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Recent Posts
The love of Christ constraineth us.
by chestnutmare
Yesterday at 07:20 AM
Eternal justification
by Pilgrim
Yesterday at 05:05 AM
Wholly Other
by Pilgrim
Monday, October 20, 2014 10:37 AM
What must I do to be saved?
by chestnutmare
Sunday, October 19, 2014 9:07 PM
13 October 1605 A.D. Theodore Beza Dies
by chestnutmare
Monday, October 13, 2014 4:14 PM
The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney by Dr. Michael Horton
by Pilgrim
Thursday, October 9, 2014 5:00 AM
Yesterday at 06:56 AM True Pastors by chestnutmare

The pastor ought to have two voices: one, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.
~ John Calvin

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Monday, October 20, 2014 9:46 PM Eternal justification by John_C

When someone says that God has not justified you eternally, what is meant by that? Never heard those two words together before.

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Monday, October 20, 2014 7:30 AM Wholly Other by John_C

I think it was Barth who coined the term. What simply is meant by the use of Wholly Other in the discussion of our likeness to God. And, how does it differ from the classical Reformed view?

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Monday, October 13, 2014 4:14 PM 13 October 1605 A.D. Theodore Beza Dies by chestnutmare

13 October 1605 A.D. Theodore Beza Dies—Calvin’s Successor, Theologian, Anchor of Reformed Theology in Europe, and the Man Hated by the Bishop of Italy and Later, the Billygoat Laud of Canterbury

No author. “Theodore Beza: Reformed Theologian.” Protestant Reformed Churches. N.d. Accessed 31 May 2014.

Chapter 26
Theodore Beza: Reformed Theologian

Few Reformers have been as much maligned as Theodore Beza, Calvin's successor in Geneva. The slanders against him came in his own lifetime from his Roman Catholic opponents who evidently feared the power of his pen. But, though of a different kind, these slanders have been found in the writings of modern-day "Calvinists" who charge Beza with corrupting Calvin's pure doctrine and giving Calvin's teachings new twists which Calvin would have repudiated.

Specifically, Beza is charged with altering in significant ways Calvin's teachings on predestination and the atonement of Christ. While we may dismiss with scorn the Romish charges which were leveled against him in his lifetime, the accusations that Beza altered Calvin's doctrines of predestination and the atonement are more serious. It is maintained, e.g., that pure Calvinism has been lost since Calvin's time because the Reformed fathers in Germany, the Netherlands, and America have followed Beza in teaching a view of predestination and the atonement which Calvin never taught. Gomarus, the Synod of Dort, the Westminster divines, Perkins and Owen in England, Turretin, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Hoeksema have followed Beza and not Calvin. It is time, so these critics opine, that today's Calvinistic churches return to pure Calvinism and repudiate Beza's corruptions of what Calvin taught.

Beza's Early Life
Who is this Beza who is so widely criticized?
Theodore Beza was born in Vézeley in Burgundy of France on June 24, 1519. He was born of Pierre de Besze and Marie Burderot, both from the lesser nobility. His mother, an intelligent and charitable woman, bore seven children, of whom Theodore was the last. She died when Beza was only three years old.

Beza never knew his family home. At a very young age his uncle Nicholas, a member of Parliament in Paris and one who was impressed with Theodore's intelligence, took him into his own home in Paris to supervise his education. Perhaps part of the reason why Theodore's father consented to this was the death of his beloved wife.

Protestantism had come into France with the first writings of Luther which were widely circulated and read. As early as 1520 many Protestants could be found in the land, although they were isolated from each other and unorganized. It was to be the lot of Calvin and Beza to provide leadership in France and a haven in Geneva for the refugees who fled the fierce persecutions of Protestants in that Roman Catholic land.

Beza's formal education began in 1528, when he, scarcely nine years old, was sent to Orléans to study under Melchior Wolmar. Wolmar will be remembered in history as a man of Protestant convictions who had the privilege of teaching both Beza and Calvin. In fact, it is quite possible that the two knew each other already then, for they were students of Wolmar at the same time. Wolmar took Beza into his own family and Beza stayed with Wolmar for seven years.

Although Wolmar made every effort to convert Beza to Protestantism, the young boy resisted strenuously and refused to forsake the Roman Catholicism of his family. As Beza himself later wrote, it was not until much later that God caused the seeds of Wolmar's teaching to grow and mature in his life.

Nevertheless, the affection between Wolmar and Beza never diminished, and Beza followed Wolmar to Bourges.

