his Systematic Theology contain paragraph after paragraph of philosophizing and moralizing—sometimes without a single reference to Scripture for many pages.
Finney vs. Justification by Faith
“Specifically, what were Finney’s most serious errors? At the top of the list stands his rejection of the doctrine of justification by faith. Finney denied that the righteousness of Christ is the sole ground of our justification, teaching instead that sinners must reform their own hearts in order to be acceptable to God. (His emphasis on self-reformation apart from divine enablement is again a strong echo of Pelagianism.)”
“Finney spends a considerable amount of time in several of his works arguing against “that theological fiction of imputation”Memoirs, 58]. [ Those who have any grasp of Protestant doctrine will see immediately that his attack at this point is a blatant rejection of the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide). It places him outside the pale of true evangelical Protestantism. The doctrine of imputed righteousness is the very heart of the historic difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The whole doctrine of justification by faith hinges on this concept. But Finney flatly rejected it.”
“Since the dawn of the Protestant Reformation, the virtually unanimous Protestant consensus has been that justification is in no sense grounded in or conditioned on our sanctification. Catholicism, on the other hand, mingles justification and sanctification, making sanctification a prerequisite to final justification.
Finney sided with Rome on this point. His rejection of the doctrine of imputation left him with no alternative: “Gospel justification is not to be regarded as a forensic or judicial proceeding” [Systematic Theology, 360].“
“Of course, Finney denied that Christ “obeyed for us,” claiming that since Christ was Himself obligated to render full obedience to the law, His obedience could justify Himself alone. “It can never be imputed to us,” Finney intoned [Systematic Theology, 362].”
“The clear implication of Finney’s view is that justification ultimately hinges on the believer’s own obedience, and God will not truly and finally pardon the repentant sinner until after that penitent one completes a lifetime of faithful obedience.”
“As the final paragraph of that excerpt makes clear, Finney himself clearly understood that what he proclaimed was a different gospel from that of historic Protestantism. By denying the forensic nature of justification, Finney was left with no option but to regard justification as a subjective thing grounded not in Christ’s redemptive work but in the believer’s own obedience — and therefore a matter of works, not faith alone.”
Justification By Faith Alone (Free MP3s and Reformation Books)
The Fallout from Finney’s Doctrines
“Predictably, most of Finney’s spiritual heirs lapsed into apostasy, Socinianism, mere moralism, cultlike perfectionism, and other related errors. In short, Finney’s chief legacy was confusion and doctrinal compromise. Evangelical Christianity virtually disappeared from western New York in Finney’s own lifetime. Despite Finney’s accounts of glorious “revivals,” most of the vast region of New England where he held his revival campaigns fell into a permanent spiritual coldness during Finney’s lifetime and more than a hundred years later still has not emerged from that malaise. This is directly owing to the influence of Finney and others who were simultaneously promoting similar ideas.
Facts Obscured in Popular Lore About Finney- Real Converts Comparatively Few
The Western half of New York became known as “the burnt-over district,” because of the negative effects of the revivalist movement that culminated in Finney’s work there. These facts are often obscured in the popular lore about Finney. But even Finney himself spoke of “a burnt district” [Memoirs, 78], and he lamented the absence of any lasting fruit from his evangelistic efforts.”
“I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction, and into a state of temporary repentance and faith . . . . [But] falling short of urging them up to a point, where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in Him, they would of course soon relapse into their former state.” [cited in B. B. Warfield, Studies in Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford, 1932), 2:24].
One of Finney’s contemporaries registered a similar assessment, but more bluntly:
“During ten years, hundreds, and perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is admitted, that real converts are comparatively few. It is declared, even by [Finney] himself, that “the great body of them are a disgrace to religion” [cited in Warfield, 2:23].
B. B. Warfield cited the testimony of Asa Mahan, one of Finney’s close associates,
“. . . who tells us—to put it briefly—that everyone who was concerned in these revivals suffered a sad subsequent lapse: the people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited; the pastors were shorn of all their spiritual power; and the evangelists—”among them all,” he says, “and I was personally acquainted with nearly every one of them—I cannot recall a single man, brother Finney and father Nash excepted, who did not after a few years lose his unction, and become equally disqualified for the office of evangelist and that of pastor.”
Thus the great “Western Revivals” ran out into disaster. . . . Over and over again, when he proposed to revisit one of the churches, delegations were sent him or other means used, to prevent what was thought of as an affliction. . . . Even after a generation had passed by, these burnt children had no liking for the fire [Warfield, 2:26-28].
Finney grew discouraged with the revival campaigns and tried his hand at pastoring in New York City before accepting the presidency of Oberlin College. During those post-revivalist years, he turned his attention to devising a doctrine of Christian perfectionism. Perfectionist ideas, in vogue at the time, were a whole new playground for serious heresy on the fringes of evangelicalism—and Finney became one of the best-known advocates of perfectionism. The evil legacy of the perfectionism touted by Finney and friends in the mid-nineteenth century has been thoroughly critiqued by B. B. Warfield in his important work Studies in Perfectionism. Perfectionism was the logical consequence of Finney’s Pelagianism, and its predictable result was spiritual disaster.
