Issues Etc. recently had Dr. Mike Horton on the show to talk about American Christianity’s favorite
heretic hero, Charles Finney. The audio can be found here.
From Spurgeon.org, Phil Johnson writes:
Charles Grandison Finney was a heretic. That language is not too strong. Though he excelled at cloaking his opinions in ambiguous language and biblical-sounding expressions, his views were almost pure Pelagianism. The arguments he employed to sustain those views were nearly always rationalistic and philosophical, not biblical. To canonize this man as an evangelical hero is to ignore the facts of what he stood for.
Don’t be duped by sanitized 20th-century editions of Finney’s works. Read the “Complete and Newly Expanded” 1878 edition of Finney’s Systematic Theology, recently published by Bethany house Publishers (the unabridged 1878 version with a couple of Finney’s later lectures added). This volume shows the real character of Finney’s doctrine. (The unabridged 1851 version is now online, and it also exposes Finney’s errors in language not toned down by later redactors.) By no stretch of the imagination does Finney deserve to be regarded as an evangelical. By corrupting the doctrine of justification by faith; by denying the doctrines of original sin and total depravity; by minimizing the sovereignty of God while enthroning the power of the human will; and above all, by undermining the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, Finney filled the bloodstream of American evangelicalism with poisons that have kept the movement maimed even to this day.
UPDATES (More links will be added as they come):
Thanks to White Horse Inn for bringing up this mention of Finney by John MacArthur:
But the origin really goes back to American revivalism and goes back to Charles Finney, 1792-1875. It was Finney who decided that religion, to be valid, had to have some kind of high impact, high energy emotional element. It was about methods, feelings, experiences, sentimentalism, and it all trumped sound doctrine and theology. Gradual growth, by the normal ordinary means of grace, prayer, the study of the Word, fellowship was exchanged for a radical experience, the anxious bench, and there was introduced into the evangelical world a restlessness of those looking for something extreme.
Greek Fables (close enough)
An advantage of being in the same church for a long time is that you have an opportunity to see things play out. You can observe parenting and then watch the “parented” children grow up. You can see folks go from young parents to empty nesters. You can see all sorts of people just passing through. In short, you’re around long enough for time to tell its story. And if it told proverbs about Presbyterian church life, they might sound like this.
One who speaketh in his first Sunday School class will evaporate like the morning dew. It’s uncanny – visitors who enter by sharing their brilliance in their first Sunday School class won’t be around for long. And, really, you don’t want them around for very long.
Better an early grave than the sneer of an alpha church lady. Thinking of confronting her? Just…
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Dr. Hart invokes John 4 to describe his attendance of Mass
while in Rome. You needn’t worry about him swimming the Tiber any time soon, though.
I couldn’t help but think that U.S. Roman Catholics who worship in Rome must feel a tad underwhelmed when they return to their home parish. Rome simply has more stuff than Lansing, Michigan. In fact, place seems to matter for Roman Catholicism in ways that rival Judaism and Islam — certain locales are holy and function as the spiritual capital for the faith.
In comparison, I can return to the States (in a week or so) after worshiping with Presbyterians in Dublin and Edinburgh and not think twice about missing the liturgical bling — and I can say that even while admitting Presbyterianism’s debt to the Scots, and to the charms of what might qualify as Presbyterianism’s capital city — Edinburgh. For Presbyterians, worship doesn’t depend on the tie between the minister and another church official, nor does it include relics or objects that point to holy persons who inhabited that space. The services in Dublin and Edinburgh were not any more special or meaningful because they were closer to Presbyterianism’s original space.
That would seem to confirm Jesus’ point to the Samaritan woman at the well that Christian worship depends not on place or space but on word and Spirit. Sure, that’s a root-for-the-home-team point. But it does account for the lack of liturgical envy among New World Presbyterians. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Spirit and the word are just as much a part of worship as in the Presbyterian heartland.
From an interview with DG Hart, conducted by David Strain on his blog:
1. Is there a connection between 19thcentury revival/revivalism and the kind of socio-political agendas often advocated by both the Christian Right and Left today?
Definitely. Many evangelicals and Reformed do not understand that the kind of evangelical activism they now promote or perform was first part of the Second Great Awakening – the bad one. Not only was Finney interested in converting people, but he also wanted a righteous and just society. Evangelicals responded by forming a ton of voluntary societies that did in many respects transform American society (if you were not a member of the Whig or Republican parties, you may not have appreciated all of these reforms.)
