Charles Finney: Revivalism and False Assurance

It is generally agreed among scholars that Charles Finney brought into the American culture the definitive catechism of revivalism. Its affects are lasting and still endure in evangelicalism. Not only was there a denial of the monergistic work of the Spirit but also an emphasis upon the sinner to ask, cry, repent, receive, walk down the aisle, raise his hand, pray a prayer, and all the meticulous and intricate steps to finally arrive at a place where you can feel secure in your salvation. After all, John says, “these things I have written that you may know that you have eternal life,” (I John 5:13) and whatever “knowing” requires that is what I will do. Of course, after this series of sentimental experiences comes the guilt years, which usually occur during the teenage years if you grow up in a typical evangelical home.

It may seem odd to think that such series of decisions would be equivalent to the gospel. The reality is that this list of necessary occurrences in order to experience true salvation is foreign to the Biblical text. It belittles the message of the cross and further enhances the confusion in the already confused and troubled evangelical mind.

There is no denial that revivals have brought about genuine conversions, but I do deny that it has been beneficial to the body as a whole. A multitude of souls is even too expensive a price in light of faithfulness to the truth. As someone has stated:

Revivals ‘may be useful’ – or even necessary – just as violent remedies are not the proper and ordinary means of saving life, but such remedies are not the proper and ordinary means of sustaining and promoting health.

It is health we need. We have plenty of remedies, just not the right ones. As Steve Schlissel once put it, “There is too much evangelism today, just not the right kind.”

In order for the gospel of grace to be preached effectively we need to destroy the concept of self-reliance and resurrect the concept of dependence. It is God alone who brings about revivals, that is, a revival of the heart. Souls need to be resurrected from their spiritual death. The author of resurrection is said to be like the wind and you can’t tell the wind to meet you in a cold evening at a tent revival.

The shocking consequences of this mentality has led some to atheism or to a moderfinneygif.gifn form of Pelagianism. If we seek to be conformed to the standards of modern evangelicalism, we lose our Biblical identity, but if we seek to apply gospel truth to our everyday, then we destroy our fleshly instincts. This is exactly what we are called to do: to lose our lives in order that we may walk according to the Spirit. The Christian may find rest in the gospel even today.

The calamity befallen in the church is a direct result of a foundational misunderstanding of the good news; that is: you can never get over it. You need it everyday and every hour. If you want to be assured of your faith, then trust in the gospel again and again. Taste of the goodness of the vine in the table of our Lord. Abandon the hypocrisy of weekly re-commitments and embrace Christ once and for all.

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