America has not been the same since the likes of Charles Grandison Finney. He is the giant of American revivalism between Jonathan Edwards and D. L. Moody. He was a powerful preacher and a commanding presence, even his enemies conceded as much. And what no doubt especially miffed his critics—and he had quite a few, and in high places—was the great popularity of the man. He has been called one of the most important figures in American history, and it would be impossible to understand the American religious experience without trying to understand him.

Finney has been likened to an Andrew Jackson of the pulpit. Comparisons between Jackson and Finney are understandable. James Johnson, in his biographical article Father of American Revivalism, tells us that if Jackson was America’s political folk hero, Finney was her religious one. And to many evangelicals today, Finney is still a hero (“imagine … 500,000 conversions!”). We have always been told (with some exaggeration) how Jackson was “for the common man.” Likewise, Finney did seem to grab the Gospel from the dry, stuffy practitioners of his day and take it to the common folk so they could scrape their boots, come in, and cast their own votes for heaven or hell. Yet Finney, interestingly, emphasized his impact on the professionals of his day, and liked to mention how he had converted scores of doctors, businessmen, and lawyers.

He was not a frontier ranter, but a child of the intellectual New England tradition, as it had moved west into upstate New York. He was described by his contemporaries as “frank, open, giving his opinion without solicitation, somewhat dictatorial.” “… the great actor of the American pulpit ,” with “glittering eyes, shaggy brows, beak-like nose, and expressive ...

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