The New Divinity
Thousands of people heard Whitefield and Edwards preach and responded. Most responded in true faith in what we now call the First Great Awakening. You would have thought that many of the men who followed these true gospel preachers would continue to perpetuate the biblical gospel. History tells us that many did indeed follow in the footsteps of both Whitefield and Edwards.
Wouldn’t you know it? Many of Edward’s followers chose to “modify” Edward’s message. What they produced is what is known as the “New Divinity.” A leading figure in this new movement was none other than the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, Timothy Dwight. Nathaniel W. Taylor and Samuel Hopkins were major promoters of this new doctrine which among many of its points redefined the human will and its ability to choose right or wrong. It appears from a cursory review of the 13 principles of the New Divinity that they are really a mixture of “free-will, Arminianism, and Semi-Pelagianism.
Needless to say that modifying Edwards “Calvinism” and mixing in semi-Pelagianistic ideas, this “group” developed splinter groups. Such groups were known as the “Tasters” and others as the “Exercisers.” Others within this group ran amuck with various doctrines.
One individual who came out of this movement was Charles Finney. I wish I had the time to develop a portrait of this “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” It is so ironic that so many people have been deceived by this man and his theology. It is even more ironic that he has been made out to be some sort of “poster-boy” for his supposed part in the “Second Great Awakening.”
Needless to say Finney while using Edwards’s language and terms rejected Edwards’s doctrine regarding conversion, the soul, original sin, and other things. Finney’s greatest error came when he rejected Edwards’s interpretation of scripture in his Treatise on the Will.
Finney erroneously believed that the sinner’s “inward being” enabled the sinner to control their own life, intellect, directly or indirectly by “willing” it to be so or not so. Edwards and Whitefield taught that both salvation and revival was absolutely dependent upon God. Finney taught that both salvation and revival did not depend on Spiritual or divine intervention. Conversion for Finney became simply a matter of determining the right motivator for the sinner’s will. He wrote in his Lectures on Revivals of Religion, “…conversion…is purely a philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means.” In other words, just find the right method to bring the sinner under conviction and you can convert the sinner.
Rather than being a prime figure in the Second Great Awakening, Finney worked a man-made circus in the 1820’s that spread through the northeast leaving what has been since called, “burned-over districts.” His theology was a disaster.
Unfortunately, Finney became a tremendous influence on many preachers and evangelists. It seems many began to adopt his “methods” when they saw how many people Finney claimed to “convert.” This was the beginning of the change of the gospel in America for the worse.
In 1820 a landmark decision was handed down in the case of Dedham, MA. This was a break with the “church” and the town in which it was located. It meant that the town no longer called or dismissed pastors and it also meant that the town no longer supported the congregation (including pastor). Each individual church was now required to be indigenous. Pastors were no longer paid by townships but had to scramble to gain and retain congregants in order to be supported. Pastors now had to “draw” big crowds in order to keep preaching and equally important, “eating.”
This led to what Nathan Hatch called in his book, The Democratization of American Christianity a “spiritual free-for-all.” In essence it was a “no-holds-barred” race to preach in such a manner to gain the largest amount of listeners as possible. Under Finney’s influence and twisted doctrine, evangelization was no longer viewed as in the hands of a Sovereign God who saved whom He desired and when He desired but in the hands of the most clever innovator of the right means to “stir” the will and mass produce converts. In other words, we see the door open and the concrete mixed in order to pave the way for what we now bemoan as “decisional regeneration.”
To be continued…