Finney and Theological Innovation- ‘New Measures’-Pragmatic Evangelism‘
In many ways Charles Finney led a wave of theological and practical innovation that has become the bane and the hallmark of American evangelicalism. That a person whose teachings were heretical by classical Christian standards is somewhat of a hero to popular evangelicalism says much about the problems in the contemporary church. This is at least partly due to the fact that American evangelicals are so impressed with success and results. Finney is credited as being the developer of planned mass evangelism.23 As is the case today, if a mass evangelist is highly successful, it is considered inappropriate to question his teaching. Finney’s successful revival meetings created credence for his teachings.”
R.C. Sproul – Is Finney Evangelical As He Denies Sola Fide?
R. C. Sproul included a chapter on Charles Finney in a recent book and questions whether Finney deserves the term “evangelical” if it is defined in its classical sense as a believer in sola fide (justification by faith alone).25 Sproul shows that Finney denies “forensic” (legal) justification, a key teaching of the reformers in their dispute with Roman Catholicism.26 Finney denied both the imputation of Adam’s sin to the human race and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer.
Finney wrote: “The doctrine of a literal imputation of Adam’s sin to all his posterity, of the literal imputation of all the sins of the elect to Christ, and of His suffering for them the exact amount due to the transgressors, of the literal imputation of Christ’s righteousness or obedience to the elect, and the consequent perpetual justification of all that are converted from the first exercise of faith, whatever their subsequent life may be I say I regard these dogmas as fabulous, and better befitting a romance than a system of theology.“27
Finney exalted human ability to its highest level and made the whole of religious conversion a matter of human decision that required no change in the sinner’s basic nature, but an act of the will: “The Holy Spirit reveals God and the spiritual world, and all that class of objects that are correlated to our higher nature, so as to give reason the control of the will. This is regeneration and sanctification, as we shall see in its proper place.”35
“Psychic Highway” In The “Burned-over District”
Sylvester Finney, a farmer, moved to the frontier from Connecticut with his wife Rebecca and children. The year was 1794, and the Oneida County area of New York had already distinguished itself for its odd spiritual fads. John Humphrey Noyes’s perfectionistic Oneida Community had gathered followers who were intent on duplicating the Book of Acts by holding all goods–and wives, in common. Millerites, Mormons, Campbellites, Spiritualists, Swedenborgians, Shakers, Quakers, and a host of sects sharing an enthusiastic, millennial, and Gnostic orientation, found the region’s spiritual soil rich for the most fantastic visions, earning the nickname, “Psychic Highway.” According to Keith J. Hardman, by 1850 Spiritualism and Mesmerism, antecedents to what one today might recognize as “New Age” ideas, boasted sixty-seven periodicals, thirty-eight thousand mediums and two million followers inside and outside the church.8
Disinterested in religion, Finney eventually entered the practice of law near his home, but experienced a profound change in direction while walking among the woods in 1821. As he records the event, it was a purely rational decision that suddenly made its impression upon the lawyer’s mind, as the resolution to any case in the courtroom. He returned to his office the next day to inform his client that he had a retainer from the Lord to preach the Gospel.
It was into this “Burned-over District,” as it came to be called, that Charles Finney arrived with his family at age two. Handsome and charming, Finney seemed to take up anything to which he set his mind with great skill and energy. Although it is not certain that he actually had been enrolled himself, Finney began teaching elementary school. “There was nothing which anyone else knew,” a student later reflected, “that Mr. Finney didn’t know, and there was nothing which anyone else could do that Mr. Finney could not do–and do a great deal better.“9
Finney’s remark that Gale taught him “little else than controversy” was probably calculated to leave the impression that anything Finney really learned during those years he had to teach himself. And to some extent, he was correct. Finney refused to follow the systematic thinking that had occupied divines in the past; he was more interested in practical successes here and now. Anti-intellectualism, so much a part of the frontier revivalism that had “burned-over” the region, was very much in evidence in such remarks.
Even before Finney arrived in many towns, revivalism had already produced strange phenomena. The frontier revivalist Peter Cartwright reported that the preachers themselves would become hysterical and Hofstadter describes the scene:
They laughed senselessly, ‘holy laughs,’ they called them. And then they jumped around like dogs on all fours and, still barking, ‘treed the devil’ like dogs chasing a squirrel. When all else failed, they spoke in a gibberish which they believed to be the ‘other tongues’ used by the apostles in the Bible.13
While Finney, therefore, cannot be regarded as the father of a movement, he certainly was the most important catalyst for its success. Cross well summarizes Finney’s outlook: “But no individual or school of thought could equal experience as Finney’s teacher. His doctrine, in fact, grew out of actions which met the pragmatic test; success could be measured only in numbers of converts and in the apparent intensity of their convictions. Thus it was that Finney’s chief contribution in the New York campaigns was not a theology but a set of practices. These devices met effectively the demand for larger revivals, and served to popularize and vitalize the New Haven theology.”21 This brings us to the discussion of the theological sources and effects of the revivals
In the Lectures, Finney demonstrates an unwitting dependence upon the Newtonian metaphysics that conceived of the universe rather mechanically. Frequently, the author will refer to a universal “intelligence,” “reason,” “law,” “government,” or “principle,” that is supreme and to which even God is subject. As far as the divine attributes are concerned, “All God’s moral attributes are only so many attributes of love or of disinterested benevolence,”24 and such comments are pronounced without the slightest exegetical appeal, much unlike the Confession itself. In fact, one is impressed throughout the Lectures with the absence of proof texts, the collection reading like a volume of Blackstone’s Law.
