Category Archives: Theology

The Legacy of Clark Pinnock

            I learned today of the death of a great, but controversial theologian, particularly those of us from a Southern Baptist background.  Christianity Today announced it this way, “Clark H. Pinnock’s life journey is over. The influential and often controversial evangelical theologian died unexpectedly August 15 of a heart attack. He was 73. In March, the long-time professor of systematic theology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, had announced he was withdrawing from public life and revealed that he was battling Alzheimer’s disease.”  The article goes on to describe some of Pinnock’s contributions: “Pinnock came to the United States in 1965 and taught at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he became an influential figure in the Southern Baptist Convention’s battles over biblical inerrancy. From 1969-1974 he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and from 1974-1977 at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.”

            The article elaborates further on what Pinnock became primarily known for:  “The trajectory of his thinking also took him from a Reformed to a neo-Arminian view of salvation. Early on he had maintained ‘that Calvinism was just scriptural evangelicalism in its purest expression.’ But by the late 1990s theologians like R.C. Sproul and J.I. Packer were denouncing him. Pinnock kept pushing the envelope, championing the concept of ‘open theism,’ which emphasizes God’s self-limitation in dealing with humans, including his vulnerability. He argued that God could be surprised by events and persuaded to change a decision.

“This positioning was anathema to many in the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), who insisted God knows and has even planned the entire future, and that open theism undermines confidence in God. The controversy bubbled along for nearly a decade, and came to a head in 2002 when Pinnock was nearly expelled from the ETS. His membership situation was satisfactorily resolved a year later. Even his opponents acknowledged that Pinnock considered the Bible the primary source for theology, and that his arguments were anchored in Scripture.”

I remember when Open Theism was the big hot topic right around my senior year at William Tyndale College.  I also remember being very much appalled by it.  At the time, I openly (no pun intended) called it heresy.  I was much more dogmatic in my theology back then.  I take a bit more lenient view now and try to temper my arguments with love and grace in response to my own weird spiritual journey, but I can say at this point, that I do not embrace this theology.  Perhaps I will write more on that later.

Although I was aware of Pinnock’s beliefs on open theism, I was sadly not aware of his contributions earlier on during the inerrancy debates of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.  Even though in his later years, Pinnock moved away from some of his inerrancy positions, he was a major contributor in favor of biblical inerrancy.  Russell Moore says this about Pinnock: “A list of his former students during that time is amazing to anyone with any grasp of the history of Southern Baptists and the inerrancy controversy: Paige Patterson, Jerry Vines, Adrian Rogers, and on and on. I cannot think of a single figure of crucial importance in the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention who is more than two steps away from Pinnock’s direct influence.” I have had the privilege of hearing all the men listed above preach in person.  The influence that he had on Southern Baptists is immense.

I trace my own salvation back to an autumn day in 1994 when I drove off of the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia and up Candler’s Mountain Road to smoke a cigarette.  I popped a tape in that my mother had sent me of Evangelist Bailey Smith, a one-time President of the SBC.  As I pulled back into the gravel pit parking lot at Liberty, I felt the Holy Spirit tugging on my heart and I bowed my head and gave my life to Christ.   If there ever is a Southern Baptist Hall of Fame, you would put Bailey Smith’s name in there.  My point is that if you can trace Pinnock’s influence to the men listed above, and surely those men have influenced their contemporaries like Smith, then I have Clark Pinnock to partially thank for leading me to Christ. 

It is strange indeed that a man that so many on the far right consider a heretic had such a major influence on fundamental and evangelical theology.   Christianity Today acknowledges this theological slide and the vitriol that surrounded it, but still places him among a school of theologians that left an indelible mark on theology today.  Pinnock’s unique look at this is worth of note.  According to the article, he is quoted as saying, “Not only am I often not listened to, I am also made to feel stranded theologically: being too much of a free thinker to be accepted by the evangelical establishment and too much of a conservative to be accepted by the liberal mainline.”  I can relate as I have often described myself as too conservative for my evangelical friends and too liberal for my fundamentalist friends.  It’s a tough line to walk.

