Pinnock leaves Calvin in dust (6 of 6)


In this last post on the 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:

I could have posted this early on, as a sort-of attention-getter, but I thought it better to reserve it until here, toward the end of what I plan to share.

Few have the stomach to tolerate Calvinian theology in its logical purity.

Calvlinism, is after all is said and done, a theological system.  Inasmuch as we take Pinnock at his word, and insofar as I have come to understand it, Calvinismt is a strikingly consistent, logical system.  But it is a human system.  And – here’s the rub – some of its conclusions are downright repulsive and anti-scriptural.  (It’s quite possible to be repulsive and scriptural, I might point out.)

. . .

The Pinnock comment below is noteworthy and is not to be passed over:  that Augustine, not scripture, promulgated predestinarianism.

Every generation reads the Bible in dialogue with its own vision and cultural presuppositions and has to come to terms with the world view of its day.  Augustine did this when he sought to interpret the biblical symbols in terms of the Hellenistic culture and became the first predestinarian in Christian theology.

. . .

If an Augustine had the courage to deal with the culture of his day and come up with some dazzling new insights, then we can do the same in our own setting.  Just repeating what he said isn’t good enough anymore.  We have better news to tell than his rendition of the Christian message.

. . .

I have been sharing all these things — in what amounts to the philosophically heaviest blogging that’s ever appeared here — for no other reason than that I think these matters are very important.  As wisdom has often said, truth always stands up to honest examination.  It can be difficult to be faced with changing long-held suppositions, whether denominationally tied or not.  Pinnock’s near-final exhortation follows here, concluding the moving-on-from-Calvinism posts.

I do not think we should feel we have lost something of absolute value when we find ourselves at variance with some of the old so-called orthodox interpretations. . . .  Of course there will be some nostalgia when we leave behind the logically and beautifully tight system of determinist theology.  But that will be more than matched and made up for by a sense of liberation from its darker side, which (to be honest) makes hell as much the divine purpose as heaven and the fall into sin as much God’s work as salvation is.  It is in fact an opportunity to be faithful to the Bible in new ways and to state the truth of the Christian message creatively for the modern generation.

One thing I am asking people to give up is the myth that evangelicals often hold—that there is such a thing as an orthodox systematic theology, equated with what Calvin, for example, taught and which is said to be in full agreement with the Bible. . . .  Augustine got some things right, but not everything. How many evangelicals follow him on the matter of the infallible church or the miraculous sacraments? . . .

I have no remedy for those who wish to walk by sight because they find the way of faith too unnerving, or for those who wish to freeze theological development at some arbitrary point in past history.  . . .  I have no answer for those who are frightened to think God may have more light to break forth from his holy Word.

Pinnock leaves Calvin in dust (5 of 6)


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:

Below, Pinnock admits struggle with deterministic sovereignty, and I’m not sure he acknowledges all the possibilities.  In other words, when he says he could not reconcile (“shake off”) total omniscience with human free will, that doesn’t mean that God can’t somehow reconcile the two, beyond our comprehension.

Finally I had to rethink the divine omniscience and reluctantly ask whether we ought to think of it as an exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that will ever happen, as even most Arminians do.  I found I could not shake off the intuition that such a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the future will have been already spelled out in the divine knowledge register, and consequently the belief that we have truly significant choices to make would seem to be mistaken.  I knew the Calvinist argument that exhaustive foreknowledge was tantamount to predestination because it implies the fixity of all things from “eternity past,” and I could not shake off its logical force.  I feared that, if we view God as timeless and omniscient, we will land back in the camp of theological determinism where these notions naturally belong.  It makes no sense to espouse conditionality and then threaten it by other assumptions that we make.

Therefore, I had to ask myself if it was biblically possible to hold that God knows everything that can be known, but that free choices would not be something that can be known even by God because they are not yet settled in reality.  Decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God.  They are potential—yet to be realized but not yet actual.  God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom.  Can this conjecture be scriptural?

. . .