Nothing like a traditional method of systematic theology is attempted and the doctrine of God is strangely deduced from “self-evident principles” rather than from Scripture. The result is a deity whose features are virtually indistinguishable from Islam’s “Allah.” There is nothing specifically Christian about Finney’s doctrine of God, much less is it an explicitly evangelical description.The American pragmatic impulse that produced both Finney and James, and their respective heirs, could not have been more aptly expressed than the former’s insistence upon revival depending on the correct techniques rather than on the sovereign freedom and grace of God.In fact, what is already observable up to this point is that Finney’s theology hardly requires God at all. It is an ethical system based on general self-evident principles that men and women can discover and follow if only they make that choice...
Pulpit Manners & Pragmatism The Preacher’s Power
Therefore, as Cross relates, for Finney, “Pulpit manners matched the burden of the address. The imitator of Finney and Nash ‘must throw himself back and forward just as far as they did; and must if strong enough, smite as hard upon his chair, besides imitating their wonderful drawl and familiarity with God.’ Hand clapping, wild gesticulation, and the shift of voice from shout to whisper added visual and auditory sensation to a theatrical performance.” These revivalists could reuse their sermons, but the average pastor had to develop a long-term preaching ministry. Those who could not imitate the revivalist were often suspect. “Finney’s relatively sane popularizing tendency grew among his emulators into a mania.” 52
When wedded to the Romantic pietism of Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), evangelicals, in the name of evangelicalism, reduced Christianity to feeling. When wedded to the thought of Albrecht Ritschl (1822-89), evangelicals, in the name of evangelicalism, reduced Christianity to morality and the Kingdom of God to social advances. What all of these accomodations share in common is not only a desire to make Christianity relevant, but a Pelagianizing tendency. If Warfield was correct in asserting that Pelagianism is the religion of universal heathenism and the religion of the natural man, these developments, from Taylor to Finney to the liberal evangelicals of the late nineteenth century, constitute a common drift toward the accomodation of Christianity to natural theology. Even when Arminian revivalists championed healing, for instance, it was not conceived as a supernatural intervention, but as a scientific, natural effect of universal laws. Taylor and Finney had denied original sin, supernatural regeneration, a substitutionary atonement, justification by an imputed righteousness, and had substituted for this modernity’s confidence in human potential, moral and social redemption, a moral influence and governmental concept of the atonement, and the collapse of justification into the notion of naturalistic perfectionism. But their theological descendents, aided by German pietists, would see the modern project to its ultimate destination in what we now regard as theological liberalism.
But more important than these theological symptoms is the heart of the soteriological “megashift” that has occurred more recently within evangelicalism. Some would argue that so-called “progressive” or “liberal” evangelicals today are simply the Old Liberals of yesteryear. While the theological affinities are certainly there, historically, we have seen that it is possible to be a fundamentalist (revivalistic, millennial, with a literalistic hermeneutic) and every bit as naturalistic or Pelagian in soteriology as any friend of Ritschl.
The Evangelist Has Become A Sacrament– The Word Substituted With The Evangelist
In his classic study of perfectionism, Warfield explained the relationship of Finney to the evolution of the various “holiness” movements that were gaining ground in his day in Britain and America. In revivalism, the Word is substituted for the evangelist and there is an ex opere operato effect in his very person: “By a mere gaze, without a word spoken, Finney says he reduced a whole room-full of factory girls to hysteria. As the Lutheran says God in the word works a saving impression, Finney says God in the preacher works a saving impression. The evangelist has become a Sacrament.”73 Warfield also argued the connection, theologically, between Oberlin Perfectionism in America and the Keswick Convention in England (“Victorious Life Movement”):
Finney’s Legacy- Heroic Terms Even When Oblivious Of Theological Convictions
Finney’s legacy is explicitly acknowledged and celebrated in contemporary evangelicalism. Dayton observes, “As late as the 1940s and the 1950s V. Raymond Edman, Wheaton’s fourth president, called the Evangelical world back to Finney as ‘the most widely known and most successful American evangelist.’ Edman’s book, Finney Lives On, carried an endorsement from Billy Graham.” Harvard University Press considered Finney’s Revival Lectures to be of such significance in shaping American culture that in 1960 they reissued the work in a critical edition.77 Bethany House Publishers, Revell, Scripture Press, and a host of other evangelical publishers have helped revive an interest in Finney over recent decades and the leaders of the “Jesus Movement” of the 1960s and ’70s reappropriated Finney’s theology and style for a new generation. Keith Green, Jimmy Swaggart, and Youth With A Mission are among the individuals and groups that have actively promoted the revivalist’s theology, while mainstream evangelicalism has continued to regard Finney in heroic terms even when not entirely aware of his theological convictions. In a recent interview, Jerry Falwell claimed Finney as “one of my greatest heroes,”78 and yet he is also hailed by Christians from the “left.”
In February, 1990, Christianity Today ran a cover story on “The Evangelical Megashift,” and a growing flank of evangelical scholars are making adjustments in evangelical theology that appear to be simply extensions of these earlier departures. The practical effects of Finney’s legacy are ubiquitous throughout the evangelical empire of voluntary associations that bear his imprint. Evangelistic practices, “seeker-sensitive” approaches, church growth strategies that emphasize technique, political activism on the part of the church, nationalism, moralism, and a host of other interests are directly descended from the anthropocentric theology at the heart of Finney’s rejection of the Westminster Standards.