In 1534 Wolmar fled to his native Germany during the incident of the placards. Some Protestants had distributed widely in Paris condemnations of the mass, and this brought upon them the fierce persecutions which were to be so much a part of the life of the faithful in France.

Following the wishes of his father, Beza (much like Calvin) turned to the study of law in Orléans. His heart was not in it, though; he far preferred the study of ancient Greek and Roman literature, especially old Latin poets. He was a literary man above all, and he reveled in the writings of these Roman pagans.

Although he did set up a law practice with his uncle in Paris after he completed his studies, Beza spent more time in reading literature and writing Latin poetry than he did in practicing law. He even had many of his poems published in a book entitled Juvenalia, which made a huge sensation in the literary world in Paris. His mastery of the Latin and his elegant style in Latin were so impressive that all his contemporaries agreed that his Latin writings were stylistically more beautiful than his later writings in his native French. The poems, however, were indecent and were to be a source of many regrets in his later life.

Beza was able to enjoy a life of comparative leisure because two benefices were arranged for him which provided him with the steady income of 700 golden crowns a year. Such a handsome income enabled him to live luxuriously in the highest circles of Parisian society where he wined and dined with the famous literary people of his day. While Beza, in reflecting on this period of his life, admitted sadly to many indiscretions and sins, he steadfastly maintained that he had never fallen into immorality or the more cardinal sins which were so openly practiced in the higher circles of society.

In 1544 Beza was secretly engaged to Claudine Denosse, a girl of the lower class. He insisted on keeping the engagement secret, for to make his engagement public would not only be an embarrassment to his literary friends, but it would also rob him of the income from his benefices. Yet his moral principles left him uneasy even then, and he promised his fiancee that at a proper time he would marry her publicly.

Beza's Conversion and Early Work
God prepared Beza during these years for greater work in His kingdom. Much like Calvin, who was educated as a humanist scholar, Beza too, though he did not know it, was being fashioned and formed by his God for crucial labors in the Reformation by drinking deeply at the well of Humanist thought.

Like Zwingli, Beza was brought to conversion by a serious illness during which he had much time to ponder the inscrutable ways of providence and to remember the faithful instruction of his old tutor, Melchior Wolmar. Humbled and chastised, he recovered from his illness a sound Protestant who now committed his life to the propagation of the gospel.

Because persecution continued in France, he took his fiance and fled to Calvin in Geneva. Here he was warmly welcomed by his old fellow student and here he kept his promise to Claudine by marrying her publicly in the church of Geneva.

By means of the influence of Peter Viret, Beza was appointed professor of Greek at the University of Lausanne. Calvin already then showed his high esteem for Beza when he wrote to Farel during a time when Beza was ill with the plague:

I would not be a man if I did not return his love who loves me more than a brother and reveres me as a father: but I am still more concerned at the loss the church would suffer if in the midst of his career he should be suddenly removed by death, for I saw in him a man whose lovely spirit, noble, pure manners, and open-mindedness endeared him to all the righteous. I hope, however, that he will be given back to us in answer to our prayers.

Beza's work in Geneva and France
But Geneva needed Beza, and so in 1549 he was called to become professor of theology in the Academy which Calvin founded. Lausanne was reluctant to see him leave, but Beza felt the urge to work with his beloved Calvin. Beza served as professor in the Academy from 1559-1599 and as rector from 1559-1563, when Calvin refused the position. He was pastor of the church in Geneva from 1559-1605 when old age forced him to retire. And he served as moderator of the company of pastors after Calvin's death (1564-1580).

The Academy in Geneva became the one most important school in all Calvinistic Europe. Students from every part of Europe came there to study, and went forth from the Academy to spread the truths of Calvinism into every part of the continent. Among those who studied there was John Knox, who returned to his native Scotland to fight for the Reformation in that land; and Jacobus Arminius, who, although he studied under Beza, never imbibed Beza's teachings and returned to the Netherlands to spread his poison in the land of our fathers.

Beza will be loved especially by those whose ancestry dates back to the Hugenots (as Calvinists in France were called). It is impossible to relate here how many trips he took to France, of how many years he spent among the Hugenots, and what services he rendered for them. When not receiving warmly their refugees in Geneva, he endangered his life by preaching for them, marching with their armies, writing on their behalf and in their defense, and attending their Synods. He presided over the last French Reformed Synod in La Rochelle, before the horrible massacre of Protestants by the Roman Catholics on St. Bartholomew's eve made further Synods impossible. While engaged in peaceful worship in a barn at Vassy, these hapless Protestants were set upon by the Duke of Guise who butchered hundreds of them.

