“Charles Finney: The Greatest Distorter of Christian Truth in Our Age” – Michael Horton

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

Dr. Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, wrote an article for Modern Reformation Magazine back in 1995 titled “The Legacy of Charles Finney.”  Growing up in evangelical, Southern Baptist and Church of God circles, Charles Finney was always a man to be praised.  Horton however exposes Finney’s unbiblical and unorthodox theology.  Here are some quotes from Finney and Horton’s responses:

Who is Finney?

Charles Finney (1792-1875) ministered in the wake of the “Second Awakening,” as it has been called. A Presbyterian layover, Finney one day experienced “a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost” which “like a wave of electricity going through and through me … seemed to come in waves of liquid love.” The next morning, he informed his first client of the day, “I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours.”Refusing to attend Princeton Seminary (or any seminary, for that matter); Finney began conducting revivals in upstate New York. One of his most popular sermons was “Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts.” [Emphasis Mine]

Denying the Perseverance of the Saints (Eternal Security)

First, in answer to the question, “Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?” Finney answers:

“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 (p. 46).”

Horton responds,

Finney believed that God demanded absolute perfection, but instead of that leading him to seek his perfect righteousness in Christ, he concluded that “… full 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” (p. 57).

Distorting the Cardinal Doctrine of Justification

Horton writes,

The Reformers insisted, on the basis of clear biblical texts, that justification (in the Greek, “to declare righteous,” rather than “to make righteous”) was a forensic (i.e., legal) verdict. In other words, whereas Rome maintained that justification was a process of making a bad person better, the Reformers argued that it was a declaration or pronouncement that had someone else’s righteousness (i.e., Christ’s) as its basis. Therefore, it was a perfect, once and-for-all verdict of right standing.

This declaration was to be pronounced at the beginning of the Christian life, not in the middle or at the end. The key words in the evangelical doctrine are “forensic” (legal) and “imputation” (crediting one’s account, as opposed to the idea of “infusion” of righteousness within a person’s soul). Knowing all of this, Finney declares, “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.”

To this, Finney replies: “The doctrine of 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 … it was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf ” This “representing of the atonement as the ground of the sinner’s justification has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many” (pp.320-2).

The view that faith is the sole condition of justification is “the antinomian view,” Finney asserts. “We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification. Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject.” (pp.326-327).

Horton offers much more insight that is worthy of your time and attention here.  Go check it out!

What are your thoughts?

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.


  1. says

    Good expose here Jared. Finney caused great harm to the church th and continues to do so today. Rick Nelson wrote in 1998 about Finney (and also quotes Horton from the same source):

    Finney believed humans were voluntarily, not constitutionally, depraved. Election unto salvation resulted from divine foreknowledge of one’s response to the gospel. The atonement provided by Jesus paid for no one’s sins as a penal substitution, but rather allowed God to pardon sinners without violating his own nature and law. Michael Horton has accurately summarized Finney’s beliefs: “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; the new birth is simply the effect of successful techniques; and revival is a natural result of clever campaigns.”

    Devastating legacy.

    • says


      Do you believe that what Finney did over 100 years ago is relevant to what is going on today? I have my doubts.

    • says


      I surely can’t be sure. I’m not as well read as others on Finney. Nelson I quoted above, in the same article, said,

      “Michael S. Horton has vigorously taken the lead among evangelicals in attacking the legacy of Finney. Horton portrays Finney as the spiritual father of the church growth movement, Pentecostalism, and political revivalism. He accuses Finney (with Finney’s own words) of denying these cardinal doctrines: original sin, penal substitution as the motif of the atonement, and the divine nature of the new birth.”

      Iain Murray (author of Revival and Revivalism…and excellent work…wrote in Banner of Truth:

      It was not only that night that Finney was exciting. He has remained so almost ever since. HisMemoirs was first published in 1876 and (apart from Augustine’s Confessions) it is probably the only Christian autobiography which has remained in print for over one hundred and twenty years. It is possible that no man has had such a far-reaching influence on evangelical Christianity in these years as Finney, the ‘Father of Modern Revivalism’. His book, Lectures on Revivals, has by far outsold every other book on the subject. Dr Billy Graham summarises the general opinion of Finney when he writes: ‘Through his Spirit-filled ministry, uncounted thousands came to know Christ in the nineteenth century, resulting in one of the greatest periods of revival in the history of America.

      Murray also said,

      Because the new measures told people that obedience to the preacher’s directions was necessary to becoming a Christian, compliance with such directions inevitably came to be treated as a means of assurance that one was now in a state of grace. If accepting Christ is the same as walking to the front, then all who have done the latter must be Christians. This was putting assurance of salvation on an entirely new basis, for the older evangelism, in both its Calvinistic and Arminian forms, had insisted that it is the Holy Spirit himself who gives assurance and that no one should assume they have passed from death to life without his witness and a corresponding change of life.

      In my view, much of what we have seen in the 20th and 21st century so far, that is man centered and decision centered, can be traced to Finney.

      • says


        “Horton portrays Finney as the spiritual father of the church growth movement, Pentecostalism, and political revivalism.”

        Well, Horton is wrong. Pentecostalism is an offshoot of Methodism. There were proto-Pentecostals in England long before Finney became prominent or influential. Charles Parham and William Seymour, who brought Pentecostalism to America, were Methodists who explicitly sought to emulate the British Pentecostal scene … they were trying to emulate Smith Wigglesworth, not Finney.

        Also, revivalism, political and otherwise, can be traced to no later than the First Great Awakening … see how those offshoots were so influential in ending slavery (both the Arminian Wesley and the Calvinist Wilberforce) and taking up other political causes in Britain and later America .

        Also, a lot of what Finney did was also done by people who did not share his theology, including not a few Calvinists. And I have read claims that some of Finney’s techniques were being done beforehand, and Finney merely made them more popular. So why Finney gets all this negative attention, especially today almost 150 years later, is curious. Finney is not responsible for the problems that we are having today. We did that ourselves.

      • says

        “You must come to Christ. You must accept Christ really and fully as your Saviour. Renouncing all thought of depending on anything you have done or can do, you must accept Christ as your atoning sacrifice, and as your ever-living Mediator before God. Without the least qualification or reserve you must place yourself under His wing as your Saviour.”
        -Charles G. Finney. Quoted in “Fights I Didn’t Start, and Some I Did, Round 2, by Robert L. Sumner,” biblicalevangelist.org.

        Apparently, Finney did not believe “walking the aisle meant you were saved.
        David R. Brumbelow

      • says


        As I said, I’m no historian. I am quoting from some I have read on Finney. Horton surely can be wrong. I may be wrong to give Finney too much credit for modern revivalism and technique driven evangelism.

        But many others have traced the modern revivalism and technique driven evangelism both in the SBC and outside the SBC to Finney. I think his theology and his influence is worth examining.

        • says


          “I think his theology and his influence is worth examining.”

          His theology is no big deal. He didn’t originate it, and lots of Christian groups – many of whom have very little to do with Finney – share it. And I also think that his influence is overstated, as he himself was only part of a much larger revivalistic scene. He was a product of his day and time. While I disagree with Finney’s theology, I honestly believe that the problems that we are facing in our own times are much greater than any damage that Finney might have done. Did Finney believe in theistic evolution, for instance? That is just one example.

  2. says

    Correction: “caused great harm to the church th and continues” should read “caused great harm to the church then and continues.”

  3. says

    Indeed Finney’s tragic distortion of Historic Orthodoxy is well documented as Horton does in his article. He is the ‘theological’ (sic)champion of those who embrace the statement made by the Tradionalist in SBC life. As Horton correctly points out, he is not merely Arminian, but, a robust Pelagian. This is at the heart of our struggle. It is not about any ‘ism’. It is about accurate, irenic and precise exegesis of the text.

