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The False Gospel and “Revivalism” of Charles Finney

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

Some years ago I would send out random periodical emails about doctrinal subjects, doctrinal error, false teachings and other related edifying issues, both positive and "negative." One of those times was a short abstract on Charles Finney preaching against worldliness and sin. Though nothing in itself stated in the article was wrong, it nevertheless repents me that I did that, though I did it ignorantly, not knowing the damnable errors he embraced.

Though Finney taught things that were true and right, as all false teachers do, we do not eat the fish and spit out the mouth full of bones, No, we discard the whole thing. It’s a good reminder to test and examine all teachers and their teachings as much as possible (especially when positively promoting someone in a public realm), regardless of who is promoting them, and in that case it was David Cloud promoting Finney. No one should be promoting ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing, and when you read the information below, I think you will understand where I am coming from with this clear conclusion.

Charles Finney lived from 1792 to 1875, a lawyer who became a “Christian” in his 20's and would become renowned for his work as an “evangelist” and “revivalist” on the eastern coast of America. As what Evan Roberts and Jesse Penn Lewis did to the Welsh Revival, Charles Finney did to the true revival of the Second Great Awakening. He extinguished it. He turned the true revival into a pseudo-revival, even though some claim he was the leader of the "second great awakening."

Rather than emphasizing the sinfulness of man and the free grace of God in Christ, as Wesley, Edwards, and Whitfield did in the first awakening, Finney emphasized the experience of "conversion" (what he taught wasn't producing true conversions but false ones). Finney also denied original sin and the substitutionary atonement of Christ. For Finney, Christianity all was about morality. One could be converted by an emotional experience and then live a good moral life. These ideas have become the basis for modern evangelicalism. But its heresy and "damnable heresy" (2 Pet 2:1).

Sadly, many people continue to lift up the revivalist Finney as a great man of God including the celebrated but heretical apostate singer Keith Green and the Youth With a Mission (YWAM) organization, but this brief report will show he was NOT a man of God at all but a ravening wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Charles Finney's "new measures" in revivalism left an indelible stamp upon Evangelicalism. Evangelism crusades, revival meetings, the altar call, the anxious seat or mourner's bench, the invitation, the "decision" to "accept" Christ, the "prayer of faith," the use of excitement and emotion to facilitate "decisions" for Christ, and the attempt to promote the moral reformation of the culture, can all be attributed to the "new measures" introduced by Finney in the 1830s. Some of his methods, such as the altar call or invitation, are now practically a Baptist and Protestant "sacrament." Many of the modern movements such as Church Growth, Promise Keepers, and the so-called Religious Right find their roots in Charles Finney. Evangelicals cannot escape his influence.

The problem with Finney's influence on modern-day evangelicalism is that Finney's methods produce "results." Great revivals were reported in towns and cities throughout the country. Lives were reportedly changed. Moral reformations reportedly occurred. But since Finney did not preach the corruption of the human nature and rejected the truth of justification by grace through faith alone, the basis for his "results" could not have been the Holy Spirit. Finney's results were exactly as Finney defined them — a human dynamic. ("Assessing the Promise Keepers," Dec 12, 1995, Christian News, pp. 1, 7-8.)

I believe that many problems in evangelicalism and fundamentalism today can be traced to the unconverted heart and heresy of Charles G. Finney, the man who denied the Blood atonement of Christ, did not believe that man has a sinful nature, and taught that the new birth is a product of man's own choice, rather than the work of the Holy Spirit. This unconverted man has poisoned evangelical religion. His false doctrines have not helped preachers add real converts to their churches. His false doctrine of easy decisionism has angered a Thrice Holy God.

Here is some of the evidence of his horrible heresy, even damnable heresy.

1. Finney Rejected the True Gospel for a False Gospel.

He didn’t merely reject some form of Calvinism, he rejected the Bible. He held to extremely serious heresies. He denied original sin, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, imputed righteousness, justification by God’s grace alone through faith alone without works, the new birth as a supernatural miracle, and eternal security of salvation which is Biblically inseparable from salvation.

Finney preached a works gospel. He taught that man is not born with a corrupt nature, but that he, as a lost individual, has full control of his ability to live in sin or not live in sin, in other words he has power over his sin and sin doesn’t power over him, and that consequently he is not under the judgment of God for Adam’s sin but is judged only for his own sin. Finney taught that Christ died not as a substitutionary atonement for man’s sin, not in the sinner’s place, but as an example of how that God loves sinners and hates sin. And then, if sinners understand this and turn from sin, they will be saved. Regeneration is to change one’s actions, and one is kept saved by walking in perfect holiness. When you stop walking in holiness, you lose your salvation. All this smacks of works salvation.

