Controversial Canadian theologian Clark H. Pinnock died on Sunday afternoon (August 15, 2010) at the age of 73. He and his wife Dorothy were members of Little Bethel Community Church, where the funeral service will be held.
In March of this year he had written to a couple of colleagues to explain why he was retiring from active theological work:
I want to inform you that I am now middle stage Alzheimer’s. I will not be able to do my writing etc. I am 73 years now, and I’ve enjoyed my biblical three score and ten. I am not bitter. I have had a good life. I’ll meet you over Jordan if not before.
You are free to make this news known.
Pinnock was reared in a liberal Baptist church in Toronto but came to the Lord in his teenage years in part through the influence of his maternal grandparents (who had served as missionaries in Nigeria), but also through a Sunday School teacher: “I do not owe my conversion in 1949, humanly speaking, to that congregation or its ministers, but rather to a teacher in our Sunday School who, deeply troubled by the lack of sound biblical preaching in the pulpit, continued to teach the Word of God to his intermediate class of boys, aged 12-14.”
He received his B.A. (Ancient Near Eastern Studies) at the University of Toronto (1960), and went on to do his PhD under F.F. Bruce at Manchester University on “The Concept of Spirit in the Epistles of Paul” (1963). Following his PhD Pinnock learned about the work of Francis Schaeffer and spent a summer at L’Abri.
In 1965 he joined the faculty at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, teaching systematics instead of NT. It was during his time at NOBTS that Pinnock’s first book was published: A Defense of Biblical Infallibility (1967), which helped to establish him as a stalwart for inerrancy.
He then went on to teach at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1969-1974), Regent College in Vancouver (1974-1977), and McMaster Divinity School in Ontario (1977-2002). It was during his years at TEDS that he made the shift from Calvinism to Arminianism, as he was unable to reconcile the warning passages in Hebrews with his belief in “eternal security.” His move toward Arminianism, and then on to open theism, was one that “logic required” and “Scripture permitted.”
Pinnock was an early and leading proponent of the “openness of God theology,” whereby aspects of the future were unknown with certainty to God. Many, including me, would agree with John Piper’s assessment: “Open theism, which denies that God can foreknow free human choices, dishonors God, distorts Scripture, damages faith, and would, if left unchecked, destroy churches and lives. Its errors are not peripheral but central.” Pinnock also moved in a disconcerting direction on issues like annihilationism (no eternal punishment) and inclusivism (people can be saved by Christ even if they don’t know of Christ).
Even as Pinnock sought to be faithful, in many respects the “later Pinnock” devoted much of his considerable talent and energy to convincing God’s people to embrace views of God and his ways that are contrary to God’s revelation. That is not a glib observation but a sober assessment. It’s difficult to write such things upon one’s death, but I’m not sure there is any virtue in skirting this truth.
At the same time, many younger evangelicals will know only of the pilgrim who kept turning left and will be unaware of Pinnock’s earlier contributions to 20th century conservative American evangelical theology. Russell Moore explains “Why Conservative Evangelicals Should Thank God for Clark Pinnock.” Moore observes that “the nation’s largest evangelical denomination [the SBC] would never have turned back to biblical inerrancy had it not been for a man who would later reject the concept.” Moore writes, “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.” The whole thing is worth reading for an appreciation of the first leg of the journey by Pinnock the theological pilgrim.
The Bible encourages us to view those who have gone before us as examples, both positively and negatively—with virtues to imitate and vices to shun. Clark Pinnock gives us the opportunity to do both.