About Charles Grandison Finney, Sr.
Charles Grandison Finney (August 29, 1792 – August 16, 1875) was a leader in the Second Great Awakening. He has been called The Father of Modern Revivalism. Finney was best known as an innovative revivalist, an opponent of Old School Presbyterian theology, an advocate of Christian perfectionism, a pioneer in social reforms in favor of women and African-Americans, a religious writer, and president at Oberlin College.
Born in Warren, Connecticut, Finney was the youngest of fifteen children. The son of farmers, Finney never attended college, but his six-foot three-inch stature, piercing eyes, musical skill and leadership abilities gained him recognition in his community. He studied as an apprentice to become a lawyer, but after a dramatic conversion experience and baptism into the Holy Spirit in Adams, New York, he gave up legal practice to preach the gospel. At age 29 under George Washington Gale, Finney studied to become a licensed minister in the Presbyterian Church, though he had many misgivings about the fundamental doctrines taught in that denomination.
Finney was twice a widower and was married three times in his life. In 1824, he married Lydia Root Andrews (1804-1847). In 1848 he married Elizabeth Ford Atkinson (1799-1863). In 1865 he married Rebecca Allen Rayl (1824-1907). All three assisted Finney in his evangelistic efforts, accompanying him on his revival tours during their lives. Finney had six children, all by his first wife.
He moved to New York City in 1832 where he ministered the Chatham Street Chapel, and he later founded and preached at the Broadway Tabernacle.
Finney was most active as a revivalist 1825-35 and was known for his innovations in preaching and religious meetings. His innovations included having women pray in public meetings of mixed gender, development of the "anxious seat", a place where those considering becoming Christians could come to receive prayer, and public censure of individuals by name in sermons and prayers. He was also known for his use of extemporaneous preaching.
In addition to becoming a popular Christian evangelist, Finney was involved with the abolitionist movement and frequently denounced slavery from the pulpit. In 1835, he moved to Ohio where he became a professor and later president of Oberlin College from 1851 to 1866. Oberlin became active early in the movement to end slavery and was among the first American colleges to co-educate blacks and women with white men.
As a young man Finney was a third-degree Master Mason, but after his conversion he dropped the group as antithetical to Christianity. He was active in Anti-Masonic movements.
Finney was a primary influence on the "revival" style of theology which emerged in the 19th century. Though coming from a Calvinistic background, Finney rejected tenets of "Old Divinity" Calvinism which he felt were unbiblical and counter to evangelism and Christian mission.
Finney's theology is difficult to classify, as can be observed in his masterwork, Religious Revivals. In this work, he emphasizes the involvement of a person's will in salvation. Whether he believed the will was free to repent or not repent, or whether he viewed God as inclining the will irresistibly (as in Calvinist doctrine, where the will of an elect individual is changed by God so that they now desire to repent, thus repenting with their will and not against it, but not being free in whether they choose repentance since they must choose what their will is inclined towards), is not made clear. Finney, like most Protestants, affirmed salvation by grace through faith alone, not by works or by obedience. Finney also affirmed that works were the evidence of faith. The presence of unrepentant sin thus evidenced that a person had not received salvation.
In his Systematic Theology, Finney remarks that "I have felt greater hesitancy in forming and expressing my views upon this Perseverance of the saints, than upon almost any other question in theology." At the same time, he took the presence of unrepented sin in the life of a professing Christian as evidence that they must immediately repent or be lost. Finney draws support for this position from Peter's treatment of the baptized Simon (see Acts 8) and Paul's instruction of discipline to the Corinthian church (see 1 Corinthians 5). This type of teaching underscores the strong emphasis on personal holiness found in Finney's writings.
Finney's understanding of the atonement was that it satisfied "public justice" and that it opened up the way for God to pardon people of their sin. This was the so-called New Divinity which was popular at that time period. In this view, Christ's death satisfied public justice rather than retributive justice. As Finney put it, it was not a "commercial transaction." This view of the atonement is typically known as the governmental view or government view.
Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Albert Baldwin Dod reviewed Finney's 1835 book Lectures on Revivals of Religion and rejected it as theologically unsound. Dod was a defender of Old School Calvinist orthodoxy (see Princeton theologians) and was especially critical of Finney's view of the doctrine of total depravity.
Charles Grandison Finney's Timeline
August 29, 1792
Warren, CT, USA
June 8, 1828
Philadelphia, PA, USA
March 8, 1830
New York, NY, USA
March 7, 1832
Boston, MA, USA
March 16, 1837
August 16, 1875