Founders Journal



1 Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism, Library of Religious Biography, ed. Mark A. Noll, Nathan 0. Hatch, and Allen C. Guelzo (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996).

2Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 176-77.

3 Charles S. Kelley Jr., How Did They Do It: The Story of Southern Baptist Evangelism (n.p.: Insight Press, 1993), 21.

4Bill J. Leonard, "Getting Saved in America: Conversion Event in a Pluralistic Culture," Review and Expositor 82, no. 1 (Winter 1985): 123.

5 Material in this article comes from my dissertation, "The Relationship of Soteriology and Evangelistic Methodology in the Ministries of Asahel Nettleton and Charles G. Finney" (Ph.D. diss., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997).

6 Bennet Tyler, Memoir of the Life and Character of Rev. Asahel Nettleton, D.D., 2d ed. (Hartford: Robins & Smith, 1848), 273.

7 Asahel Nettleton, Asahel Nettleton: Sermons from the Second Great Awakening, with an introduction by Tom Nettles and a preface by Bennet Tyler (Ames, IA: International Outreach, 1995), 394-95.

8Ibid., 240.

9Ibid., 236.

10Ibid., 105. Nettleton preached, "It is certain that Christ will finish the great work which he has undertaken. Not one whom he designs to save shall ever be lost."

11 Ibid., 195.

12 Ibid., 60-73, see Nettleton's sermon entitled, "Genuine Repentance Does Not Precede Regeneration."

13 Ibid., 89, where Nettleton states that "the only ground of hope in the case of sinners lies in the sovereign mercy of God."

14 Many evangelicals are shocked to hear this about Finney, but hear his own words: "It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one; but the promise and oath of God, that Christ shall have a seed to serve him, provide that security." Charles G. Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, ed. James H. Fairchild (Oberlin, OH: E. J. Goodrich, 1878, reprint, Whittier, CA: Colporter Kemp, 1844), 281. Page references are to the reprint edition. Italics mine.

15Michael S. Horton, "The Legacy of Charles Finney," Premise 2, no. 3, 27 March 1995 [journal on-line], available from Internet.

16 Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, 550, writes, "If the ultimate salvation of the saints is certain, it is certain only upon condition, that their perseverance in obedience to the end of life is certain."

17 Paulus Scharpff, History of Evangelism: Three Hundred Years of Evangelism in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States of America, trans. Helga Bender Henry (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), 109; John Mark Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 146.

18Evangelism and Church Growth: A Practical Encyclopedia, s.v. "Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875)," by Alvin L. Reid, 235. Reid is far too pessimistic in his view of the Calvinism of Finney's day. Bob Pyke states that "the leading Calvinistic ministers during the Second Great Awakening were all men who agreed that evangelism needed to insist on immediate faith and repentance, and that the older Calvinism had distorted accountability by emphasizing too much the sinner's dependence on God." Bob Pyke, "Charles G. Finney and the Second Great Awakening," Reformation & Revival Journal 6, no. 1 (Winter 1997): 47.

19 Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, Perfectionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 2:23; Joseph I. Foot, "Influence of Pelagianism on the Theological Course of Rev. C. G. Finney, Developed in His Sermons and Lectures,: Literary and Theological Review 5 (March 1838): 39, wrote that "during ten years, hundreds, and perhaps thousands, were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is admitted, that his (Finney's) real converts are comparatively few. It is declared, even by himself that 'the great body of them are a disgrace to religion.' "

20 James E. Johnson, "The Life of Charles Grandison Finney" (Ph.D. diss., Syracuse University, 1959), 399-400.

21Quoted in Warfield, Perfectionism, 2:26. The letter is not in the Finney Papers.

22Asa Mahan, Autobiography: Intellectual, Moral, and Spiritual (London: T. Woolmer, 1882), 229.

23 Horton, "The Legacy of Charles Finney," Internet.

24 Ibid. Pyke, 53, notes that Finney's theory of the atonement "was enough outside the pale of orthodoxy to have been considered heretical in previous centuries."

25 Monte A. Wilson, "Charles Grandison Finney: The Aftermath," Reformation & Revival Journal 6, no. 1 (Winter 1997): 97-99. Finney's statement is the title of one of his Lectures on Revivals of Religion, 161-79.

26 Wilson, 100.

27 Robert H. Lescelius, "The Second Great Awakening: The Watershed Revival," Reformation & Revival Journal 6, no. 1 (Winter 1997): 23. Pyke, 33 -34, writes, "By the end of the [nineteenth] 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."

28 Wilson, 100.

29 MacArthur also views Finney with suspicion and concludes that "Finney's real legacy is the disastrous impact he had on American evangelical theology and evangelistic methodology." John F. MacArthur Jr., Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World (Wheaton and Nottingham, England: Crossway Books, 1993), 235.

30 Pyke, 39, observes that "the rough, compel-them-to-come-in, results-oriented style which marked Finney's ministry is evident from the outset. As was so characteristic of his career, after initial enthusiasm and superficial success (abetted, it would seem, by human effort and armtwisting), results invariably fell off."

31 "Robert A. Swanson, "Asahel Nettleton: The Voice of Revival," Fundamentalist Journal 5, no. 5 (May 1986): 51.

32 Lescelius, 29.

33Bennet Tyler, New England Revivals As They Existed at the Close of the Eighteenth and the Beginning of the Nineteenth Centuries (Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1846; reprint, Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts, Publisher, 1980), 7 (page citations are to the reprint edition).

34James Ehrhard, "Asahel Nettleton: The Forgotten Evangelist," Reformation & Revival Journal 6, no. 1 (Winter 1997): 85-86.

35 Finney, on the other hand, rejected doctrines such as original sin because he deemed them offensive to human reason. John Stanley Mattson believes Finney deemed the Bible and reason to be co-equals as ultimate sources of authority. John Stanley Mattson, "Charles Grandison Finney and the Emerging Tradition of 'New Measure' Revivalism" (Ph. D. diss., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1970), 197.

36 "J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 18-22. Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. stressed that divine sovereignty and human responsibility "are parallel truths" in his 1997 spring convocation message. James A. Smith Sr., "Mohler: God's Sovereignty & Human Responsibility True," The Tie 65, no. 2 (Spring 1997): 27.

37Packer, 27-28. The wise observer sees Finney's pattern of evangelism in this emphasis. John F. MacArthur Jr. indicts Finney as the source of modem evangelical pragmatism: "Finney was the first influential evangelist to suggest that the end justifies the means." MacArthur, 233.

38Packer, 32-34.

39 Ibid., 35-36.

40Ibid., 90. Asahel Nettleton embodied such a balanced evangelism because he affirmed divine sovereignty and human responsibility as equally biblical and carried out his ministry within the tension of the antimony they represent. Finney chose the extreme position which favors human freedom to the neglect of divine sovereignty.