Pinnock continues, dealing with God’s openness. . . .

Evidently the logic of Calvinism had worked effectively to silence some of the biblical data even for me. . . .  God too moves into a future not wholly known because [they are] not yet fixed.  At times God even asks himself questions like “What shall I do with you?” (Hosea 6:4).

Most Bible readers simply pass over this evidence and do not take it seriously.  They assume the traditional notion of exhaustive omniscience supported more by the old logic than by the biblical text. . . .  The God of the Bible displays an openness to the future that the traditional view of omniscience simply cannot accommodate.

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

Pinnock leaves Calvin in dust (3)


In several blogposts on the 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 is available free here:

Many Christians eventually come face to face with the thorny issue of “election” by God – the supposed, unilateral choosing of certain ones for ultimate salvation.  All this is complicated; the ramifications run deep, extending from God’s dealings with ancient Israel through Paul’s letters to Romans and Galatians, and including current concerns over cheap grace, the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer,” repentance and patterns of Christian living, sanctification, and more.

The notion of “group election” does not instantaneously resolve all the attendant concerns – far from it – but it does reduce the cognitive dissonance that can occur in this “election” area.

Here is Pinnock on (unconditional) election:

I found myself attracted to a second possibility—that election is a corporate category and not oriented to the [i.e., God’s –bc] choice of individuals for salvation.  I knew that everyone admitted this to be the case in the Old Testament where the election of Israel is one of a people [emph mine  -bc] to be God’s servant in a special way.  Was it possible that the New Testament texts too could be interpreted along these same lines?  Upon reflection I decided that they could indeed be read corporately, election then speaking of a class of people rather than specific individuals.  God has chosen a people for his Son, and we are joined and belong to the elect body by faith in Christ (Eph. 1:3-24).

. . .

“Total depravity” is just a two-word term.  But its use should strike spiritual terror in our hearts.  It is in no real sense found in scripture, but its truth is assumed by dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists.  Surely, anyone who accepts the depravity malarkey does not honestly believe infants and three-year-old children are depraved.  Maybe they have been too lost in their Calvinist writings to observe real-life children in a while.

That said, there was that cataclysmic “Fall” in the Garden of Eden.  We humans are, in a very real sense, predisposed to sin.  Yet the reality of God dwelling in us simultaneously with evil amounts to a conundrum.

That God is inherently, purely good is accepted by all Christians; some seem to need to complicate matters by injecting concocted doctrines of God’s supposedly having created evil and making humans evil — at the same time as they are made in His image.  How’s that for a paradox?

How, exactly, are we sinners?

Far from a literal truth, David’s heart-cry “I have been a sinner from birth” (Psalm 51) is nevertheless expressive of something deep about human nature.

God’s sovereignty is as attractive an ideal as it is a truthful one.  I’d also say it’s among the least controversial items when considering Calvinism over against its alternatives.  Yet consideration of divine sovereignty can also bring on some theological issues.  Read on. . . .


Previously I had to swallow hard and accept the Calvinian antinomy that required me to believe both that God determines all things and that creaturely freedom is real.  I made a valiant effort to believe this seeming contradiction on the strength of biblical infallibility, being assured that the Bible actually taught it.  So I was relieved to discover that the Bible does not actually teach such an incoherence, and this particular paradox was a result of Calvinian logic, not scriptural dictates.

. . .

The logic of consistent Calvinism makes God the author of evil and casts serious doubt on his goodness.  One is compelled to think of God’s planning such horrors as Auschwitz, even though none but the most rigorous Calvinians can bring themselves to admit it.

. . .

Calvinists, like Augustine himself, if the reader will excuse the anachronism, wanting to leave no room at all to permit any recognition of human freedom in the salvation event, so defined human depravity as total that it would be impossible to imagine any sinner calling upon God to save him.  Thus they prevented anyone from thinking about salvation in the Arminian way.

To be continued

Pinnock leaves Calvin in dust (2)


In several blogposts on the 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 is available free here:

Here, Pinnock’s violin metaphor goes to the interrelationship of the “strings” of Calvinism.

