Charles Finney the Heretic is Alive and Well

On August 29, 1792, one of the most influential figures in evangelical history was born. His name is Charles Grandison Finney, arguably the Father of the Modern-Day Crusades Movement. His “new measures” and “excitements” turned out to be precursors to the modern contemporary worship service and his “anxious bench” to revivalism’s altar call. He is the hero of Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell (“one of my greatest heroes”), Greg Laurie and all other modern-day “crusaders.”

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Charles Finney
Charles Finney (1792-1875)

But what kind of hero is Finney? For sure, he was a great revivalist preacher and teacher during the so-called Second Great Awakening. But what most evangelicals would be shocked to find out, if they just did a little reading, is that Finney rejected many basic orthodox Christian doctrines.

Original Sin: A “Monstrous and Blasphemous Dogma”

Foremost is his opposition to the doctrine of original sin. He begins by distinguishing between physical and moral sin as he discusses Scriptures that talk about man’s sinful nature:

These extracts show, that the framers and defenders of [the Westminster] confession of faith, account for the moral depravity of mankind by making it to consist in a sinful nature, inherited by natural generation from Adam. They regard the constitution inherited from Adam, as in itself sinful, and the cause of all actual transgression. They make no distinction between physical and moral depravity. They also distinguish between original and actual sin.

Adam’s sin was not as covenant head of mankind–he represented every human being who would ever live–and we sin not because we inherit Adam’s sinful nature, but only because we follow his disobedience.

Finney denies in no uncertain terms the clear teaching in Psalm 51:5 regarding man’s sinful nature even at conception:

But we have seen that the law does not legislate over substance, requiring men to have a certain nature, but over voluntary action only. If the Psalmist really intended to affirm, that the substance of his body was sinful from its conception, then he not only arrays himself against God’s own definition of sin, but he also affirms sheer nonsense. The substance of an unborn child sinful! It is impossible!

His condemnation of original sin is also exemplified in his comments on Ephesians 2:3:

That it cannot, consistently with natural justice, be understood to mean, that we are exposed to the wrath of God on account of our nature. It is a monstrous and blasphemous dogma, that a holy God is angry with any creature for possessing a nature with which he was sent into being without his knowledge or consent. The Bible represents God as angry with men for their wicked deeds, and not for their nature.

He expresses his disgust for the doctrine, calling it :

a stumbling-block both to the church and the world, infinitely dishonourable to God, and an abomination alike to God and the human intellect, and should be banished from every pulpit, and from every formula of doctrine, and from the world. It is a relic of heathen philosophy, and was foisted in among the doctrines of Christianity by Augustine

I have spoken to many evangelicals who are Pelagian with regards to the doctrine of original sin, denying with Finney that all mankind are born with Adam’s sinful nature, and being greatly offended when they hear that their cute, cuddly little babies are sinners even from their mother’s womb.

Bootstraps Salvation:

1839 Methodist Camp Meeting
1839 Methodist Camp Meeting

“The computer won’t boot up,” was the most common saying at the dawn of the personal computer era. “Boot up” in this lingo was derived from the idiom “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” an exhortation to make yourself better by your own efforts, without help from anyone else.

Finney’s denial of original sin naturally led to his doctrine of “bootstraps salvation,” in which a person is able to save himself through his own efforts in imitating Christ’s life and sacrifice. If we sin because we follow Adam’s disobedient example, so we can save ourselves by following Jesus’ moral example of doing good works, including his suffering and death on the cross.

For Finney, regeneration is ultimately man making the choice to cooperate with God, not the work of God alone in making a person a new creation:

We have seen that the subject is active in regeneration, that regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love or benevolence; or, in other words, in turning from the supreme choice of self-gratification, to the supreme love of God and the equal love of his neighbour. Of course the subject of regeneration must be an agent in the work…

The work accomplished is a change of choice, in respect to an end or the end of life. The sinner whose choice is changed, must of course act. The end to be chosen must be clearly and forcibly presented: this is the work of the third person, and of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to the soul. The truth is employed, or it is truth which must necessarily be employed, as an instrument to induce a change of choice.

A person thus regenerates himself by choosing to follow Christ’s supreme moral example of suffering and giving himself as the sacrifice for others to imitate.

Substitutionary Atonement a “Strange Grace”

This then led Finney to conclude that Christ’s death on the cross is not a substitionary atonement for the sins of his people:

The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted. If God, or any other being, would make others benevolent, he must manifest benevolence himself. If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless…

Had he obeyed for us, he would not have suffered for us. Were his obedience to be substituted for our obedience, he need not certainly have both fulfilled the law for us, as our substitute, under a covenant of works, and at the same time have suffered as a substitute, in submitting to the penalty of the law.