His greatest service to French Protestants was his attendance at the Colloquy of Poissy on July 31, 1561. This colloquy was called in an effort to bring peace between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Attending this notable conference were 11 Reformed pastors from France, delegates from Switzerland, French Roman Catholic bishops, the king of France (though he was a child), and the queen mother, Catherine de Medici. It was a notable assembly. The discussions, however, went nowhere. As Beza was speaking in defense of the Protestant cause, he was rudely interrupted by the bishops of Rome who were determined not to allow the Protestants to propagate their views. After fruitless efforts to continue the discussion, the assembly was adjourned. Yet the result was that the king and queen mother were exposed to Protestant teaching, Catherine de Medici was impressed with the clarity and boldness of Beza's presentation, and Protestantism was given some recognition and a measure of freedom. This however lasted but a short time. Cardinal Lorraine, the chief opponent of Protestantism, said of Beza: "I could well have wished either that this man had been dumb or that we had been deaf."

In a confrontation with the cruel and bloodthirsty Duke of Guise, Beza made his memorable statement: "Sire, it belongs, in truth, to the church of God, in the name of which I address you, to suffer blows, not to strike them. But at the same time let it be your pleasure to remember that the Church is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer."
Beza's Last Days

The last days of Beza were spent continuing Calvin's doctrines, quietly teaching, attending meetings, writing and corresponding with Reformers and saints throughout Europe. His wife, Claudine, died in 1588 and Beza married again: a refugee from Genoa, Geneviève del Piano. When Calvin died in 1564, Beza preached his funeral sermon, and shortly after wrote a biography of his mentor and dear friend.

Weary of his many labors on behalf of the cause of Christ, he died peacefully on Sunday, October 23, 1605 at the age of 86. At his request, written in his will, he was buried in the common cemetery where Calvin was buried and near the grave of his wife. He had fought the good fight and had kept the faith, and he then received the reward of the crown of life.

Concluding Thoughts
Though not the original thinker that Calvin was, Beza was nevertheless a man of great learning, vast intellect, and deep devotion. His labors and writings are staggeringly great. He wrote dramas, satires, polemical treatises, Greek and French grammars, biographies, political treatises, and theological works. He edited an annotated text of the Greek New Testament which he bequeathed to Cambridge University in England, which text received his name: Codex Bezae. He edited the publication of Calvin's letters and wrote a defense of the killing of Servetus, the heretic who denied the trinity and was burned at the stake in Geneva by the order of the Council. He defended presbyterian church polity against the Anglicanism of the Church in England. He refuted the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord's Supper, defended predestination against the heretic Castellio, and defended the doctrine of the trinity against the Italian heretic Ochino. His pen was sharp and often filled with the ink of satire; his enemies feared him.

He attended countless meetings, not the least of which was a meeting with German, French, and Swiss Protestants in an effort to bridge the chasm between Lutherans and Calvinists, in the hopes that German Protestants would aid in helping the beleaguered French Hugenots.

He made explicit some of the key doctrines of Calvinism which were more or less implied in Calvin's writings: the truths of the particular atonement of Christ, the federal imputation of Adam's guilt, and supralapsarianism. It is for this that he is charged with altering Calvin's theology.

His enemies, showing their fear of him, did everything to discredit him. He was charged with immorality and with the gravest of moral faults. Repeatedly the rumors of his return to the bosom of Rome were spread far and wide. In fact, specific efforts were made to persuade him to return to the Romish Church. On one occasion, when Beza was an old man (1597), a certain Francois came to Geneva to do this. He was only thirty, young, zealous, skilful in debate, and the winner of countless encounters with adversaries. But all his skill failed to move Beza. When argumentation failed, he tried bribery and offered Beza in the name of the pope a yearly pension of 4000 gold crowns and a sum equal to twice as much as the value of his personal effects. This Beza could not tolerate. Politely but emphatically Beza told him: "Go, sir; I am too old and too deaf to be able to hear such words!"

That Beza significantly altered Calvin's teachings is nonsense. They worked together in peace and harmony for many years in Geneva and the Academy. Beza read what Calvin wrote and Calvin read what Beza wrote. Who can know the many discussions they had between them on all matters of the truth? Not one word can be found in all the records that Calvin disagreed with Beza on any one point.

