More from my studies of Finney, this time from Packer in his “zinger” days of old. Below are three quotes from his book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan View of the Christian Life (Crossway, 1990). Anyone see a relationship here between decisional regeneration and unregenerate church membership? Of Finney, Iain Murray argues, “The new teaching, by putting its emphasis on instant action taken by an individual following the evangelist’s appeal and not upon a changed life, inevitably lowered standards of membership in evangelical churches and so encouraged an acceptance of worldliness among professing Christians” (Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, 51). I think Packer agrees.
“While acknowledging—indeed, insisting on—universal depravity in the sense of a constant inclination to sin, he was a clear-headed and forthright Pelagian in his emphatic declarations that everyone is naturally able to turn whole-heartedly to God once he or she is convinced that that is the right, proper, and needful thing to do.” (293)
“If Finney’s doctrine is rejected, such methods are inappropriate to a degree, and actually detrimental to the real work of evangelism. It may be said that results justify their use; but the truth is that most of Finney’s ‘converts’ backslid and fell away, as, so it seems, did the majority of those since Finney’s day whose ‘decision’ was secured by these means.” (294)
“If one tells people that they are under obligation to receive Christ on the spot, and calls in God’s name for instant decision, some who are spiritually unprepared will come forward, accept directions, ‘go through the motions,’ and go away thinking they have received Christ, when in reality they have not done so because they were not yet able to do so. So a crop of false conversions result from these tactics in the nature of the case. Bullying for ‘decisions’ can actually impede and thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in human hearts. When the evangelist takes it on himself to try to pick the fruit before it is ripe, the result is regularly false conversions and hardenings. ‘Quick sake’ techniques in evangelism always tend to boomerang in this way; their long-term effect is regularly barrenness. . . . Finneyism, which seeks to break up the fallow ground, issues rather in a scorching of the earth, a state of diminished rather than enhanced responsiveness to the gospel.” (299-300)