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Oberlin Theology

The work of C.G. Finney* and Asa Mahan (1799-1889), this was a moderate form of Christian perfectionism.* In Scripture Doctrine of Perfection (1839), Mahan, the first president of Oberlin College, wrote that the Christian might eventually attain unbroken peace and not come into condemnation. Finney, the Presbyterian evangelist who in 1835 began a second career as Congregationalist and professor of theology at Oberlin, indicated in Lectures on Systematic Theology (1846) that he had gone far beyond N.W. Taylor* and brought liberal Calvinism close to Methodist perfectionism. To him, God was benevolent and man capable of growing toward perfection, although not absolute perfection, and thus society was perfectible. At the little Congregationalist college in Ohio, Mahan and Finney trained professional evangelists and stimulated zeal for social reform, but their approach rested on faith in individual conversion as the key to social justice. This was transcended by the organicism of Horace Bushnell* and his supporters.