Mass Evangelism & Finney’s Influence – Apparently, Evidence Of False Revival
Charles Finney and the Disappearance of Revival – by Clive Taylor
SOME TWENTY YEARS AGO, PROGRESSIVE ENGLISH CHURCHMEN WERE horrified to discover that mass evangelism was again raising its head! They had assumed that its effective life had died out with Moody and Sankey, Torrey and Alexander. Evangelicals, on the other hand, hailed the crusades as a sign of renewed life and blessing for the Church: with a heightening of interest generally, considerable numbers were converted. Many saw the movement as the answer to the churches’ apathy and to the increasing godlessness of Britain. At the same time a prominent preacher who had himself experienced revival viewed the crusades with some misgivings, suggesting that the resultant blessing would effectively mask the depth of the real problem. It was suggested that genuine revival would be delayed for at least ten years. It was replied that evangelism could supply the solution as well as old fashioned revival.
At this distance in time we can assess more easily the true situation, and we can see clearly that for all the apparent blessing received, mass evangelism—or “revivalism”—has been quite unable to stem the increasing tide of unbelief, secularism and the wickedness and evil arising in the Western world. Some still continue to see the answer as more efficient mass evangelism of the crusade type; others look to renewal through the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Charismatic movement, and yet a third group claims that nothing less than a “Holy Ghost Revival” in the historic mould will meet the need. While agreeing with the necessity of true revival a fourth group (including the editors of Reformation Today) increasingly see the necessity of reformation in doctrine, practice and experience.
Strangely, the first three emphases come into focus in the figure of Charles Finney and many in each of these three groups look to him as the mentor. “The Father of Modern Evangelism,” “The Father of the Modem Soul Saving Movement”. Popularly it is claimed that he saved American church life and evangelism from the dead orthodoxy of the early nineteenth century and that his approach can save the twentieth century Church from its present malaise. His official biographer, Miller, wrote: “His Lectures on Revivals of Religion have been to the blessing of millions and constitute the hope for the present day”. He goes on: “his was a marvellous life to the converting of half a million souls,” and he speaks of the blessing received during his ministry as, “unparalleled since the days of the apostles”. The prominent place that Finney holds is undoubtedly deserved and though many of the assessments made of his work are grossly overstated and superficial we soon realise, when we come to grips with him, what a profound effect he has had upon the Church worldwide. It should be stressed therefore that this subject is of more than academic interest. Finney’s teaching and methodology are all-pervasive. In some ways he is a far greater influence in practice than Karl Barth. Moreover few lives in history show more clearly the interrelation between theology and practice, and how a theological idea may radically change the evangelistic methods of the Church throughout the earth.
Finney’s Life Marks a Watershed in Church History
A man of tremendous personality, force, and perhaps genius, Finney represents in belief and practice a bridge between the old religious world and the new. The great changes working themselves out in nineteenth century history became embodied in his life and experiences. He was a symptom of the changing times.
Theologically the old world of Reformed historical Christianity was behind him: the world where the Bible was the word from the mouth of the living God, infallible and inerrant in which was to be found the sole authority for the beliefs and practices of Christians. Before him lay the new world with its modern approach to Scripture, an approach in which man is the judge of the Bible’s trustworthiness and value: a world of criticism and rationalism where the plain teaching of Scripture can be rejected if it cuts across enlightened reason! This critical and rationalistic spirit can be clearly seen in embryo in the young Finney. Itis no accident, but rather significant and symptomatic that in his major work, Lectures on Systematic Theology, the first two hundred pages are largely philosophical discussion with a mere handful of references to Scripture. It is as unlike the older biblically based systematic theologies as it is like the philosophical theologies of the modern church. Finney is the turning point. Behind him are the doctrines of historic Christianity, before him the world of liberalism and the autonomy of man. Preceding him are the evangelical and Reformed doctrines of the faith embodied in the Canons of Dort, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Westminster Confession and the other, great credal confessions. These Finney rejected. For him they misunderstood Scripture. What was already beginning to be called the New Divinity, New School Theology, or Taylorism was adopted and propagated by Finney as Gospel truth. To this extent he made common cause with Liberalism and Modernism and led the way to the undoctrinal and untheological evangelism of the latter part of the last century, which in this present century has become much more accentuated.
This severance with the old doctrine led inevitably to a change in practice. The practice before Finney was of Biblical evangelism, where the Church’s methods were controlled by and subjected to the dictates of Scripture. It is significant, surely, that the modern Church is largely ignorant of the history of evangelism before Moody and Sankey. The pragmatic approach, rampant in American life, where anything that got results was commended, was applied to evangelistic endeavour. It is universally admitted that the pioneer in the new methods was Charles Finney. Says his biographer Miller: “He was the innovator, he was the bringer in of the new measures”. He led the van for Moody and Sankey, Billy Sunday and even for the aberrations of Amy Semple MacPherson and Marjoe. These are his lineal descendants. Quantity becomes the great mark of success. We are told, for example, that whereas certain skilful evangelists can expect in America to lead a soul to Christ in 35minutes, it takes two or three hours in Britain! The old methods of evangelism so blessed by God appear to have suffered the same fate as craftsmanship, being driven out by mass production. Nowadays the old ways are hardly recognised to be evangelism at all, and those who speak out for love of truth against pragmatic and psychological evangelism are likely to be pilloried as opponents of God and salvation. This is exactly how Finney reacted to those who criticised his new measures in the nineteenth century. He claimed they were hyper-Calvinists, spiritually dead and unconcerned for men’s souls whereas the ministries and testimonies of these men bore eloquent proof to the contrary.