I think it is sad that while we cannot ignore the teachings of Pinnock that we disagree with, some people will insist on reviling him.  One of the comments on Moore’s blog said (and I have not edited any of the typos):

It is nonsense like this that explain the decrepit condition of modern American Christianity. True Christians have NOTHING to be thankful for regarding this false teacher.

By Biblical standards, Clark Pinnock was an apostate, a blasphemer, and an idotalter. He spat in the face of the God of the Bible, and endeavored to create his own pathetic “god” out of the imaginiations of his depraved heart. And then he did everythign he could to pullute the church with his vile teachings.

There are people burning in hell today because they forsook the Word of God to follow the Satan-inspired nonsense of Clark Pinnock. And now he has received his just due reserved for all of those of such ilk.

It is blatant ignorance on this responder’s part not to recognize that he could not take the stand that he does on the inerrancy of the Word of God if it was not for Pinnock.  Thankfully, someone reminded this anonymous blogger named Tom (he cowardly left out his last name) about David’s response when he heard of the death of Saul:

Dr. Moore’s article reminds me of David’s lament for Saul (and Jonathan) in 2 Samuel 1. I am sure many in David’s army thought that David’s words about Saul were nonsense. Saul’s disobedience was serious; so serious, God rejected him as King. Yet, when David learned that Saul had died, he wrote his gracious lament that the mighty had fallen and focused on the good that Saul had done. A lesser man than David (or a man of lesser faith than David) could not have written that lament. I don’t know Dr. Moore, but it seems to me that the gracious faith that moved David so long ago helped Dr. Moore write this article yesterday.

Below is that lament from the New International Version and I think it is appropriate to remember the legacy of Pinnock this way.  He was a great theologian that I did not always agree with, but I believe he was simply a believer trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Some vilified him for it and some praised him for it, but he was left stuck in the middle.  Theology may just be the most overlooked and dangerous profession of them all.

“Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights.
       How the mighty have fallen!

  “Tell it not in Gath,
       proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
       lest the daughters of the Philistines be glad,
       lest the daughters of the uncircumcised rejoice.

  “O mountains of Gilboa,
       may you have neither dew nor rain,
       nor fields that yield offerings of grain .
       For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
       the shield of Saul—no longer rubbed with oil.

  “From the blood of the slain,
       from the flesh of the mighty,
       the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
       the sword of Saul did not return unsatisfied.

  “Saul and Jonathan—
       in life they were loved and gracious,
       and in death they were not parted.
       They were swifter than eagles,
       they were stronger than lions.

  “O daughters of Israel,
       weep for Saul,
       who clothed you in scarlet and finery,
       who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.

  “How the mighty have fallen in battle!
       Jonathan lies slain on your heights.

  “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
       you were very dear to me.
       Your love for me was wonderful,
       more wonderful than that of women.

  “How the mighty have fallen!
       The weapons of war have perished!”


Why I Read

Now that I am no longer participating in a major online group, I thought I would try and turn my attention once again to putting up more blogs. Since I graduated from seminary, I can now read what I want. Left to my own devices, I would probably just read fiction and escape into a world that doesn’t offer as much stress, but I have found that I need to read non-fiction also and keep up with my own intellectual growth. What works for me is to rotate fiction and non-fiction. Today, I would like to introduce to you a tool that I have been using for a while now that helps me keep track of the books that I want to read. I have posted a new link on my blog will take you to Google Books. The link is under “Blogroll” (although I might move it later) and says “”My Google Library.” Google Books has allowed me to stay more organized in regards to books that I hear about and want to check out. Here is the problem for me: I only have so much time and I am quite convinced that if I read every book recommended to me that I would not have enough time left in the rest of my life, even if I quit my job. I always have people tell me, “You need to read this; it’s a good book!” Well, there are lots of good books and I am not interested in reading good books. I am interested in reading the best books.  That’s really all the time that I have.

