Models of Conversion in American Evangelicalism: Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge and Old Princeton, and Charles Finney
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Carey, Patrick W.
The most commonly referenced definition of evangelicalism, David Bebbington’s ‘quadrilateral,’ includes conversionism as one of four key definitive features, and most other definitions also reference conversion as characteristic of evangelicalism. This dissertation examines the adequacy of the use of conversion in such a defining role through a careful consideration of a variety of dimensions of conversion among three key representatives of evangelicalism: Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, and Old Princeton Seminary (as represented by its first professor, Archibald Alexander, and especially by his protégé Charles Hodge). One cannot talk about conversion as a key to evangelicalism without understanding what is meant by conversion, and what has been meant by it historically. How one views conversion both reflects and affects significant features of one’s theology and assumptions. If conversion is indeed linked in vital ways to so many other central theological concerns, would not divergent views of conversion indicate fundamental divergences in any resulting forms of Christian belief that would make such a union of divergent figures or movements under the one banner of evangelicalism untenable? How can conversion be used to define evangelicalism if conceptions of conversion have varied considerably over evangelicalism’s history? The primary work of this dissertation is the identification and analysis of models of conversion among these representatives. What key elements are involved in these various perspectives on conversion and how might they give insight into assorted theological perspectives and alignments within evangelicalism? This study concludes that the use of conversion to define evangelicalism is overly simplistic and inaccurate. Not only does conversion fail to define evangelicalism, at times it even appears to divide it. When one reflects theologically and historically on the notion of conversion, one realizes that the answers one gives to the meaning of conversion represent varying interpretations of the gospel message itself. Thus the variations among the figures of this study, all of whom are commonly placed within the bounds of what is termed evangelicalism, reveal a classification that is in many respects incoherent as a theological classification, and thus reveal the inadequacies of conversion in defining evangelicalism.