President Finney And An Oberlin Theology -- By: Albert Temple Swing

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 057:227 (Jul 1900)
Article: President Finney And An Oberlin Theology
Author: Albert Temple Swing


President Finney And An Oberlin Theology

Prof Albert Temple Swing

The limits of the present article will allow only a glance at some of the more prominent of President Finney’s contributions to the historical theology of Oberlin. Professors Morgan and Cowles, and for a few years President Mahan, were valuable co-laborers with Mr. Finney. But that Oberlin may be said to have had a theology, is more especially due to the lives of Charles G. Finney and James H. Fairchild. The theology which President Fairchild has shaped and somewhat modified was propounded in its distinctive Oberlin features by President Finney.

Oberlin theology, while similar in most of its fundamental positions to the theology of New England, is not to be thought of as an offshoot of the New England theology, but as largely an independent development from its own root. What in New England had been gradually evolved from Old Calvinism through two generations of theological reformers was substantially wrought out independently of them by President Finney’s rational revolt,1 which was so closely connected with his conversion as to be practically inseparable from it. It was some of the fundamental doctrines of the same old Calvinism, which he found in the pulpit and pastor’s library of his adopted town, against which as a young lawyer he turned his argumentative powers. Oberlin theology will be found to be but the bringing forth, by one man, of things new and

old out of the inheritance of historical Calvinism, and it is not explainable apart from that.

1. The most fundamental of President Finney’s reform principles was, that human ability must be commensurate with human duty.2 This was no metaphysical quibble, but the most vital point to be insisted on. God would be insincere if he were to command as duty what we cannot do, or to punish us for not doing what is manifestly impossible for us to do if we have no moral ability. Sinners ought to repent at once, because they can repent if they will. It was to him the veriest sacrilege practically to imply that God is to blame because sinners do not repent and turn to him, or that the church should make pretense of waiting his time to make them better, when all the while they were unwilling to yield themselves wholly to him.3

It is not easy for us to realize at this time how the old doctrines of Divine Sovereignty and Human Depravity, which in Luther and Calvin led with the greatest force to an utter and complete faith in the compassion of God in Jesus Christ, had come...

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