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

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.

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.)