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Some Thoughts on Charles Finney’s Influence Upon The Modern Church

Having just finished up a series of posts from the works of Charles Finney upon original sin, allow me to make some brief observations.  I am reading a book on the theology of Finney in comparison to the Calvinists of his day and will have more to say about Finney later.  For now, allow me to make these brief observations about Finney’s influence upon the modern church.

First, it can not be underestimated the influence that Charles Finney has had upon the modern Church.  Both Arminians and Calvinists must acknowledge this.  I believe that his influence has not been for the better.  I oppose, as do nearly all Calvinists, the usage of the anxious seat or the sinner’s prayer as a means to salvation.  I find nothing in Scripture to suggest that a person come forward and say a prayer to receive salvation.  Not once in the Bible do we find the Lord Jesus nor the Apostles doing any thing close to the modern altar call.  While Finney did not create the anxious seat, mourners bench, or the sinner’s prayer, he definitely influenced others in using the methods.  Finney clearly believed that a person can will themselves to salvation at any time so long as the arguments were set forth correctly for the person to understand and he clearly believed that repentance was a matter of the will and not the work of the Spirit entirely.  This led him to start calling for a public response to the gospel that demanded that a person will their way to salvation through tears, prayer, mourning, etc.  Finney’s practice is now fully practiced in most semi-Pelagian American churches that find their roots in Finney, Torrey, Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.  I once challenged a pastor over this and he responded that “it works” and that was enough for him.  This pragmatic approach to evangelism has hurt the church.

Secondly, Finney’s usage of the anxious seat led to thousands of false converts.  New England today remains the “burned over” district of the United States.  Few have seen evangelistic success in New England mainly because of the usage of the sinner’s prayer.  People were incorrectly taught that you need only pray this prayer and you are a Christian which led to countless false converts who were not following Jesus as Lord (Matthew 7:21-23).  This also led to Finney developing his perfection teachings later on at Oberlin College.  Finney begin to see the fruits of the sinner’s prayer and he begin to say that what people needed was not just to pray for salvation but also to pray for entire sanctification to God.  Christian perfection as a second work of grace was needed to help these sinning saints get rid of sin.  I have read Finney’s book on perfection and they are full of works sanctification such as we need to be praying more, stop sinning in our own power more, lay all on the altar, etc. and while they are sometimes good at exhorting toward holiness, the books fail to point to Jesus as our Advocate when we sin nor to the power of His blood to cleanse us from sin (1 John 1:7; 2:1-2).  The power to overcome sin lies in the power of God in the gospel and not in our power.  Holiness flows not from will power but from God’s power (Romans 8:1-4).  The Holy Spirit is the One who helps me to be holy (Acts 15:9-11; cf. John 16:8-11).

Thirdly, I fear that evangelism has largely followed Finney in regard to seeking to convert people to Christ merely by correct arguments and little trust in the power of God in the gospel.  Romans 1:16-17 is clear that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.  It is God who saves and He saves alone.  Correct arguments and the right atmosphere are not the power to salvation. The gospel is the power of God to salvation.  The gospel brings repentance.  The gospel produces results.  The duty of the Church is to preach the gospel (Acts 1:8).  The Lord is the one who adds to His Church those who are being saved (Acts 2:47).  The Lord uses the gospel preached to save the lost and not our fleshly arguments (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).  I fear that too often modern evangelism is all about “get them to pray the prayer” instead of preaching Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).  Again, nothing in Scripture suggests that salvation comes through a sinner’s prayer but through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:8-9).  The proper response to the gospel is baptism (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38, 41).

I will have more to say about Charles Finney and his theological views later.  For now, I do believe that Finney loved God, loved people, and I believe that he desired to see souls saved but I do fear that his methods have produced fruit that is not good and sadly, the Church has suffered because of them.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/06/2012 at 5:08 PM

Posted in Charles Finney

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  1. […] this prayer and you are a Christian which led to countless false … … Excerpt from: Some Thoughts on Charles Finney's Influence Upon The Modern … ← Matthew 14:13-21 « Lent & […]


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