Finney-ism is a bit of a misnomer as there never was an actual school of theological thought or a movement named for Charles Grandison Finney, the subject of this article. However, Finney was both a man of renown in 19th century American religious life and most definitely a heretic.
Finney was a former New York lawyer who was allegedly converted to Christianity in the early 1820s and a key figure in the so called “Second Great Awakening” of the early 1830s.”.
Where Finney went most obviously astray was in his views of man, sin, the will, and conversion. Of course, these errors presuppose grievously compromised views of God and His sovereignty as well, but we’ll concentrate on his anthropology and related areas for this short synopsis.
As one reads Finney’s works, one is immediately struck by how little scripture is discussed. Finney was far more a philosopher than a theologian who was utterly enslaved to human reason. His essays are a tedious exercise in relentless logic in which he incessantly subjugates God’s truth to his own humanistic conceptions of justice.
He denied original sin and depravity for instance because in his mind they would be unfair. For Finney, no man could be born into a state of inescapable depravity because that would absolve him from responsibility for his sin. Man was conceived in a morally neutral state and due to the onslaught of surrounding sin, every infant would eventually surrender to its temptations and render itself individually sinful and condemned. (in a nutshell)
The logical consequence of this for Finney was that “conversion” was purely an act of the will with no supernatural component whatsoever. A man was to be literally talked into the kingdom. He needed to be intellectually persuaded of the truth of the gospel and his own culpability. Finney employed what was known as the “anxious seat” where sinners would be put in the front of the congregation and browbeaten into believing that they were sinners and entirely by an act of their own will to surrender themselves to Christ.
This was hyper Pelagianism taken to a new level.
He also held to a form of perfectionism wherein a believer could live in perfect love for God and his neighbor. Depending on where in his writings you read, this might include entire sanctification, that is. life without sin.
All of this was dependent on the natural abilities of man himself.
BB Warfield famously said that “God could be eliminated from Finney’s thought entirely without changing it’s essential nature.” (paraphrase)
There is more, but this should be enough to convince any sound biblically informed believer of the heretical nature of Finney’s theology.
Key tenets of Finney-sm include:
- The rejection of the doctrine of original sin.
- The rejection of the doctrine of depravity at all for all intents and purposes.
- The belief that sin consists entirely and exclusively of individual acts of the individual will.
- The idea that conversion is natural act of the naturally persuaded human intellect and will
Modern-Day Proponents of Finney-ism:
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- While there are no explicit proponents of Finney’s views today, his influence can be seen in some Charismatic and Pentecostal groups.