As far as fiction goes, I have on order the ninth book in the eleven-book Timeline 191 series by Harry Turtledove. According to the Wikipedia article, “Timeline-191 is a fan name given to a series of Harry Turtledove alternate history novels, including How Few Remain as well as the Great War, American Empire, and Settling Accounts series. The name is derived from Robert E. Lee’s Special Order 191, which detailed the Army of Northern Virginia’s invasion of the Union in September 1862 during the American Civil War. The divergence occurs when Union forces do not find a copy of Special Order 191, on September 10, 1862. The novels detail the consequences of this up until 1944 in the alternate world.” The ninth book in the series is the second book in the tetralogy, Settling Accounts and it is entitled, Settling Accounts: Drive To The East. After I finish my current read, I will be delving into this book and hope to have the entire series finished by the end of the year. I have been reading this series since 2007! As I said, seminary never really let me read what I wanted to so while I was in class, so I stopped reading fiction and pretty much only read assigned books with a few exceptions. After I finish the “191” series, I hope to read the two books that I have not read yet by John Grisham, who is, without a doubt, my favorite author. The two I have not yet read are Ford County, which is a collection of short stories, and his new upcoming book, The Confession.

As far as non-fiction goes, I have two loves/interests. The first, of course, is theology. I want to keep up my interest and keep myself informed and balanced on this subject. This is the book I am currently reading called The Christian Atheist. It was given to me by a friend for graduation. So far it is very good. I also have on order Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs which was also recommended to me by a friend. This book would fall into one those “exception” categories I was talking about. Every now and then, a book comes along that I just want to read more than what my system will allow. Because of the nature of this book being in short chapters, I will probably read it on the side while I am reading other books. Generally, I only read one book at a time, unless they are two very distinctly different books. I once tried reading two fiction books at the same time and ended up getting the stories crossed.

The other love/interest is history, particularly American history. Because of this, I have set a goal of reading a book on each of the Presidents of the United States…yes, even the bad ones! I have currently read one on Washington, Adams, and Jefferson and will be reading one on James Madison after I finish Drive To The East.

As you can see, my reading list keeps me quite busy. I am hoping that, at some point in my life, I will enjoy reading more than television, but that has not happened…yet. I would encourage all of you to be veracious readers, most importantly, of God’s Word, but also, of other books as well. I have met Christians who will not read anything other than Christian non-fiction. Not to be critical, but generally speaking, these have been some of the most unimaginative people I have ever met. Reading fiction really keeps my imagination in the right place and it also helps me escape to a world that is unfamiliar and engaging. Like I said, fiction is my favorite. Another thing that I would suggest is to read books that you know you will probably disagree with. If you click on the link, you will see that one of the books on my list is Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger Olson. I heard Olson interviewed on “Converse With Scholars” a while back and was very impressed with his knowledge of this subject and made a point to read him, even though I know I will probably not agree with him. How else can I engage in a conversation with someone of a more-Arminian persuasion if I do not know anything about the subject? Reading something you disagree with also fires up your own imagination and helps you to continue to think critically. So check out my Google Books library and let me know what you think.

Biblical Lessons from Lebron and Lindsay

            So all of Ohio is buzzing about Lebron James’ decision to not return to the Cavaliers.  Dan Gilbert has posted an online letter blasting Lebron which just seems to show a severe lack of professionalism.  It really is just symptomatic of what truly is the issue here.  On my way out to lunch a couple of days ago, I caught the opening of Rush Limbaugh when he said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek that no one seemed to be reporting that Lindsay Lohan had obscenities written on her fingernails during her recent court appearance where she was sentenced to 90 days in jail.  Of course, Limbaugh was being facetious.  It seems that the news has been buzzing non-stop about Lebron and Lindsay.

