Sunday, July 04, 2010

Pelagian Creep

I had to have a bad tooth extracted last week so I  spent more than normal time resting and reading. One of the books I read was a fascinating study by D.W. Bebbington titled Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s.

One of the many interesting features he brings to light is the way the role of the will replaced the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of conversion in 19th century revivalism. "In the nineteenth century," he writes, "some of the more enthusiastic Evangelicals, eager to maximize conversions, began to teach that the crucial factor is a person's will to be saved. Carefully planned methods, such as meetings designed for anxious enquirers, could encourage the desire to believe In Lectures on Revivals of Religion (1835), Charles Finney, the leading American exponent of this line of thinking, present revivalism as a science, a powerful technique for securing mass conversions. It was an immensely popular work, selling 80,000 copies by 1850 and making a great impact in Britain... Finney came close to denying the need for the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Some did draw that inference. J. H. Hinton, later a leading Baptist minister, wrote in 1830 that "a sinner has power to repent without the Spirit". He subsequently declared that he had been misunderstood, explaining that he did believe that the Spirit acts in conversion overall. But others did not retract. Nine students at Glasgow Congregational Theological Academy were expelled in 1844 for 'self-conversionism.' They went on to form part of the new Evangelical Union, a largely Scottish denomination committed to revivalism."
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