    Thank you for posting this. The response will be interesting. My prayer is that we get past the juvenile squabbling about ‘isms’ and participate in a format that includes diagramming the original text, examining that text word by word and then humbly submitting to the Systematic that this process yields. We should be able to do this without name calling, mud slinging or denigrating anyone. The text has one and only one meaning as graciously given to us by the Sovereign LORD. We must be diligent in discovering and applying that meaning in ministry. When we do, those things that currently divide us will be gone.

    In Grace,
    Tom Fillinger

  4. says

    Billy Graham’s view of Charles Finney:

    “Few men have had such a profound impact on their generation as Charles Grandison Finney.
    Through his Spirit-filled evangelistic ministry, uncounted thousands came to know Christ in the nineteenth century, resulting in one of the greatest periods of revival in the history of America.
    In addition, he became one of the most widely-read theologians of his time through his lectures and writings. His concern for education influenced whole generations of students.
    But most of all, Charles G. Finney was a deeply-committed Christian. More than anything else he wanted to serve Christ and be used of Him.”
    -Evangelist Billy Graham

    For those who would like the see another side of Charles Finney from the one presented in the above article, see:

    “The Life and Ministry of Charles G. Finney” by Dr. Lewis A. Drummond, Bethany House Publishers; 1983.
    Drummond was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
    David R. Brumbelow

      • says

        Wow, I posted my question before I saw that Chris had posted his. I don’t want to be seen as ganging up on David. So David, please feel free to ignore my comment and respond only to Chris. Thank you.

    • Adam G. in NC says

      pulled the Billy Graham card, I see. haha
      Let’s not forget that Graham isnt the Baptist pope. (His views on mormonism and soft-universalism).

  5. says

    Just a question: Is it the collective opinion that all those people who reportedly ‘came to Christ’, ‘came to faith’, followed Jesus, or were saved under the ministry Finney in hell today??? Just curious.

  6. says

    It seems to boil down to Traditionalists/non-Calvinists/Moderate Calvinists (while not agreeing with him on all points) like Charles Finney, Calvinists think he is the devil in disguise.

    Why don’t Calvinists like Finney? Well, it seems mainly because he was not much of a Calvinist.

    I don’t agree with all of Finney’s theology, but, along with Billy Graham and Lewis Drummond, I recognize Charles G. Finney as a great Christian and evangelist.
    David R. Brumbelow

    • says


      “Why don’t Calvinists like Finney? Well, it seems mainly because he was not much of a Calvinist.”

      Adrian Rogers wasn’t much of a Calvinist either. Yet do Calvinist Southern Baptists – or Calvinists in general – much criticize him? I am sorry David, but I believe that there is much more to the opposition to Finney than that.

    • Bill Mac says

      CS Lewis was not any kind of a Calvinist and many Calvinists (including myself) hold him in very high regard. Ditto for the Wesley brothers. Ditto for Billy Graham.

      I don’t think there is any question that Southern Baptist’s wholehearted embrace of Finney’s tactics are at least in part the cause of 2/3 of our membership being only imaginary.

      • says

        @Bill Mac:

        “I don’t think there is any question that Southern Baptist’s wholehearted embrace of Finney’s tactics are at least in part the cause of 2/3 of our membership being only imaginary.”

        Wow. Just wow. That statement is just as wrongheaded as our non-Calvinist friends blaming our very existence for the decline in baptisms. It also takes the position that there weren’t any problems whatsoever with the Southern Baptist Convention before it was allegedly influenced by Finney, or that the SBC never was a strong, vital organization for evangelism, missions and discipleship after the Finney era. I think that any and all problems with the SBC today are caused by the SBC leadership and members today.

    • says

      David, I’m not fond of any “Christian minister” who denies the doctrine of justification. You shouldn’t be either.

      Does everything have to get back to Calvinism vs. Traditionalism? I figured Traditionalists would reject Finney as well since ya’ll affirm justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone?

  7. says


    My opinion would be that God is able to save sinners even through a faulty statement of the gospel. I believe there are Roman Catholics who are ignorant of the Papal doctrine who, nevertheless, have heard the Scriptures and believed. I believe it is impossible to believe what Finney believed or what RCs believe and be a Christian.

  8. Bruce H. says

    Though I may not agree with all of Finney’s theology, or many others, I have to agree with Paul.

    “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” Philippians 1:18

      • Bruce H. says


        It was for motive. The envy, strife and contention preaching goes on today, as well. Those who preach like that do have a problem with the content of their messages and the truth is distorted.

    • says


      So long as it is Christ who is preached. The problem with much faulty theology is that it may use the name Christ yet preach little of Christ.

  9. says

    I have to ask: how is Charles Finney relevant to contemporary Southern Baptist life? Southern Baptists do not share Finney’s theology. What interest does SBC Voices have in going after a non-Baptist who died in 1875? I am sorry, but I really do not see how this post is helpful at all towards what SBC Voices is trying to be and accomplish. I hope that the people responsible for this entry would reconsider.

  10. says


    You do realize that Finney’s theology changed for the worse as he progressed. The “second work of grace” theology came as a result of his discovery that the “first work of grace” i.e., coming to the anxious seat, had not produced the results he had expected.

    • says

      Why, pray tell? Wouldn’t it be much better to do thorough reading of someone doctrinally sound? I don’t see how digging up Finney’s bones and burning them does us any good in this day and age.

  11. says

    To place people on a path of religious/spiritual ascendancy, is never a good thing. That just places us at the center and moves Jesus to the periphery.

    Experience and emotions have their place, but we cannot rely on them. They are never trustworthy indicators of faith.

    “For even the devil can come all dressed up as an angel of light.” – St. Paul

  12. says

    I am always cautious of hardline Reformed types who will knock a theologian down the moment the drop a petal of tulip. But in this case I find Horton to be right. The things Finney taught and “converted” people to are the reason America still polls as a nation that believes in God, Jesus and the Bible but refusing to living in subjection to God, Jesus and the Bible.

    No is this what Finney wanted to happen? Heck no. He clearly believed Christians needed to be faithful and fruitful to experience salvation. But the world always corrupts theology for their own purposes (insert image of Jefferson doing his work on the four gospels).

    Finney’s theology was wrong. Finney himself seems well enough a good fellow. And his theology was used by people who could take advantage of it. His corrupted theology is just another spice in the soup of sin our culture has crafted.

  13. Greg Harvey says

    Fascinating article. I honestly don’t spend a lot of time looking for faults in theologians. But that exposition strikes me as being rather much a great example of what I call theological speculation. There is no Bible passage that informs his view on sin for the believer removing all holiness from a believer. That puts his comment either into a cautionary point of view–helping us understand the egregious nature of sin–or it’s just wrong.

    Paul’s caution on sinning more so that grace will abound and the comment in Hebrews that there is no further sacrifice available for sin when we are in Christ Jesus ought to create a deep sense of caution regarding the acceptance of sin in our lives. There need not be the threat of condemnation which is the judicial penalty of sin that Jesus Christ has already paid on our behalf. Yes: this is where Calvinists get accused of being antinomian because we realize that–as Paul put it so eloquently–“all is permitted/allowed but all is not beneficial”.

    Even the term “beneficial” regrettably loses its poignancy in modern, Western culture. Because we see in it the word “benefit” and we think of a moral calculus of trading of advantages and disadvantages (which also goes to the heart of the accusation of “antinomianism”). Neither Paul’s warning nor the Hebrews comment should be viewed as creating space for the allowance of sin. Instead I believe BOTH lead us to a truly mournful understanding of the condition of the pre-crossing-of-the-Jordan believer. We continue to be influenced–but not controlled–by our sin nature. Through Christ Jesus we are freed of sins debilitating affects and the result is the freedom IN Christ Jesus–through the enabling work of the Holy Spirit–to choose holiness.