Finney denied the doctrine of original sin, following the fifth-century heretic Pelagius. He writes concerning the sinful nature of man:

"Moral depravity . . . cannot consist . . . in a sinful constitution . . . [or] an attribute of human nature . . . Moral depravity is not then to be accounted for by ascribing it to a nature or constitution sinful in itself. To talk of a sinful nature, or sinful constitution, in the sense of physical sinfulness, is to ascribe sinfulness to the Creator, who is the author of nature. . . . What ground is there for the assertion that Adam’s nature became in itself sinful by the fall? This is a groundless, not to say ridiculous, assumption, and an absurdity. . . . This doctrine is . . . an abomination alike to God and the human intellect." (Finney’s Systematic Theology, pp. 249-250, 261-263, may be read here)

To the question, “What ground is there for the assertion that Adam’s nature became in itself sinful by the fall?” I would propose the following passages amongst many: Ps 51:5 and Rom 5:12-21.

Finney’s “Systematic Theology” by the way was not an actual Systematic Theology, but a collection of essays on ethics. But that is not to say that Finney's “Systematic Theology” does not contain some significant theological statements. They do, and they reveal what his beliefs really were.

"Original sin, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence; and should be laid aside as relics of a most unreasonable and confused philosophy.” (Lecture 42)

On losing salvation and rejecting the eternal security of salvation he wrote:

“we shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification . . . present, full, and entire consecration of heart and life to God and His service, is an unalterable condition of present pardon of past sin, and of present acceptance with God. . . . [T]he penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration continues." (ibid, pp. 367, 369).

“But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed. That he cannot be justified by the law, while there is a particle of sin in him, is too plain to need proof. But can he be pardoned and accepted, and then justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.” (Lecture 15)

On the blood atonement of Christ, Finney wrote that the

“atonement . . . was not a commercial transaction . . . [not] the payment of a debt . . . [but] was intended as a satisfaction of public justice." (Ibid, pp. 219-222).

Finney denied that the cross of Christ had any atonement aspects to it. He said:

"assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement ... It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one" (ibid, p. 217).

Finney's denial of substitutionary atonement and the sinful nature of man, and the eternal security of salvation — three damnable heresies — led him to reject justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ and the true gospel of salvation—which is the ultimate damnable heresy—to teach salvation by personal obedience:

“If [Christ] obeyed the law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as a sine qua non of our salvation?” (ibid, p. 218).

When a sinner repents and believes, and is dramatically converted to Christ, he receives the imputed righteousness of Christ. Many passages of scripture make that abundantly clear, such as Rom 4:1-8, 20-25, passages that Finney could not grasp or 2 Cor 5:21, that he refused to touch. It is a perfect, once-for-all verdict of right-standing at the beginning of the Christian life, not in the middle or at the end, and it always produces practical righteousness. To this, Finney replied,

"The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ's obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption." After all, Christ's righteousness "could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us . . .” (ibid, pp. 320-22).


“This doctrine of an imputed obedience for righteousness, or of that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a false assumption. Christ’s obedience could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us. It is naturally impossible for him to obey in our behalf as a proxy.” (Lecture 36)

As noted, Finney denied the atonement and gospel of Christ. The first thing we must note about the atonement, Finney says, is that Christ could not have died for anyone else's sins than his own. "His (Christ's) obedience could no more than justify Himself" (p. 363). "Justification is not founded in Christ's literally suffering the exact penalty of the law and purchasing eternal salvation" (p. 373). "You cannot find in your heart to demand 'exact justice' at the hand of God, on the ground that Christ has literally paid your debt. To represent the work and death of Christ as the ground of justification in this sense is a snare and a stumbling-block" (p. 375). Finney did believe that Christ died for something — not for someone, but for something. In other words, he died for a purpose, but not for people. The purpose of that death was allegedly to reassert God's moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam's example excited us to sin.