Yet the slander goes on. Some even call Beza the father of Hyper-Calvinism. But then, we too are called Hyper-Calvinists. And, if Beza was a Hyper-Calvinist, then so was Calvin himself. It is a slander which is easily refuted. And in any case, sovereign, unconditional, and particular grace, which Beza so ardently taught, is the truth of Scripture. ~ Herman Hanko


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Thursday, October 9, 2014 12:28 AM The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney by Dr. Michael Horton by Dvan34

Articles and book excerpts used in and referred to on Issues, Etc.
The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney

by Dr. Michael Horton

No single man is more responsible for the distortion of Christian truth in our age than Charles Grandison Finney. His "new measures" created a framework for modern decision theology and Evangelical Revivalism. In this excellent article, Dr. Mike Horton explains how Charles Finney distorted the important doctrine of salvation.

Jerry Falwell calls him "one of my heroes and a hero to many evangelicals, including Billy Graham." I recall wandering through the Billy Graham Center some years ago, observing the place of honor given to Charles Finney in the evangelical tradition, reinforced by the first class in theology I had at a Christian college, where Finney’s work was required reading. The New York revivalist was the oft-quoted and celebrated champion of the Christian singer Keith Green and the Youth With A Mission organization. He is particularly esteemed among the leaders of the Christian Right and the Christian Left, by both Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis (Sojourners’ magazine), and his imprint can be seen in movements that appear to be diverse, but in reality are merely heirs to Finney’s legacy. From the Vineyard movement and the Church Growth Movement to the political and social crusades, televangelism, and the Promise Keepers movement, as a former Wheaton College president rather glowingly cheered, "Finney, lives on!"

That is because Finney’s moralistic impulse envisioned a church that was in large measure an agency of personal and social reform rather than the institution in which the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, are made available to believers who then take the Gospel to the world. 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.

That is why Finney is so popular.He is the tallest marker in the shift from Reformation orthodoxy, evident in the Great Awakening (under Edwards and Whitefield) to Arminian (indeed, even Pelagian) revivalism. Evident from the Second Great Awakening to the present. To demonstrate the debt of modern evangelicalism to Finney, we must first notice his theological departures. From these departures, Finney became the father of the antecedents to some of today’s greatest challenges within evangelical churches, namely, the church growth movement, Pentecostalism and political revivalism.

Who is Finney?

Reacting against the pervasive Calvinism of the Great Awakening,]the successors of that great movement of God’s Spirit turned from God to humans, from the preaching of objective content (namely, Christ and him crucified) to the emphasis on getting a person to "make a decision."

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."

Finney’s one question for any given teaching was, "Is it fit to convert sinners with?" One result of Finney’s revivalism was the division of Presbyterians in Philadelphia and New York into Arminian and Calvinistic factions. His "New Measures" included the "anxious bench" (precursor to today’s altar call), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other "excitements," as Finney and his followers called them.

Finney’s Theology?

One need go no further than the table of contents of his Systematic Theology to learn that Finney’s entire theology revolved around human morality. Chapters one through five are on moral government, obligation, and the unity of moral action; chapters six and seven are "Obedience Entire," as chapters eight through fourteen discuss attributes of love, selfishness, and virtues and vice in general. Not until the twenty-first chapter does one read anything that is especially Christian in its interest, on the atonement. This is followed by a discussion of regeneration, repentance, and faith. There is one chapter on justification followed by six on sanctification. In other words, Finney did not really write a 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 statements of theology.

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)."

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).

Finney declares of the Reformation’s formula simul justus et peccator or "simultaneously justified and sinful," "This error has slain more souls, I fear, than all the Universalism that ever cursed the world." For, "Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost" (p.60).

Finney’s doctrine of justification rests upon a denial of the doctrine of original sin. Held by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, this biblical teaching insists that we are all born into this world inheriting Adam’s guilt and corruption. We are, therefore, in bondage to a sinful nature. As someone has said, "We sin because we’re sinners": the condition of sin determines the acts of sin, rather than vice versa. But Finney followed Pelagius, the fifth-century heretic, who was condemned by more church councils than any other person in church history, in denying this doctrine.

Finney believed that human beings were capable of choosing whether they would be corrupt by nature or redeemed, referring to original sin as an "anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma" (p.179). In clear terms, Finney denied the notion that human beings possess a sinful nature (ibid.). Therefore, if Adam leads us into sin, not by our inheriting his guilt and corruption, but by following his poor example, this leads logically to the view of Christ, the Second Adam, as saving by example. This is precisely where Finney takes it, in his explanation of the atonement.

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 obedience to the law and his perfect righteousness were sufficient to save him, but could not legally be accepted on behalf of others. That Finney’s whole theology is driven by a passion for moral improvement is seen on this very point: "If he [Christ] had 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" (p.206)? In other words, why would God insist that we save ourselves by our own obedience if Christ’s work was sufficient? The reader should recall the words of St. Paul in this regard, "I do not nullify the grace of God’, for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing." It would seem that Finney’s reply is one of agreement. The difference is, he has no difficulty believing both of those premises.