The confusion as to what evangelism and the Gospel ought to be is due not only to ignorance of Church history, but, more seriously, to a dislike of Biblical exposition and doctrine of apostolic evangelism.
Finney’s Early Life and Christian Experience
Born in 1792, Charles Finney was brought up in the centre of New York State. The prevailing theological view of the churches in the area seems to have been Princetonian Calvinism. Finney suggests in his autobiography that he grew up with little opportunity to hear the Gospel, but this seems unlikely. In a paper on Finney (to which I am much indebted) given at the Puritan Conference, Paul Cook maintains that we are to treat Finney’s comments about this with caution. Finney’s account was written late in life and seems to be an interpretation of the facts in the light of his later theological position. Finney claims, for example, that the churches were almost all hyper-Calvinistic and that there was little evidence of spiritual life and zeal until he commenced his labours. This is far from the truth. There had been many revivals before Finney’s day and those involved were invariably distinctively Reformed in their doctrinal position. These revivals were still in evidence prior to Finney’s conversion. There is no doubt whatsoever that Jefferson County near the St. Lawrence River, where Finney came as a newly qualified young lawyer, had seen successive revivals for years. Gale, the young pastor of the church which Finney began to attend out of “professional interest”, had seen 65 people converted in the early months of his ministry there.
Charles Finney was converted two years after this in 1821 and he interprets the experience as being due almost wholly to an effort of his own will and resolution. “I made up my mind that I would settle the question of my soul’s salvation at once.”2 This is in accord with his later theological position, as though the experience were divorced from any external influences and due only to his own willingness. Yet in spite of Finney’s interpretation the sovereignty of God seems marked indeed. “My conscience was awakened, I had a great shame for sin, my mind was enlightened, I had a vision of Christ and I was broken down under an outpouring of the Spirit.” That certainly does not sound like a purely subjective experience but rather God at work in power. Despite the impression he gives, it would appear that the prayers of his mother and his sweetheart, as well as the preaching of Pastor Gale and the prayer meetings he attended, were all instruments in the hands of God leading to his conversion.
His friend, A. T. Pierson, described Finney as “. . . a born reformer, impassioned to the borders of impetuosity, positive to the borders of bigotry and original to the borders of heresy.”3
With this temperament, a legal training, acute mental ability and the physical energy of the backwoodsman, he commenced his Christian life. A novice in theological understanding, he soon came into conflict with the Biblical and Reformed theology of George Gale, the minister. To Finney, Gale’s was a false theology. As a lawyer he objected to it on rational and pragmatic grounds. He felt it to be inhibiting in practice. The classic Westminster Confession of Faith he arrogantly dismissed. “Dogmas . . . sustained for the most part by passages of Scripture that were totally irrelevant, and not in a single instance sustained by passages which, in a court of law, would have been considered at all conclusive.”4 Here we see a novice, self-opinionated and puffed up. He refused to accept Gale’s views on the atonement, regeneration, faith, repentance, and the slavery of the will. When it is remembered that these are the historic evangelical doctrines, not peripheral matters, but central, pivotal fundamentals of the faith, we realise how serious a division there was.
Paul Cook points out that the key to the situation is that Finney attributes infallibility to the human reason: “. . . there can be no error in the a priori intuitions of reason”5 even in matters of religion. This is the crux of his whole theology.
Like modem theologians such as Karl Barth he uses scriptural terms and classic phraseology, but gives them new meanings. He speaks of “justification”, “repentance” and “faith”, but the words are devalued and debased in content.
Denial of the ‘Doctrine of Original Sin‘ In his view of sin, Finney assumes, firstly, that moral qualities attach only to deliberate acts. Men are not sinners by nature, they are sinners because they commit sins. (Denial of the ‘doctrine of original sin) He refused to accept that dispositions and states of nature may be in themselves sinful. For him it followed that love, malice, hatred, etc., are non moral, neither good nor bad in themselves.
A second assumption is that there is no depravity attached to the human constitution as such. Pure will and external temptations are the only real factors in sinfulness.
The Old Heresy Of Pelagius, In Modern Dress.
Thirdly, Finney assumes that man is always neutral—everywhere and always he has a plenary and inalienable ability to obey God in everything he demands, that is, obligation implies ability. Here we are led to the very core of Finney’s theological system. It actually arose out of an espousal of the philosophical theories of the German, Dr. Immanuel Kant. Paul Cook pertinently describes the first lecture in the Systematic Theology as a “hotch-potch” of Kantian philosophy, particularly in this emphasis on “I ought, therefore I can”. In its exact theological form, Finney’s theological system appears to be very close to the New School Divinity of N. W. Taylor, which was the old heresy of Pelagius, in modern dress. Pelagius is the true father of all these children. Jerome described Pelagianism as the first organised system of self salvation taught in the Church.
Finney’s doctrine of salvation is built up on the foundation of obligation implying ability. We are commanded to be born again, therefore we must be able to do this.8 Regeneration, in his thinking (and how modern is this emphasis), becomes no more than a radical change of intention. There is no real change of heart or nature. No renewal and revival of the depraved constitution, merely a change of will and this is wholly within man’s natural power. He says in one passage: “We are saved by free grace drawing and securing the concurrence of the will” (John 6:44). On examination, we discover with B. B. Warfield that “drawing” is simply illumination or teaching, nothing more than better motivation or argument to move the sinner’s will. God’s power is limited to persuasion.
