The Heresies of Charles Finney, Part 1

From Chapter 7 of my book Nettleton Verses Finney: The Shift in American Evangelicalism 1820-1830, which will eventually be re-posted on our website.

The Ministry of Charles Finney I: Finney’s Ministry

What is wrong with this statement?

“When Charles Finney was converted and filled with the Holy Ghost the American churches were in a sickly state. Most churches were either Hyper-Calvinistic or Universalist…apathy prevailed (Homer Duncan, cited in Murray, Revival and Revivalism, page 298).”

Or this?

“One hundred years ago, God raised up a voice so cutting, that it penetrated the hardened hearts of sleeping churches. The Christians were shocked and angered by such piercing words. God was crushing the believers by the voice of Charles G. Finney and a tremendous revival swept over our land (Jack Chick, The Last Call: A Revival Handbook. Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1978, page 3).”

The problem is that both statements are totally wrong! By the time Charles Finney began his ministry in the mid-1820s, America was still enjoying the benefits of the powerful revivals which rocked the country in the first twenty years of the nineteenth century. Finney started his work late in the Second Great Awakening and almost missed it, getting in on about the last few years of it. The majority of American churches were in no way hyper-Calvinistic nor Universalist nor apathetic. Most modern revivalist historians and Finney apologists ignore the powerful ministries of Nettleton, Griffin, Payson and Dwight. Charles Finney has been raised to the level of a hero and a personality cult has been erected around him.

Is Finney worthy of such accolades? The historical records clear say “no”. We must turn our attention to the man who was in reality responsible for the destruction of the foundation that had been set by the First Awakening and the leaders of the Second Awakening in the East.

This man is Charles Grandison Finney. While he is not responsible for developing what would later be known as the “New Measures”, he is responsible for promoting and popularizing them in the East.

Finney and his influence must be studied and analyzed because he is totally almost universally lauded as the man who sparked and fueled the Second Awakening, which is clearly untrue. John R. Rice, founder of the Sword of the Lord and a devotee of Finney, called him “the greatest soulwinner in the 19th century” after Moody (while completely ignoring all the other worthy evangelists of this era) (John R Rice, The Power of Pentecost. Murfreesboro TN: Sword of the Lord, 1949, page 234).” Louis Gifford Parkhurst, writing in Jerry Falwell’s Fundamentalist Journal, referred to Finney as “the greatest preacher and theologian since the days of the apostles (Louis Gifford Parkhurst, “Charles Grandison Finney: Preached For A Verdict.” Fundamentalist Journal, June, 1984, page 41).” Fred Barlow, writing in the Biblical Evangelist, said of Finney

“When you read the messages and the ministry of Charles Finney, you get the strange sensation that you are reading pages right out of the Acts of the Apostles…No American evangelist in his ministry ever more paralleled the apostolic preaching, passion and power of a Simon Peter or an Apostle Paul as did Finney (Fred Barlow, “Charles Grandison Finney- Apostolic Evangelism”. Biblical Evangelist, July 1967).”

These claims must be searched out. After a careful reading of Finney, of his own works and biographies of him, I must reject the high praise heaped on Finney. Instead, I would go so far as to charge Charles Finney of marring the Second Awakening and of being the first true New Evangelical! In very direct terms, Finney was a heretic, both practically and theologically, and is not worthy of the accolates that have been heaped on him. I think many men looked as his “results” but never examined his doctrines or methods, even today.

Was Finney the greatest soulwinner of the 19th century? He is responsible for many professed conversions, yes, yet his evangelism is inferior to that of the preachers who ministered early in the Second Awakening, including Nettleton. Was he the greatest theologian since the days of the apostles as Parkhurst claims? Certainly not. Other men far surpassed Finney in terms of theology. Promoters of Finney also refuse to deal with Finney’s doctrinal problems, including his Pelagianism and teaching of entire perfection.

(more to come)

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