            Why are we so shocked as a nation when our heroes let us down?  We lift them up like demi-gods and expect them to do no wrong and when they eventually screw up, we chastise them for their behavior.  Our expectations are so high when it comes to the cult of celebrity in our culture that when their shiny façade is shattered, so is our trust in all of humanity.  It’s time for a gut check here, people.  The only good inside of us is the good that God placed there. We cannot be flabbergasted when unbelievers do sinful things.  It’s in their nature.  For that matter, we cannot be shocked when believers do sinful things.  We will, of course, be more disappointed when one of our own fumbles, but we are still only human and we will all eventually do some really stupid and sinful things that we are ashamed of.  It might not be as public and humiliating as, say Ted Haggard for instance, but at some point in our life and even some point in our Christian life, we will let somebody down.

            Psalm 9:9-10 says, “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”  If you trusted in Lindsay Lohan’s squeaky-clean childhood image to get her through life, you have been severely disappointed. If Ohioans put their trust in Lebron to stay in Ohio, they were severely disappointed last night.  Gilbert went so far as to say that Lebron “deserted” the Cavaliers.[1]  Here is a blessed and biblical truth: God will never desert you. He will never forsake you.  He will never leave you.  He is the only one…let me write it again ‘cause I’m getting excited and wish I could shout this from a pulpit right now…He is the only One who we can always trust and will never let us down!

            So put down your People, your US Weekly, and any other celebrity-worshipping magazine and pick up your Bible and read the words of a God who will always do what He says, no matter what.  He’s proven it in the past and you can read all about it.  He will do it again and you can read all about that, too.  He’s the God who is loyal to the end, regardless of the circumstances and he won’t leave you for a better contract or the chance to win a championship.  He’s already won!


Why I Am No Longer Charismatic

Yesterday, I posted a blog about why I am no longer reformed.  Today, I want to talk about something else I am not.  I am no longer charismatic.  I need to take a moment here and define these terms so that you know what I am saying. 

At one point in my life, I used to consider myself a Pentecostal.  I had an experience in 1999 where I professed to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.  Pentecostals, historically and theologically coming out of the Methodist/Holiness movement, believe that all believers can have this second blessing and that if you have this blessing, you will speak in tongues.  For Pentecostals, this is a staple in their theology.  Theologically, speaking in tongues, for the Pentecostal, is not an option; it is a command for all believers to pursue.  Like I said, I used to define myself as a Pentecostal, but I do not think that I ever fully believed this.  I had to categorize my experience and at the time, that is where I chose to categorize it.  Later on, I moved into what is now traditionally known as charismatic theology.  I believed that certain believers were given the gift of tongues, but others were not.  Historically speaking, charismatic believers rose out of mainline denominations in the 50’s and 60’s during what is known as the Charismatic Renewal.  For the majority of the last decade, this was my stance on this issue. 

There is another category, mostly for historic purposes, called the Third Wave.  If you wanted to pigeon-hole me, I would be the closest to this category, but what I have found is that as my beliefs have evolved, my emphasis has become less on having one particular manifestation of a gift on a person and more on generally allowing the Holy Spirit to move the way that He wills.  Because of this, I now believe that tongues will manifest themselves at the Spirit’s enablement and I do not really get into people seeking after them.  I believe that believers need to know that all gifts are relevant today, but per Corinthians, I would much rather see people excel in gifts that build up the church.  As such, I de-emphasize tongues to make it even with the other gifts and as such, I do not believe that I could be called a charismatic.  Perhaps I am wrong about that, but while at one point in my life, I would have major issues belonging to a church that did not “practice the gifts,” I no longer have those qualms.  My concern is that people have a general openness to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to do in their lives.

The beauty of about growing theologically is that it is like an onion; you just keep peeling off layers and layers until you get underneath all of it.  My opinions on being charismatic may change again, but right now, this is where I’m at and I’m very grateful to be here.