    When we choose to be unholy, we still are in relationship with God. The only thing that prevents our holiness from impacting God is the covering of the blood. God still sees us as holy in spite of the continuing sin. Grace still abounds. But gaming the system suggests a far deeper problem and traditionally (not Traditionally) all Southern Baptists have expressed concern that–given “once saved always saved”–the Hebrews passage causes one to speculate whether there was any repentance, any profession of faith, or any salvation at all when one continues to willfully sin.

    I don’t see where soteriological Calvinists and Traditionalists would differ even slightly. Where Lutherans and French/Swiss Calvinists might differ is that they’ve subscribed to paedobaptism as being in essence effectual because of subscription to the parents’ faith in baptizing the child as part of the family leading to the salvation of the child (my apologies to Lutherans and full-throated Calvinists if I misrepresented that.)

    But Southern Baptists ought to be in agreement that the occasional sin–as opposed to continuing and willful–while being in the moment deserving of wrath doesn’t not earn a breaking of relationship nor does it earn condemnation. We aren’t Methodists or Nazarenes. Once saved always saved. But there is a very interesting question of whether you’re saved if you continually and willfully sin.

  14. says

    “Where Lutherans and French/Swiss Calvinists might differ is that they’ve subscribed to paedobaptism as being in essence effectual because of subscription to the parents’ faith in baptizing the child as part of the family leading to the salvation of the child (my apologies to Lutherans and full-throated Calvinists if I misrepresented that.)”

    Thanks for the apology. I appreciate it because that’s not why we baptize infants. Whether parents believe..or not…has nothing to do with our theology of baptizing infants.

    We baptize infants (and anyone else) because God commanded that we baptize and be baptized. And because of that we believe that God is active in what He commands that we do. We believe that God is actually the One who baptizes. We dare to baptize babies because we believe that God’s grace comes before faith. We don’t baptize in a vacuum. We teach that child, as he or she grows, the great things that God has done for them, promised to them, in their baptism. And when faith comes…baptism is complete.

    Just a little FYI, Greg.

    Now you know more about why we Lutherans baptize infants, Greg, than do 85% of Lutherans 😀

    • Greg Harvey says

      And we baptize believers because we feel the believer should participate in the decision to be baptized.

      • says

        That puts faith before grace. That’s places man in the forefront.

        We let God be God, and trust in His grace and mercy for us sinners, BEFORE we can do anything.

        I would much prefer clarity to agreement. Thanks, Greg.

        • says


          This is not an attempt to start a discussion/debate. Simply a point of clarification.

          Reformed baptize because our faith is like Abraham’s (Rom 4:13-14; Gal 3:7-9). And this faith was a response to a promise from God (Gen 17:1-8). This promise was God’s covenant to Abraham and it included a command (Gen 17:9-14).

          So I would argue a believer never “participates in the decision” of their baptism. It is always solely in response to God doing the promising and fulfillment of the promise. But that doesn’t negate that it truly is a response. Again, I don’t seek to debate or discuss, I hope simply to shed a little more light.

    • Greg Harvey says

      As an addendum to my previous comment, I’ll add this paragraph from the Wiki article on infant baptism that essentially confirms what I was trying to say though I clearly said it poorly:

      “Scholars disagree on the date when infant baptism was first practiced. Some believe that 1st-century Christians did not practice it, noting the lack of any explicit evidence of paedobaptism.[6] Others, noting the lack of any explicit evidence of exclusion of paedobaptism, believe that they did,[7] understanding biblical references to individuals “and [her] household” being baptised (Acts 16:15, Acts 16:31-33, 1 Corinthians 1:16) as well as “the promise to you and your children” (Acts 2:39)as including small children and infants.”

      The article also notes that paedobaptists view infant baptism as the NT analog to circumcision in the OT and treat (past and present tense included) it as a symbol of entry into the secular community as well as the religious one. I think there is vast more room for credobaptism in a nation where there is no state religion to support a separated notion of secular citizenship from religious participation which is probably why credobaptism emerged so strongly in the US (not that it wasn’t emerging elsewhere.)

      And i’m going to leave my comments at that for now. My main point is that Southern Baptists should at the very least look askance at the Finney comments listed above. I used credobaptism and “once saved always saved” as points of unification to help demonstrate the similar understanding between “Traditionalists” and “Calvinistic” Baptists. My main point wasn’t the paedobaptism issue though SBs ought to be united on that, too.

  15. Rick Patrick says

    Both Michael and Jared are clearly wrong.

    Satan is unmistakably the greatest distorter of Christian truth in this or any other age.

    You have taken a good description for the devil and applied it to a Christian minister.

    Since Billy Graham had such a high view of Finney, do any of you wish to include Graham in the Distorters of Christian Truth Hall of Shame?

      • says

        To add a clarification of my own: Graham’s inclusivism does not compare with the errors documented above from Finney but does point to the fact that no matter how great a hero may be, he is not immune from error, even serious error.

        Also, it matters not what Graham thinks of Finney; Graham’s opinion of Finney changes neither the facts about Finney nor the merit of Graham himself.

      • says

        I don’t really want to help turn this into a Billy Graham bashing. I’ll just say that I agree with Chris that what Graham thinks of Finney is irrelevant. Graham, for all his good and godly qualities, as said some outright very unbiblical things over the years about pagans who have never heard of Christ getting into heaven.

        Finney needs to stand or fall on his own words.

      • Rick Patrick says

        I believe in the exclusivity of the gospel. I am somewhat concerned about the inclusivist comments made by perhaps the greatest proclaimer of the gospel, aside from Jesus, that the world has ever known. While I disagree with Graham on that point, I would not fault his ministry generally.

        • Alan Davis says


          I also disagree with Graham on the mormon issue and see it as a great compromise. I am talking about the backing down from calling Mormonism a cult (which it is). Also I am dead set against including Roman Catholic leaders in crusades including from what I have read including RC counselors.

          However I still have a great respect for Graham and His ministry and enjoy the Cove often as I leave near there. No man should be elevated to some super preacher status as some may do with Graham.


    • says

      Rick, that’s a ridiculous assumption. I don’t care whether Finney was a Calvinist or not. If we want to get down to the nitty gritty… you care more about Calvinism than I do.

      • says

        I wish we could discuss things without using labels like “ridiculous.”

        Merriam Webster defines it as, “arousing or deserving ridicule : extremely silly or unreasonable.”

        We can talk about differences without ridicule, can we not?

    • Rick Patrick says

      I believe it is a distortion of truth to call Charles Finney the greatest distorter of Christian truth in our age.

      I agree with you that no matter how great a hero like Jared or Michael might be, they are not immune from serious error, such as calling Finney what they did.

      I respect Billy Graham’s opinion of Finney more than I do Moore’s and Horton’s.

      As for BG’s inclusivism, I’d be happy to address that on another post, without hijacking this one evaluating Finney.

        • Rick Patrick says

          I disagree with Finney’s view of eternal security and imputed righteousness.

          I just don’t think he’s even close to the “greatest distorter of Christian truth in our age.”

      • says

        Rick, unbelievable. So, you refuse to interact with Finney’s denial of justification by faith alone in Christ alone; yet, you want to parse words over Horton’s declaration concerning whether or not Finney is the greatest distorter of Christian truth in our age (obviously neither Horton nor I were saying that Finney is a greater distorter of truth than Satan; Horton was speaking of humans only.) You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill while ignoring heresy. It makes no sense to me.

        • Rick Patrick says

          I don’t even believe Finney was the greatest human distorter of Christian truth in our age.

          I just don’t think that generalization is fairly applied to Finney.

    • says

      “You have taken a good description for the devil and applied it to a Christian minister who was simply not Calvinistic.”

      No, Finney was not “simply not Calvinistic.” Finney was unorthodox.