So far as justification is concerned, Finney could not logically have such a doctrine, since he had no doctrine of depravity. If there is no imputed guilt, there is no need of Christ’s imputed righteousness. He rejects the Reformation view that justification is a forensic act on the grounds of Christ’s atoning work upon the cross. He says quite plainly: “The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption;” In his view the sinner is not declared just but is treated as just by amnesty. Finney was well aware that he contradicted Augustinian soteriology at almost every point, and that his doctrine of depravity led him to deny and ignore classic Reformed teaching. For him, Christ’s death shows us what God is like as a moral governor. The death of Christ becomes more a means of legal satisfaction than a vicarious atonement. One searches in vain for emphasis on expiation, or propitiation. Moreover, it is interesting to see that his modern disciples take his theology to its logical conclusion, and in so doing make common cause with liberal views of salvation, in refusing to speak of the wrath of God against depravity and sin, while proclaiming an all-loving God unable to do more for sinners than plead that they use their will aright. Such theology is man-centred rather than God-centred.
Moving on to sanctification, he argues somewhat along these lines: if a man comes to God in repentance and faith—that is, he turns his will, or changes his choice, for these terms hold no other meaning for Finney than this—God freely pardons all his past sin. This act of “regeneration” he regards as “an entire present change . . . from entire sinfulness to entire holiness … (leading to) … full obedience for the time being, after which it is only a question of maintenance.”12 That is, regeneration brings one into a state of present sinlessness or, if you will, perfect sanctification. This change is a single act, because repentance involves a total change of choice. Thus his first righteous act is also his last, for he becomes entirely holy.13 For Finney, the moment a man was converted he ceased to be a sinner—all his sinful acts were forgiven. As there was no sinful nature, and therefore no basis from which sin could spring, the man must be perfect. “At this point,” says Benjamin Warfield, “we are astonished to discover that this perfect Christian, according to Finney, can backslide!” This, however, is logical because if the man has the natural ability, when he wills, to turn to Christ, then he may also reject Christ at will. He becomes a religious yo-yo—up and down, in and out of the Kingdom of Heaven at will. When Finney speaks of “backsliding” it has the real significance of apostasy, since it is a total act. Man must begin all over again; there is the coming out at the second meeting, the third, fourth and so on. In his actual practice we discover that this was the effect of the preaching of his gospel. His converts fell continually. It is no accident that they knew little peace, stability and assurance. These cannot be known outside of a true grasp and experience of justification by faith. How can there be assurance of salvation, if all depends on capricious, human choice rather than the sovereign will and work of God? As J. C. Ryle put it, “There can be no assurance for Arminians,” and we may add even less for the products of Finney’s Pelagian gospel. Again, the effects of his man-centred approach are everywhere to be seen in the modern evangelistic scene, where his ideas and methods prevail. There is little stability, peace and assurance and despite “total surrender”, “total availability”, etc., there is little evidence of solid, Biblical, holy living either.
His Ministry and Revival Methods
Immediately after his ordination in 1823 he began itinerant preaching, causing division and schism wherever he went for the next two years. This was due in part at least, to his own attitude and spirit, which were so severely critical and censorious of all efforts to evangelise but his own. He set up a reaction amongst the ministers of churches, whom he then dubbed dead and hyper-Calvinistic. At the same time, he was working during a season of unusual blessing as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work and we must not overlook or discount the fact that he with others enjoyed the blessings of rains from heaven and fruitful harvests of an order that has not been witnessed for over a hundred years. He laboured in the context of revival. It appears to me that the problems arose when Finney endeavoured to impose his own ideas and methods on God’s work, instead of following the leading of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. He believed that his work as an evangelist involved stirring up men to choice and action—this was the distinctive characteristic of his ministry and the most significant element for the future. He moved to the west of New York State and immediately commenced a remarkable work known today as the Western Revivals.14 He deliberately set out to promote excitement, to stir the area by impassioned preaching, for which he had great ability. It appears that Finney took the expertise of a talented lawyer, unsubdued by Christian experience and immediately pressed into service in the headstrong manner of the novice. We find today that the new convert, who is an expert in some field— Freudian psychology, business tycoon, pop star, opera-singing, weight-lifting, ballet teaching—on being converted is encouraged to use all and every technique for witness. Whether it be Pop or Rock music, or modem high pressure salesmanship, it is used uncritically and rashly, out of harmony with the Gospel it desires to promote.
Finney’s approach was without doubt one of force,15 his method being denunciation of the most violent kind, bordering on defamation. It is strange that Finney, who argued so strongly that God could only work by love and persuasion and not coercion, should find it necessary to exert pressure which God could not. The explanation lies in his understanding of the work of the advocate. It is the advocate’s task to turn the jury’s mind, to sway the jury in his client’s favour. The members of the jury are free to choose as they will, and they must come to their decision before the case is over. This approach was brought in to serve gospel ends. It was Finney’s deliberate policy to break down the will of his hearers. Since they could turn if they would, a battle resulted between the preacher and the will to make it turn. To that end he used every possible means—coarse and violent language, the anxious seat, suitable music, the protracted appeal, and many other means which came to be regarded as the “new measures”. This met with considerable opposition, naturally, since the approach was almost wholly novel in the history of evangelism, and Finney engaged in powerful polemics against the opposition, claiming that they were fighting God.