So the Second no-so-great Awakening drove a wedge between Protestants, those with a high view of the church (Episcopalians, Lutherans, and some Old School Presbyterians) and those with a low view of the church and a high view of America. The ethno-cultural school of political historians has produced a body of literature on these ecclesial differences, and this work has actually informed my own writing on confessional Protestantism. The term “confessional” itself comes from political history and it stands for high church Protestants who are less concerned about social and political matters compared to the eternal realities of the gospel.
One other historical reference worthy of comment here is that the Second not-so-great Awakening was really the soil from which the Social Gospel sprung. I sometimes wonder why today’s “conservative” evangelicals are so willing to repeat the efforts and arguments that “liberal” Protestants were making a hundred years ago. Also, if you look at the books written by leaders of the religious right, people like Falwell and Ralph Reed, you see the Second not-so-great Awakening cited as a model or inspiration for contemporary political activism.
As the kids used to say, “What’s up with that?”
He has additional theological reasons (Purgatory, Marian doctrines, Papacy, icons, and “ambiguities” regarding justification and tradition) for staying put. But if these do not constitute reasons for believing that the RCC is a false church, then they also cannot trump church unity, can they? I still come back to the idea that if the RCC is a true church, then we ought to be a part of it. My own position is that the RCC is a false church because of these reasons (though I would not phrase the RCC position on justification as “ambiguous.” There is hardly any ambiguity in Trent’s doctrine of justification). They do not have the gospel. They twist the sacraments into something unrecognizable, and their version of church discipline is surely wide of the mark in the papacy. The marks of the church are therefore either so twisted as to be negligible, or else non-existent. The ultimate reason (for me) for not viewing the RCC as a true church is its own self-understanding as an extension of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is idolatry of the church. It is man worship, church worship. It takes what belongs only to Jesus and gives it to the church, despite its own claims that it does not do that.
– Lane Keister; A Response to Leithart’s “Staying Put”
Let me put the question differently: Why do most of us intuitively recognize that celebrity pastors are a problem — even that “celebrity” itself is a problem — yet celebrate the uber-celebrity pastor, the one Vicar of Christ in Rome? And why do we venerate a virtual handful of canonized saints out of global Christianity, when the standard apostolic practice recorded throughout the New Testament church is to greet every baptized Christian as a saint, and to thank God for their holiness?
My hunch is that there is a deep — and not necessarily healthy — desire to religiously venerate our fellow man. His holiness Bergoglio from Buenos Aires is endearing and warm; His holiness Yahweh of Sinai is a consuming fire.
A church called to suffer in the world, like it’s Savior did, needs some encouragement.
This is precisely why the argument from tradition for the veneration of saints is so strong and compelling. It appeals to a deep human desire to elevate the best in us all, to identify a champion and leader of our tribe. It is quite frankly entirely natural, and laudable, for a religious community to hold in awe a martyr, one who would rather die than betray his Lord. I know I do. It is natural to remember them and lift them up as role models and examples to emulate when the next wave of persecution roles over the church. A church called to suffer in the world, like it’s Savior did, needs some encouragement.
However, for a Reformed Christian such as myself, the Roman Catholic teaching about the canonization of saints goes far beyond such recognition. Indeed, it is one of the most offensive doctrines promulgated by the church, the Reformation in a nutshell. And not just because it is profoundly unbiblical, unseemly, and often at the lay level, rankly superstitious. Rather, and far worse, because it reflects a fundamentally human, not divine, perspective on holiness, both the holiness of man, and the holiness of God.
-Dr. Brian Lee; Pope Francis, TMZ, and Sainthood
Emphasis from yours truly. An excellent diagnosis millennial (un)Protestantism.
The many millennial Christians I have had the pleasure to meet know this. In fact, many of them have left liberal or unmoored denominations in search not only of orthodoxy, but also orthopraxy. If there is any attitude among millennials the Church should be concerned about, it is not outright rejection of its doctrine as much as it is irrational apathy. Most young Christians I know will affirm the orthodox position on all teachings of sex and social issues, but they will part ways with other generations by not caring how those beliefs affect the broader culture or law of our societies. Rather than critique the old soldier outright, they merely question his enthusiasm. Must he have been so radical? Surely he could have protested another way.
— Mark Tooley, Juicy Ecumenism