Charles G. Finney’s Doctrine of Justification -- By: David H. Linden

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 06:4 (Fall 1997)
Article: Charles G. Finney’s Doctrine of Justification
Author: David H. Linden

Charles G. Finney’s Doctrine of Justification

David H. Linden

Charles Grandison Finney lived in a day when a certain view of justification was in vogue. It would always be in his mind as that other view he did not hold, a view of faith alone as the condition and the obedience of Christ as the foundation. Finney would turn this Reformation doctrine on its head and bring about a degree of counterreformation within Protestantism that the Roman church in its Council of Trent was never able to secure. Yet Finney was accepted in Protestant circles not because of his theology but rather for his results. Many reasoned, “How could such a success be anything but of God?” Those who study that period of history think his results deserve a sober second look. The results and the success of new measures are still evident today in the place that methods, management and man have in current church life.

May the historians continue their analysis; it is needed. My purpose is to review his doctrine in one area—justification. If Finney is “America’s Greatest Revivalist,”1 his evangel invites and deserves examination. But I expect the reader to find the views of Finney presented here incredible. One seminary professor found that the only way to get his students to believe that what he represented as being Finney’s doctrine, was to have the students read Finney directly and experience the surprise on their own. I did expect an Arminian theology, but I did not expect the work of Christ on the cross to be removed as the basis of justification, and the obedience of Christ replaced by the sinner’s. Thus the direct reading of Finney is strongly urged. Many quotations and references will be provided here to support this analysis of his teaching, but those should be an incentive to look at this man’s teaching and influence much more carefully.

I am reviewing mainly Lecture 25 on Justification, in Finney’s Systematic Theology, pages 360–77 in the 1994

Bethany House publication.2

Finney’s View of Justification3

One must grasp Finney’s governmental framework to understand his doctrine. Justification, to him, is a governmental decree of pardon or amnesty in which God restores to favor those who have sinned.4 The governor of an American state can pardon, but a judge cannot. Judges may acquit but not pardon; governors may pardon but not acquit. Thus justification is not forensic whatsoever.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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