Clark Pinnock Dies at Age 73; Was God Surprised?

pinnock_clarkToo soon? Bad taste? Perhaps but so is suggesting that God might have a body (see Most Moved Mover) and that the future is “genuinely open” to God. As soon as I read of Pinnock’s death in Christianity Today the first thing I thought is: I bet he’s glad that God wasn’t surprised.

Pinnock belonged to a class of who theologians, it might be said, were ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. From whatever he was he passed through a form of predestinarian theology (the original “Young, Restless, and Reformed” guy? Perhaps the YRR fellows need to take heed?) to neo-Pentecostalism, to Arminianism, to Open Theism. I don’t know where he landed. Along the way, however, he didn’t just call into question the Reformation but fundamental catholic, creedal (i.e., the Apostles’ Creed) doctrine. He’s a hero to those “evangelicals” who resist all boundaries (think Brian McLaren) but I think of him as a sort of theological virus that continued to mutate and who resisted all treatments. I guess that’s okay if you like that sort of thing but I doesn’t strike me as healthy.

I’m sorry for the physical struggles he endured in his last days. I’m sure he’s rejoicing in the love and mercy of God to foolish sinners as all believers shall one day. We should mark Clark Pinnock however and we should not celebrate him. It’s possible to be Arminian without calling into question the Reformation doctrine of justification or dispensing with catholic dogma. Here I’m thinking of Tom Oden. I disagree with Tom about all sorts of things but he’s not cavalier and even arrogant toward the past. Pinnock was and he gave precious little evidence that he had really wrestled with it. The adjective “blithe” comes to mind when I think of Pinnock. Did I say “arrogant”? Oh yes, I did. Well, “arrogant” comes to mind as well. If one is going to haul the entire catholic faith into court and indict it, as Pinnock did, then one should do the catholic faith the honor of at least saying “hello.”

Why this post? Well, as I close I remember that in American evangelicalism the impulse to “niceness” will drive evangelicals to publish sweetly sanitized eulogies of Pinnock. I doubt that will be helpful or true to fact. We should remember him as a fellow who was willing to quote Mormon theologians approvingly on the proposition that God has a body. Never mind the fact that we despatched the Anthropomorphite heresy more than a millennium ago. Never mind the fact that he called into question the proposition that God knows the future. If there’s anything that belongs to the biblical and catholic doctrine of God it is that God knows the future. Somebody should remember these things.

We should remember Pinnock as a the epitome of theologically rootless, confessionless American evangelical Christianity. He’s the poster child of what became of modern neo-evangelicalism. His radical version of neo-evangelicalism stopped just degrees from Socinianism (and arguably he verged into it). We should remember him the way we remember a child who wanders right to the edge of a busy roadway all the while counting on her daddy (the responsible, historically rooted, confessionally rooted folk) to save her at the last minute: ruefully.

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  1. I remember the early 1970’s, when Pinnock’s booklet “A Defense of Biblical Infallibility” was required reading for young “TR” folk. This was before Harold Lindsell’s “The Bible for the Bible” and the superb work of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Through 40 years, I saw Pinnock fall from that great height, and how grievous was the fall. Surely the sad story of his theological decline is a warning for us all.

  2. Dr. Clark

    If “noticia”, a component of faith, requires that we know of the person and work of Christ, and “assensus”, another component, requires that we believe this, isn’t the diminishing of the omniscience of God a transgression of these two facets of faith?

    What about the cults that deny the deity of Christ?

  3. I don’t agree with Pinnock, but this post is neither good taste nor pastoral. The death of someone is not the time to say, “I told you so”. I just hope your students don’t do the same when they pastor churches.

  4. Marty,

    I don’t know about that, it seems that public figures should assume that if they believe, or others around them believe they need/deserve/should be heard and received on a wide scale, than part and parcel of that exchange is that you will find those who affirm you and those who reject you. If one is too thin skinned to reckon those two outcomes, he might want to refrain from dispensing his views for mass consumption.

  5. Dr. Clark,

    I was just wondering that if we don’t get “noticia” right, the whole structure of faith breaks down and we may be left with something that is not the biblical (and Protestant) understanding of faith at all.