In the following statement, Finney summarizes the true gospel and then plainly rejects it (emphasis mine):

"Those who hold that justification by imputed righteousness is a forensic proceeding, take a view of final or ultimate justification, according with their view of the transaction. With them, faith receives an imputed righteousness, and a judicial justification. The first act of faith, according to them, introduces the sinner into this relation, and obtains for him a perpetual justification. They maintain that after this first act of faith it is impossible for the sinner to come into condemnation; that, being once justified, he is always thereafter justified, whatever he may do; indeed that he is never justified by grace, as to sins that are past, upon condition that he ceases to sin; that Christ’s righteousness is the ground, and that his own present obedience is not even a condition of his justification, so that, in fact, his own present or future obedience to the law of God is, in no case, and in no sense, a sine qua non of his justification, present or ultimate. Now this is certainly another gospel from the one I am inculcating. It is not a difference merely upon some speculative or theoretic point. It is a point fundamental to the gospel and to salvation, if any one can be. Let us therefore see which of these is the true gospel. I object to this view of justification. . . . The doctrine of a literal imputation of Adam’s sin to all his posterity . . . [and] of the literal imputation of Christ’s righteousness or obedience to the elect, and the consequent perpetual justification of all that are converted from the first exercise of faith, whatever their subsequent life may be—I say I regard these dogmas as fabulous, and better befitting a romance than a system of theology." (ibid, pp. 219-222).

I guess Finney blasphemously thought that the true gospel of Christ is fit only for a cheap romance novel.

In that same book, in answer to the question, “Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?” Finney wrote:

“Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God . . . If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is forever set aside, or abrogated, I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept; for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true . . . . In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground.” (ibid, Lecture 11).

Yikes, that’s a heretical and perverted gospel if I’ve ever heard one. Finney didn’t have the first clue or idea as to what the true gospel of Jesus Christ really was. And the reason for that is both simple and significant: he was unsaved himself, having never been truly regenerated by the Spirit of God and thus born again. Consistenly, Finney would put the cart before the horse. He believed that God demanded absolute perfection, but instead of that leading him to seek his perfect righteousness in Christ, he concluded:

“[F]ull present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed . . . . But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.” (ibid, Lecture 10)

He wrote this about justification:

“But for sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd . . . . As we shall see, there are many conditions, while there is but one ground, of the justification of sinners . . . . As has already been said, there can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ’s obedience as ours, on the ground that he obeyed for us.” (ibid, Lecture 11).

“By sanctification’s being a condition of justification, the following things are intended. (1.) That present, full, and entire consecration of heart and life to God and his service is an unalterable condition of present pardon of past sin, and of present acceptance with God. (2.) That the penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full hearted consecration continues.” (Lecture 53)

“We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification.” (Lecture 53)

Justification conditioned upon sanctification is a false gospel. Finney very clearly rejected the true gospel of justification by faith in place of an utterly false gospel of works.

He goes on to state (quotes from Finney’s Systematic Theology) that the true gospel of Jesus Christ as found in God’s Word is “antinomianism” (p. 369), that it is “not at the option of any being” (p. 370) to justify the way God has said He does, that it is “of course inconsistent with forgiveness or pardon,” (p. 370), it is inconsistent with asking for pardon (p. 370), is “at war with the whole Bible” (p. 370), and is “contradicted by the consciousness of the saints,” (p. 371), who supposedly all feel condemned when they sin. Again, Finney didn’t have the first clue as to what the truth gospel really was. If he had, he would’ve realized that just because a saint has eternal security of salvation, that doesn’t mean he will take advantage of that and then live as he pleases. This false philosophy is entirely bound in the false religion that many Mennonites traditionally follow. The similarities are essentially identical. And so it is with all false religious groups; they all teach the same heresies, just cloaked sometimes in different words and emphasis. Paul on the other hand makes it abundantly clear that the born again believer has a new relationship with sin: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom 6:1-2). False teachers like Finney can’t grasp that truth.

2. Finney’s False Testimony of “Conversion.”

Charles Finney was supposedly led to Christ by Jedidiah Burchard or heavily influenced him, which is suspect right out of the starting gates. Burchard was a radical and heretical revivalist driven by a love of money, whose trail of “revivals” was laden with false professions and considerable damage. Then here we can see what Finney’s supposed profession really produced: heresies, damnable heresies, and more corrupt trees like himself, making the lost sadly two-fold children of hell.

