Robert L. Millet & Charles G. Finney

I have recently read Millet’s book, Holding Fast: Dealing with Doubt in the Latter Days (Deseret, 2008).

He writes in chapter 9:

In the early nineteenth century there grew up in the northeastern part of the United States a novel approach to preaching the gospel and making disciples.  In a very real sense, it was a reaction to the high Calvinism of the day that emphasized God’s total sovereignty and control over the infinite details of our lives.

Charles Grandison Finney, an attorney by training, built upon the concepts of the camp meetings so prevalent in the area, which became known as the “Burnt Over District” because of the fiery messages and baptisms by fire that had taken place.  Finney came to be known as the master of revivalism, inasmuch as he treated the phenomenon of conversion as a science, a systematic program that could and did accomplish predesigned ends, namely, new followers of Christ.  Indeed, Finney published pamphlets and books that explained in the minutest of details how to set up and carry out an effective revival.  He became to revivals what Fanny Farmer became to cookbooks.

I mentioned earlier that Finney’s approach to revivalism ran counter to the spirit of what John Calvin had taught: namely–that individuals were either saved or damned from the foundation of the world, that the atonement of Jesus Christ was efficacious only for the elect, and that those who were saved would be led and directed to accept the gospel.  Those led to the gospel were not saved because they chose to be so but rather because God’s sovereign will, the efficacious call, would always be realized, and that once they had come unto Christ they could never fall from that lofty state of grace.  Finney’s approach allowed more readily for individual moral agency and stressing that man and God were working together toward the salvation of the soul.  The gathering place was preached.  The mood was established.  The gospel was preached.  The invitation on the part of the preacher was extended to the audience, and members of that congregation were fervently encouraged to “make a decision for Christ” or to “make a commitment for the Lord” (pp. 123-124).

I must admit.  I am not a  fan of Charles G. Finney’s theology.


  1. Does Millet mention Calvin’s missionary zeal? Does he refer to the “Register of the Company of Pastors” from the Reformed Church in Geneva?

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