Charles Finney and Sermon Theater

Charles Finney:

The actor suits the action to the word, and the word to the action. His looks, his hands, his attitudes, and everything, are designed to express the full meaning of the writer. Now, this should be the aim of the preacher . . . the more theatrical the sermon is, the better.[1]


This of course is revival “theory” 101. Finney believed that religion had to keep pace with the times, something new and different coming all the time to compete with the rapid increase of communication, ideas (and yes, technology) of early 19th century in America. Finney may have been as far from Calvinism as one could get.

I quote Joseph Smith:

O how I would delight to bring before you things which you never thought of, but poverty & the cares of the world prevent. but I am glad I have the privilige of communicating to you some things, which if grasped closely will be a help to you when the clouds are gathering. & the storms are ready [2]

Joseph’s impulse to preach the new and different was certainly not motivated by the desire to surprise or offend, but he frequently did both apparently. How much of Joseph’s preaching style and motivation was inherited from his early experiences with revivalism? I’ve seen a few contemporary reflections of Finney in local Mormon settings. Fun.
——–
[1] From his Revival Lectures, p. 309.

[2] Funeral remarks for Lorenzo Barnes, April 16, 1843.

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