An interesting interview of Michael Horton on the Stand to Reason weekly radio broadcast, on June 8th (rss feed for weekly podcasts).

Horton, the author of Christless Christianity: the Alternative Gospel of the American Church, made some claims about Charles Finney that were quite astounding. In discussing the premise of the book, namely, that the American church has pushed Jesus aside and essentially put a self-help, therapeutic gospel in His place, Horton alluded to the theological stance of Finney, that which Horton posits is more tuned in with Pelagianism than with Arminianism. From the book,

As I will make clearer throughout various points within this book, ever since the Great Awakening, especially evident in the message and methods of evangelist Charles G. Finney, American Protestantism has been more Pelagian than Arminian.

In his essay, The Legacy of Charles Finney, Horton is more blunt,

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.

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 the bear his imprint: revivalism (or its modern label, ‘the church growth movement’), Pentecostal perfectionism and emotionalism, political triumphalism based on the ideal of ‘Christian America,’ and the anti-intellectual, anti-doctrinal tendencies of American evangelicalism and fundamentalism. It was through the ‘Higher Life Movement’ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that Finney’s perfectionism came to dominate the fledgling Dispensationalist movement through the auspices of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Seminary and author of He That Is Spiritual. Finney, of course, is not solely responsible; he is more a product than a producer. Nevertheless, the influence he exercised and continues to exercise to this day is pervasive.


I’m certainly not an authority on Finney, but an initial hearing of Horton has revealed many issues with which I agree on. That American evangelism, in the alleged Finney sense, could be the catalyst for many of the ills within the church, as well as cults outside it, which we see today, is astonishing.

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