Posted by: Chris Avery | August 27, 2009

Charles Finney and the Heresy of American Pelagianism (White Horse Inn)

“Self salvation is the goal of much of our preaching,” complains United Methodist Bishop William Willimon and he says in this respect, “we are heirs of Charles G. Finney who thought that conversion was not a miracle, but a purely philosophical result of the right use of constituted means. We have forgotten,” says Willimon, “that there was once a time when evangelists were forced to defend their new measures for revivals; that there was once a time when preachers had to defend their preoccupation with the listener response to their Calvinist detractors who thought the Gospel was more important to listeners. I am here arguing that revivals are miraculous, that the Gospel is so odd, so against the grain of our natural inclinations, and the infatuations of our culture that nothing less than a miracle is required in order for there to be a true hearing. My position is therefore, closer to that of Calvinist Jonathan Edwards than to the position of Charles Finney. Nevertheless,” Willimon continues, “the homiletical future, alas, lay with Finney rather than Edwards. Leading to the Evangelical Church marketing guru George Barna who writes, ‘Jesus was a communication specialist. He communicated his message in diverse ways and with results that would be a credit to modern advertising and marketing agencies. He promoted his product in the most efficient way possible by communicating with the hot prospects. He understood his product thoroughly, developed an unparalleled distribution system, advanced a method of promotion that has penetrated every continent and offered his product at a price that is within the grasp of every consumer.’ Alas,” adds Willimon, “most evangelistic preaching I know about is an effort to drag people even deeper into their subjectivity rather than an attempt to rescue them from it. Our real need whether we feel it or not,” he says, “is that we systematically distort and ignore the truth. That’s why we need an external word. So in a sense we don’t discover the Gospel, it discovers us. You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Willimon concludes, “the story is euangelion ‘good news’ because it is not about me it’s about grace. Yet it’s also ‘news’ because it is not common knowledge, not what nine out of ten average Americans already know. Gospel doesn’t come naturally, it comes as Jesus.”



  1. Thanks for posting this. You are correct. Finney founded modern (post-modern) ‘evangelicalism’. It’s all about the manufactured outcome. People sign communication cards, raise their hands, or nod at the speaker and they have ‘entered the kingdom’.

    The truth, however, was founded by God and He rescues us. We do not find Him, we do not lead anyone to Him, we do not ‘accept’ Him, we do not make His day by ‘allowing’ Him to be Lord. He IS Lord, HE finds us, He saves us, He chooses us, …etc.

    Thanks for helping clarify for the world what is very simple yet mega confusing for post-good sense America.

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