Two Sides To The Picture – “Flood Tides Of Revival Glory”- Serious Misrepresentation
As to the results of his work, there are two sides to the picture. “Flood tides of revival glory,” said his biographer, Miller, were seen in the Rochester revivals, 10,000 were converted in one meeting, the whole city converted by 1832 and hundreds of thousands were gathered in the complete series of Western Revivals (1825-32). One finds other writers lauding the ‘success in similar terms, but there is serious misrepresentation, for they fail to stress the situation as it was a few years after! Dr. A. B. Dod writing in 1835 said: “It is now generally understood that the numerous converts of the new measures have been in most cases like the morning cloud and the early dew. In some places, not a fifth or even a tenth part of them remain.“16 Those who did remain were a constant source of trouble in the churches, being fanatical, discontented and censorious. Dod was decidedly against Finney and his work. He was of the Princetonian School and he found many pastors, evangelists and revival leaders to stand with him against the new measures. This then might well be dismissed as a biased judgement. B. B. Warfield gives, however, a number of comments from Finney’s close friends and fellow labourers. James Boyle writing to Finney in 1834: “I have revisited many of these fields (where we laboured) and groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, casual, contentious state into which the churches had fallen”17—this written three months after Finney had left. Asa Mahan, Finney’s fellow worker and close friend for the whole of his life, tells us that everyone who was concerned in these revivals suffered a sad, subsequent lapse; the people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited; the pastors were shorn of all their spiritual power and all of the evangelists, with the exception of brother Finney and father Nash, became quite unfit to be evangelists and pastors. Finney himself said, “I was able to bring many to temporary repentance and faith!“ He said again in 1835, “They soon relapse into their former state”. In his Systematic Theology he confesses that the greater number of his “converts” were a disgrace to religion. As for the lasting aspect the results in the churches were disastrous.
If it is true that there were genuine revivals up to 1832, then after 1832 there were none. Churches burned up with false fire had become terrified of the true fire of the Spirit, and his work was quenched. In 1832 the opposition was so fierce that Finney moved to a New York City Church where he began to set out his Lectures on Revivals of Religion as an apologia for his novel methods. Through this work his personal fame and the methods he employed spread throughout the evangelical world.
The Effects Of This Pelagian (Man-Centered False) Gospel
The immediate effects of this Pelagian gospel ran true to type, with temporary excitement, and temporary decisions which tended to fade when the external stimulus was withdrawn. A more lasting effect was in the area of sanctification, the creation of a whole new class of religious people who now made their appearance in Church history as the “carnal” Christians. They had made a profession and there had been an external change, but they now bore all the marks of the worldly man. Finney claims that the reason for this state of affairs was that he did not preach sanctification enough. Though some attempt has been made to comment on Finney’s doctrine of sanctification, it is not at all clear what he really believed on the matter. He says quite properly that all good in man is due to the indwelling Christ; from first to last it is the Spirit’s work and it is not by works of the law. (He was too good a Pelagian however to admit quietism and he leaves a large place for human endeavour, even to the point, in practice, of legalism.) It does appear that enlightenment by the indwelling Christ and not divine power was the means of sanctification. He says that we do not need Christ’s strength, as we have sufficient of our own,18 but what we do need is inducement. At the end of his life he flirted for a time with Oberlin perfectionism of Mahan’s type; “perfection” being “complete righteousness which is adjusted to fluctuating ability”. Mahan, his fellow worker at Oberlin, published his views on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and for a time Finney espoused similar views and his letters on this subject were published in a popular and influential book, Power from on High, in which he defines the baptism of power as the ability to fasten saving impressions on the minds of men, as did the apostles at Pentecost. He is thinking here of his early experiences in the Revivals, when a single look from the evangelist was sufficient to break down souls and to lead them to conversion. In modern terms, Finney had charisma.
Warfield’s comment is pertinent here. “If it is not the Word but the preacher that is the power of God unto Salvation, the evangelist has become a Sacrament.” The evangelist, not the word preached, is now the key to the situation. It is not so much the clarity of the message as the personality of the messenger which counts. “It is interesting,” says Warfield again, “that the God who cannot work alone is now aided by the supernatural evangelist.” It may well be that Finney, at the end of his long life tragically was looking for some such power as had been lost in 1832, when the Spirit departed.
The Legacy of His Teaching And Methods
The long term effects were immense. Due to the widespread acceptance of his ideas, religion became increasingly man-centred, for his gospel was anthropocentric even though he began in the midst of genuine religious revival. The age in which we live is almost wholly man-centred and God appears strangely unwilling to work with us. It is no accident that the popular liberal and progressive theologies are also humanistic, for here again there is a basic Pelagian tendency. In consequence, preaching is persuasion, not teaching, and often degenerates into scolding. Men can turn by their own ability and they won’t! In some of the worst forms of preaching Christ is reduced to the level of a beggar pleading pathetically to get into a man’s house. By losing sight of Christ’s power to reveal himself to whomsoever he will (Matt. 11:27) and of sinners’ inability and spiritual impotence, the true nature of the free offers of the Gospel is destroyed. It is no longer a question of salvation by God’s power but rather, “I will save myself when I feel like it.”
