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.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Arminianism, Revivalism. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Charles Finney: Revivalism and False Assurance

  1. Anonymous says:

    thanks for the reminder. good post.

    dh

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s Brandon, I just didn’t want to fill out a profile.

    ” By the way, the author of resurrection is said to be like the wind… and you can’t tell the wind to meet you in New York at 7Pm for Revival Hour.”

    By this statement, you are insinuating salvation is not instantaneous? Was it not you at one to who was ready to preach for a much needed revival I was trying to put together for Starkey a few years ago?

    “simple gospel.”

    If you are denying the simplicity of the gospel, I would have to question your interpretation of Scripture. It was the very argument Luther was trying to make which ticked off the elites who thought they had a hold on eternity and God’s remnant. This topic is also somewhat intertwined with the concept of Lordship salvation. Indeed, it is clear in Scripture that the mystery of salvation is the very simplicity of it. But don’t let me confuse its simplicity with its difficulty. It is impossible without the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit can use a time and a place (7pm in New York) and the man or woman of God of His choosing to present the very concept of its simplicity and provide real life parables to illustrate its truth to our lives (for “how shall they hear without a preacher”, whether or not they understand is up to them, and whether or not they accept is up to the Holy Spirit). Given the Great Commission to “go and make disciples”, it seems clear to me (though you may have to correct me) that our primary goal is to increase the kingdom. God will bring His future children to us, we just have to follow His instruction to witness our transformation and offer the same transformed life to others. This bringing of future children to the current children can be in a public meeting, a private setting, or alone in the future child’s moment of his/her own personal realization and seeking (via the Holy Spirit).

    Point being, I was wondering what you meant by throwing in that whole deal about alter calls, where people can publicly make a profession of faith or ask for assistance for a spiritual need from God and the elders (not of course getting saved by doing so). Becaues according to your fundamental theories of Christian apologetics and logic, you yourself agreed that “the abuse some action is an excuse to avoid it altogether.” I never did go forward for anything except admission for membership and believers baptism where I publically identified myself with Christ before His Church. Mostly because I was too proud to admit I had a spiritual need relating to the challenge of God’s Word exegeted in the message. The pressure is always there and I believe that is a good thing, if for nothing else than to shatter the pompous Christian piety observed over the “comfy-cosy” luke-warm church of today. An extended period of positive pressure to repent, turn from our wicked ways, and pursue God through His strength should be a continuous theme in our services. However a greater realization of God can be done, whether He uses a revival to whip the luke-warm Church back into shape (which it does need more of today, being that it seems pretty content or unaware of its spiritual condition). For that reason alone, I believe that’s what it needs.

    Thanks for the article. I’m not outraged or anything (I said it was a peaceful Baptist outrage–remember, Baptist’s don’t get excited, even though I do sometimes). It’s just your concept of questioning everything all the time which sounds like my liberal professor who has challenged his own existence. We should inform ourselves and never be completely satisfied with the knowledge we have, but when we have ample reason to believe Truth, we must hold onto it securely.

    “trust in the gospel again and again. ”

    If I am interpretting this correctly, you mean that the gospel is believed once and for all, kinda like salvation is possessed once and for all, and I agree. But again, this would contradict your pursuit of continuous questioning of even the very foundations we are standing on spiritually.

    Overall, good article. You are very articulate and well versed in the Christian history behind your research, and I respect you a lot for that. I don’t pretend to speak for all baptists, or even independant Baptists. I’m more reformed than you probably think. In areas, you know I am even more reformed than you (there’s my loving little jab). The article about Bush was good, too, even though I somewhat disagreed with the author, but I could be persuaded perhaps.

    Thanks,
    Brandon

  3. U.T. Brito says:

    ” By the way, the author of resurrection is said to be like the wind… and you can’t tell the wind to meet you in New York at 7Pm for Revival Hour.”

