Pinnock leaves Calvin in dust (4)


Continuing to highlight some shortcomings of Calvinism, I’m drawing on the late Dr. Clark Pinnock’s essay “From Augustine to Arminius:  A Pilgrimage in Theology.”  The entire essay may be accessed here:

Next, Pinnock (whose words are in blue) deals briefly with the atoning death of our Christ.  Pinnock sheds biblical light on the limitations of Calvin’s “limited atonement” (the “L” of TULIP).  Calvin had seemed to have tied atonement to his notion of unconditional election — which was in his mind an absolute, unilateral election by sovereign choice. 

. . .  The easy part was accepting the obvious fact that contrary to Calvinian logic Jesus died for the sins of the whole world according to the New Testament.  Exegesis stands strongly against the [Calvinian  -bc] system on this point.

. . .

Christ’s death on behalf of the race evidently did not automatically secure for anyone an actual reconciled relationship with God, but made it possible for people to enter into such a relationship by faith. Gospel invitations in the New Testament alone make this clear.

. . .

Pinnock’s book The Openness of God, referred to in the first post on Pinnock’s contra-Calvinist paper, is very much related to Calvinist ideas such as “unconditional election” and “irresistible grace.”  This book explores the relationship of human will and divine will, as do the following comments from Pinnock:

Augustine’s idea that God knows and determines all things in advance and never has to adjust his planning is one that stands in obvious tension with the Bible and yet is deeply fixed in historic Christian thinking.

A truism I (Brian, not necessarily Pinnock) have come to find in hyper-clear, oh-so-numerous iterations is that people tend to get enmeshed, unthinking, in “historic Christian thinking.”  Whether it’s Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism or Calvinism or Campbellism or Baptistism or Wesleyanism or AnyWhateverism, we rarely exercise enough care in accepting teachings and practices that are handed down.  Yes, it’s true that on an occasion or three, New Testament writers such as Paul recommended paying attention to teaching “handed down.”  1Corinthians and 2Thessalonians are relatively early documents, though — probably written before the year 55. That was a long time ago, and there have been a lot of hands since then!

I imagine that Calvin himself would have said that continual reformation is needed.  We must affirm and live no less than continual reformation ourselves.  We are not, after all, receiving directly from Paul or Jesus or John or James the word of the Lord.  No, we are receiving interpreted messages and words and teachings that are, more or less, based on the original messages.

There will be two or three more of these Calvinism-ain’t-the-answer posts.  For today, I’ll finish with this more lengthy Pinnock quotation on God’s nature.  That Nature or Essence may turn out to be more “open,” more “mutable” than has been assumed through the ages.

It is not a question of God’s changing in the sense of becoming better or worse, but of his pursuing covenant relationship and partnership with his people out of love for them flexibly and creatively.  Immutable in his self-existence, the God of the Bible is relational and changeable in his interaction with his creatures.  The Word “became” flesh–praise God for his changing unchangeability!

Although thinking of God as timeless has some apparently positive advantages, I came to believe that it also posed a threat to the basic biblical category of God’s personal agency.  How could a timeless being deliberate, remember, or anticipate?  How could it plan an action and undertake it?  How could it even respond to something that had happened? What kind of a person would a timeless being be?  I had known of these philosophical objections to a timeless deity for some time but had not previously given much thought to possible biblical objections.  What I came to realize at this stage was how strongly the Bible itself speaks of God as operating from within time and history.  He is always presented in the Bible as One who can look back to the past, relate to the present as present, and make plans for what is yet to happen.

To be continued


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