    Wondering, as well, if someone who doesn’t believe in the deity of Christ can be saved. If not, then this means that the definition of deity is critical to faith, and a perversion of this definition (e.g., Open Theism) is inimical to faith.

  6. I almost never feel the need to merely to say “good job” at blogs, but this is an excellent post, Dr Clark. I disagree with you about a fair bit, but this post deals with Pinnock’s death in exactly the right way: by neither damning him with faint and half-hearted praise for a ministry gone wrong nor assigning him to hell as if the grace of God were not bountiful enough for his errors.

  7. The question is not whether God’s grace can surpass even a man’s serious errors, but whether that man was actually believing in the God of the Bible. A false God cannot save, any more than a false Christ or a false gospel can save. Arguing for a corporal god who cannot see or know the future of free moral agents comes a bit too close for me to flatly assert, as does Dr. Clark, “I’m sure he’s rejoicing in the love and mercy of God to foolish sinners as all believers shall one day.” That’s all.

  8. Sean,

    It’s not about public disagreement or being thin skinned. It’s about how we as believers can rightly show kindness. There is a time for polemics, and there is not. At one’s death, it is not the time for polemics. Wait for a while. That’s just good manners.

  9. @Sean : I’d say the question (that we can answer, anyway) is not whether someone is actually believing. The question is, does this person profess the gospel? As Clark Pinnock without doubt denied the gospel, Dr. Clark’s statement is inappropriate.

    That aside, Dr.Clark, this post is great. Thanks for it.

  10. I believe the Gospel message that saves must include a sound Christology that declares the biblical doctrine of the divinity of Christ and a biblical doctrine of divinity itself (Theology proper), for the Law that is declared beforehand stipulates that no human being can be saved apart from God Himself taking on the requirement of perfect righteousness and paying the penalty of the demands of His own justice.

    This is why sound biblical instruction is necessary in evangelization, for we know that “instantaneous” regeneration is not the norm and that immersion in the doctrines of Law and Gospel is the ordinary means by which the Holy Spirit draws in the elect.

    Therefore, if Pinnock has rejected these “elementary truths,” may we not have some doubt?

  11. I remember attending an Evangelical Theological Society meeting in San Diego in 1989, I believe. This was just as the “openness of God” theology was getting cranked up in a serious way with Pinnock’s first book on the subject. Pinnock gave a talk, and then there was a Q&A time. As the questions from the audience became sharper and more critical, Pinnock became more and more upset. At the end, he was shouting and screaming at the questioners (being there, I remember this clearly). He was VERY upset that people were questioning his position, let alone that they were doing so in such a challenging manner. In the end, he broke off the Q&A time and pretty much stomped off the stage. It was, to say the least, an amazing performance – and it reminded me of the old saying, “Evidence weak here – talk louder.”

    • I was there also. To keep things a little balanced, I’d like to note that members of the audience were “hissing” at him as he spoke. I was a seminary student at the time and embarrassed that The audience could behave in such a disrespectful way.

  12. @Warren : it’s not about doubting or assuming Pinnock’s destiny. The only thing we can know is what he professed. And his profession was a denial of the gospel.

    What follows from this is that we can say “if he truly believed what he said he believed, then he is lost.” No ambiguity. We know what the gospel is; we know what constitutes a denial of it. We’re not claiming knowledge of things only God can know. We’re not even speculating about it.

  13. Baus,

    Fair enough.

    My qualms are in the context of Pinnock standing in integrity over what the devolution of his theology had become up until the time allotted to him by the Lord had expired.

  14. I think there is nothing tasteless about this post at all. It’s actually a good, if not biblical test of someone’s theology to see whether you can “die well” with it. I sat in an apologetics class once where the teacher lectured on a philosophical theodicy, but then turned around and said: “When my wife died, all of this didn’t help me one bit!” – Bad theology will do that to you!

  15. I agree with you, Warren. Your articulation of the issue is clear and precise. Having said that, I think in this case, Dr Clark wishes to temper his critique of Clark’s “radical” heresy, with the emphasis on *radical*, by reserving comments on Pinnock’s eternal state.