Let’s examine the "salvation" testimony of the man who held so many false, unscriptural doctrines. Here is Finney's printed "conversion" experience, given in his own words:

“But after this distinct revelation had stood for some little time before my mind, the question seemed to be put, ‘Will you accept it, now, to-day?’ I replied, "Yes, I will accept it today, or I will die in the attempt. . . . As I turned to go up into the woods, I recollect to have said, ‘I will give my heart to God, or I will never come down from there.’ I recollect repeating this as I went up - ‘I will give my heart to God before I ever come down again.’ . . . Just at that point this passage of Scripture seemed to drop into my mind with a flood of light: ‘Then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will harken unto you. Then shall ye seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." I instantly seized hold of this with my heart. I had intellectually believed the Bible before; but never had the truth been in my mind that faith was a voluntary trust instead of an intellectual state. I was as conscious as I was of my existence, of trusting at that moment in God's veracity. Somehow I knew that that was a passage of Scripture, though I do not think I had ever read it. I knew that it was God's word, and God's voice, as it were, that spoke to me. I cried to Him, ‘Lord, I take thee at thy word. Now thou knowest that I do search for thee with all my heart, and that I have come here to pray to thee; and thou hast promised to hear me.’ That seemed to settle the question that I could, then that day, perform my vow. The Spirit seemed to lay stress upon that idea in the text, ‘When you search for me with all your heart.’ The question of when, that is of the present time, seemed to fall heavily into my heart. I told the Lord that I should take him at his word; that he could not lie; and that therefore I was sure that he heard my prayer, and that he would be found of me.” (Memoir of Charles Finney).

Notice that he said, "I will accept 'it'" instead of "I will accept Jesus" or "I will accept Him." This is doctrinal belief, the idea that you accept a doctrine ("it") rather than accepting the person, Jesus Christ. This is the form of Finneyism into which Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie also fall and very many other false professing “believers.” The idea that man is saved by believing doctrines (i.e., Charles Ryrie, Zane Hodges, many in IFB churches today) is exemplified in Finney's false "testimony." But no one is saved by believing a doctrine, even if it is a true doctrine. We are only saved by believing in Jesus, Himself, not by believing things about Jesus. A man who has merely believed things about Jesus is still a lost man on his way to Hell. When Finney says, "Lord, I take thee at thy word. Thou knowest that I do search for thee with all my heart. That seemed to settle the question that I could then, that day, perform my vow,” he adds making a "vow" to doctrinal belief. But no one is saved by making a vow. This is similar to Roman Catholicism. That is where decisionism in all its forms takes us, in similitude to Chuck Colson and J. I. Packer illustrating in their document, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together."

Finney's "testimony" had some important missing elements:

  • No mention of sin (cf. 1 Tim 1:15; Lk 13:1-5).

  • No mention of Biblical repentance (cf. Lk 3:3-16; Ac 3:19).

  • No mention of the Lordship of Christ, or its principles (cf. Lk 14:25–15:32; Phil 2:10-11).

  • No mention of the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ, not even the name of Jesus! (cf. 1 Tim 2:5; Jn 14:6).

  • No mention of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ or shedding His blood for our sins (cf. 1 Cor 15:1-4; Lk 22:20).

  • No mention of the forgiveness of sins by Christ (not even after his alleged conversion) (cf. Heb 10:17-18; Col 2:10-15; Eph 1:7).

Seeing the views he held and the effects of his “revivals” and the heresy that he pounded from the pulpit and the false measures he used to con people into making a decision, it is unsurprising “Finney should write his life story with so little reference to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ; and that love to a personal Saviour as the constraining motive of Christian obedience should be so conspicuous by its absence.” (V. J. Charlesworth, Sword and the Trowel, May, 1876). Charlesworth makes an astute observation here. One of the things you will notice, as you read Finney's memoirs, is how little he speaks of Jesus' forgiveness, and how little he speaks of Jesus at all!

Since Finney’s “conversion” was unBiblical and contained wrong ideas, and so, his doctrine and theology and methodology were also wrong. And unfortunately, his false ideas and false “revivalism” which were wholly new in terms of late eighteenth and nineteenth century, continue to the present day, such as the idea of salvation as an offer of something to be accepted which required nothing more than a willing receiver, repentance and conviction and the Lordship of Jesus all left out of the equation.

Astounding, isn't it? The religion of many, many people and churches are rooted in the teachings of this man, who had such an unBiblical testimony, a man who believed so many wrong things about salvation and embraced a works false gospel, and so have been misled, seduced and deceived by this evil man (2 Tim 3:13) — thus is it any surprise so many churches are morally and spiritually and doctrinally bankrupt today?

