The Doctrine of Soteriology in Theology and Hymnody in the Revivals of Nettleton and Finney

As America developed during the nineteenth century, the Second Great Awakening spread through churches and states, creating long-lasting impact on the country’s religious body. Revival preacher Asahel Nettleton taught from a similar theological perspective as other early Second Great Awakening Calvinistic preachers, and “presided over revivals that were both deeply emotional and yet calm and controlled in an effort to avoid enthusiasm.” He lived during the transitional time “between the old order of evangelism of the Puritans and Jonathan Edwards, and the new evangelism and theology of Nathaniel Taylor and Charles Finney.” Nettleton’s revival theology did not consist of the use of revival measures, such as utilized by Finney. Rather, Nettleton encouraged orderliness and contrition in his services, and often scheduled appointments during the week to meet and pray with awakened sinners; thus, encouraging repentance born of deep prayer and seeking, not an immediate emotional response.

Charles Finney “contributed significantly to the decline of Calvinism and the rise of Arminianism in American Christian thought.” Where Nettleton emphasized the Holy Spirit’s initiation in regeneration, Finney taught that “spiritual decisions are made based upon the freedom of the human will.” Because of Finney’s emphasis on man’s decision, he used new measures, a strategy employed during revivals to secure a decision for Christ from an unregenerate soul. These measures included a dramatic from of preaching, the use of public prayer as pressure on the sinner, the anxious bench, and he allowed women to pray publicly in mixed meetings. Finney “dismissed the Westminster Confession as being ‘contrary to reason,’ and with it the great Calvinistic doctrines we find there.”

The purpose of this paper is to examine where the doctrine of soteriology appears in Village Hymns, compiled by Nettleton, and Spiritual Songs, used by Finney. The discussion will begin with an analysis of Nettleton’s pneumatological and soteriological views, followed by an examination of the same topics in Finney’s theology. To determine their views, Nettleton’s sermons and Finney’s publications will guide the theological analysis. Following this section, the paper will move into a discussion on Thomas Hastings and his role in reflecting Finney’s theology in song. Then a hymnological analysis will examine soteriological hymns, utilizing texts that explicitly mention the Holy Spirit’s role in salvation. This paper will argue that Nettleton’s and Finney’s soteriological views were reflected in the hymns of Village Hymns and Spiritual Songs.

5 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Soteriology in Theology and Hymnody in the Revivals of Nettleton and Finney”

  1. Maybe in Church History, but…
    I am sure this is a well researched paper, but I’m not certain we need an entire paper to make evident Nettleton and Finney’s soteriological views are expressed in the songs they included in their song books.

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