Monday, May 7, 2012

Evangelist Billy Graham on Charles G. Finney

I grew up hearing good things about Charles Finney (AD 1792-1875), an evangelist from the early 1800s. I heard sermon illustrations about him. I saw books by and about him in my dad’s library and other preachers’ libraries. My heart was stirred hearing how he was part of a great revival in America and was instrumental in leading multitudes to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

Today I see Finney attacked time and again. Some Calvinists in particular seem to have a visceral distain for him. Finneyism is by them used almost as a curse word. They call him a Semi-Pelagian, another of their favorite pejorative terms. According to some Finney is the reason for virtually all problems, real and imagined, in the church today. Curiously, these same folks usually do not so criticize the great evangelist of our time, Billy Graham. Perhaps because it would not be so accepted?

It's refreshing to hear something good about Finney.  Back in 1982 Evangelist Billy Graham had some very interesting comments. Hear them:

“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. In addition, he became one of the most widely-read theologians of his time through his lectures and writings. His concern for education influenced whole generations of students.”

“But most of all, Charles G. Finney was a deeply-committed Christian. More than anything else he wanted to serve Christ and be used of Him.”
-Evangelist Billy Graham *

Graham goes on to call Finney a “remarkable man,” and “one of history’s greatest evangelists.”

So don’t be intimidated by the criticism. Get Finney’s books; get Drummond’s book on Finney. And next time you hear someone running down Charles Finney, you might share with them Billy Graham’s view of this great evangelist.

* From the Foreword in The Life and Ministry of Charles G. Finney by Dr. Lewis A. Drummond, Bethany House Publishers; 1983. Drummond was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, May 7, AD 2012. 

Update:  Additional endorsements of Charles G. Finney by Christian leaders. 

“[Charles G.] Finney won multiplied thousands of souls.  Although he preached in a smaller area, and though he was handicapped by some errors in theology, Finney probably had as powerful a manifestation of the power of God upon his ministry as did D. L. Moody or any other preacher since the days of Paul, and in the smaller area which he covered in his revival work a larger proportion of the population was saved than has been true, we suppose, in the ministry of any other great evangelist.” 
-John R. Rice, “The Power of Pentecost;” 1949, 1979.  Rice was founding editor of “The Sword of the Lord.” 

Robert L. Sumner refers to the “noted and greatly used Charles G. Finney.”  
Sumner was an evangelist, author, Associate Editor of “The Sword of the Lord,” editor of “The Biblical Evangelist.” 

“While giving instruction it is wise to appeal to the understanding. True religion is as logical as if it were not emotional. I am not an admirer of the peculiar views of Mr. [Charles G.] Finney, but I have no doubt that he was useful to many; and his power lay in his use of clear arguments. Many who knew his fame were greatly disappointed at first hearing him, because he used few beauties of speech and was as calm and dry as a book of Euclid; but he was exactly adapted to a certain order of minds, and they were convinced and convicted by his forcible reasoning. Should not persons of an argumentative cast of mind be provided for? We are to be all things to all men, and to these men we must become argumentative and push them into a corner with plain deductions and necessary inferences. Of carnal reasoning we would have none, but of fair, honest pondering, considering, judging, and arguing the more the better.” 
-Charles H. Spurgeon, “Lectures to My Students.” 

“One of the tremendous affirmations of the great evangelist and preacher Charles G. Finney is this; that it is the truth of God that convicts and that saves.”  
-W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX, author, SBC president. 

For a positive treatment of Finney, see:  “The Life and Ministry of Charles G. Finney” by Dr. Lewis A. Drummond, Bethany House Publishers; 1983. 
Drummond was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Also see, Robert W. Caldwell III, “Theologies of the American Revivalists,” IVP Academic; 2017.  
Dr. Caldwell is professor of church history, SWBTS

Both Caldwell and Drummond explain some of Finney’s theological views, views criticized by some who do not understand them.  They also explain some of the “out of context” Finney quotes that are often used against him.

I do not agree with all of Finney’s theology, but he was a great evangelist and greatly used of God. He is undeserving of much of the modern criticism against him. 
-DRB; 1-7-AD 2018.  

Other articles:
Random Advice to Pastors, Part 1
Scofield Bible, First 100 Years
Baptists on Tithing
Young Preachers - Finding a Place to Preach; Part 1
Saved By The Sinner's Prayer
Other articles in lower right margin


  1. Sadly, some of those who run down Finney, also run-down Billy Graham and Just As I Am.

  2. Hariette,
    I think you're right. And much or most of it just boils down to hard line Calvinists objecting to the evangelism of Billy Graham and Charles Finney.

    By the way, Dr. Lewis A. Drummond's book also answers well the common criticisms against Charles G. Finney.
    David R. Brumbelow

  3. It is at least puzzling to me that people who profess Christ can't understand Scripture. The Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith alone!! The human will has no part in salvation (John 1:11-12 Romans 9:16). Those who teach that men are saved according to grace plus anything, especially the so-called free will, fall under the Galatian anathema of preaching another gospel. Read Romans 9 with your eyes opened by grace instead of blinded by men like the heretic Finney!

  4. Grace,
    The Bible is filled with free will.

    Every time God says choose, turn, call on the name of the Lord, repent, receive, believe, trust, seek - it is speaking of free will. It is speaking of a person making a choice.

    As Dr. Paige Patterson said, “I just happen to believe that God is sovereign enough that He can make a man totally free if He wishes to do so.”

    If you are interested, there is an article here about Romans 9.
    David R. Brumbelow

  5. Yes we are free to choose, but it still requires the Spirit to draw us and persuade us. The free will is always informed by the nature of man, thus a man in his predisposed nature to sin will on his own be unable to understand the things of God. Only the voice behind the preachers voice is able to reach and convict the fallen man's conscience due to the very fact that each man still retains the image of God in their essence, though corrupted. A man may still refuse, reject and be animus towards the Gospel message, even while convicted, but nevertheless the words of Christ spoken through His servants are spirit and life, and will have an affect. All will undoubtably be accountable before God.

    No doubt Charles Finney was used powerfully of God and yet, like Apollos, he needed correction in the content of his doctrine. The words he spoke were powerful, yet still fringed by concepts that were not accurately derived from scripture, especially concerning atonement (the theory of moral government atonement_Hugo Grotius). Nevertheless, he was used by God as were many other great men, on both sides of doctrine. In the end, it's the fruit that ultimately bears witness to the purpose of God in a mans ministry.


What do you think?