Was Clark Pinnock The Beginning Of The Young, Restless, and “Reformed” Movement?

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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  1. I remember the “early” Clark Pinnock with great fondness and affection. After my solid 1969 conversion (or a covenant child’s faith renewal) to Christ, Pinnock was a “go-to” guy through my years at RTS Jackson, 1970-73. The years 1969-1971 were most critical for my solid grounding in the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. Pinnock’s little booklet from 1967, “A Defense of Biblical Infallbility” (from P & R back when those letters evoked serious theology) was deeply influential to a young fella in his early 20’s. Add to that J. I. Packer’s “Fundamentalism and the Word of God,” and the foundation was strong and deep. Here was a young TR’s one-two punch: The middle-aged Pinnock (early 30’s!) and the old man Packer (mid-40’s!) ministered to heart and mind. I came to the serious study of Warfield a little later, but Pinnock and Packer hold a special place of honor.

    I also remember having only mild interest in Pinnock’s important book “Biblical Revelation, the Foundation of Christian Theology” (1971). Honestly, by that time I didn’t need it, and was deeply into other subjects. Note that this period was well before the stellar work of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, with all its excellent publications. In the later ’60’s and early ’70’s, we gladly took what we could get.

    I must also mention Dr. Morton Smith at RTS, whose rock-sold Reformed orthodoxy and humble Christian character strengthened my convictions even further. Many of us have a “most beloved teacher”; for me, it’s Dr. Smith.

    By God’s grace I will never depart from these early-1970’s foundations. Of course, I kept up with Clark Pinnock’s sad decline over the following decades. I was saddened, to be sure, but spent very little time thinking about the later, unreliable, and finally heterodox Pinnock. May God be praised for his early work, which helped shape a generation of young Christians.

    • Frank,

      Yes, he was helpful in the early years but there was always a fundamental flaw in his theology: He never did theology like a Protestant. Reason played to large a place in his theology when he was a predestinarian and then he reacted toward Pentecostal irrationalism. Ultimately, it seems that rationalism won, insofar as Open Theism is a deeply rationalist (in the sense that reason, disguised as biblicism, runs the show) project.

      We shouldn’t think that his decline came from nowhere. It didn’t. It behooves us to recognize the source.

  2. I went to Mexico City in 1995 as a missionary from a Bible Church (baptistic) background that was thoroughly pietistic. (I’ll have to think a little more about the”rationalistic” part because frankly, there was very little thinking going on . . . instead, we were mostly just told what to think.)
    That first year in Mexico, another missionary (from the IFB) gave me a copy of Iain Murray’s Revival and Revivalism. As I read it slowly, I realized that I didn’t know one single church in the USA, at least in my circles, that wasn’t infected with the Finneyism of the Second Great Awakening. I’m very grateful for God putting a number of Reformed people in my path to encourage me in truth over the years since. (You are one of them, and I thank God for those influences.)
    All that to say, without God’s gracious, good and kind providences in my life, I can see how I may very easily gone down the same road as Pinnock.
    Thank you for the truth you proclaim. May this encourage you today.

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