  16. I met Pinnock at one of the regional ETS meetings back in the mid 90’s. He had read a paper that followed the trek he had been on for sometime. He openly ridiculed penal substitionary atonement saying he could never embrace a deity that required such a barbaric doctrine.He went on to mock the notion of imputation as well and then concluded by suggesting that Evangelicalism needs to develope a paraellel doctrine of purgatory saying that the Reformation’s understanding of justification totally missed the boat.

  17. The fact is that Clark Pinnock was a false teacher who hated the God of the Bible with all of his depraved heart, created a false “god” to put in His place, and spent his life doing everything he possibly could to persuade others to do the same.

  18. Marty–you are right that pastors shouldn’t use a congregant’s death as a time for critique, but I believe you’re missing several distinctions here. First, there is the pastor/theologian distinction. In both cases, a key aim is to guard Christ’s flock. As a pastor, that aim includes not attacking your own flock. As a theologian, that includes not letting others attack the flock. In an era of sanitized eulogies and inferred endorsement of theologies, there is a great need at the point of death to clearly distinguish between what was right and wrong–for the sake of God’s people. The way to do that gets to the second distinction–personal/professional. Dr. Clark specifically critiqued several viewpoints and attitudes without wishing his damnation. We can simultaneously hope that Pinnock’s errors did not follow him the grave and at the same time hope that none of his students do as well.

  19. Marty,

    I can appreciate what you’re saying, but Pinnock was fairly well celebrated within the evangelical world, and was dangerously and cavalierly wrong about some very foundational issues, not the least of which was attacking the forensic nature of justification. He’s one of those figures in the contemporary scene you must address, and his death may be a time for many to falsely laud his insights in the name of charity. Concerns for the gospel overshadow, in my mind, those considerations of being nice. Again, if you’re a public figure particularly a pastor/doctor of the church, you better know you signed up for this.

  20. While a liberalism leads people far away from the Word of God (Dr. Pinnock), a conservatism leads people far away from the Love of God (Dr. Clark).

  21. Keedai, I realize you’re confused by Dr. Clark Pinnock’s situation, but since your name is Korean and I’m assuming you are Korean as well, think for a moment of Esther Ahn, the hero of Korean independence.

    Very few of us on the Heidelblog would want to follow Esther Ahn out of Presbyterianism and into the Southern Baptist Convention, or endorse her views on tonguespeaking. However, can we not still say that Esther Ahn did tremendous good for the cause of Christianity in Korea by publicly challenging the Japanese imperial persection of the church with her public protest at the Japanese Diet (parliament)? If it had not been for the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, she would be today celebrated not only as a Christian resistance leader but also as a Presbyterian martyr for the faith since she was due to be executed for treason on the day the bomb was dropped. In fact, her role as a hero of Korean independence was viewed as so dangerous that the Communists tried to kidnap her and take her to Moscow, and she had to flee for her life to reach what is now South Korea.

    Dr. Pinnock’s errors are of a tremendously more serious character, of course. I’d go far beyond saying they’re “errors” and call them heresy and probably apostasy.

    But that doesn’t overturn all the good work Dr. Pinnock did earlier in his career, any more than we need to endorse Esther Ahn’s decision to leave Presbyterianism if we look to her, quite correctly so, as a hero of Korean Christian resistance to Japanese and then Communist tyranny and persecution.

  22. Gustin Oh wrote: “While a liberalism leads people far away from the Word of God (Dr. Pinnock), a conservatism leads people far away from the Love of God (Dr. Clark).”

    I’ve been seriously critical of Dr. Clark, but I believe this is grossly unwarranted by anything I have seen Dr. Clark write.

    Furthermore, if I have to make the choice of an error of veering off the left or the right of the designated travel lane, I’d much rather make a mistake of being too conservative by trying too hard to emphasize the authority of the Bible and the sovereignty of God and the depravity of man, and perhaps run into a ditch, than make a mistake of veering leftward and getting hit head-on by a Mack truck.

