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«A dissertation submitted By John D. Gillespie, Jr. To Trinity Theological Seminary In partial fulfilment of The requirements for the Degree of Doctor ...»

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THE DOCTRINE OF IMPUTATION AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD

A Critical Analysis of the Theology of Charles Grandison Finney in the Light of

Scripture, Scholarship, and the Pastoral Ministry

A dissertation submitted

By

John D. Gillespie, Jr.

To

Trinity Theological Seminary

In partial fulfilment of

The requirements for the

Degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

In

Theology

This dissertation has been accepted for the

Faculty of

Trinity Theological Seminary

By:

__________________________________

Chairperson ___________________________________

Second Faculty Member ___________________________________

Third Faculty Member ___________________________________

Vice President for Academic Affairs

THE DOCTRINE OF

IMPUTATION

AND THE PEOPLE OF GOD

A Critical Analysis of the Theology of Charles Grandison Finney in the Light of Scripture, Scholarship, and the Pastoral Ministry Table of Contents INTRODUCTION

The Uniqueness of This Study:

The Value of This Study:

Statement of the Problem:

Main Thesis:

Theological and Philosophical Assumptions:

The Forms of Inquiry Being Chosen:

CHAPTER ONE

Part One: Evangelicals and the Gospel: Definitions and Parameters for this Study..... 1

A) Three Key Terms Defined

B) Three Strands of Evangelicalism Defined

Part Two: The Current State of Finney Scholarship

A) Finney's Writings:

B) Critical Authors

CHAPTER TWO

Part One: The Doctrine of Imputation in the Bible

A) The Imputation of Adam’s Sin to His Progeny

B) The Imputation of Our Sin to Jesus Christ

C) The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness to the Believer

Part Two: The Doctrine of Imputation in Reformed Theology

A) The Imputation of Adam’s Sin to His Progeny

B) The Imputation of Our Sin to Jesus Christ

C) The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness to the Believer

Part Three: John Wesley “The Lord Our Righteousness”

CHAPTER THREE

Part One: Theological Influences –The “Genetic History” of Finney’s Theology.... 50

A) Pelagius

B) Peter Abelard

C) Faustus Socinus

D) Hugo Grotius

E) The “New Haven” Theology

Part Two: Cultural Influences

A) The Democratic Idealism of Jacksonian America

B) Sir William Blackstone and Finney’s Legal Training

C) Life and Education on the Frontier

Part Three: Christian Influences

A) The “Second Great Awakening”

B) The Calvinism of Finney’s Day.

C) The Emergence of “Revivalism”

D) Concluding Remarks

CHAPTER FOUR

Part One: Analysis of Charles Finney’s Theology – Understanding His Denial of Imputation

A) “Moral Law” and “The Foundation of Moral Obligation”

B) Natural Ability

C) The Imputation of Adam’s Sin to the Human Race

D) The Imputation of Our Sin to Christ on the Cross

E) The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness to Believers

Part Two: Critical Examination of Charles Finney’s Theology of Imputation......... 121

A) Moral Obligation and Natural Ability

B) Response to Finney’s Denial of the Imputation of Adam’s Guilt and Pollution to the Entire Human Race.

C) Response to Finney’s Denial of the Imputation of Our Sin to Christ on the Cross.

D) Response to Finney’s Denial of the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness to the Believer

Concluding Remarks

CHAPTER FIVE

Part One: The Pastoral Implications of Finney’s Theology of Imputation Upon the Local Church

A) Pastoral Implications of Finney’s Denial of the Imputation of Adam’s Guilt and Pollution to the Entire Human Family.

1) A subtle but severe Antinomianism

2) A Tendency either toward despondency or spiritual pride

3) Serving not out of a deep gratitude, but out of a sense of duty.

4) The loss of a sense of Gospel glory.

5) The forfeiture of theological ground for world evangelization.

Concluding remarks to this section

B) Pastoral Implications of the Denial of the Imputation of Our Sin to Jesus Christ on the Cross

1) The undermining of the believer’s ground for assurance.

2) No Imputation of our sin to Christ means no victory for the Christian in the midst of a struggle with sin

3) The denial of Imputation denies God the worship He deserves from His redeemed people.

Concluding remarks to this section

C) The Pastoral Implications of Finney’s Denial of the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness to Believers.

1) The destruction of the ground for assurance.

2) Loss of hope for the failed follower.





3) Loss of power for perseverance

4) Diminished courage and motivation for missions.

5) Diminished ground and desire for giving glory to God

Concluding remarks to this section

Concluding Remarks to Part One

Part Two: The Fruits of Finney’s Theology Seen in the Aftermath of His “Revivals”

A) Charles Finney’s disappointment

B) Warfield’s observations of the fruits of Finney’s theology

Concluding Remarks to Part Two

CONCLUSION

The Legacy of Charles Finney:

Appendix 1 Appendix 2

BIBLIOGRAPHY

INTRODUCTION

Why a Study of Charles Finney in this Regard?

