On Clark Pinnock (1937–2010)
(My seven-year old piece on this amazing theologian, written a day after he passed on)
Clark Pinnock — theologian iconoclast extraordinaire — passed away over the weekend. If I could pinpoint a name which opened up theology for me, it was Pinnock. If there was an author whom I’d instinctively scan for in the index of any piece of theological writing, it would be Pinnock.
I recall the wee hours of the mornings of my first year of work after graduating. I’d be sitting at a mamak restaurant, pouring through, among other books, The Grace of God, Will of Man (edited by Pinnock). That was my first encounter with his work. His chapter, “From Augustine to Arminius” outlined his conversion (if you could call it that) from conservative Calvinism to a full integration of genuine human self-determination into theology. No longer did he believe that freedom is but an illusion, no longer did he hold to a vision of God as all-controlling and all-determining.
Then came that book, that piece of work: The Openness of God (ed. Pinnock and co-authored with John Sanders, Richard Rice, William Hasker and David Basinger). Pinnock’s chapter on systematic theology was the fulcrum that balanced all the four other essays in this ground-breaking book which put forth a perspective of God who so loves that He sovereignly decided to create a reality which would hold genuine surprises, even for Him. This is what’s known as open theism. To this day, I’m not convinced by those who would argue that divine repentance as written in the Bible (more than two dozen times) are merely anthropomorphisms i.e. God’s “accommodation” of His Word to human understanding. I hold that if we were to take the Bible seriously, we must acknowledge (like Pinnock and the thinkers he inspired) the reality-depicting dimension of these passages. In a word, we need to wrestle (like Pinnock with this — one of many — very public about-turn in his theology) with the understanding that maybe the future doesn’t exist to be fully known, not even by an almighty God.
Pinnock, in boldly declaring the irreducibility of human freedom and the creational consequences of God’s love, was surely ahead of his time. For a post-college dude jumping into the corporate world, there was hardly a more profound distraction. Little did this dude, me, know that these two tenets — human freedom and divine self-limitation — would stick with me the rest of my theological journey.
Pinnock’s most emotionally expressive work, though, is surely Flame of Love, his magnum opus on the Holy Spirit. In the work, you can feel Pinnock’s passion and faith flow out. One can easily imagine him closing his eyes and letting God’s Spirit write through him. This book is as much poem and song as it is systematic theology. (And now I’ve noticed I keep using this term ‘systematic theology’ to refer to Pinnock; this perhaps is yet one more reason why I admire him. He always seeks to put forth a coherent, connected and full picture of the God he can’t help but love).
Pinnock’s iconoclasm, creativity and boundary-pushing are also seen in the many Counterpoint books he contributed to. He seems to relish exploring and defending less popular perspectives, e.g. annihilationism, inclusivism and, of course, theologies of providence and election based on the open view (he’s written for 4 Views of Hell, Predestination and Freewill: 4 Views of Divine Sovereignity and Human Freedom, and 4 Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World and Perspectives on Election: 5 Views). Undeniably, Pinnock’s daring and courage has influenced me. Without exaggeration, I can trace a direct line from Pinnock’s bold ‘charging forth’ in his theologizing to my own eager (and sometimes reckless!) plunges into the heterodox. Yet lest some express concern about the dangers I get myself (and others in), I’d say that in whatever I write and think about, I have but one anchor which I’ll never let go off and for which I’m extremely grateful to Pinnock for embodying in his work: the love of Christ.
I believe it’s Pinnock steadfast conviction in the love of Jesus Christ for him, it’s Pinnock’s unflinching belief in the strong strong grace of God, that provides the foundation and drive for all that he says and does. His critics think one way (“God is a holy God! How dare we be too creative!”) but he leans another (“God is a loving God! How dare we stay put in the status quo!”). When negative questions on his salvation arises (“Why aren’t you more careful in your theologizing?? Aren’t you afraid to lose your salvation??”), Pinnock may conceivably reply: “It is because I am fully assured of my salvation that I dare to launch out to break new paths for His glory!”
I will never forget his courage, his searching, his humility, his scholarship and his love for the God in whom he’d put everything.