The name Clark Pinnock (1937–2010) does not appear in Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, and Reformed (2008) but perhaps it should have? Earlier this week, in our Medieval theology seminar, we were wrestling through a piece by William of Ockham. In trying to explain what he was about (no easy task) I drew an analogy with Open Theism. It occurred to me that Pinnock might have been the original YRR figure. As I understand his trajectory, he raised in liberal Baptist church, then became predestinarian but later abandoned his predestinarian views and embraced and vigorously promoted Open Theism. In this view the future is said to be genuinely “open” to God, who becomes dependent upon the free choices of humans. In Open Theism God not only does not control, by providence, the choices creatures make but he cannot know what they will be. It was a truly radical proposal. It is impossible to square Open Theism with ecumenical orthodoxy (“I believe in God the Father almighty…”). Any biblical passage that seemed to contradict Open Theism was dismissed as a figure of speech. It was breathtaking in its biblicism and rationalism, i.e., the dominance of reason over Scripture. I used to call it Socinian until I began reading some seventeenth-century Socinians. I think now that Open Theism would make most Socinians blush.
How then was Pinnock a pioneer of the YRR movement? Well, he was a young predestinarian, Baptist, who, as young man advocated divine sovereignty and biblical inerrancy. Those are the pillars of the YRR movement. He was also demonstrably restless. From the mid-1970s he became a neo-Pentecostal. Then he became openly Arminian and finally a leading proponent of Open Theism. That trajectory is nothing if not restless. Like a lot of the YRR movement, he was never grounded in a Reformation tradition nor in a Reformation confession. Theologically, he was a serial dater. He moved from one movement in contemporary evangelicalism to another and finally to another. The Pinnock of 1967–74 looks a good deal like the early YRR movement and like much of the YRR movement he was never anchored to the Reformation.
Does this mean that the YRR movement is bound to follow Pinnock’s trajectory? It does not but like a sign on an unstable cliff near the ocean, Pinnock should serve as a warning about the instability of a movement, which seeks to add the doctrine of predestination to the theology, piety, and practice of the Second Great Awakening. It is, to switch images, it is an unstable compound and seems likely to explode.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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