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of Charles Finney upon the Evangelical scene. Born in 1792, the year following John Wesley’s death, Charles Grandison Finney proved to be an innovator in evangelism, an instigator of “revivalism”, and a promoter of a new theological school of thought up until his death in 1875. He became the popular champion of a new form of evangelism, and the theological system behind it that endures to this day. He holds almost hero status within the Evangelical world. To quote Finney, to refer to his labours, to speak of his opinion, is to secure the attention of most hearers in most audiences. Indeed, men of popularity and stature in the Christian world offer seemingly uncritical accolades of

Finney. Billy Graham naively writes:

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. … Although Finney lived and worked over a century ago, the lessons and insights of his life are as applicable today as they were in his own age. … [He is] one of history’s greatest evangelists.1 Historians have seen and taken note of his wide ranging and enduring

impact. Professor Perry Miller writes:

… The story of his whirlwind deeds … has often been told, but it is still difficult for us to conceive how revolutionary he loomed. … Not Thomas Jefferson, or Madison, or Monroe led America out of the eighteenth century. …2 Yet all is not well with Finney and his theology. He was heralded for his “revolutionary” practices and as well as for his theology. But within his theology and Lewis Drummond, Charles Finney and the Birth of Modern Evangelism (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983), from the “Foreword”.

Perry Miller, The Life of the Mind in America from the Revolution to the Civil War (London:

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1965), p.24.

–  –  –

that it was Finney who led America out of the eighteenth century, then one must ask whether or not, in terms of theology, the exodus was a helpful one. Finney was an innovator, yes, but more significantly, one who popularised a theological system concerned to make Calvinism palatable to an emerging nation drunk on confidence and in the grip of rationalism. He presented to his generation religion’s version of the Jacksonian democratic idealism which was transforming the American mind.3 “Old Calvinism’s” ideas and doctrines had to be redefined, or had to go altogether, if the Church was to keep up with the society. Faith was to be judged at the bar of cold reason, and the individual was to reign in sovereignty. He took the theological proposals of others and forged them in “revival” fires into a theology which challenged and redefined much of what orthodoxy considered to be crucial to genuine Christian faith and experience.

This study seeks to consider the theology of Finney especially regarding what the author believes to be the very heart of the Gospel: the doctrine of Imputation. It

is this doctrine which John Wesley referred to as:

… A truth … which enters deep into the nature of Christianity, and, in a manner, supports the whole frame of it. Of this, undoubtedly, may be affirmed, what Luther affirms of a truth closely connected with it: It is articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae: The Christian church stands or falls with it. It is certainly the pillar and ground of that faith, of which alone cometh salvation; of that Catholic or universal faith which is found in all the children of God, and which “unless a man keep the whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”4 “Finney, invoking a metaphor sure to appeal to a people who were constantly in an ‘election fever’, told them that conversion was a decision to vote for Jehovah’s party and support His administration

over Satan’s.” Edward Pessen Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics (Urbana:

University of Chicago Press, 1985), p71.

John Wesley, sermon “The Lord our Righteousness”, Works, Vol.V (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,1979), p.235. Clearly Wesley produced this sermon in answer to the orthodox charge that, as an Arminian, he did not hold properly to Imputation. The sermon clearly states Wesley’s thoroughly orthodox position in regards to Imputation.

–  –  –

Imputation in all of its orthodox, biblical aspects. We must bear in mind the longrange impact of Finney. The man’s ministry has staying power. His thoughts are with us today. His writings are in current popular publication. At least one major Christian publishing house is committed to the spreading of his fame and doctrines.5 Yet for Finney, words such as “sin”, “atonement”, “justification”, “sanctification”, and a host of others, take on radically different meanings than they previously have in orthodox circles. His opinions strike at the very heart of the Gospel, and none more so than his opinion on Imputation.6 I can bring forth no judgment upon Finney’s soul, nor upon those

–  –  –

commendable in the man and we hope that many came to faith in Jesus Christ through his labours. However, his hero status has prevented many today from exercising cool-headed judgement in regards to his doctrines. Could it be that Charles Finney missed the heart of the Gospel? I believe so. Could his position be harmful to the tender souls for which Christ died? I fear so. In the long term, bad theology hurts people and dishonours God. Pragmatism and “results” must bow to Bible truth.

The Uniqueness of This Study:

Many have written critically of Charles Finney. Contemporary theologians

–  –  –

Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN.

Finney referred to this doctrine as “…fabulous, and better befitting a romance than a system of theology” Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers), p.333.

See, for example, Charles Hodge, The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, April, 1847, pp267ff.

–  –  –

critically of his theology, being able to see through his pragmatic “New Measures”, to the crucial ideas behind them.8 In more recent times, authors such as Iain Murray and Keith Hardman have exposed much of Finney’s theological and methodological chinks.9 However, he is generally heralded in Evangelical ranks.

Very few earnest pastors and laymen actually know what he taught. More over, the researcher has yet to encounter a critical author who addresses Finney in two fundamental regards: 1) His view on Imputation, and, 2) its impact upon the actual doing of pastoral ministry. Many have questioned and fairly criticised his “Measures” in terms of their weakening of the evangelistic task and their contributing to the “decisionism” which plagues our evangelistic efforts down to this day. Related theological issues have been investigated and challenged. But no work has penetrated as far as Finney’s views on Imputation and their consequent effects upon God’s people found in their local congregations.

It is with these two issues that this study is concerned.

The Value of This Study:

This study is conducted from the perspective of a pastor, and offered to those in pastoral ministry. Its concern is for the glory of God in His people gathered in local congregations. Moreover, the study is concerned that people come to assurance and thereby steadfastness and usefulness within God’s See, for example, Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Theology of Charles G. Finney”, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pp.166ff. ; Andrew Bonar and Bennet Tyler, The Life and Labors of Asahel Nettleton (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), pp. 449-450.

See, for example, Iain Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), pp.225-274; Keith Hardman Charles Grandison Finney 1792-1875 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987).

–  –  –



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