      I don’t think anyone on here wants to agree with Finey on justification for instance.

    • Stephen Beck says

      Well, Satan works through men. I don’t know if I would say Finney is the greatest distorter, but he is probably pretty high. Billy Graham also said Pope JPII was the greatest religious leader of the modern world and one of the greatest moral and spiritual leaders of our time. In 1978 he said in an interview, “I used to believe pagans in far countries were lost if they did not have the gospel preached to them…I no longer believe that.” In 1997 he said to Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral (New Age, prosperity, Word Faith, name-it-claim-it theology) that people can be saved by turning to the “only light they have” when they “know they need something that they don’t have,” whether or not they are conscious of having just become a Christian or even knowing the name Jesus. On Larry King he failed to uphold the exclusivity of the gospel.

      I don’t wish to put Billy Graham in the “Distorters of Faith Hall of Shame,” I would not take Billy Graham’s endorsement of Finney very seriously. I have appreciated his gospel preaching at crusades and also his desire to live above approach, but I would not pay much attention to what he says concerning modern theology.

  16. says

    Charles Finley had a nasty splitter. So nasty that he’s one of only two pitchers in MLB history to have 4 strikeouts in an inning three times in his career. He will never be a Hall of Famer though as he dropped off the ballot in 2008.

    I’m not sure if he was a Pelagian or not…but he did go through a nasty divorce.

  17. Truth Unites... and Divides says

    Wasn’t Finley the former owner of the Oakland A’s? He perversely distorted the game of baseball with his push and introduction of the anti-Calvinist Designated Hitter role.

    National League: Biblical Calvinists.

    American League: Ungodly Semi-Pelagians.


    • Rick Patrick says

      Charles Finley, former owner of the Oakland A’s, grew up less than a mile from the church I serve as Pastor. In 1957, he paid for all of the church pews in the sanctuary, which have been refinished and are still in use today. We have a plaque in his name in the foyer.

      I am uncertain that he ever made a profession of faith, but at least he was not the greatest distorter of Christian truth in our age.

  18. volfan007 says

    Hummmm…while we’re pointing out the errors of Christian preachers of the past, maybe we could point out a few of the Reformers flaws. Maybe that would negate Calvinism and Reformed, Augustinian theology/philosophy?

    Luther was very anti Semitic, and he had a very low, low view of women. He also loved to drink strong, green, German beer. And, he would go thru great times of depression.

    Calvin had people thrown into the jail for not believing as he did, and/or not attending Church. Also, he had Servetus killed for not believing like he did.

    Zwingli used the services of prostitutes. When he was confronted by Church members for doing this, his answer was that he did not seduce virgins, or married women, so it was okay. The Church members said, “Okay.” And, he continued to use the services of prostitutes.

    So, let’s toss aside everything any of these men said and did, because they did these things……right? I mean, Finney was in error for believing that a person could lose thier salvation, and he gave altar calls(horror of all horrors), so let’s just throw away everything good that he did, and call him the worst distorter of the Christian faith, ever.

    Hey, Jared, while we’re at it, let’s find out everything that you think Dr. Adrian Rogers did that was bad, and let’s toss him aside, as well? I mean, he gave altar calls. He told people that they could be sure of their salvation. He called Calvinists the “Wine and Cheese Crowd.” So, let’s analyze him, and toss his ministry aside, as well. What do you think?


        • says

          David volfann007,
          You have a valid point. If some want to accuse Finney as the reason for all that is wrong in the Christian church today, then maybe we should investigate their heroes.

          Maybe the cause of all that is wrong today is the result of following the teachings of such flawed leaders as Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, etc.
          David R. Brumbelow

      • says

        Ditto Jared’s thought. It instigates beyond the intent of the post. And the idea of replying might be a temptation too great for some to handle! :-)

    • says

      Luther said some terrible things about the Jews later in his life. He did love his beer. I have not heard that he had a low view of women. He certainly was crazy about his beloved Katie.

      He also said some very wonderful things about the gospel and freed many, many from a life of religious/spiritual ladder climbing.

      He was a real sinner, that’s for sure. And he knew it. But he was a bulldog for the gospel and Jesus Christ.

      • says

        Martin Luther did not believe God inspired several books of the Bible. He believed those holding to Baptist doctrine should be killed.
        And the list could go on.
        David R. Brumbelow

        • says

          Martin Luther believed that the Word of God was where Christ was given.

          If it didn’t drive Christ…then it was not as valuable. He thought that the ladder climbing of the Catholic Church was not Christian.

          I don’t believe he advocated killing anyone. He did say that the powers of the day should restore order and rein in the radical reformers who were raping nuns, killing priests, and burning down churches. In the process of restoring that order of the Peasant Revolt, many were killed. This did not make Luther happy, in the least.

          • says

            It would be for these reasons we don’t follow these men. Where they spoke and practiced the truth of God, we seek to follow them, but we understand they are just like us, sinful men.

      • says

        Regarding Luther’s views of Jews, please recall that he used a strong polemical writing style that was common to his time period and is not used today.

        • William Thornton says

          And that excuses his virulent anti-semitism? Or that it came late in his life?

        • says

          Martin Luther set the pace for Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists in spoken words and written works; an example is a pamphlet written in 1536. Notice the call for death:

          “Besides this the Anabaptists separate themselves from the churches . . . and they set up a ministry and congregation of their own, which is also contrary to the command of God. From all this it becomes clear that the secular authorities are bound . . . to inflict corporal punishment on the offenders . . . Also when it is a case of only upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism, original sin, and unnecessary separation, then . . . we conclude that . . . the stubborn sectaries must be put to death,”

          In 2010, the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation approved a statement of repentance calling on Lutherans to express regret and sorrow for past sins against Anabaptists and asking for forgiveness. The statement was titled: Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of Anabaptists.
          -Ron Hale

          David R. Brumbelow

    • says

      David, I suppose we should then never critique anyone’s theology using the Bible because we are all flawed. More so, since you have flaws you really have no grounds on which to criticize Jared.

      We should all just shut up and give out Joel Osteen lollipop and cotton candy messages. 😉

  19. says

    For those interested in a serious critique of Finney’s theological posture I would recommned Nettleton and His Labours – The Memoir Of Dr. Asahel Nettleton by Bennet Tyler and Andrew Bonar, Banner of Truth, 454 pp, published in 1854 and 1975. He ministered at the same period in history as Finney and provides a substantive and accurate analysis of Finney’s doctrine and practice.

    In Grace,
    Tom Fillinger

    • says

      And some might also want to check out, “The Life and Ministry of Charles G. Finney” by Dr. Lewis A. Drummond, Bethany House Publishers; 1983.

      It gives Charles G. Finney’s side to the accusations by Asahel Nettleton.
      Sumner’s book, mentioned above, does as well.
      David R. Brumbelow

    • says

      Lewis A. Drummond’s book deals with Finney’s view of the atonement on pages 225-226. I don’t necessarily agree with the details of Finney’s view, but once it is explained by Finney and Drummond, most would agree it is an orthodox view. Drummond believed it was an orthodox view.

      I’m not sure I have the time or desire to copy it all down and post it here.
      David R. Brumbelow

  20. Max says

    Here’s another Finney quote (from his lectures on revival):

    “When I hear a new believer asking ‘Do you believe in the doctrine of election?’ or ‘Do you believe in sprinkling?’ or “Do you believe in immersing?’ I feel sad. Young converts obsessed with such sectarian questions soon find that their zeal sours. This faultfinding eats out the heart of their religion and molds their entire characters into sinful, sectarian bigotry. They generally become extremely zealous for the traditions of their leaders, with little concern for the salvation of souls.”

