Finney’s Perfectionist teaching not only shook the establishment in his day, but it added fuel to the growing fires of the Holiness Movement.

Reformed historians in America generally believe that Calvinism Stabilizes biblical orthodoxy while Arminianism in all its forms, especially the Wesleyan one, tends toward modernism. This may be partly true for the twentieth century. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, the career of Charles G. Finney demonstrates that Puritan theology was the one on the move. Many scholars, including my own research associate Thomas Umbel, are now discovering that New England religious thought was rapidly pulling away from Calvinism during the early national period, when Methodism was spreading through that section.

Others have concluded that revivalists like George Whitefield, who helped set in motion the Boston phase of the awakening that preceded the American Revolution, were “practical Arminians,” even though they were or became theoretical Calvinists. While enrolled in an academy at Litchfield, Connecticut, the youthful Finney’s attention to the preaching of Peter Starr, Lyman Beecher’s predecessor in the pastorate there, did not persuade him to believe in either predestination or imputed righteousness. The Presbyterian committee that examined Finney and licensed him to preach in 1824 was so lenient toward his rejection of major Calvinist points that many of them seem likely to have been Congregationalist migrants from New England. Certainly they shared the growing accommodation of Yankee Puritans to universal redemption, free will, and the conviction that all persons were equal before temporal laws because divine grace had made them equal heirs to eternal hopes.

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