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

A different kind of irreverence

Her namecursepunct was Jan.  She was on the large side of average, comparatively friendly, and Italian.  She was nice to me.  And she cussed like a sailor’s salty uncle.  But there was one thing that Jan claimed she couldn’t abide:  combining foul  language with blasphemous  language.  You know:  using FCC-regulated words in the same expression as words that reference deity.  Interesting . . . compelling, almost.

I’ve long thought that the flippant, unthinking use of the word “God” (or “Christ” or “Lord,” etc.) is inappropriate, irreverent, and blasphemous.  While my tolerance for other types of inappropriate speech in movies, etc., is growing (to my discredit), I still cannot abide careless verbal treatment of my God.  I would not overtly make an issue of this among non-believers, but I sometimes wince or turn away when God is treated poorly in word.

Ken Young’s plea in the song “Speak the Name of God” surely resonates, for most of you who are reading this:

In a world so full of profanity
Speak the name of God with care.

Christians, we should stay away from the ubiquitous abbreviation “OMG.”  Certain other euphemisms for deity are dubious at best.  But there is another kind of irreverence:  flippantly or thoughtlessly attributing things to God.

“I feel the call of God on my life to ______.”  I ask, How do you know?  On the one hand, one who says such a thing may well have God-honoring intentions, but she also may be carelessly attributing something very human to the Lord over all life.  Feeling “called” can amount to nothing more than feeling a personal desire, and it strikes me as presumptuous to suggest that human feeling is God’s call.

I heard this a few months ago from a “pastor” whose words I found careless … even irreverent:  “I know God wants to use this contribution mightily in this city.”  Really, Pastor Joe?  Do you know that?  Or is it that you are irreverently, carelessly using God to bolster your own (possibly good-at-heart) aggrandizing purposes?

There is more than one kind of irreverence, and the transcendent God deserves a) better use of his names and labels, and b) more care-full attributions overall.

Holy and reverend is his name.

– Psalm 111:9 (KJV)

Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.

– Psalm 96:9 (NIV)

Angels who touch

Pretty much on a weekly basis, I used to be moved by the TV show “Touched by an Angel.”  Letting alone that Monica, the “angel” character (below, middle), is blessed with genuinely beautiful eyes and countenance, there were many more inspirations than those based in physical appearance.

These days, I think I would find too much of that series hokey; still, the poignant situations that found people in trouble–making positive steps toward belief, or toward healing, or toward overcoming a serious life-problem, or toward reconciliation with others … all those things would still be inspirational to me.

Still, the whole “angel” thing is troublesome, isn’t it?  There’s one short utterance in all the NC scriptures that I can call to mind that supports the idea of a “guardian angel.”  Jesus Himself said it.  But I’m not so sure that everything we put in the angel “package” is really angelic.  Like Archie Bunker, who attributed “Silence is golden” to the Bible, we are sometimes mixed up as to where ideas and phrases originate.

In Genesis 32, Yakob encounters someone who is apparently supernatural in some respects but human in others.  Yakob recognizes something special and demands a blessing, and the other figure agrees (acquiesces?).  It seems to me that inasmuch as this being is delivering a word/message from God, he might be considered an “angel.”  I’m not familiar with the Hebrew word, but the Greek word aggelos (pronounced, roughly, “ahngl-auhss”) means “messenger.”  The word has simply been transliterated into English and probably doesn’t connote as much holographic mystery as TV has led us to expect.

The man-messenger- wrestler-blesser of Genesis 32 brought a message from God—and, as such, was an “angel,” although the scripture never calls him that, per se. Sometimes, “angel” might be a term applied figuratively, and s/he might or might not be “sent from God.”

It’s remains quite remarkable that Yakob/Israel is said to have “won” in the struggle “with God.”  With eyes wide open to the richness of relationship between God and His people, the original iteration of which was named after this very man, this aspect of the story strongly implies God’s openness.  He will deal with His people, and He will struggle with them, and He will be influenced by them.

Work (2)


Some seem to say that any kind of human response to the completed work of God in Christ is ineffectual … wasted … or even blasphemous.  Balderdash.  He gives us a gift, and we respond to  it.  It’s not that difficult a proposition, and it does no injustice to the grace of God to say we have to respond to it.

Response may be mere duty, or it may involve over-exertion, or it may, in a more appropriate purview, be humbly grateful. Of course, the last option is best!