  21. says

    @Rick Patrick:

    Now come on. You know perfectly well that it is possible to criticize Finney without casting aspersions on Graham. Finney did not share Graham’s theology. If he did, this blog post – which I believe to be exceedingly helpful by the way – would not exist. The fact that Graham used many of Finney’s methods is proof of that. And people who disagree with Finney’s theology have just as much right to air those disagreements as you do with the theology of Al Mohler, the Founders Ministries and the Acts 29 Network.

    “I am somewhat concerned about the inclusivist comments made by perhaps the greatest proclaimer of the gospel, aside from Jesus, that the world has ever known.

    I disagree with claiming that Billy Graham was the greatest proclaimer of the gospel that the world has ever known, even with your “perhaps” qualifier thrown in. Seriously, how is that any different from claiming that Finney is the greatest distorter of Christian truth of our age?

    • Rick Patrick says

      Billy Graham has personally stood before more people and preached the gospel than anyone who has ever lived, including Jesus in His humanity.

      I believe my claim that BG is the greatest gospel proclaimer is easier to defend than the notion that Charles Finney is “the greatest distorter of Christian truth of our age.”

  22. says

    There is something peculiar about people saying, “Sure, so-and-so may have been bad, but what about old whatshisname over there?”

    We excuse Finney’s follies by pointing to the problems of others?

    • volfan007 says


      No one is excusing Finney’s follies. We are simply saying that if you’re gonna say that he is the GREATEST DISTORTER OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH, and claim that he’s the reason for nearly all that ails the Christian Church of today…well, there’s a big difference there…wouldnt you say?

      Add on to that, that Calvinists have laid the wood to Finney many, many times, because of him being the “Father of Altar Calls,” and such other things….and, it does make one feel the need to point that Calvinists heroes were flawed, as well……


      • says


        It was not that Finney was the originator of the altar call, “anxious seat” as he called it. It was that he view that as THE evidence that a person had become a child of God. In my view, there is nothing wrong with a person standing in from of a congregation and confessing his faith in Christ. The problem occurs when we assume that his confession represents a true conversion. We simply have no way of knowing whether that confession was genuine or not. I believe it was Matthew Henry who commented , “We count our converts; God weighs them.”

      • says

        David, the only person in this comment thread who has mentioned altar calls is you. (At the end of every sermon, I invite sinners and Christians to publicly respond.)

        Once again, you haven’t been fair to the intention or content of this article.

        • volfan007 says


          I didnt say that you said anything about altar calls. I said that a lot of Calvinists talk bad about altar calls. And, they seem to attribute those horrible, terrible things(altar calls) to Finney, and his “revivalists” type, emotional preaching, which has destroyed Churches, today.


        • Donald says

          “Once again, you haven’t been fair to the intention or content of this article.”

          How was his response unfair? The intent and content of the article was to support the idea that Finney was The Greatest Distorter of Christian Truth in Our Age. David responded to that and THEN in a separate paragraph said “Add on to that…” Do you see? David self-declared that the second paragraph was an addition to the discussion. Attacking him because his addition was an … addition … seems pretty unfair! Part of the problem on sbcvoices is these off-the-cuff responses, posted prior to understanding what was actually said…

          • says


            I did quote Murray where he mentioned how “walking to the front” had become equated with conversion, something we all agree is deplorable.

            However, I don’t think I “ran down Charles Finney.”

          • says

            David, you are correct. I missed the mention of “coming to the front.” I, however, do agree with Les, that he didn’t run down Finney.

            If Finney denies justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, he was a heretic. That doesn’t automatically dismiss all his other beliefs or methodologies. Each doctrine and method should be considered based on its own merit. And, just because Finney’s methods may be grounded in heresy, that doesn’t mean those who use methods similar to his have also grounded their methods in heresy.

          • says

            And David Brumbelow,

            My larger point, or my intended larger point, was not altar calls or techniques. My larger. Point was Finney’s seriously defective theology. It was really bad theology. It was dangerous theology. And his theology…his denial if imputation and his view of man’s condition, led him to his techniques. Walking an aisle is not inherently a bad thing. But the reason Finney had people walk the aisle was a bad thing and I think has led to many who followed after Finney to employ techniques for the same wrong reasons. A defective view of man’s spiritual condition. All of these criticisms are rooted in his theology.

          • says

            Perhaps you should read a little more extensively before you call Charles Finney a heretic.
            Billy Graham, Lewis Drummond, Robert L. Sumner, and a host of other conservative believers do not consider Finney a heretic.
            Some throw around “heretic” much to casually.
            And Drummond’s book specifically mentions these issues; some critics would do well to read it.

            Read again your last sentence in comment #3; you did run down Finney.
            David R. Brumbelow

          • says

            David B.,

            I did re-read what I wrote. I guess we may have a different definition of “running someone down.” I was just offering my opinion on the legacy of Finney, a legacy that I think is not a good one. It was “critical” in an objective sense and wasn’t personal or meant to be critical of him as a person.

            But I don’t want to be argumentative about it. I suppose we will just have to agree that we disagree about whether it as a “run down” of Finney.


  23. says

    There seems to be a high degree of insecurity floating around here…

    Lots of folks who aren’t confident enough in what they believe so as to not let other ideas cause them panic. Instead most of the comments that devolve around calvinism or traditionalism or what-ever-ism (above included) contain lots of “straw men”, “appeals to authority”, “middle ground”, some “tu quoque”, lots of “ambiguity” and “burden of proof”, and more than a pinch of “no true scotsman”.

    I think the biggest fallacy is that most of the posters seem to be cowards or patriots; either:
    – one is afraid to consider the another idea fairly for fear that you might be wrong; cause if you are wrong about this, what else might you be wrong about
    – one is so chauvinistic/nationalistic to an idea that they will make an Alamo stand over it and shoot everyone who comes near not wearing the team jersey

    Most of the real fighting is based on fear over “what’s happening with MY MONEY?????” It’s embarrassing that most of you are pastors and express such a lack of faith in God on these comments:
    – What happens if the Cals take over and spend traditionalist tithes
    – What happens if the Trads take over and use calvinist tithes to “drive them out”

    Last time I heard a sermon on tithing, it was an expression of faith to give God 10% of THAT WHICH HE GAVE US IN THE FIRST PLACE. If it’s His money, trust Him.

    Then, maybe we can stop the stupid fallacious arguments over who’s right and wrong and we can just try to understand each other, see things from multiple angles and be challenged enough for our faith to grow.

    If you’re afraid of that kind of challenge, I’m afraid of what kind of pastors we have in this denomination and that maybe it should dry up and blow away.

  24. says

    I must disagree with Dr. Horton without access to my sources, but, if my memory serves correctly, Finney corrected himself on the issue of eternal security. I would also add that it is strange that at least two Calvinists were converted under Finney, A.H. Strong, a modified Calvinist, was converted during the crusade in Rochester, New York. Another was the noted Presbyterian minister of the 1800s, T. DeWitte Talmadge. It has always struck me as one of the ironies of the Christian Faith, that those who favor one system of theology over another, i.e., calvinism over arminianism, often wind up making converts to the system that they do not favor. One example in history was George Whitefield’s convert by his death. Benjamin Randall, founder of many Free Will Baptist Churches in the Northeast was brought to Christ by the death of the great Sovereign Grace evangelist. Irony of Ironies, Randall became a Free Will Baptist. I once had a long list of such occurrences. Finney himself began to follow Christ, while attending a Presbyterian church pastored by a Calvinist whom Finney would convert to his way of thinking after he, Finney, was converted.

    In any case, I outlined about 5 books of systematic theology before my ordination, one of which was Finney’s Systematic Theology. It did not take long to find out that his exegesis would not stand up. There was also the problem of his revivals being so counter productive. The Burnt Over Region of Western New York is a noted phenomenon in American History.

    Again, there is the noted fact that Finney was one of the early opponents of slavery and an advocate of Christian equality, admitting females and blacks to Oberlin College where he taught the religion courses.

