Today’s date, August 29, is the date of the birth of, according to American and religious historians of every stripe, one of the most significant Americans in history, Charles Grandison Finney.
Consider this short bio:
August 29, 1792-Birth of Charles G. Finney, American revivalist and educator. Originally trained in law, he was converted to Christian faith at age 29, conducted revival services for eight years and, from 1835 until his death, maintained a close affiliation with Oberlin College in Ohio.
Sounds pretty innocuous. There is definitely much more to the story.
Next, consider this somewhat more detailed, but still quite “objective” summary of Finney’s life and “ministry”:
Charles Grandison Finney gave
the region [a portion of western New York famous for its revivalism, radicalism and communitarian experiments] its name [the Burned-Over District], referring to it as a “burnt district” because so many revivals had taken place there during America’s Second Great Awakening. Finney himself was born in Connecticut but migrated with his parents to western New York. He was starting a career as a lawyer when on Oct. 10, 1821, he saw a brilliant light in his law office and underwent an immediate conversion at the age of 29: “I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus.” He became a missionary to Jefferson County for the Female Missionary Society of the Western District of New York. He rejected traditional Calvinist theology and Unitarianism and became a founder of New School Presbyterianism that emphasized an evangelistic style of religion, pioneering new techniques of revivalism called the “New Measures” used by a growing number of disciples called the “Holy Band.” He was a charismatic speaker, tall, handsome, with striking blue eyes and a dramatic voice. When he spoke, his body writhed and he seemed possessed by the Holy Spirit. From his ordination in 1824 until his death in 1875, he was the most popular preacher in America. Thousands came to his tent meetings in Utica, Rome, Auburn and Troy. In October 1825 he began preaching every night in the town of Western, continued throughout the winter, beginning the first of what he called the “great Western revivals.” He pioneered revival meetings in large cities after 1827.
His Rochester revival in 1830 was described as intense, lasting weeks with hundreds of “inquiry meetings” and praying for individuals by name and putting them on the “anxious seat” for public prayer and granting them immediate admission into church membership upon public demonstration of conversion. He promoted temperance and women’s rights, allowing women to pray in public during his revivals. He founded a newspaper, the New York Evangelist, with financial support from Lewis and Arthur Tappan. In 1835, Finney became president of Oberlin College in Ohio and wrote a handbook for revival ministers. He blazed the trail that would later be followed by Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. (read more about the Burned-Over District here.)
Now consider the theology behind this man of such accomplishments:
Charles G. Finney determined from his earliest days as a young Christian to counteract what he believed to be the evangelism-crippling effects of the Calvinism espoused by men such as Asahel Nettleton. Believing himself to be a corrective for an overemphasis on divine sovereignty, Finney stressed the responsibility of human beings as free moral agents.
Because he was trained as a lawyer and tragically lacking in theological education, Finney’s reading of Scripture persuaded him to see salvation in terms of legalistic moral philosophy. Such a framework demanded that those held responsible to obey the law must be free to obey. While
Nettleton stressed the freedom of God, Finney chose to emphasize the freedom of man.
Finney believed humans were voluntarily, not constitutionally, depraved. Election unto salvation resulted from divine foreknowledge of one’s response to the gospel. The atonement provided by Jesus paid for no one’s sins as a penal substitution, but rather allowed God to pardon sinners without violating his own nature and law.
Michael Horton has accurately
summarized Finney’s beliefs:
“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.”
(read more about Charles Finney’s Man-Centered Revivalism here.)
August 29th. Birthday of a significant figure in American and Christian history.
Kind of makes you want to take off work, doesn’t it?