He finds it strange that God requires us to be perfectly holy if Christ’s perfect obedience was sufficient for our salvation:

If [Christ] obeyed the law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as a sine quà non of our salvation? The idea that any part of the atonement consisted in Christ’s obeying the law for us, and in our stead and behalf, represents God as requiring: (i.) The obedience of our substitute. (ii.) The same suffering, as if no obedience had been rendered. (iii.) Our repentance. (iv.) Our return to personal obedience. (v.) And then represents him as, after all, ascribing our salvation to grace. Strange grace this, that requires a debt to be paid several times over, before the obligation is discharged!

God’s design of Christ dying as our substitute is a “strange grace” because it

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.

Heretic Finney’s Heretic Children Today

When a former Wheaton College president once declared, “Finney lives on!” it was not an empty boast.

Finney’s “new measures” live on in our altar calls, with its repeated calls to make “decisions for Christ,” contradicting Scriptures’ clear assertions that man is hostile to God, slave to sin, not able to understand or seek after God, and dead in sin.

Finney lives on in our “contemporary” worship services, where the worship of God has been overturned into attracting pagans by gimmicks and all kinds of creative entertainment.

Finney lives on in the “prosperity gospel” churches, where the true gospel has been replaced by the “name it and claim it” message, because salvation is not by faith in Christ who died and rose again to save us from the wrath of God, but by being a good person, imitating Christ, and reaping all the blessings thereafter.


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21 thoughts on “Charles Finney the Heretic is Alive and Well”

  1. Pingback: The Steven Furtick Baptism Show

  2. Ryan is sadly mistaken. Finney and Jesus are not in the same company. Finney taught that Jesus only died as an example and that all man needs is a pardon. Jesus taught that he laid down his life for his sheep and that man needs a Saviour.

  3. Well put. Thanks for proving my point better than I could have otherwise. 

    And the Truth means much.

  4. You are sadly confused… You’re “wrap-up” points are utterly unconnected and unsubstantiated. The labels of heresy have basically boiled down to mere slander/libel – they hardly mean anything today in Christian circles; besides, Jesus was deemed a heretic too, so Finney is in good company. Gird your loins and use scripture to refute him! And I don’t mean the tragic attempt you made by hyperlinking Psalm 51:5 and Ephesians 2:3. 

    What’s most unfortunate is that this article has been pressed and published on your website. For I know the pain and repentance it takes to humbly admit being wrong theologically, even more so when one’s views have been so openly, and quickly proclaimed… 

    Lean not on the traditions of men, but read the Word and see for yourself – the Spirit will help in the quiet of an empty bedroom or office when we seek the truth with a humble heart.

  5. The mentality of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” is a very American ideal.  The idea of being able to do anything you want by yourself with no one’s help but your own is appealing to the human.  As humans, being able to have a part in your own salvation gives us credit somewhat, as if we deserved to have a part in it. It is sad to see us trying to take away form God’s glory, that is HIM alone that saves us through his Son Jesus Christ.  Not by anything we do or say.  This idea obviously did not begin with Charles Finney, but with heretics such as Pelagius or Arminius.  And we can see their teachings today in many mainline evangelical churches, the Emergent Movement, etc.

    1. It’s not only an American idea today. Because of the global community, high-tech communications, and CNN, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, etc., American individualism is a worldwide phenomenon, especially in the Philippines. There are many megachurches where tens of thousands are deluded into thinking they are saved by “pulling up their own bootstraps.”

  6. In a review of Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am, John Armstrong of Reformation & Revival* , a prestigious online journal of theology, wrote this in his conclusion on pages 162-64:

    The defects of Dr. Graham’s life are not personal, in the sense of moral failures. They are not even failures that this generation finds obvious. Indeed, Graham’s errors have no compelling interest to the average person at all. Why is this? Because his errors are theological, and almost no one asks theological questions today [My note: emphasis mine. Doctrine divides. Never mind if a person is a heretic, as long as he’s “winning souls”!]. Graham’s errors include, but are not limited to, the following:

    1) The work of the Holy Spirit in converting sinners is too narrowly confined by “revivalism” and its methods. Graham is admittedly the successor of Billy Sunday and the popular evangelism of his era. Both Graham and Sunday are the heirs of Charles G. Finney, whether intentional or not. Both have acknowledged this in several places. This heritage is not healthy, and the results are sadly predictable after 150 years of effect upon the church.

    2) Sinners are not sufficiently instructed regarding the holiness of God and His moral law; as a result the depth of depravity is never recognized, and the real guilt of sin is neither felt or acknowledged.

    3) Faith is not properly preached. Often people are led to believe that if they believe Christ died for sinners and if they “accept” His death for them He will most certainly save them. Further, such simple faith is associated with the physical act of coming forward, or making “a decision for Christ,” and not with wholehearted trust in the person of Christ alone.

    4) The association of inward joy and human happiness is virtually made the essence of saving faith and true believing. One comes to Christ, i.e., because of the need to get his/her life fixed! This is the all too common legacy of a century of evangelistic practice in North America.