    God apparently uses whomever He pleases to accomplish His purposes, and He can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick. I am no fond follower of Finney, but among his detractions he has his more positive aspects, too.

  25. says

    Amen. God is no respecter of our “good theology” when it comes to His saving grace.

    Good theology is important, the Bible itself tells us that. But we certainly aren’t saved by it.

    That’s not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t criticize our brothers and sisters in Christ when they go off the rails. We just shouldn’t ever ‘judge’ their salvation.

  26. says

    Finney is not a person to get excited about or bent out of shape over him. After all, the burnt over area became one of the most difficult for evangelical Christianity in the 100+ years after Finney. And even Finney admitted a lot of his converts had fallen away. Theological goofs can be very big time, and Finney surely made his share of them. He used his study of law (he was a lawyer before he was a preacher) to explain away some of the theological realities about man’s fallen condition. The truth is he leaves his followers limping along, trying to cope with the theological messes his particular approaches generate. As to the altar calls, one need but point out that no such thing was ever had until circa Finney’s day. I would point out, however, that the idea of reconsecration every year or so has its origins in Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions. Selah.

      • says

        Answer to Job: If so, not many. In fact, the Protestant churches, except for the Anglicans and even then not all of them apparently (given the evangelical Anglicans), had the pulpit as the center of the church, not an altar. The altar at which we worship is in Heaven, a heavenly altar. No earthly object can replace that reality. And why would any want or need such a thing, seeing that we are, when we come to church, come to the very center of Heaven itself, to the Lamb that stood as it had been slain in the midst of the throne (Hebs.12:22ff- and Rev.5:6), and even to the day of Judgment itself, only this day, the day of judgment, one can get his or her case adjudicated before a final sentence is issued.

    • says

      Whenever and however they came on the scene…they are not Biblical.

      The choice is God’s…not ours. “Faith comes by hearing, and the Word of God.” Not by our deciding anything.

      • says


        I see altar calls not as being part of the “decisional regeneration” process but rather giving the new Christian the opportunity to fulfill Matthew 10:32-33 and Luke 12:8-9. Of course, one could respond that this is done by way of believer’s baptism. Also, plenty of requests/entreaties for sinners to make decisions take place outside the context of altar calls. It can even be said that most do.

        • says

          I see your point, Job.

          I do know many folks, however, here in So. Cal (where there is a large presence of mega-type churches that practice altar calls) who believe that they are Christians because they went down (up) and made the decision. They accepted Jesus. They can even tell you the exact date and time, and are anxious to do so. One of the results? Pride. ‘Well…I did it. I made the right choice. I made the right decision.’

          Just, in my opinion, a terrible byproduct of the errant doctrine of “free-will” theology.

          Thanks, Job.

  27. volfan007 says

    Oh dear…let’s not invite people to actually put thier faith in Jesus….how horrible! How ghastly! Let’s not actually encourage people to turn to Jesus with all of thier hearts(repentance), and put thier faith in Jesus. Acts 20:20-21. This would be incredibly bad….just awful….how could anyone invite someone to be saved? How in the world could someone actually try to persuade people to be saved, after preaching the Word of God? Oh me; oh my; oh me…..what will they do next? Baptize these new converts?


    PS. The above was sarcasm beyond the shadow of a doubt.

    • says

      It was also exceedingly unhelpful in the interests of pursuing an honest conversation amongst people who have legitimate disagreements on an issue. And allow me to point out that you have many a time become outraged when your own positions are the subject of similar sarcasm.

    • says


      Also, Acts 20:20-21 does not lend support to the practice of the altar call. Two of the biggest arguments against altar calls by its opponents are:
      1) There are no examples of them being done in the Bible, or commanded to be done.
      2) As best can be told, the altar call is a recent innovation in church history and not a historic practice. (This distinguishes altar calls from other types of invitations.)
      While that is not enough to preclude altar calls – as the Bible does not specifically forbid them – that is more than enough for the objections of those who oppose the practice to be taken seriously.

    • says


      I don’t think anyone here who is not in favor of a so-called altar call is also against giving invitations for sinners to repent and believe. The two are not the same thing.

      Just the other day on another SBC blog, i gave an invitation for an self professed atheist to repent and believe.

      “So, I urge you and plead with you to seek the Lord while He may be found. If you are still breathing then the day of salvation is today. Repent of your sin and trust in the one true God to save you by way of faith in His Son the Savior of sinners. Don’t delay [name]. The Lord of the universe stands ready to forgive you and save you.

      You have violated God’s law, and have incurred His just wrath and condemnation. You are guilty. But the good news is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, that all who are to be saved must turn from their sins and embrace the Savior by faith. So today, [name], turn from your sins and embrace Jesus by faith.”

      No altar call. No aisle for him to walk. But an invitation nonetheless. I pray he does repent and believe, and he can do that right where he is sitting looking at the computer screen.


      • volfan007 says


        After reading what you wrote to me…especially the last paragraph…is like I’m talking to someone from Mars, and I am from Jupiter. Of course, giving someone an invitation with no altar is still an invitation… who ever said it wasnt???


        • says


          I was responding to your self described sarcasm:

          “let’s not invite people to actually put thier faith in Jesus….how horrible!

          How ghastly! Let’s not actually encourage people to turn to Jesus with all of thier hearts(repentance), and put thier faith in Jesus. Acts 20:20-21.

          This would be incredibly bad….just awful….how could anyone invite someone to be saved?

          How in the world could someone actually try to persuade people to be saved, after preaching the Word of God?”

          Your sarcasm was against something no one ever even hinted at. If you had said originally,

          “”let’s not invite people to actually COME TO THE ALTAR….how horrible!

          How ghastly! Let’s not actually encourage people to COME FORWARD TO THE ALTAR.

          This would be incredibly bad….just awful….how could anyone invite someone to COME TO THE ALTAR?

          How in the world could someone actually try to persuade people to COME TO THE ALTAR, after preaching the Word of God?”

          If that’s what you had said, it would have made more sense in the context of this comment stream. And everyone would have agreed with your sarcasm.

          No one here is or ever has been against inviting people to put their faith in Christ. Many, though, are not in favor or inviting people to come forward to an “altar” for many reasons already expressed.

          Blessings to you.


          • volfan007 says

            And, Les, that’s what I was being sarcastic about…that it’s somehow a horrible, terrible thing to invite someone to respond to the preaching of the Word of God at a Church service.


          • says

            David, I really don’t want to belabor the point, but your last comment is why I made the distinction yesterday between as you say “inviting someone to respond to the preaching of the Word of God at a Church service” and inviting someone to come to the front and make some sort of public move.

            The former is not and never has been in dispute. We all agree that people should be “invited to respond to the preaching of the Word of God at a Church service.”

            We don’t all agree that people should or need to be “invited to respond to the preaching of the Word of God at a Church service BY coming forward or making some sort of public move at that time.” There are other opportunities for them to publicly profess their faith publicly, such as at baptism after instruction, etc.

            All I’m saying is that it’s important when talking about “altar calls” and public invitations to repent and believe that the distinction be maintained. The two are not the same.

    • Debbie Kaufman says

      Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God David. We give the message and a person can have faith in Christ sitting in the pew at church or at home or in their car. That is the beauty of God. It is a gift from God according to Ephesians 2:8&9. You don’t need an altar for that.

      Did you know that Charles Finney was ordained by the Presbyterian church? And he was not converted in a church with an alter? He was converted out in the woods by himself.


      • volfan007 says


        I know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

        I know that people can be saved in their pews, at home, in a car, or laying flat on their backs in a parking lot from drinking too much like me….

        I know that salvation is a free gift from God.

        Debbie, so, the question I have is why did you go thru all of this….tell me all of these things? It has nothing to do with whether you give an altar call at the conclusion of preaching the Gospel….