Why I Am No Longer Reformed

For a while now, I have been considering making a major theological change.  Really, it is more of a recognition of something that has been on my heart for awhile.  Since 2003, I have been a member of a group online defining itself as being both reformed and charismatic.  I joined the group in early 2003 after leaving the Assemblies of God church that I was a member of because of the discovery that I was a Calvinist.  But much has happened in the last seven years and just moments ago, after having been called names and accused of some rather vicious things, I made the decision to leave the group, no longer being able to tolerate the growing divisive attitude in the group.  Some of you think, “Big deal…it’s just an online group,” but it was much more that to me.  They were very intregal in helping to shape my theology and many people on the board are great people.  I just realized that the terms “reformed” and “charismatic” were terms that I was hiding behind and I also believe that many in that group and in the reformed camp are guilty of the same thing.

So let’s just get this out in the open: I am no longer reformed, but let me tell you what I mean by that.  The fact is, I may never have been.  One pastor on that board posted a definition of “reformed” that included being a member of a reformed denomination.   I do not agree fully with this person’s position, but will grant him the point that since I have never been a member of a denomination that is reformed, you could make that case.  The church that I grew up in was Southern Baptist.  I attended a Pentecostal Baptist church (yes, I wrote that right) while in undergrad before we joined the Assemblies of God Church.  The church that I became affiliated with while in seminary was the Evangelical Free Church.  It takes no official position on Calvinism or Arminianism.  Our membership is currently at The Chapel in North Canton, Ohio and while it does not take an official position, the doctrine that is taught is primarily of a Baptist flavor and most likely a hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism.  As I said, if that is your definition of reformed, then I have never been reformed.  However, I have tentatively embraced all five points of Calvinism.  I have described myself though as a “questioning Calvinist.”  I have a lot of questions particularly in regards to the doctrine of Limited Atonement.  I firmly now believe that Jesus died for all of humanity, not just the elect.  The best explanation of this is Driscoll’s explanation of “unlimited limited atonement,” but that isn’t the only question that I have.  The others seem rather minor compared to that one.  Anyway, my point is that since I embrace all five points of Calvinism, I did consider myself reformed.  The reason that I no longer consider myself reformed is that it seems that those who want or desire to be labeled as “reformed” seem to think that the Reformation stopped around the 16th century.  No, it continues today.  We are to be “ever reforming” in the best sense of the reformers.  We are to be on offense, not always on defense, defending the fortress of Calvinism.  I have observed that the current state of the reformed camp places more emphasis on defending the fort, than advancing onto new ground.  My desire is to bring people to Jesus, not necessarily to some academic agreement to a particular theology.  I’ll still teach and preach that God is sovereign in all things, but I’ll let the Holy Spirit deal with the specifics in each individual believer’s heart.  I still believe that theology is important; indeed, I believe it is everything, but I’m not here to shove it down their throats and I will not break fellowship with those who believe differently that I do on that issue.  I do not believe that Calvinism or “being reformed” is the gospel.  The gospel is John 3:16.

So there you have it.  I’m not even sure if I was ever reformed, but you know what?  I don’t really care anymore.  I just want to love and serve Jesus.  At the end of my life, I am not going to be asked whether or not I am a reformed or a Calvinist.  What matters is what I do with Jesus.  That means everything.

Should I Stay Out of Politics?

Recently, I had a rather strong emotional reaction to the passage of the health care bill.  I have been reflecting on that off and on for a few days.  It is no secret, nor have I ever made it one, that I am a political conservative.  I generally vote Republican because generally speaking, Republicans are conservative.  With that being said, I did not vote Republican in the last presidential election because I was not in favor of who the Republicans nominated.  I agonized over the decision, but finally decided that I could not, in good conscience, vote for McCain.  Since Ron Paul, my preferred Republican candidate, did not run on the Republican ticket, I broke with the party that I traditionally vote for and voted for Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President because he most closely resembled what I believed. 

