Charles Finney’s Theology of Revival: Moral Depravity -- By: Sean Michael Lucas
MSJ 6:2 (Fall 95) p. 197
Charles Finney’s Theology of Revival:
Charles G. Finney is famous for his career in revival ministries, but he patterned his theology to fit his revivalistic practices. His unique view of original sin included a distinction between physical and moral depravity, the universal nature of moral depravity, and a rejection of the doctrine of imputation. Three possible reasons for his alteration of the theology in which he received training include the influences of Jacksonian democracy, an inclination toward favoring his legal training, and pragmatism. Finney has had a lasting influence on the church, including those who tend toward pragmatic methodology in ministry. Today’s church must beware of such pragmatism and of being dragged into Finney’s Pelagianistic theology.
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In the study of American evangelicalism, it is important to recognize key contributors to the evangelical mind, individuals whose influence is still apparent. One such key individual is Charles Grandison Finney.2 Perhaps Finney’s ability to popularize is one reason he is such
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an important figure in history. He popularized the “New Measures” methodology, which he borrowed from the Methodists and perfected for his ends.3 From the Methodist “mourner’s bench” to Wesleyan perfectionism, Finney adapted various parts of Methodism into a New School Presbyterian framework.
In addition, he popularized the New Haven theology. This new mutation of the New Haven theology has been called “Oberlin Theology” by historians because it includes the addition of Christian perfectionism.4 Finney popularized this new brand of theology around the country, arguing that his success as a revivalist justified his theological positions.5
James Johnson, in a seminal journal article, suggests that Finney
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consciously sought to develop a theology which would be “patterned to fit his career as a revivalist….Since his theological system was designed to complement his career as an evangelist, his theology often assumed strange shapes in order to accommodate to the revivalistic milieu.”6 Johnson, in the rest of his essay, sketches Finney’s modifications in each area of theology. Johnson argues that it was necessary for Finney to set aside the...
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