3. Finney was the Father of the Alter Call, and Sinners Prayer Tactics Used at Revivals, Producing Massive Amounts of False Professions.

The modern day “revivalism” movement we see, especially among the independent fundamental baptists, was popularized by the heretic Charles Finney. Finney was educated as a lawyer, and after his conversion, became a Presbyterian minister. However, Finney came to reject central parts of the Westminster Confession of Faith, including the idea that humans have original sin. He also rejected the idea that God draws sinners to salvation. He believed that given the right circumstances, right atmosphere, right context, anyone could be brought to repentance and/or experience revival. Therefore, he set about to create circumstances that would, in his words, “produce religious excitements.” Finney’s standard for judging if something were appropriate to use in this regard was very simple: its effectiveness.

His "New Measures" included the "anxious bench" or mourner's bench (precursor to today's altar call, very popular among most IFB churches), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other "excitements," as Finney and his followers called them.

Combined with other "new measures" in “revivalism” such as the "decision" to "accept" Christ like accepting a days wages, the "prayer of faith," the use of excitement and emotion to facilitate "decisions" for Christ, and the attempt to promote the moral reformation of the culture, was the best way to get people to respond to the gospel per Finny but it created false converts by the truck loads and not true saints. God's Word never instructs such actions to be proclaimed or linked to the gospel. Are revivals/alter calls biblical? No they are not.

Finney believed that his revivals had little to do with God at all and it was all about mans own actions. See his quote here:

"A revival is not a miracle according to another definition of the term "miracle” — something above the powers of nature. There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind become religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth. They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God. A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means — as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means." (Lectures on Revival, Lecture 1, 11).

So Finney did not really see the Holy Spirit as all that helpful in ones conversion I guess. This is even further proof of his corrupted gospel and damnable heresies and how false converts are made even today.

Charles Finney was a kindred spirit of John Wesley and in fact doctrinalized Wesley's "second experience" or “second blessing” teaching. Finney's introduction of new methods for getting converts and the orchestrating of emotion and excitement in huge revival gatherings was clearly based on his heretical misunderstanding of the new birth. Finney writes that he repudiated all the fundamental doctrines of the faith, including the vicarious nature of the atonement of Jesus Christ, in the interests of preaching revival: "These doctrines I could not receive. I could not receive his [my teacher's] views on the subject of atonement, regeneration, faith, repentance, the slavery of the will, or any of their kindred doctrines" (The Memoirs of Charles Finney, p. 48). Revivalism, then, is clearly the friend of pragmatism; i.e., using whatever method works in getting men to "make decisions for Christ," or in getting them to "weep and wail before God as evidence of a renewed commitment to godly living," regardless of the Bible's condemnation of any such method. Finney again, writing in 1834, declared that revival is "a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means." In other words, Finney's purpose was solely to convince the human will and produce decisions and commitments (Dec 25, 1995, Christian News, p. 7).

Finney’s innovations included such things as a special choir and a musical chorister; special revival hymns and revival songbooks; interdenominational cooperation; protracted meetings; aggressive advertising; the creation of an exciting atmosphere; manipulation of emotions or “excitements”; a de-emphasis on the necessity of the work of the Spirit in conviction and regeneration (in practice); a de-emphasis on looking for such work before leading people in a profession; a de-emphasis on looking for evidence of salvation; the invitation system as a specific, organized methodology; the anxious bench and the idea that a professor in Christ should “do something” physical, such as standing and coming forward; quick dealing with souls who respond, as an quick prayerism; an emphasis on the numbers of attendees and professions; and an emphasis on weighing methods by “success.”

None of these innovations have any Biblical support. They are simply the product of an imagination of a man who pursued selfish glory and power, but not God’s power and glory. It stemmed from a false profession and then living a lie.

Sadly, Finney was wildly successful. Hundreds of thousands were “converted,” and his meetings were considered mass “revivals.” But history, even during the lifetime of Finney already, revealed how temporary many of the “conversions” of Finney’s revivals really were. Unfortunately, this attracted the attention of very many churches who were enamoured with Finney’s “success.” The pressure to conform in an increasingly popularized age (the steam-powered printing press had just been invented) was growing. Soon, the changes became evident.