            However, in recent years, prior to the election of 2008, the Republican Party has moved closer to the center in order to try and appease their power base.  Meanwhile, traditional conservatives in the Party did not move, so when their party began to go moderate, they got labeled “right-wing.”  Now, after the 2008 election and this health-care debacle which has succeeded in pretty much making all politicians look evil in some regard, they are once again trying to move right and I am left (no pun intended) questioning the point of it all. 

I may be a political conservative, but I am first and foremost, a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ.  When I look at Jesus and his life, he seemed to buck the system much more than he played a role in it, which honestly does not look very Republican to me.  But he also believed that people were ultimately responsible as individuals to repent to God for their sin and not rely on Judaism or the Roman government to be their salvation, and that doesn’t sound like a Democrat. Jesus never relied on the system as the method of salvation.  While never completely throwing Judaism out with the bathwater, he had strong words for those in the system calling the Pharisees and the Sadducees a “brood of vipers” in Matthew 3:7.

I honestly do not buy into the propaganda that many in the evangelical base promoted in the 80’s and 90’s that this is a Christian nation.  If we ever were a Christian nation, which I have serious doubts about considering the evidence that most of our founding fathers were deists, we certainly are not a Christian nation now.  Buying into that line of thinking almost makes it sound like the “manifest destiny” of the 19th century (which translates into American Imperialism in the 20th and 21st centuries) makes us some sort of nation chosen by God.  The notion that America is blessed because it has honored God by promoting democracy is really nonsense.  Since when did God ever put his blessing on any governmental system except the theocracy of Old Testament Israel?  Perhaps our country is blessed because since it is a democratic society, we have more Christians.  But even that suggests that other countries with Christians are somehow less worthy than Americans are.  The bottom line is that the gospel of Americanism is different than the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To accept that an American Utopia will be our savior denies that all-sufficiency of Christ as our Savior.  In other words, a perfect United States will never make us more righteous.  Righteousness comes from only one person, Jesus Christ. 

So should I vote?  As of right now, my conviction is that I should vote, but only because Christians are commanded to seek justice and the way that our voice is heard in America is through the ballot box.  But I should never substitute my civic duty for my moral duty to obey my God and my Savior.  That is idolatry and it feeds into the lie that my salvation belongs to someone other than Christ.

On Judging Others

What a great weekend!  Kandice and I were able to visit with some our friends and family in Michigan and celebrate the wedding of my wife’s Aunt Mary and now Uncle Tim.  They were married about four months ago, but Kandice’s Uncle Ray, who lives in Pinckney, Michigan, hosted a great Wedding/Memorial Day party for the family this weekend.  The burgers, short ribs, and the brats were awesome!  Hopefully, this was not just a weekend to eat good food, but I sincerely hope you took the time to remember those who have given their lives in wars current and past to defend our freedom.

I was able to reflect more this weekend about what it means to judge someone.  Matthew 7:1 is probably one of the most abused passages by both believers and non-believers.  We are commanded not to judge by any other standard but by the one that we hold ourselves to.  As I was dwelling on this, I remembered Paul’s words in Romans 3 that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  The standard is the glory of God and since we have all fallen short of that, it doesn’t seem that any of us have the right to judge anyone.

I don’t think that this means that we can’t be discerning, but I think what it does mean is that we remember that this is really all about grace.  There is just no way that we can show grace by drawing a line in the sand that we created and judging someone for jumping over it.  We can show grace by lovingly pointing others back to our standard of right and wrong, the Word of God and per that, the glory of God.

I think that I have been guilty lately of being very judgmental; again becoming the thing that I despise and my motives, as pure as they have been, have not been pure enough.  My wife lovingly reminded me as we were at McDonald’s and I was grumbling about the long time it took for the staff to get our food (i.e. being judgmental) that it’s not about us.  It really is about Jesus and grace.   Jesus, help me to remember this.