Pinnock leaves Calvin in dust (1)

In several blogposts on the shortcomings of Calvinism, I will be drawing on the late Dr. Clark Pinnock’s essay “From Augustine to Arminius:  A Pilgrimage in Theology.”  The entire essay is available free here:

Having carried around a printout of this essay for a couple years, waiting to “find the time,” I come to this discussion rather lately and languidly—twice over.  As I began to read this in earnest one morning, it dawned on me that I had also lamed out of an e-discussion on this same theologian’s book The Openness of God some 19 years ago.  (I did return to it, and notes I’d saved about it—blogs findable here.)

I give these details to set the stage for some really significant stuff.  It is so significant a) that my feeble brain didn’t want to deal with it too quickly and b) that I simply could not let it go.  For 19 years.

I haven’t read Calvin per se, and I cannot lay claim to any thorough understanding of even the TULIP tenets of Calvinism.  Bona fide theology is not often my sphere of choice, and so I wade in here with trepidation, yet with confidence that Pinnock’s words convey some important truths about intelligent, biblically anchored Christianity.

Full disclosure:

  1. I am offering this heavy material because it is so significant (and heavy!).
  2. I am offering this material because I think more believers ought to be convinced that Calvinism is full of overstatements and overzealousness.
  3. I am offering this material because I want other, relatively intelligent believers to be convinced, or re-convinced, of Calvinism’s shortcomings.
  4. I am offering this material because I want other, relatively intelligent believers to realize that deeply thoughtful, resoundingly thorough scholars such as Pinnock have come to the conclusion that Calvinism is not the only place where Christian scholarship dwells.  (The presupposition that Calvinists are usually, and convincingly, the best Christian scholars deserves challenge.)

Pinnock explains,

. . . the Calvinists continue to be major players in the evangelical coalition, even though their dominance has lessened.  They pretty well control the teaching of theology in the large evangelical seminaries; they own and operate the largest book-publishing houses; and in large part they manage the inerrancy movement. . . .  The Reformed impulse continues to carry great weight in the leadership of the evangelical denominations, though less than it did in the 50s.

Therefore, it was in part a sense of frustration that prompted me initially to edit Grace Unlimited in 1975 and the present volume now.  I wanted to do something, however modest, to give a louder voice to the silent majority of Arminian evangelicals, to help them understand the theological route they are traveling, and to encourage others to speak up theologically.

. . .

As I compose this introduction, I’m unsure what shape this is going to take . . . probably several days’ worth of material . . . probably Pinnock’s words interspersed with a few of my own comments.

We begin with Pinnock’s beginning, in which he reveals that studies in Hebrews and his own inward honesty first led him to begin questioning Calvinist presuppositions.

 . . . I was teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at the time and attending to the doctrine particularly in the book of Hebrews.  If in fact believers enjoy the kind of absolute security Calvinism had taught me they do, I found I could not make very good sense of the vigorous exhortations to persevere (e.g., 3:12) or the awesome warnings not to fall away from Christ (e.g., 10:26), which the book addresses to Christians.  It began to dawn on me that my security in God was linked to my faith-union with Christ and that God is teaching us here the extreme importance of maintaining and not forsaking this relationship.  The exhortations and the warnings could only signify that continuing in the grace of God was something that depended at least in part on the human partner.  And once I saw that, the logic of Calvinism was broken in principle, and it was only a matter of time before the larger implications of its breaking would dawn on me.  The thread was pulled, and the garment must begin to unravel, as indeed it did.

What had dawned on me was what I had known experientially all along in my walk with the Lord, that there is a profound mutuality in our dealings with God.

As a Calvinist of course I had professed to believe in a kind of human freedom, a compatibilist kind that claims that our actions can be both free and determined at the same time. Sometimes I would try to explain it, other times I would give up and call it an antinomy, but deep down I knew there was something amiss.

To be continued

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