Many ministries due to Finney’s methods became determined by outward results. Inflation of numbers and attendance figures became the yardstick of success. If your church was not experiencing mass-revivals or large numbers of converts, you were somehow in decline or “dead.” The techniques to achieve these results became increasingly pragmatic. Whatever worked became justified simply because it seemed “God was blessing it.” The ends not only justified the means, they demanded them. Finney’s disciples learnt well, and outdid their master. However, it was not long before the tail was wagging the dog. Once results by any means was an acceptable, unquestioned modus operandi, mass appeal became part of ministry. Once mass appeal was considered part of obedience to the Great Commission, the church increasingly looked to the world for its methods — using the music, songs, emotional manipulation and sensual stimulation that unbelieving marketers had successfully used for decades. Put simply, the church shifted gears from biblical worship to worldly amusement. Of course this naturally opens the door to liberalism, modernism and every other sort of heresy. If Finney could ignore and revise Christian doctrine and tradition with “success,” why couldn’t others do the same? What is the point of conserving things, or following Scripture, people reasoned, if the new methods work better? Theological and methodological liberalism were the tsunamis that followed the earthquake of Charles Finney. It is plain as day that “worship” today is radically affected by the pragmatism popularized by Finney, and rare to find a professing Christian ministry or church not infected with the bug of pragmatism in its practices.

What is absent in all this is obedience to the Word of God, the proof and mark of a truly regenerated sinner. I believe the very vast majority of “Christians” and Churches who adopt Finney’s strategies and other pragmatic measures, have never been truly born again, just like their master Finney. That is why they keep going in their blatant disobedience, while God’s chastening hand is upon all His children (Heb 12:5-11; Pr 3:11-12). Truly saved people DO “worship [God] in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:23-24). Such people do not emphasize quantity over quality. They obey God because they love Him:

“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” (1 Jn 2:3-5).


Finney also had a major role in turning the churches from Christ’s great commission to social reform. “In the nineteenth century, the evangelical movement became increasingly identified with political causes—from abolition of slavery and child labor legislation to women’s rights and the prohibition of alcohol. In a desperate effort at regaining this institutional power and the glory of ‘Christian America’ (a vision that is always powerful in the imagination, but, after the disintegration of Puritan New England, elusive), the turn-of-the century Protestant establishment launched moral campaigns to ‘Americanize’ immigrants, enforce moral instruction and ‘character education.’ Evangelists pitched their American gospel in terms of its practical usefulness to the individual and the nation” (Michael Horton, “The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney”).

Finney rejected the Bible. In Finney's theology, God is not sovereign; man is not a sinner by nature; the atonement is not a true payment for sin; justification by imputation is insulting to reason and morality; justification is by works, keep on or risk losing it; the new birth is simply the result of successful techniques, and revival is a natural result of clever campaigns. Much of his beliefs depended heavily on reasoning, which in part likely stemmed from his education as a lawyer. The influence he exercised and continues to exercise to this day is pervasive. Not only did the revivalist abandon the Biblical truth and principle of justification, he repudiated doctrines, such as original sin and the substitutionary atonement. Finney's entire theology revolved around human morality. Therefore, Finney is not merely an Arminian, not merely also a Pelagian, but he is a Heretic and Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. He was not only an enemy of that people of that day, but of historic Christianity to this day.

For further reading of interest, read the chapter in the biography of Asahel Nettleton where he confronts Finney. Another interesting insight is Moody's avoidance of Finney altogether. If, as many believe, Finney was a great and sound theologian, and he was contemporary with Moody at the beginning of Moody's ministry, it stands to reason that Moody would have sought him out. I know, it is an argument from silence, but I suspect that Moody avoided Finney, simply because, by the time Moody began preaching, Finney's doctrines were known to be heretical.

Though much more could be written, that will more than suffice to sound out the alarm on the horrible heresies of this ravening wolf in sheep’s clothing. When people and churches read and follow Finney one can only perceive the inevitable Keswick heresy, false sanctification and false salvation, darkening the doors of such a church.

Rather than give attention to this heretic, you shall be much wiser to "mark . . . and avoid" him as the Apostle beseeches the believer in Rom 16:17-18, considering Finney's "gospel" surely is classified as both perverted and accursed (Gal. 1:6-9). Finney was indeed the very epitome of the false teacher warned of by Peter (2 Pet. 2) and Paul (Rom. 16:17-18; Gal. 2:4-5), and the wolf in sheep's clothing warned of by Jesus (Matt. 7:15-20) and Paul (Ac 20:28-30), who needs to be marked and avoided as one who didn’t serve the Lord Jesus Christ but his own belly, evident by his dangerous doctrines and perverted gospel.

"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them" (2 Pet. 2:1).


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