    The errors of conservatism involve making a mistake about what the inerrant and infallible Bible says. The errors of liberalism deny that God has spoken inerrantly and infallibly in His Word, or they deny His sovereignty and our depravity.

    It seems pretty obvious which errors are worse.

  23. >if not biblical test of someone’s theology to see whether you can “die well” with it.

    Pinnock had Altzheimer’s, if what I read elsewhere is correct. Probably hard to die well with that.

  24. @Baus

    Agreed. Moreover, what true church was Pinnock a member of throughout his life?

    I wouldn’t want to die with his theology.

  25. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” … Unless ye be speaking of a theologian who asks hard questions and furthers the “ever-reforming” spirit of the Church, then shall ye breathe forth all kinds of vitriol and accuse him of being a false teacher and a heretic. For all who do not endorse thine own perspective be unworthy of Christian charity. Indeed, “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell”, but calling someone a “theological virus” is entirely appropriate for a follower of Jesus.

    • Charles,

      Do Pelagius and Socinus count as “ever reforming”? Can one “ever reform” one’s way out of Christianity? You’ll notice that I didn’t criticize Pinnock for not being Reformed (he didn’t claim to be) but only for calling into question catholic dogma, you know, “Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem; Creatorem coeli et terrae.” The Reformed did not write those words. We didn’t write the Nicene either nor the Definition of Chalcedon. Pinnock laid siege not only to Reformed theology but to the holy catholic faith. Why should he get a pass?

      Was the Apostle John too hard on those whom he called “antichrists” denying the humanity of Jesus (also catholic dogma). Was Jude too hard on those whom he called “waterless clouds”? If we’re going to quote Scripture let’s be a little more inclusive, shall we? I think Pinnock would approve of being inclusive, wouldn’t he?

  26. Two things stand out to me in some of the comments above. One is the reaction against Dr. Clark for daring to address fairly and yet forthrightly some of the theological ‘wanderings’ of Pinnock. Dr. Clark’s words are apt: the impulse to “niceness”. The second is the speculation regarding Pinnock’s final destiny. In an acronym, QIRC…

    Thanks Dr. Clark for your clear writing.


  27. What better time than death to warn us if we are not in the faith and to comfort us if we are. Every church should have a cemetery.

    It is possible to have dementia and still cling to your faith. My mother, who was a brilliant woman but no theologian before she developed dementia, confessed her faith and confidence that she would see Jesus face to face just before she slipped into an ever-deepening sleep one week before Jesus called her to meet Him.

    In our tears,we worshiped as we held her and as she left us to meet Him just three weeks ago. I wonder if Dr. Pinnock’s family was able to do that?

  28. QIRC… it seems to me we can discuss and even nail down with certainty Pinnock’s doctrinal errors, and whether those errors would lead an adherent to damnation. But can we nail down with certainty his final destiny? I’m not sure we can. One can certainly speculate on this… but to be certain on this matter, I don’t think is possible. So why speculate?

    Other than that, no questions raised from this corner…


  29. It’s unfortunate that someone could drift as far as Pinnock; I’m sure he’s finally been set straight, ironically, “staighter” than us all.

  30. Btw, I’ve been reading here quite awhile, but I’ve never understood what the acronymn QIRC stands for; what’s it stand for?

  31. Skimming some articles regarding Dr. Pinnock’s death, I came across this…what I could only call a “crueulogy.” Neo-fundamentalist voices such as yours are quite within their rights to call out what they see as aberrations of the “true doctrine” in the appropriate time (I did not search your archives to see how many posts you had previously written on Pinnock) and I commend the author for not calling into question the salvation of the late theologian (although his presumptuous readers should be rebuked), but to malign a man like this a few days after his death seems to reveal a certain perversity if not sensationalism that does not befit a minister of the gospel. Would you feel it was in good taste, for instance, if a few days after the death of someone like John MacArthur (or even R. Scott Clark), progressives began ranting about all the small-minded, fear-mongering pharisee-ism they exhibited? Clearly it would be bad form.