    By this statement, you are insinuating salvation is not instantaneous? Was it not you at one to who was ready to preach for a much needed revival I was trying to put together for Starkey a few years ago?

    APOLOGUS: No, Brandon. This statement has nothing to do with whether salvation is instantaneous or not. The statement has to do with the erroneous idea that in order for people to be saved in mass you need a revival meeting, hence, your are inviting the Holy Spirit to meet you in a certain place ( I gave the example New York at 7PM because the “big” revivals occured in the 30’s-50’s in New York usually at 7PM). So that was just a little history to plug in.
    So, what I meant was that the Spirit operates in any venue He wants as the wind goes whereever it wants (John 3).

    “simple gospel.”

    APOLOGUS: By “simple gospel” I refer to the misuse of the term by fundamentalists. When they use it they mean that you must walk down the aisle, sign a card, perhaps cry a bit, pray a little prayer, go through a long period of guilt because you listen to CCM or Dire Straits in that case (note: that’s my favorite band) and so on. There is nothing simple about that.
    Indeed if you limit the gospel to “The Four Spiritual Laws” you are limiting that which cannot be limited. The gospel is needed even for the most committed Christian. I highly recommend Jerry Bridges’ book: The Gospel for Today.

    Thanks for the article. I’m not outraged or anything (I said it was a peaceful Baptist outrage–remember, Baptist’s don’t get excited, even though I do sometimes).

    APOLOGUS: Baptist don’t get excited? Where have you been in the last 20 years of Baptist history? Have you heard of camp meetings?

    It’s just your concept of questioning everything all the time which sounds like my liberal professor who has challenged his own existence.

    APOLOGUS: Brandon, it seems you are very little familiar with Reformed Theology. This is all questioned at the outset… I question traditions not based on Scriptures. You have said in the e-mail and now about the need of public expression and revivals (that is in the sense you are using it) but you have yet to give me a Scriptural reference or principle that demonstrate these ideas.

    “trust in the gospel again and again. ”

    APOLOGUS: If you have limited the need for the gospel to when you “got saved,” then you have not truly understood its eternal need for even mature Christians.

    Overall, good article. You are very articulate and well versed in the Christian history behind your research, and I respect you a lot for that. I don’t pretend to speak for all baptists, or even independant Baptists. I’m more reformed than you probably think. In areas, you know I am even more reformed than you (there’s my loving little jab). The article about Bush was good, too, even though I somewhat disagreed with the author, but I could be persuaded perhaps.

    APOLOGUS: Though I love you my brother and have known you for quite some time, I sincerely doubt you understand Reformed Theology. Last time I checked with you, you even denied LIMITED ATONEMENT. Hey brother, would love to continue this conversation. Thanks for the kind words and look forward continuing this discussion.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, Brandon again,

    Well, since I don’t have your previous response to look at and respond to, if I remember correctly, everything seemed agreeable. But lets put it this way, my church doesn’t raise hands or have endless P&W “experiences” with the Holy Spirit (we don’t even have P&W). It is a very traditional, professional style church. I don’t like certain traditions, but the elders have chosen to run it a certain way. When talking about the need for revivals, I was referring more to the need for the Word to be preached. The Holy Spirit is part of a Trinity which is omnipresent, so I now understand what you were referring to. I personally feel the need for people, even the elect, to be continuously challenged with the fundamental Truths of our faith and was trying to emphasis that to call upon the Lord, something must be done. You did not respond to my conjecture that you are referring merely to the abuse of something as an excuse for avoiding it. If someone was falsely assured, it is the preacher who is in condemnation as a teacher (James 3:1)

