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

Openness of God (3)

[Several weeks ago, I mentioned in the course of an anecdote about gnats and arbitrary occurrences my intention to work through the book The Openness of God.  I’ve been doing just that, owing in part to the work some ten years ago of then-e-friends Brandon Fredenburg and Paul Woodhouse on the now-defunct RM-Bible discussion listserv.  Brandon and Paul, respectively, had synopsized the first three chapters.  I make no claim to doing such justice to this material but still would like to share a few insights from my reading.]

A new insight on the notion of logos appears within John Sanders’s chapter on historical considerations:  apparently Heraclitus used the term to refer to “the one thing that remains constant when everything else is changing.”  Intriguing, that.

A summary in Richard Rice’s first chapter giving the biblical support for the openness perspective is helpful:

At times God simply does things, acting on His own initiative and relying solely on His own power.  Sometimes He accomplishes things through the cooperation of human agents, sometimes He overcomes creaturely opposition to accomplish things, sometimes He providentially uses opposition to accomplish something, and sometimes His intentions to do something are thwarted by human opposition.

The will of God, therefore, is not an irresistible, all-determining force.  God is not the only actor on the stage of history. . . .  (38)

Practical implications of this view are the subject of the final chapter by David Basinger.  Such matters as the problem of evil and suffering, the implications of petitionary prayer, and social responsibility are arenas for continued thought and application.  “Divine guidance” caught my eye the most, though.  The advocates of the open view of God see God as possessing what they term “present knowledge,” which includes knowledge of the past but is not predictive.  It’s not as though God couldn’t know or determine the future; it’s that he relinquishes that type of sovereignty in order to allow interaction with created, loved humans.  God does not, according to the open view, possess “middle knowledge”:  He does not know or determine in advance what would/could happen if any of several options were chosen by one of us.

All this comes into play when considering how—or even whether—God guides our decision making.  Basinger rightly calls into question the second-guessing that occurs when a sincere believer believes God has opened/closed a door, leading to a specific course of action.  “God has led me here,” the Christian says, but then later, a door seems to slam in his face, so in his sincerity, he is forced to say, “Well, I must not have understood what He was saying to me,” or “Well, something in this must be good, but I just can’t see it.”  The God of the open view affirms His general will, but not a specific course driven determinedly into His willing subjects.  This liberty frees us from what can be a paralyzing quest for that comforting sense of being perfectly guided in every step, by God.

I’m in a mode of driving through projects and finishing them. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I’m never satisfied with my thoroughness in such things, but have learned just to let a few things go after I’ve experienced them sufficiently.  Such is the case with The Openness of God and Note Grouping, both of which I’ve completed, to my satisfaction for the present.  I have grown musically, and I have grown spiritually in my consideration of these important writings.

Openness of God (2)

[Several weeks ago, I mentioned in the course of an anecdote about gnats and arbitrary occurrences my intention to work through the book The Openness of God.  I’ve been doing just that, owing in part to the work some ten years ago of then-e-friends Brandon Fredenburg and Paul Woodhouse on the now-defunct RM-Bible discussion listserv.  Brandon and Paul, respectively, had synopsized the first three chapters.  I make no claim to doing such justice to this material but still would like to share a few insights from my reading.]

Starting with yesterday’s post, I gave some of Clark PInnock’s ideas from his main (3rd) chapter, and below are a few more.  This book proposes an apparently radical, yet common-sense, approach to theology.  In so doing, the authors end up resisting much traditional theology,

The God of the Bible is not timeless.  His eternity means that there has never been and never will be a time when God does not exist.  Timelessness limits God. . . .   The Bible sees God as present to the flow of history, facing the future partly as an unsettled matter.  (119)

[God does not have to] overcome ignorance and learn things of which He should have been aware.  [God did, however, create] a dynamic and changing world and enjoys getting to know it.  It is a world of freedom, capable of genuine novelty, inexhaustible creativity and real surprises.  I believe that God takes delight in the spontaneity of the universe. . . . (124)

