Christianity and Culture

Charles Finney: Greatest Evangelist of the Second Great Awakening

In addition to commentary on politics, government, and history, I want to offer what I hope will be insights into the larger culture of our society, always through the prism of a Biblical worldview.

Charles Finney was one of the most effective evangelists of the nineteenth century. His impact went beyond just tallying the number of converted people. Instead, his converts understood that being a Christian means taking the grace of God into the world. Redeemed people are the key to redeeming the culture of a society.

Finney introduced some new methods in his evangelistic endeavors. He created the “anxious seat,” which was a bench up front that people could come to after the service if they were “anxious” for their souls. This was the beginning of the altar call.

He also allowed women to pray in church publicly. That was a great source of controversy.

When he was asked to be the professor of theology at a new college in Ohio, Oberlin College, he told the trustees that he would not take the position unless they agreed to allow blacks to attend class along with the white students. They agreed, and Oberlin became the first college in America to have men, women, and blacks in the same classroom.

The one danger I see in some of Finney’s followers was a tendency to make their societal cause more important than the gospel. Theodore Dwight Weld, for instance, seemed (at least from my perspective) to put the abolition of slavery in the preeminent position, relegating the gospel to secondary status.

The question is this: Are Christians doing that today? Do you see any evidence of this? Are we generally balanced in our approach to changing society or do we put individual causes ahead of the primary mission, which is to lead people into reconciliation with God?