    Oh yeah, and my Dad was saved in an ice cream shop by a man who used the simple gospel via the four spiritual laws. Even though I have a pastor at my local body, he has been my pastor for almost 23 years. Indeed the four spiritual laws are the Truth and the gospel is simple, but it’s not merely an action one can claim to have taken, and we agree. You must be ultimately written in the Book of Life. And we’ll never know until we get there for dead sure. But my point was if we make a decision to believe something for the rest of our lives, then we are believing that gospel every day whether conscious of it or not. Secondly, the actual assurance of our salvation is regardless of our day-to-day feelings of that assurance (Praise God!). Many will come, and Christ will say, “I never knew you.” Please understand, though you made them sound trite, each little thing like “saying a little prayer”, “crying a bit”, “filling out a card”, etc, all have their organizational, emotional, or spiritual purposes at times and are in many case natural human responses to a inward spiritual desire to return to Christ. We mourn our sin. But the 4 laws are just starting point of fundamental doctrine from which stem the deep intricacies of Scriptural interpretation. We cannot all be mature Christians and have it all down from the start. As a matter of fact, my father didn’t even have assureance of salvation until he understood what the Scripture itself had to say and was fully discipled. Even Paul recognized that among the elect there are babes.

    No I don’t know an incredible amount of (large caps) Reformed Theology as you say, and I desire to learn it more. I guess I was meaning that many of my ultra-conservative (small caps) ideas even within Christendome are considered more “reformed” from the norm (i.e. courtship, home education, family style worship, etc.) Sorry for the confusion.

    Thanks for not taking anything personally. I love to discuss and debate eternal issues like politics and belief systems/worldviews, because it challenges me to continue to provide a reason for the Truth inside of me, or correct what I thought to be Truth. I agree that we should challenge tradition’s separate from Scripture, but there is a place for tradition/heritage when it comes to its cultural infusion and how that pertains to its a spiritual role in our lives.
    Love ya’ bro,
    P.S. I’m typing with two hands again–I wiggle my arm around my pesty cast. Thanks for thinking of me. Today was my first day with any pain medication since the surgery.
    P.S.S. I hope I don’t sound dumb, and I’ll admit where I’m uninformed, but I am certainly a limited atonement supporter (I’m just not dogmatic about it), but unfortunately I’ll believe whichever side wrote an article last–both sides are extremely persuasive, and adamant I might add. I’m not a crowd-pleaser, but I definitely am leaning toward limited atonement. When I debate you, I take what you say and debate my parents (in honor) and others with yours and other points. It’s a constant pursuit of the Truth, so hopefully I don’t sound like I’m feeding on a bottle spiritually or never question anything. God bless.–>

  5. Aaron Freeman says:

    Howdy Uri,

    How are things going. My church is actually having a “revival” this week. We are expecting the revival part any day before the week is over. Ha ha. If not, then our semi-Pelagean speaker will go to another church and we’ll drop the idea for six months and try again.
    Good article. I agree for the most part. I think that the revival attempts that are occurring today are actually counterproductive due to the fact that the church relies on them for a return to Christ. If only the Fundy Baptist churches would be willing to read R.C. Sproul’s “The Holiness of God.” A most insightful book in this topic.

    “The shocking consequences of this mentality has led some to atheism” This statement though seems a bit harsh. However, maybe you could expound on this.

    Aaron

  6. apologus says:

    Aaron, great to hear from you. I was just with R.C. Sproul at a conference yesterday.
    Wow.. I don’t even remember when I wrote that article. At any rate, my exposure to former fundamentalists have been very severe. Some have abandoned it altogether and pursued greater things and more Biblical churches, others have abandoned the faith altogether and apostasized. Many atheists today who are more academic have come from strict fundamentalist backgrounds. After years of theological disappointments, they have given up on the faith altogether. If you want to hear some interviews with these atheists check out: http://www.unchainedradio.com with my good friend Pastor Gene Cook. Visit their podcast link. Blessings

  7. bobbyRicky says:

    do you mind if i comment here?

  8. apologus says:

    Bobby, I am not sure on what you desire to comment on? If it is pertinent to the discussion then you are more than welcome, if not, please refrain from doing so.
    thanks

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