    5) The sovereignty of God in the saving of sinners, as well as the absolute necessity of God’s efficacious grace, is explicitly denied in both content and practice. Dr. Graham has often indicated that in the end the salvific decision lies within man, not in the will of God. This has led to a spurious understanding of both the work of the evangelist and the call to repentance and faith.

    None of my objections are new. For decades similar responses have formed a kind of minority report from those aligned closely with the Protestant Reformation. What makes this different, in light of Just As I Am, is that now the sad deficiencies of Dr. Graham’s legacy are bearing fruit even before the last chapter of his illustrious life has been written.

    *Reformation & Revival 7.2 (Spring 1998), 151-164

  7. Roman Catholicism believes that salvation is by works. Billy Graham has said that he has come to the conclusion that his beliefs are the same as Roman Catholics. I did not lie or make that up. If I started showing you what Ole Billy has been into you would get mad.

  8. This is a lie to say that Billy Graham believes that salvation is by good works. I have heard Billy Graham and Greg Laurie so many times and never heard them said that salvation is by good works. You  are making this up…Go check their websites before making such accusations. Go check their website.! Isn’t that a sin on your part to lie!
    Such a travesty on your part to mock these people just to justify your belief in Calvinism.

    1. On May 31, 1997, the heretic Robert Schuller Sr. interviewed Billy Graham on his radio program, and here’s part of the transcript:

      Schuller: What, what I hear you saying that it’s possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they’ve been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you’re saying?

      Graham: Yes, it is, because I believe that. I’ve met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they’ve believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they’ve tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

      On the salvation of pagans, McCall’s magazine, January 1987, “I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost–were going to hell. I no longer believe that. I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God–through nature, for instance.”

      On homosexuality, Larry King Live, December 1994: “Sodomites are born sodomites, it is in their genes.”

      On theistic evolution, United Church Observer, June 1966: “How you believe doesn’t affect the doctrine. Either at a certain moment in evolution God breathed into one particular ape-man who was Adam, or God could have taken a handful of dust and blowed and created a man just like that.”

      On Biblical inerrancy, Newsweek, April 26, 1982: “I believe the Bible is the inspired, authoritative word of God but I don’t use the word ‘inerrant’ because it’s become a brittle divisive word.”

      On the ecumenical movement, U. S. News & World Report, December 19, 1988: “World travel and getting to know clergy of all denominations has helped mold me into an ecumenical being. We’re separated by theology and, in some instances, culture and race, but all that means nothing to me any more.”

      These, and many other unorthodox beliefs, are all well-known facts. You should read more to get your facts straight. And think more with your mind rather than with your feelings.

  9. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Theological Seminary wrote an essay entitled: “Modern Reformation.” In it he writes: “….the wonderful thing about Finney is that he is so clear. I make my students read a big chunk of Finney’s writings at seminary because I’ve always believed that if I tried to summarize him, they wouldn’t believe that I was being fair, because in the whole history of the church there is probably not a theologian as Pelagian as Finney. Finney begins to make Pelagius look good. And Finney’s great insight is made perfectly clear on the first few pages of his “Lectures on Revivals,” where he states that conversion comes about by the exercise of free will.”
    Later in the same article Godfrey states: “B. B. Warfield once stated about Finney’s theology: “God could be left out of it entirely and it would not change its character. The same might be said of contemporary evangelicalism. We need sharper analysis and pointed refutation.”



    1. This is why I also quote Finney extensively here so that those who doubt his heresies may read exactly what he taught. Warfield is right: what we need is pointed refutation of Finney’s heresies, not accommodation as we see among evangelicals. I think this is also due to the Biblical illiteracy among most evangelicals today.

  10. Typical of you to criticized again and again the  Graham and the Laurie. But didn’t you idolized the late President Cory Aquino? You even wrote an article on this site about her. She is a Catholic and you know that! Granted she was a good President   but she has no place on your website…doctine unite for what she believed! The joke is on you!

    1. Jenny, I’m only criticizing people like Billy Graham, Greg Laurie and other revivalists for making Finney, a condemned heretic, their hero. These people have no idea who he was and what he taught, or maybe, they know but they ignore his teachings as long as he “preached” the “gospel.” For them, the end justifies the means. So this is not a joke.

      Did you even know that Billy Graham is a universalist and believes that salvation is by good works? He said that even those in the mountains who do not know Christ will be in heaven by their good works.

      Obviously, you didn’t even read what I wrote about Mr. and Mrs. Aquino. The article I posted was the history regarding the symbolism of the yellow ribbon, not about praising Mrs. Aquino and her Catholicism.

    2. As far as revivalists, all of past and present revivalists beginning with the so-called Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century believed that one’s salvation depended on his/her “free will” decision. This was taught by Pelagius, a condemned 4th century heretic, which Finney also taught. So if anyone believes in this teaching, he/she is a follower of a heretic.

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