Just as one cannot change the pitch of a single string on the violin without adjusting the others [i.e., because they must be tuned to a common pitch standard for the purpose of harmonious function –bc], so one cannot introduce a major new insight into a coherent system like Calvinian theology without having to reconsider many other issues.

. . .

And here, Pinnock honors Calvin by acknowledging his thoroughgoing logic — all the while pointing up that no humans ought to superimpose systems of thought over God and His will.  If we do so presume, we end up walking down a road that gets us nowhere, gets us in trouble, or forces us to make a U-turn.

The first and the best discovery I made was that there was no “horrible decree” at all.  Calvin had used this expression in connection with his belief that God in his sovereign good pleasure had predestined some people to be eternally lost for no fault of theirs (Institutes, 3.23).  Calvin was compelled to say that because, if one thinks that God determines all that happens in the world (his Augustinian premise) and not all are to be saved in the end (as he believed the Bible taught), there was no way around it.  Calvin’s logic was impeccable as usual:  God wills whatever happens, so if there are to be lost people, God must have willed it.  It was as logically necessary as it was morally intolerable.

To be continued

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

Sacrifice in worship (Romans 12)

Several weeks ago, I began to write about the sacrifice in worship and promised (myself more than you) that I’d continue from where I’d left off.

The notion of religious sacrifice is many-faceted and possesses a long history.  I don’t claim any real handle on it, not adhering to the predecessing Jewish religion that makes a practice of bloody sacrifices, not having ever offered a single such sacrifice, and not having pursued the matter with any sort of scholarly bent.  (Cults, spiritist religions of the third-world, and satanic religion also sometimes include sacrifice, but that’s more than a little afield.)  Considering the idea of sacrificed in worship seems worthwhile because of its frequent appearance in scripture, if for no other reason.

A blogger on hymns and Christian songs, writing about “Trust and Obey,” recently wrote about giving one’s entire life as a “sacrifice”:

The Christian life involves daily faith and obedience, exercised in many different situations. But there is an underlying commitment that provides a foundation for this. The Apostle Paul talks about it in Romans 12:1.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God [because of all that God has done for you], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

The Greek verb tense for “present” indicates it’s to be a once-for-all action. We are to yield ourselves to God as “living sacrifices,” forever and for all. That is what [the author] is referring to in [st. 4] of our hymn, when he says, “We never can prove the delights of His love / Until all on the altar we lay.” Then, hundreds of daily acts of faith and obedience grow out of that, as described in [st. 5].

– Robert Cottrill,

In attempting to be circumspect about the Christian life, it’s helpful to apprehend Cottrill’s words on the Greek tense of the word “present”:  a welcome freedom comes from not having to devise some way that every keystroke, every dish rinsed, every word, every mile driven, every test graded, every tooth brushed, and every bit of garbage carried to the curb is “worship.”  Not to denigrate any of those actions!  They are part and parcel of life, and the Christian believer’s life is no more lofty than anyone else’s.  We need to have our heads in heaven but our feet on the earth, as someone has said.[1]

Yet some days, it’s easier to think of more of my actions as sacrifice and as “worship” than others; whether you resonate with me on this or not, this very idea of sacrifice—whether it’s to be thought of as once-for-all or as continuous and all-pervading—is something to be contended with . . . in due time.

Next, somewhat out of order, I’ll peer into what the sacrifice becomes, in God’s eyes.

[1] The saying is attributed to Benedict and/or Augustine (whom I respectfully refuse to call “saint,” because that would imply a special status for them) and reappropriated by many over the years.

A good little boy

I haven’t written anything pointedly about parenting experiences in a while; I’ve only referred in passing to events with our little boy Jedd.  So, where to pick up?