    • volfan007 says


      I never said that Acts 20 teaches an altar call. You totally missed what I was saying.


  28. says

    “No altar call. No aisle for him to walk. But an invitation nonetheless. I pray he does repent and believe, and he can do that right where he is sitting looking at the computer screen.”

    Good stuff, Les.

    Just as a bit of a different slant, though…we believe that when God’s law is given (to the hearer), in it’s fullness…it paints the hearer (by God’s grace) into a corner. Leaves him/her no where to go. Then the gospel is announced. Christ Jesus and His forgiveness of sins is freely handed over. “For you”…it is announced. And (by God’s grace) in the hearing of that Word of law, and then the gospel….faith is (or can be) created. The preaching of the law and the gospel IS the invitation. And God does all the work, all the deciding, all the killing sand creating a NEW life…all in the hearing.

    That’s our take on it.

  29. says


    It is not that I disagree with you per se. It is just that if you are an evangelism-driven Baptist (or similar) you look at the landscape and see 3 things:

    1. Infant baptizers (where altar calls, invitations and many other forms of evangelism are, well … not often done).
    2. Mainline denominations and other moderate/liberal churches where, again, evangelism isn’t often done because all good people are going to heaven anyway and saying otherwise makes you a fundamentalist bigot.
    3. Churches who for doctrinal reasons – including truly hyper-Calvinistic churches (by that I mean actual hyper-Calvinism, not what opponents of Calvinism label hyper-Calvinism) – who are not theologically liberal but still do no altar calls, invitations or practically no other evangelism of any sort at all.

    So … how are you supposed to react? Are you going to do evangelism “wrong” or not do it at all? Most are going to opt for the former (though not on purpose of course) as opposed to the latter. I don’t know, but the altar call/invitation critics and skeptics need to discuss the correct way to do personal and corporate evangelism. I read “Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People” by Will Metzger, and even he acknowledged being short on practical information that the evangelist could go out into the field and use. The same was true of “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” by J.I. Packer, except for without the acknowledgment part.

  30. says


    Valid concerns.

    There’s a lot of bad theology and doctrine and bad practices out there, that’s for sure. But we believe if we stick to the law/gospel paradigm (many mainline churches have tossed God’s law out the window)…then the Lord will accomplish in His Word, that for which It sets out to do. And faith will be born and sustained…in that Word.

    It’s tough, because it’s just not knowable if there is true faith there…or not.

    So, we baptize. We preach and the law and the gospel. We receive His Supper. Take up the tools of piety…prayer, Bible study, good works (not to save)…and trust that the Lord is in all of it…working in the lives of those people who are in front of, in the Word.

    I know that He works (somehow) in both systems, yours and ours. We just believe that ours in a bit more centered on what He does, and less upon ‘what we do’.

    Thank you, friend.

    (I’ve got to get ready for the salt mine – won’t be back at my computer till later this evening)

  31. Adam G. in NC says

    The SBC is definitely a big tent. This post’ll sure convince you if you think otherwise.

    I’ve even heard some say we’re not even a “denomination” but a “convention” of independent churches.

    • Donald says

      “I’ve even heard some say we’re not even a “denomination” but a “convention” of independent churches.”

      That is exactly right. The SBC only exist for two days in June.

    • Dave Miller says

      I hear that a lot. It is not accurate. We are convention for two days in June, but a denomination all year long. Read the EC site and we are defined as a denomination multiple times.

  32. says

    Charles Finney did not begin the public invitation or altar call.

    “By the time Finney had stepped onto the scene, the public invitation had been practiced in one form or another for over a century.”
    -R. Alan Streett in “Whosoever Will” edited by Allen and Lemke, B&H.

    Dr. Roy Fish of SWBTS also brought out some of this in his book on the public invitation.

    Is this part of why some Calvinists believe Finney is the greatest distorter of truth?
    Because he used a public invitation?
    David R. Brumbelow

    • says

      David, I don’t know any Calvinist who is against a public invitation to repent and believe the gospel.

      I assume many Christians are against Finney because he rejected justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and he believed salvations and revival could be manufactured.

      • volfan007 says


        It’s the fact that so many Calvinists say that it’s a terrible, horrible, no good thing to give an altar call that’s the problem. It’s the fact that so many Calvinists think that it’s something so terrible that it leads people to a false profession, and that no Church should ever do it, that’s the problem.

        Invitiing people to respond…right then and there…to the Gospel….to come forward so that we can lead them to Christ….is not a bad thing. Jesus told Andrew and Matthew, and even the rich, young Ruler; to follow ME….right then and right there….to make a decision, at that moment.

        I agree that there’s been abuses of the altar call, and probably still are….but, just because there’s abuses doesnt mean that it’s a horrible, terrible, no good thing, which leads people to Hell.


        • says


          Personally, I’m mostly indifferent on them. I believe that if done well (minus the abuses that you mention) then I don’t see a problem. But on the other hand I also don’t think it’s correct to charge those of us that do not give an altar call with “not preaching the gospel” or “not inviting people to Christ”, etc.

          If I’m in a church that typically does an “altar call” I don’t throw a big stink about it. I just try to do my best to proclaim the gospel–disarm all the myths surrounding “going forward” and go on from there. If I’m preaching at something I’m more responsible for I typically don’t give an “altar call”. I invite people to respond to Christ, etc. But in my view the public proclamation that is part of our responding in faith is our baptism and not going forward at the end of a service.

          If you don’t believe the altar call saves then don’t throw a stink when people don’t do it. If you don’t believe the altar call is in itself anti-biblical then don’t throw a stink about those who do. Simple as that.

          • volfan007 says


            How do you know who has been saved, and wants to be baptized? What do you ask them to do…to let you and the Church know…that they were saved, and wish to be baptized?


          • says

            At present we have a response time. Occasionally people will initiate a conversation with a pastor during that time. Mostly we encourage people to talk to a pastor or elder after the service.

          • volfan007 says


            A response time? Like an altar call? :)

            So, does your Pastors just tell everyone…from the baptistry… that this person was saved? and, now they’re a member of the Church? maybe after going thru a new members class, or something? I mean, does your Church members have no vote on whether the person becomes a member, or not?


          • says

            Ha Ha. Yeah at this stage I would say it is a diffused altar call. LOL. What I mean by that is that the pastor doesn’t face the congregation. We leave the front of the church open for people to pray, etc. The pastor doesn’t plead with people during that moment to make a decision or anything like that. We just use it as a time for people to respond as the Lord leads. The “pleading” happens during the sermon.

            Your question is a really good one. That was one that we really struggled ironing out when we wrote our constitution. Because, like you, we do want members to vote on those who join our membership. So what we do is we will typically have a time towards the end of the service of telling people “so and so wants to join our church” or “so and so wants to be baptized”. We don’t call a business meeting or have formal votes or anything like that we just do the typical–if you affirm this then say “Amen”.

            What we really wanted to avoid was only having about 3-5 minutes during a song to pray with someone and really gauge where they are spiritually and then say, “This person is ready to be baptized, etc.” So if someone does initiate a conversation during the response time we will typically pray with them and set up a time to meet with them (many times right after the service).

            Does that make sense? I hope I answered all of your questions well.

          • volfan007 says


            It sounds to me like yall have an altar call…one that’s trying hard to stay away from the usual. :)

            When anyone comes forward in our Church…to be saved…we send them to a back room with 2 counselors to talk to them more about it…to make sure they understand, and that it’s not just some emotional response, or unclear thing.


        • says

          “It’s the fact that so many Calvinists say that it’s a terrible, horrible, no good thing to give an altar call that’s the problem.”

          Can you quote one Calvinist saying that?

