Introducing Charles Finney

Charles Grandison Finney

“It would be impossible to estimate the influence exerted on revival movements all over the world during the past hundred years by Charles Finney’s lectures on prayer in his Revivals of Religion.” Arthur Wallis (in 1956) [i]

Generally speaking, Charles Finney (1792-1875) is not very highly respected by Reformed writers and preachers. He rarely gets a mention. But he remains one of Christianity’s most effective representatives.

A passionate and powerful Evangelist, Finney was often compared to Whitefield and Wesley by his friends. Yet he is sometimes portrayed as little more than a charlatan by those who were offended by his theology. Even as good a man as DM Lloyd-Jones spoke disparagingly of Finney’s ‘so-called’ converts!

Yet the distance of history may permit a measure of objectivity.

Finney the anti-Calvinist – not the anti-Christ!
It’s true that Finney didn’t respond well to his Calvinist critics and attacked their theology relentlessly. And it’s true he taught that if the church obeyed the Scriptural commands, prayed fervently and were filled with the Spirit, then she would see ‘revival’, significant awakenings amongst both believers and non-believers. He said, ‘I believe we can labor to promote revival with as reasonable a prospect for success as we could find in any other line of work.’ [ii]

Almost single-handedly, he shifted the emphasis of fruitful evangelism, effective mass evangelism, from God’s sovereignty to man’s responsibility.

You might not like that.

You might not like his anti-Calvinist statements. He certainly misrepresents the reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation. But he was a mighty Evangelist, saw many conversions, and we could learn from his example.

A great Evangelist but a not-so-great theologian
So my contention will be that Finney was an inspired, Spirit-filled Evangelist who was preaching the gospel during a season of ‘revival’ or ‘awakening’ similar to that of Whitefield, but that he was not a great theological thinker, nor a great teacher of theology.

He certainly ranks amongst the great Evangelists in the English speaking world, and his influence has continued into the 21st century.

So without getting too distracted by the theological controversies – except where I perceive them to be vitally important to the story, or to our current situation – I will see what we can learn from this fascinating character.

The Baptism of the Spirit, Prayer and Revival
We’ll see examples of prayer turning situations around, examples of mighty baptisms in the Spirit happening to both individuals and whole churches. We’ll enjoy accounts of the power of God invading meetings, and turning hard-hearted sceptics to Christ. We’ll note eye-witness testimony of how the presence of God broke through defences that seemed impenetrable.

This won’t merely be a story of a good, fervent man getting results – actually, Finney’s story is one of God breaking in and displaying His glory.

I think you’ll like that!
For the next post in this series click here


[i] Arthur Wallis, In the Day of Thy Power, (London: CLC, 1956), p. xiii

[ii] Charles Finney, Lectures on Revival, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1988 edition), p.26

Portrait by Waldo and Jewett, 1834

© Lex Loizides / Church History Blog

Calvin and the Great Commission

John Calvin was far more committed to world mission than most people realise.

As we look across church history since the Reformation it’s possible to detect apathy for mission by those who have sometimes called themselves Calvinists.

An emphasis on the sovereignty of God, on the doctrine of Election and on total depravity has sometimes been blamed for a lack of zeal in evangelism. Calvinists have been accused of holding a position which says, ‘If God has chosen upon whom He will have mercy, and if they are awakened only by His effectual call, and repent as a result of His working, then what is the point of evangelising? After all, unless He calls no-one can respond.’

But have you ever heard anyone actually argue this way? Even if we found someone foolish enough to argue in this manner I would be inclined to think that they were merely using good doctrine as a bad excuse for not reaching out to serve others by sharing the gospel with them.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that William Carey experienced something of this. Charles Finney was certainly keen to tell us that it was Calvinistic thinking that led to apathy for revival and evangelism.

So let’s look at Calvin. Was he laid-back about mission to other nations? Was he fatalistic? Did he even consider the importance of church planting or was he merely busying himself with trying to fathom the mysteries of God’s eternal decrees?

The simple fact is, that of all the well known Reformers, Calvin was by far the most focussed on missions and church planting. He eagerly sent church-planting pastors and evangelists to other nations.

Most of the reformers were contending for the faith in their own nations. Luther certainly was. This is, of course, perfectly understandable given the nature of the battle in which they were engaged.

But Calvin also believed the gospel would triumph across the world, and he acted on that belief.  He was, in a sense, forced into the nations, being exiled from France. He was therefore eager to send preachers and pastors from Geneva to reach his own nation.

And he sent wave after wave of church planters to France. In fact, THL Parker points out that ‘between 1555 and 1562 over one hundred ministers were sent into France.’ (THL Parker, John Calvin, Lion 1975, p.174)

There’s a story to tell: Read about John Calvin and Church Planting

© 2009 Lex Loizides