That is not entirely fair, of course, because 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 to reassert God’s moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam’s example excited us to sin. Why did Christ die? God knew that "The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted ... If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless" (p.209). Therefore, we are not helpless sinners who need to,’ be redeemed, but wayward sinners who need a demonstration of selflessness so moving that we will be excited to leave off selfishness. Not only did Finney believe that the "moral influence" theory of the atonement was the chief way of understanding the cross; he explicitly denied the substitutionary atonement, which

"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" (p.217).

Then there is the matter of applying redemption. Throwing off Reformation orthodoxy, Finney argued strenuously against the belief that the new birth is a divine gift, insisting that "regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love or benevolence," as moved by the moral influence of Christ’s moving example (p.224). "Original sin, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence" (p.236).

Having nothing to do with original sin, a substitutionary atonement, and the supernatural character of the new birth, Finney proceeds to attack "the article by which the church stands or falls"— justification by grace alone through faith alone.

Distorting the Cardinal Doctrine of Justification

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 a 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.326-7).

Finney Today

As the noted Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield pointed out so eloquently, there are throughout history only two religions: heathenism, of which Pelagianism is a religious expression, and a supernatural redemption.

With Warfield and those who so seriously warned their brothers and sisters of these errors among Finney and his successors, we too must come to terms with the wildly heterodox strain in American Protestantism. With roots in Finney’s revivalism, perhaps evangelical and liberal Protestantism are not that far apart after all. His "New Measures," like today’s Church Growth Movement, made human choices and emotions the center of the church’s ministry, ridiculed theology, and replaced the preaching of Christ with the preaching of conversion.

It is upon Finney’s naturalistic moralism that the Christian political and social crusades build their faith in humanity and its resources in self-salvation. Sounding not a little like a deist, Finney declared, "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 becomes truly 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." As the new birth is a natural phenomenon for Finney, so too a revival: "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."

The belief that the new birth and revival depend necessarily on divine activity is pernicious. "No doctrine," he says, "is more dangerous than this to the prosperity of the Church, and nothing more absurd" (Revivals of Religion [Revell], pp.4-5).

When the leaders of the Church Growth Movement claim that theology gets in the way of growth and insist that it does not matter what a particular church believes: growth is a matter of following the proper principles, they are displaying their debt to Finney.

When leaders of the Vineyard movement praise this sub-Christian enterprise and the barking, roaring, screaming, laughing, and other strange phenomena on the basis that "it works" and one must judge its truth by its fruit, they are following Finney as well as the father of American pragmatism, William James, who declared that truth must be judged on the basis of "its cash-value in experiential terms."

Thus, 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, the new birth is simply the effect of successful techniques, and revival is a natural result of clever campaigns. In his fresh introduction to the bicentennial edition of Finney’s Systematic Theology, Harry Conn commends Finney’s pragmatism: "Many servants of our Lord should be diligently searching for a gospel that ‘works’, and I am happy to state they can find it in this volume."

As Whitney R. Cross has carefully documented, the stretch of territory in which Finney’s revivals were most frequent was also the cradle of the perfectionistic cults that plagued that century. A gospel that "works" for zealous perfectionists one moment merely creates tomorrow’s disillusioned and spent supersaints. Needless to say, Finney’s message is radically different from the evangelical faith, as is the basic orientation of the movements we see around us today that bear his imprint such as: revivalism (or its modern label. the Church Growth Movement), or Pentecostal perfectionism and emotionalism, or political triumphalism based on the ideal of "Christian America," or the anti-intellectual, and antidoctrinal tendencies of many American evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Not only did the revivalist abandon the doctrine of justification, making him a renegade against evangelical Christianity; he repudiated doctrines, such as original sin and the substitutionary atonement, that have been embraced by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. Therefore, Finney is not merely an Arminian’, but a Pelagian. He is not only an enemy of evangelical Protestantism, but of historic Christianity of the broadest sort.

Of one thing Finney was absolutely correct: The Gospel held by the Reformers whom he attacked directly, and indeed held by the whole company of evangelicals, is "another gospel" in distinction from the one proclaimed by Charles Finney. The question of our moment is, With which gospel will we side?

(Reprinted by permission from Modern Reformation.)

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from Charles G. Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology (Bethany, 1976).

Dr. Michael S. Horton is Member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and cohost of the popular White Horse Inn radio program.

Tapes on: Theology of Glory Versus Theology of the Cross/ Reformation Theology vs. Evangelicalism

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