          I am personally against emotionally manipulative appeals of the sort I often see at altar calls. I am against attempts to coerce a response. I am against overly simplistic wishy-washy invitations. I’ve seen each of these far too many times and each of these can indeed lead to false professions (while granted that any presentation of the gospel can lead to false professions, these methods are especially susceptible).

          I am not against calling people to Jesus. I am not against urging people to respond to the gospel. I am not against inviting people to Christ, even in the context of some sort of altar call. I don’t know of any Calvinist who is – even if there may be many who are hesitant to use altar calls because of the many ways they have been used and abused.

          “just because there’s abuses doesnt mean that it’s a horrible, terrible, no good thing, which leads people to Hell.”

          And of course absolutely no one has said that (please see the words about misrepresentation in the latest Voices post) and that has nothing to do with the legitimate concerns with Finney’s views.

          • volfan007 says


            Are you honestly saying that you’ve never heard Calvinists bemoaning the fact that some Churches have altar calls? ARe you seriously saying that you’ve never heard of Calvinists Churches NOT having altar calls? And, some Calvinist Pastors going into Churches, and then stop having altar calls, where the Church previously had them? Are you really saying that you’ve never heard Calvinists talking about how bad altar calls are? And, how they are nothing more than manipulative, emotional appeals, which lead people to false professions of faith?

            Chris, if that’s what you’re saying, then you and I live on two, different planets.


          • says

            “Are you honestly saying that you’ve never heard Calvinists bemoaning the fact that some Churches have altar calls?”


            “ARe you seriously saying that you’ve never heard of Calvinists Churches NOT having altar calls?”


            “Are you really saying that you’ve never heard Calvinists talking about how bad altar calls are?”


            I’m saying I have never heard someone say anything remotely like “it’s a terrible, horrible, no good thing to give an altar call” or that they lead people to Hell. Those are gross distortions of the legitimate concerns and criticisms raised by Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike.

  33. says

    I’m confused because I did not see the words “altar call” or “invitation” mentioned in the original post. So why are people attempting to muddy the waters bringing up those subjects?

    • volfan007 says

      Because Finney is “The Greatest Distorter of the Christian Faith,” and he’s supposed to be the Father of the Altar Call; and some people equate both things as being what’s so bad about Finney.

      That’d be my guest why we went that way……


          • volfan007 says


            No, I would not cooperate with him as a fellow Baptist. Finney was not a Baptist, and his doctrine was most certainly flawed. But, to say that he was a heretic, or the greatest distorter of the Christian faith,….well…that’s a whole nother thing.


          • volfan007 says


            I do not agree with Finney….just like I dont agree with Assembly of God Pastors on some areas of theology. I do not agree with Finney on some things, just like I dont agree with Methodist on some things…but, to call Finney a heretic?

            I do know that Finney attacked Calvinism a lot. Could this be why so many Calvinists come after Finney????


          • says


            Are you always this inclined to completely disregard what people say and try to argue with them about things they have not said?

            Are Finney’s disagreements about justification on the same level as disagreements about spiritual gifts, baptism, etc?

        • volfan007 says


          I think it all goes together….Finney has been a whipping boy for Calvinists for quite a while….about, you know….altar calls/public invitations….


          • says

            But not in this post. I can’t imagine if we talked to each other like this in “real life”. We’d get no where kinda like we do here.



  34. Donald says

    I don’t really know much about Finney outside of the conclusions of his detractors. But, it might be a big help if those who are up-to-speed can work thru his heresy for those of us who do not know him well.

    One of his heresies seems to be his view that Gospel Justification is not the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. I must admit to a knee-jerk reaction against this statement, but did read that he was trained as a lawyer and his use of theological terms is sometimes confusing. Here is how he explained what he meant by Justification not being the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ:

    “Under the gospel, sinners are not justified by having the obedience of Jesus Christ set down to their account, as if he had obeyed the law for them, or in their stead. It is not an uncommon mistake to suppose that when sinners are justified under the gospel they are accounted righteous in the eye of the law, by having the obedience or righteousness of Christ imputed to them. I have not time to go into an examination of this subject now. I can only say that this idea is absurd and impossible, for this reason, that Jesus Christ was bound to obey the law for himself, and could no more perform works of supererogation, or obey on our account, than anybody else. Was it not his duty to love the Lord his God, with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself? Certainly; and if he had not done so, it would have been sin. The only work of supererogation he could perform was to submit to sufferings that were not deserved. This is called his obedience unto death, and this is set down to our account. But if his obedience of the law is set down to our account, why are we called on to repent and obey the law ourselves? Does God exact double service, yes, triple service, first to have the law obeyed by the surety for us, then that he must suffer the penalty for us, and then that we must repent and obey ourselves? No such thing is demanded. It is not required that the obedience of another should be imputed to us. All we owe is perpetual obedience to the law of benevolence. And for this there can be no substitute. If we fail of this we must endure the penalty, or receive a free pardon.”

    Would someone in-the-know spell out (in an effort to teach rather than just to argue or restate conclusions) exactly where he is in heresy here? I think it would help me and others a great deal. It would be nice if this could come in the form of addressing what Finney was trying to communicate rather than a word-by-word nitpicked response that might be difficult to follow.

    • says

      Finney there is saying that Jesus’ obedience counted for him only. His death is somehow credited to us (though at this place Finney doesn’t say how or to what end; I’m sure he addresses that elsewhere) but his life is of no value to us, per se. One’s righteousness is useful only to himself. God calls believers to repent and obey the law because obedience to the law is our responsibility; it cannot be obeyed on our behalf. There is no substitute for obedience.

      The problems with this are legion, though again I note that this is only a snippet; there are still some things left unclear. Some things, though, are clear enough. Jesus said our righteousness must exceed that of scribes and pharisees if we are to enter the kingdom of Heaven. My understanding is that my obedience could never reach that level; the only way my righteousness can exceed theirs is if alien righteousness is given to me. I’ve read that Finney held to a kind of perfectionism; that would be indicated here. I have to fulfill the law. I cannot be righteous through Christ, I must be righteous through me. His righteousness cannot be imputed to me, thus I must repent of past disobedience and in the future fulfill all the law (forget the fact that the law is fulfilled in Christ and we are no longer under the law and I doubt even Finney tried to live by the Mosaic law, but whatever).

      In other words, my righteousness is in my hands, it is not credited to be from Christ. This is not Christianity.

      • says

        “In other words, my righteousness is in my hands, it is not credited to be from Christ. This is not Christianity.”

        That is – In other words, for Finney, my righteousness is in my hands, it is not credited to me from Christ. This is not Christianity.

        • Donald says

          I’m thinking along the same lines as you are. I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out exactly what Finney did believe…

          • volfan007 says

            Finney is confusing. But, have you ever talked to a Pentecostal/Charismatic type?


  35. says

    John Piper has inadvertently chimed in on the heresy of Charles Finney. He has a post up talking about the heresy of the Roman Catholic view of justification: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/clarifying-my-words-about-roman-catholic-heresy

    In this post, he offers the following:

    “…the rejection of 1) the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential part of the basis of our justification, and 2) the doctrine that good works necessarily follow justification but are not part of its ground — the rejection of those truths is a biblical error so close to the heart of the gospel that, when consistently worked out, will undermine saving faith in the gospel.”

    These are the very things Finney rejects. Finney should have known better, yet held on to his error.

    Piper continued: “Thus, any church whose teaching rejects the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential ground for our justification would be a church whose error is so close to the heart of the gospel as to be involved in undermining the faith of its members.”

    • volfan007 says


      Let me ask you a question. Would you consider Pentecostals saved? Would you say that Assembly of God and Church of God preach the true Gospel? Do you believe that evangelical Methodist, like Wesley, preach the true Gospel?

      Or, do they preach heresy?


      • says


        What does that have to do with Finney? None of those groups are preaching his view (or rather, his rejection) of justification and imputation.