Charles G. Finney and the Second Great Awakening -- By: Bob Pyke

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 06:1 (Winter 1997)
Article: Charles G. Finney and the Second Great Awakening
Author: Bob Pyke


Charles G. Finney and the Second Great Awakening

Bob Pyke

Each week during the winter of 1834–35 a tall gaunt figure of stern countenance mounted the pulpit of Chatham Street Chapel, New York, to deliver a lecture on “Revivals of Religion.” This young Presbyterian minister, whose steely blue eyes “swept his audience like searchlights,” was Charles Grandison Finney. The New York Evangelist printed his lectures as they were delivered. Shortly after the series concluded they were published in April 1835 in book form…

The publication of his Lectures on Revival of Religion swept Finney into international prominence and extended his influence and teaching far beyond the bounds of the English-speaking world… His Lectures in whole and in part have been translated into many languages and published in countless editions, and have become the raison d’etre of all new methods of evangelism ever since. Most of what has been written on the subject of revival during the last hundred years clearly reflects Finney’s thought… Missionary work has been influenced by his ideas and outstanding missionaries … have been captivated by his ideas. Evangelists from Moody to Graham are his offspring, and books such as R. A. Torrey’s How to Work for Christ are, in the main, a rehash and development of Finney’s thought. 1

Though he lived just in the last century, was eminently famous, and left voluminous writings, the historical Finney can be difficult to recover. This circumstance probably has several causes. One is the triumph of Arminian theology in American religion. Finney is the key figure in the great theological shift which took place in America in the nineteenth century. By the end of the century, American evangelicalism bore little resemblance to that of 1800. The theology of conversion was no longer theocentric, the focus

in evangelism now being on man and his responsibility, not on God, His holiness, and His saving mercy. Arminianism’s man-centered theology had obscured much of the church’s heritage. Former views of what constituted revival had been forgotten for decades, the new view being that revival was something initiated by man doing his duty. In this new theological climate, a climate which has largely prevailed in American evangelicalism to this day, the picture of Finney as a man embroiled in a lifelong controversy, trying to justify his own radical measures and at the same time to stamp out a theological tradition which he hated, has been obscured. The new views have prevailed, and Finney has emerged a great evangelist and revivalist folk hero.

A second rea...

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