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!”