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Charles Finney and the Welfare State

Murray Rothbard, in his essay on “Origins of the Welfare State in America,” writes:

“Perhaps the most fateful of the events giving rise to and shaping the welfare state was the transformation of American Protestantism that took place in a remarkably brief period during the late 1820s. Riding in on a wave from Europe, fueled by an intense emotionalism often generated by revival meetings, this Second Great Awakening conquered and remolded the Protestant churches, leaving such older forms as Calvinism far behind. The new finneyProtestantism was spearheaded by the emotionalism of revival meetings held throughout the country by the Rev. Charles Grandison Finney. This new Protestantism was pietist, scorning liturgy as papist or formalistic, and equally scornful of the formalisms of Calvinist creed or church organization. Hence, denominationalism, God’s Law, and church organization were no longer important. What counted was each person’s achieving salvation by his own free will, by being “born again,” or being “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” An emotional, vaguely defined pietist, non-creedal, and ecumenical Protestantism was to replace strict creedal or liturgical categories.

[…]

“While a nominal Presbyterian, in 1821 at the age of 29, Finney converted to the new pietism, experiencing his second baptism, his “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” his conversion being greatly aided by the fact that he was self-educated in religion, and lacked any religious training. Tossing aside the Calvinist tradition of scholarship in the Bible, Finney was able to carve out his new religion, and to ordain himself in his new version of the faith. Launching his remarkably successful revival movement in 1826 when he was an attorney in northeastern Ohio, his new pietism swept the Yankee areas in the East and midwest. Finney wound up at Oberlin College, in the Western Reserve area of Ohio, where he became president, and transformed Oberlin into the preeminent national center for the education and dissemination of postmillennial pietism.”

Published in C.Jay Engel