The picture of God that I receive from the Bible is of One who takes risks and jeopardizes His own sovereignty in order to engage in historical interactions with created reality. (125)

In his synopsis, Woodhouse had pointed up the missiological/practical significance of our understanding of God, noting Pinnock’s mention that “atheism has found fertile soil in the classical viewpoint because of its ‘existentially repugnant view of God’ as an “uncaring, aloof monarch.”  Traditional theology, says Pinnock (and Woodhouse), tends to lean more toward the transcendence of God than to His immanence.  Furthermore on the unbalanced, tilt of theology through the centuries, Pinnock says the “’biblical-classical synthesis’ has become so commonplace that even today most conservative theologians simply assume that is is the correct scriptural concept of God and thus that any other alleged biblical understanding … must be rejected.” (60)

Almost curiously, not one of the five authors represented in this book questions the notion of “triunity,” which is not presented as such in the scriptures.  Perhaps the authors figured it was better to affirm something traditional and to build on/around it rather than to turn that stone over, too, leaving everyone reeling instead of just upsetting them.  Pinnock in particular assumes God’s threeness and uses it to bolster his case—although less convincingly for me than in other areas.

Openness of God (1)

[Several weeks ago, I mentioned in the course of an anecdote about gnats and arbitrary occurrences my intention to work through the book The Openness of God.  Well, I have.  Keeping my word to myself feels good.  For the next three days I’ll give some thoughts based on this reading.]

This book proposes an apparently radical, yet common-sense, approach to theology.  In so doing, the authors end up resisting much traditional theology, which draws heavily on a synthesis between classical Greek thought and scripture.  This “open model” results in thoughts that are foreign to both Calvin and Arminius, for different reasons.  Calvin believed, for instance, and has by influence through the centuries led to much similar belief, that it is impossible for God to “change His mind.”

Among modern Protestants, one common line of thinking has two “levels” of reality—1) the actuality of God, and 2) the way He appears to us.  Many would say, for instance, that God always acts and must must react . . . and but perhaps that He appears to us to be reacting when in reality He was not responding in any way to the activity of the creation.

The following quotes are from Clark Pinnock’s key chapter on the theological implications of the open view of God.

The fall into sin was against the will of God and proves by itself that God does not exercise total control over all events in this world.  Evils happen that are not supposed to happen, that grieve and anger God.  Free will theism is the best way to account for this fact. (115)

Some have claimed that God is wholly actual and not at all potential and thus cannot change in any way.  They have equated the biblical idea of faithfulness with the Greek idea that requires any changes related to God to occur only on the human side.  This is the error that tempted some of the early theologians to explain the incarnation without admitting that God changed, and to explain away dozens of biblical references to God’s repenting and changing.  (117)

Impassibility is among the most dubious of the divine attributes discussed in classical theism, because it suggests that God does not experience sorrow, sadness, or pain. . . .  The suffering or pathos of God is a strong biblical theme . . .  “My heart recoils within Me, my compassion grows warm and tender (Hosea 11:8).” . . .  The idea of God’s impassibility arises more from Plato than from the Bible.  (118)

Any reactions to these ideas?  If they strike you poorly, don’t blame the messenger (although I’m inclined toward them, not away from them!).


Why do gnats fly into my eye?  They don’t want to be there, and I don’t want them there.  It’s uncomfortable all around, yet gnats seem to visit my eyeballs with some regularity.

There are some aspects of God’s creation that defy explanation.  Some merely arbitrary things.  Some things that show His openness over His sovereignty. Could it be that He did/does some things just because?  Just to see what we’d do with them?  Just to invite humans into His processes?  This kind of openness I hope to explore this summer, through the reading of the book The Openness of God (Clark Pinnock and 4 other authors).

In the meantime, I’m in no rush to become a partner with God, because I just don’t have all that much to offer the business.  I think He’d better wait on involving me all that much!  (And if Pinnock et al were onto something here, He might just care that I think this.)