"Charles Grandison Finney was a heretic. That language is not too strong. Though he excelled at cloaking his opinions in ambiguous language and biblical-sounding expressions, his views were almost pure Pelagianism. The arguments he employed to sustain those views were nearly always rationalistic and philosophical, not biblical. To canonize this man as an evangelical hero is to ignore the facts of what he stood for.
Don't be duped by sanitized 20th-century editions of Finney's works. Read the "Complete and Newly Expanded" 1878 edition of Finney's Systematic Theology, recently published by Bethany house Publishers (the unabridged 1878 version with a couple of Finney's later lectures added). This volume shows the real character of Finney's doctrine. (The unabridged 1851 version is now online, and it also exposes Finney's errors in language not toned down by later redactors.) By no stretch of the imagination does Finney deserve to be regarded as an evangelical. By corrupting the doctrine of justification by faith; by denying the doctrines of original sin and total depravity; by minimizing the sovereignty of God while enthroning the power of the human will; and above all, by undermining the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, Finney filled the bloodstream of American evangelicalism with poisons that have kept the movement maimed even to this day.
"In the history of the church's sanctification I don't believe there has been a more valuable extra-biblical resource and tool than the Puritan Hard Drive. It holds some of the most priceless Reformed works of God-centered and Christ-glorifying truth that were ever penned." - Dr. Matthew McMahon, A Puritan's Mind.
+ More quotes from Mr. Johnson's article "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: How Charles Finney's Theology Ravaged the Evangelical Movement."
+ Playing with Fraud from the Outset
"Finney's ministry was founded on duplicity from the beginning. He obtained his license to preach as a Presbyterian minister by professing adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith. But he later admitted that he was almost totally ignorant of what the document taught."
"Finney's credibility is further marred by the fact that when he later read the Westminster Standards and realized he disagreed on almost every crucial point, he did not resign the commission he had received under false pretenses. Instead, he accepted the platform he had duped those men into giving him — then used it for the rest of his life to attack their doctrinal convictions."
+ Finney vs. Justification by Faith
"Specifically, what were Finney's most serious errors? At the top of the list stands his rejection of the doctrine of justification by faith. Finney denied that the righteousness of Christ is the sole ground of our justification, teaching instead that sinners must reform their own hearts in order to be acceptable to God. (His emphasis on self-reformation apart from divine enablement is again a strong echo of Pelagianism.)"
"Finney spends a considerable amount of time in several of his works arguing against "that theological fiction of imputation"Memoirs, 58]. [ Those who have any grasp of Protestant doctrine will see immediately that his attack at this point is a blatant rejection of the doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide).It places him outside the pale of true evangelical Protestantism. The doctrine of imputed righteousness is the very heart of the historic difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The whole doctrine of justification by faith hinges on this concept. But Finney flatly rejected it."
"Since the dawn of the Protestant Reformation, the virtually unanimous Protestant consensus has been that justification is in no sense grounded in or conditioned on our sanctification. Catholicism, on the other hand, mingles justification and sanctification, making sanctification a prerequisite to final justification.
Finney sided with Rome on this point. His rejection of the doctrine of imputation left him with no alternative: "Gospel justification is not to be regarded as a forensic or judicial proceeding" [Systematic Theology, 360]."
"Of course, Finney denied that Christ "obeyed for us," claiming that since Christ was Himself obligated to render full obedience to the law, His obedience could justify Himself alone. "It can never be imputed to us," Finney intoned [Systematic Theology, 362]."
"The clear implication of Finney's view is that justification ultimately hinges on the believer's own obedience, and God will not truly and finally pardon the repentant sinner until after that penitent one completes a lifetime of faithful obedience."
"As the final paragraph of that excerpt makes clear, Finney himself clearly understood that what he proclaimed was a different gospel from that of historic Protestantism. By denying the forensic nature of justification, Finney was left with no option but to regard justification as a subjective thing grounded not in Christ's redemptive work but in the believer's own obedience — and therefore a matter of works, not faith alone."
"Predictably, most of Finney's spiritual heirs lapsed into apostasy, Socinianism, mere moralism, cultlike perfectionism, and other related errors. In short, Finney's chief legacy was confusion and doctrinal compromise. Evangelical Christianity virtually disappeared from western New York in Finney's own lifetime. Despite Finney's accounts of glorious "revivals," most of the vast region of New England where he held his revival campaigns fell into a permanent spiritual coldness during Finney's lifetime and more than a hundred years later still has not emerged from that malaise. This is directly owing to the influence of Finney and others who were simultaneously promoting similar ideas.
The Western half of New York became known as "the burnt-over district," because of the negative effects of the revivalist movement that culminated in Finney's work there. These facts are often obscured in the popular lore about Finney. But even Finney himself spoke of "a burnt district" [Memoirs, 78], and he lamented the absence of any lasting fruit from his evangelistic efforts."
+ FURTHER STUDY
Charles Phinney Critiques the Apostle Paul by Kevin Reed (Shows to what extent much of modern "evangelicalism" has adopted worldly tactics of evangelism, church planting and church growth -- in opposition to the biblical methods practiced by the Apostle Paul.)