    Seek wisdom, sir; do not delight in the admiration of fools. Dr. Pinnock did not hold his beliefs due to “bad taste”–he simply had a different hermeneutic, a tenacious intellect, and a radically revised theological trajectory that is as laudable to some believers as it is toxic to you and your ilk. Your YRR fellows should indeed watch out, as they can clearly see what happens, even to a former golden boy of Calvinism, should they dare question the “inerrant” views of their theological masters.

    • Hi Matt,

      I don’t think it’s fruitful to speculate about Pinnock’s state. Deut 29:29 discourages such speculation.

      As I said in the post, anyone who has read Pinnock’s work on Open Theism can see where he has brought into question the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of God, soteriology.

      The question is whether there is any part of mere catholic creedal (i.e., the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed etc) Christianity that is untouched by Pinnock’s revisions?

      Did you read the main post above? Have you read Most Moved Mover? It’s only one of his works and, were we to follow him, we should upend catholic Christianity entirely.

  32. ” I’m sure he’s rejoicing in the love and mercy of God to foolish sinners as all believers shall one day.”

    Isn’t that a speculative statement about Pinnock’s state? If Deut 29:29 applies to speculation about the eternal state (or destination) of individuals (and I’m not sure it does), surely it discourages both sides of the coin, not just the unhappy side.

    Can we not say that one who dies a committed Mormon, Buddhist, or atheist is not likely to be in the presence of the Lord above? Obviously all such judgments by man are tentative and should be done in humility, but some preliminary judgment as to the eternal destination of a man seems essential to missions and the ministering of the gospel. I don’t know where Dr. Pinnock is today–I certainly hope he is in Heaven–but I don’t believe that there is anything inherently wrong in speculating as to the eternal state or destination of individuals as long as its done with appropriate fear and humility.

  33. As someone who has been following Pinnock’s slide into serious doctrinal aberration for the past dozen years or so from the UK, I agree that speculation as to his eternal destiny is pretty pointless. What we can say for sure is that he came to deny certain of the fundamentals of our catholic faith – those theological loci over which true Christians of every stamp and tradition are united – and that, this being the case, a serious warning must be raised as to his credentials as a recognisably Christian theologian in the historic sense of those words.

  34. What a sad litany of pharisaical judgments from people who ought to know better. Have you ever read 1 Coorinthians Chapter 13? ‘…and the greatest of these is LOVE’

    • John,

      Are these verses loving?

      “Jude 1:4-7
      4 For there are certain men crept in privily,[ even] they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 5 Now I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. 6 And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, having in like manner with these given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.”

  35. Justin Taylor has been less than consistent in some of his positions but despite this he has steadfastly maintained that Open Theists believe that God knows when a person is dying. Obviously this is another inconsistency because it attributes foreknowledge to God, which I understand is something OTs deny.

    Nevertheless, Justin Taylor could end this argument as quickly as he started it (and I do believe he started it with his snarky post (“Get it?”) that took RSC to task for both tone and content, without offering a shred of proof to support his contention) if he proved his assertion by furnishing us with a citation from Pinnock (who is the subject of this disagreement, not OT per se) that confirms Taylor’s assertion. To be sure, if he had supplied such a quote up front he would have nipped this thread in the bud and put the onus on RSC to correct the record.

    I believe Christopher Hitchens’ axiom applies here, where he affirmed, “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” In this case, however, RSC has supported his position (at least to my satisfaction) by citing Pinnock’s own words, when he had no obligation to do so because the burden has always been on Taylor to prove RSC wrong with a citation that is more to point.

    Therefore, I ask Justin Taylor to furnish us with an on-point quote from Pinnock, where he states that he believes God knows when a person is on their deathbed proper as opposed to when they are gravely ill but not dying. Furthermore, if such a quote exists, then I hope it illuminates us as to how God, in his limited knowledge, distinguishes between near-death experiences and total flat-liners.

    And if such a quote does not exist, then I also ask Justin Taylor to admit it, for the record, because I think that such an admission may help relieve many of the ridiculous charges of Ninth Commandment violations that have emerged in this thread, while simultaneously revealing where the original false witness lies.

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