I know of no one–the most rabidly sectarian, narrow-minded, insistent preacher is no exception–who would ever, ever say that our responsiveness does the work of salvation.  No one believes that what we do in response to God is what is originally or primarily the active agent in coming into saving relationship with God, although some might put our response in terms of activating or completing a transaction or covenant.  Characterizations by rabid folks on the other side of the supposed question, however, paint any emphasis whatsoever on response the dark color of “works-based salvation.”

One of our high-level spiritual responsibilities is to accept God’s “work” on our behalf.  Our open-handed, open-hearted responses do not by nature constitute salvific “work.”

If he propounded that …

There’s something to be learned from just about anyone.  I know enough, second- and seventh-hand, about the Pope and Romish religion to know I want nothing to do with him or it, and I ardently want to keep others from him and it.  Still, there are probably some things I can learn from the current Pope.  (I capitalize in deference to English language standards and not to the Roman institution.)

I probably have less grasp of the place and work of John Calvin, but I have grown to distrust anything associated with this man’s (or any other’s) name, mainly because of certain extremes he and his progeny espouse.  Still, there are some things I can learn from him.  In this case, I suspect, a bunch more than in the case of the Pope!

If John Calvin was half the exegete people seem to think he was, I can learn from him.  Below is a statement by partly Calvinist author Moises Silva, who teaches in a Calvinist institution.  This comes in the context of Calvin’s hermeneutics:

It is all too easy to become mesmerized either by exegetical problems or by perceived devotional needs; in both cases, we allow the central and simple message of the text to recede into the background.  If, however, we keep in mind that no motive is more important than the edification of the church–the basis for which is God’s own teaching and not our imagination–our efforts will remain focused on the historical meaning intended by the biblical text.  “The Case for Calvinistic Hermeneutics,” in An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 254

If that was a focus for Calvin . . . if he indeed propounded focusing on historical meaning intended by the biblical text, well, then, insofar as he did that, I’m for him!

Ekklesia values 7 (biblical)

The following quotation is at once quippish and laborious. Try to stay with it to the end….

I’ve heard stories of Catholics being saved from ritualism by becoming Pentecostal, Pentecostals being saved from emotionalism by becoming Presbyterian, Presbyterians being saved from rationalism by becoming Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox being saved from clericalism by becoming Baptist, and Baptists being saved from historical amnesia by becoming Catholic or Orthodox. Simple churches save people from complexity, and complex churches save people from simplicity. Political churches save people from an overly personal religiosity, and personal churches save people from an overly politicized religiosity. Exciting churches save people from boredom, and quiet churches save people from hoopla and hype. Around and around the cycle goes.” – Brian McLaren

Thanks for sending that to me, Johnny. Besides the fallacies of philosophies, McLaren’s words describe our tendency to align ourselves with movements, people, and ways of thinking. Such alignment is not necessarily wrong, but it can put us in harm’s way: if I say to myself, “Self, I am a [insert modifier of choice here] Christian,” I run the risk of giving up my independence. And I may become blind to human foibles.

Not wanting to be an island, I still put this forward this ideal for “my” church:

==> In terms of theology and church practice, it will be as purely biblical as it is possible to be—as scripture informs, and as God illuminates interpretation

  • Not Arminian (for Arminius, like others before and after, might appear to have minimized the sovereignty of God as he emphasized the requisite human responses to grace)
  • Not Calvinist (for Calvin, like others before and after, superimposed a human system on top of scripture)

It provokes my spirit that Christians align themselves with human personalities and movements more than with scripture and with the Master. Being on this bandwagon or that nets us zilch in the Kingdom of God. Note that I said “being on” and not “jumping on”—for most, I find that bandwagon rider positions are mostly the function of heredity and not personal study, conviction, and action.  We should realize that some bandwagons exist for the sole purpose of reactionism against the last bandwagon.  And both wagons may be traveling away from the security of camp.

Personally, I’m much more Arminian than Calvinist, but that alignment in itself hasn’t gotten me anywhere with God. In terms of the five “tulip” points of Calvinism, I think I accept about half of one point, and one-quarter of another. I suppose there’s biblical basis for most of them, but like most human systems, it has run amok.

I long to be biblically rooted—both personally and as a goal for the doctrine and practice of the church I’m part of. I do realize that relative biblicalness is, to a degree, in the eye of the individual, but I think it’s a good goal, nonetheless!

Next in the “Ekklesia Values” series: worship and the assembly