There are so many things:

  • holiday travel (airplanes, cousins, and grandparents—oh, my!)
  • new words and expressions (koala and armadillo; family snuggle; love you, Dad)
  • singing (“that’s … El–mo’s … world!!”—you should hear how high he can sing)
  • two poopy diapers within the first 30 minutes I was with him alone (while Karly was at quilting group) last Monday

Guess I’ll spare you the details of the last, except to say that diaper-changing has been, overall, not nearly the hassle and grossness I had expected it to be.  Just as parents have been saying for centuries, when it’s your child, it’s not that bad. Sure, it stinks.  Sure, it’s a little gross and a little annoying when a diaper leaks and you have to change his clothes, too.  But the experience of caring for a little person in this way has, by and large, been more a pleasure than a nightmarish succession of grossnesses.  (Do note that I’m the one writing this, and not Karly; she of course has changed 85% of the diapers!)

Jedd is a wonderful little guy, with developing feelings and verbosities and mostly good moods and all good health.  He is a little short for his age (like Karly!) but is advanced in terms of speech.  He eats almost everything he’s given and particularly likes squash, pancakes, and couscous.

Not everything is positive.  He does have his naughty side, like last night when, just before I came home, he had pulled all of his books off his shelf and had refused to start picking them up when asked.  Adults like to say “he’s testing you,” and I suppose there’s truth in that, but I wonder why.  He knows it will please his parents if he picks the books up, so why doesn’t he like to please us all the time?  Having been forewarned, I picked him up immediately when I walked in the door and talked with him seriously about this.  He listened intently (probably wondering “how did you know about the books on the floor?”), and I reminded him that when either of us asks him to do something, he should do it.  Then I said, “Jedd, say ‘Okay, Dad.'”  And he said, “Okay, Dad” and nodded.  I hoped it was his own, developing desire to be compliant that led him to say that so readily, and not merely a desire to avoid the issue.

In thinking about the book incident, we could get all philosophical or psychological and say “He’s finding his way in the world, being his own person.”  Or we could get all new-age-parenty and say he’s exploring and being creative … it’s best not to draw boundaries.”  Or we could get all Calvinist and say “This was a manifestation of his fallen nature” or of “original sin.”

Aside:  I often check myself in the use of quote marks, because the commercial and less-schooled literary worlds over-use them.  For instance, have you ever seen “Ladies’ Room” in quotes on a restroom door at a restaurant?  (Are the entrants seen as sort-of ladies or as real ladies?)  I use quotes around “original sin” above because the phrase is of human origin and refers to something that in my view is not a reality.  It deserves attribution—to Augustine or to whomever—but it does not deserve to be presumed real.[1]

So, back to our story.  While I don’t subscribe even half-heartedly to the notion of “original sin” as advocated by Augustine or Calvin, I do surely see, even in our 1.7-year-old Jedd, that humans are not perfect by nature.  He is naturally sweet, and naturally cheerful, and naturally people-sensitive (you should have seen him burst into tears when he thought I was falling off the roof recently—this was completely instinctual, natural … and could not possibly be considered a bad thing!), but he is also prone, in some way and to some degree, to sporadic manifestations of naughtiness.

I appreciate Karly’s choice of the word “naughty” instead of “bad.”  It seems to frame Jedd’s negative behaviors appropriately, without leading anyone — us or him — to begin thinking of him as “bad.”  He is not bad.  He is good.  He is a blessing.  He just has a few human tendencies that need guidance, correction, discipling.  These tendencies do not lump him in the category of the depraved.  They merely mark him as human, with the rest of us.  Part of our job as parents is to capitalize on the good things, while correcting the bad things–shaping and discipling him as he matures, so that he is later a) prone to take his own steps toward God and b) prone to do an about-face when confronted with evil.

God, help us with this sweet, good little boy.  He is an easy child to raise in so many ways, but we are only adequate to this important task if You make it so.

[1] According to Wikipedia, “Writing against the monk Pelagius, whom he understood as teaching that man’s nature was unaffected by the Fall, or at least was only weakened in the Fall, and that he was free to follow after God apart from divine intervention, Augustine developed the doctrine of original sin and, Calvinists contend, the doctrine of total inability.