More serious still is the effect upon revivals of religion. In the time of Jonathan Edwards, a revival was regarded as a supernatural and miraculous work of the sovereign Holy Spirit, to be prayed down from heaven. By the time Finney’s lectures had leavened their way into the Church, revival had become something for man to promote and work up. It is significant that his apologia for his methods of promoting revivals is based on his psychology of man rather than on the teaching of Scripture.
Finney began in revival and ended with organised “revivalism“. He began in revival and he ended up with modern evangelism. For the most part the Church has continued in that line ever since. Today one reads in American literature: “Don’t have your revival until you have seen samples of our colour posters.” Or, more dramatically: “Revivals arranged, results guaranteed; terms moderate!” It is possible to subscribe to a correspondence course on Finney’s methods, at the end of which one is qualified to have a revival!
We have come in the twentieth century to think automatically in terms of new methods and new measures, instead of a new, wholehearted turning to God in repentance and faith with a genuine recognition of our total inability as sinners to do God’s work for him. The absence of revival from God is a matter of grief. Is it true that so long as we continue to rely on man we continue to grieve the Spirit and hinder the return of revival? Is it true that we neglect the urgent need of reformation at our peril? Surely this whole subject is of momentous importance for us today.
“Ostentation And Noise”; “False Conversions”
Unable to impose his views upon the members of the Presbytery with which he was connected, Mr. Weeks withdrew and organized the Oneida Association, which had but a feeble existence at the time of which we are writing and which was completely dominated by Mr. Weeks, who busied himself in writing against Finney to the religious leaders of New England, besides publishing pamphlets and preparing articles for the religious press.
Under his direction a pastoral letter was sent out by the Oneida Association in which Finney and his friends were charged with “calling men hard names”; “reporting great, powerful revivals which afterwards came to little or nothing”; “ostentation and noise”; “not guarding against false conversions”; “injudicious treatment of young converts, such as turning them into exhorters and teachers”; “giving heed to impressions, feelings, and supposed revelations”; “allowing anybody and everybody to speak and pray in promiscuous meetings of whatever age, sex, or qualification”; using means of exciting fears, such as saying to a sinner: “If you don’t repent today, you will be in hell tomorrow”; “you are a reprobate, you are going straight to hell”; familiar use of the words “devil,” “hell,” “cursed,” “damned,” in a tone and manner like profane swearing; calling elderly people, by youths and boys, “old hypocrites,” “old apostates”; imprecations in prayer; interference, by ministers and others, with congregations to which they did not belong; female prayer and exhortations in public; etc., etc.
https://christianreasons.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/my-experience-in-the-word-of-faith-movement-pt-10/ Another researcher says:
“In case you have any doubts about my position, Charles G. Finney was a terrible theologian, and a false teacher. Please allow me time to make my point.
I may sound harsh, but I have spent basically a couple of weeks in the writings of Finney. Lawyers make terrible theologians, and narcissistic egotistical lawyers make terrible Christians, if that term can even be applied to Finney.
I am not interested in his successful revivals, nor the pragmatic adulation of men like Billy Graham, D.L. Moody, or even the beloved Charles Spurgeon. Doctrine drives practice, and practice affects doctrine, and Finney’s theology is what drove his innovations. His theology stinks to high heaven. [I need a Finney cleanse].”
Finney has had a lasting influence on the church, including those who tend toward pragmatic methodology in ministry. Today’s church must beware of such pragmatism and of being dragged into Finney’s Pelagianistic theology
Oberlin Perfectionism: The Perfection Of A Human’s Autonomous Free Will
Oberlin perfectionism views holiness as the perfection of a human’s autonomous free will. Its primary propagators were Charles Grandison Finney (1792–1875), Oberlin College’s first theology professor (1835–66) and second president (1851–66), and Asa Mahan (1799–1889), Oberlin’s first president (1835–50). It is remarkably similar to Wesleyan perfectionism. Both Finney and Mahan limit Christian perfection to a believer’s intention to obey the moral law, and both view Spirit-baptism as the crisis subsequent to justification that begins Christian perfection. Finney views sanctification as the entire consecration of a person’s autonomous free will to obey the moral law, and Mahan stresses Spirit-baptism as the post-regeneration crisis of Christian perfection even more than Finney. Mahan led the transition from Methodist and Oberlin perfectionism to the ecumenical higher life movement and prepared the way for the Keswick movement.
Finney grew discouraged with the revival campaigns and tried his hand at pastoring in New York City before accepting the presidency of Oberlin College. During those post-revivalist years, he turned his attention to devising a doctrine of Christian perfectionism. Perfectionist ideas, in vogue at the time, were a whole new playground for serious heresy on the fringes of evangelicalism—and Finney became one of the best-known advocates of perfectionism. The evil legacy of the perfectionism touted by Finney and friends in the mid-nineteenth century has been thoroughly critiqued by B. B. Warfield in his important work Studies in Perfectionism. Perfectionism was the logical consequence of Finney’s Pelagianism, and its predictable result was spiritual disaster.
Behind and beneath Charles Finney’s ‘revivalist’ legendary stature, there appears another man’s demeanor, another man’s theology, another gospel, something other than genuine divine revival. Many have been the concerns and reports of exaggeration, fabrication, misrepresentation, a false Pelagian, man-centered gospel, producing false works salvation, philosophical theology, and manipulative, pragmatic ‘what ever works’ false gospel, philosophical evangelism. Another christian folklore legend.