Controversial Canadian theologian Clark H. Pinnock died on Sunday afternoon (August 15, 2010) at the age of 73. He and his wife Dorothy were members of Little Bethel Community Church, where the funeral service will be held.

In March of this year he had written to a couple of colleagues to explain why he was retiring from active theological work:

I want to inform you that I am now middle stage Alzheimer’s. I will not be able to do my writing etc. I am 73 years now, and I’ve enjoyed my biblical three score and ten. I am not bitter. I have had a good life. I’ll meet you over Jordan if not before.

You are free to make this news known.

With love,

Clark

Pinnock was reared in a liberal Baptist church in Toronto but came to the Lord in his teenage years in part through the influence of his maternal grandparents (who had served as missionaries in Nigeria), but also through a Sunday School teacher: “I do not owe my conversion in 1949, humanly speaking, to that congregation or its ministers, but rather to a teacher in our Sunday School who, deeply troubled by the lack of sound biblical preaching in the pulpit, continued to teach the Word of God to his intermediate class of boys, aged 12-14.”

He received his B.A. (Ancient Near Eastern Studies) at the University of Toronto (1960), and went on to do his PhD under F.F. Bruce at Manchester University on “The Concept of Spirit in the Epistles of Paul” (1963). Following his PhD Pinnock learned about the work of Francis Schaeffer and spent a summer at L’Abri.

In 1965 he joined the faculty at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, teaching systematics instead of NT. It was during his time at NOBTS that Pinnock’s first book was published: A Defense of Biblical Infallibility (1967), which helped to establish him as a stalwart for inerrancy.

He then went on to teach at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1969-1974), Regent College in Vancouver (1974-1977), and McMaster Divinity School in Ontario (1977-2002). It was during his years at TEDS that he made the shift from Calvinism to Arminianism, as he was unable to reconcile the warning passages in Hebrews with his belief in “eternal security.” His move toward Arminianism, and then on to open theism, was one that “logic required” and “Scripture permitted.”

Pinnock was an early and leading proponent of the “openness of God theology,” whereby aspects of the future were unknown with certainty to God. Many, including me, would agree with John Piper’s assessment: “Open theism, which denies that God can foreknow free human choices, dishonors God, distorts Scripture, damages faith, and would, if left unchecked, destroy churches and lives. Its errors are not peripheral but central.” Pinnock also moved in a disconcerting direction on issues like annihilationism (no eternal punishment) and inclusivism (people can be saved by Christ even if they don’t know of Christ).

Even as Pinnock sought to be faithful, in many respects the “later Pinnock” devoted much of his considerable talent and energy to convincing God’s people to embrace views of God and his ways that are contrary to God’s revelation. That is not a glib observation but a sober assessment. It’s difficult to write such things upon one’s death, but I’m not sure there is any virtue in skirting this truth.

At the same time, many younger evangelicals will know only of the pilgrim who kept turning left and will be unaware of Pinnock’s earlier contributions to 20th century conservative American evangelical theology. Russell Moore explains “Why Conservative Evangelicals Should Thank God for Clark Pinnock.” Moore observes that “the nation’s largest evangelical denomination [the SBC] would never have turned back to biblical inerrancy had it not been for a man who would later reject the concept.” Moore writes, “I cannot think of a single figure of crucial importance in the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention who is more than two steps away from Pinnock’s direct influence.” The whole thing is worth reading for an appreciation of the first leg of the journey by Pinnock the theological pilgrim.

The Bible encourages us to view those who have gone before us as examples, both positively and negatively—with virtues to imitate and vices to shun. Clark Pinnock gives us the opportunity to do both.

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43 thoughts on “Clark H. Pinnock (1937-2010)”

  1. Matt says:

    Thanks Justin for this post on Clark Pinnock. I’ve read some of his early works and thought they were really solid, but his turn left was troubling. He has greatly influenced one of my friends, turning him left in his studies at a local, well-known seminary. In summary, Pinnock has touched my life in a very personal way; positively in terms of his earlier work on inerrancy and faith, but negatively in seeing my good friend head down liberal lane. I wonder if Pinnock really believed the gospel and if he received, upon death, the commendation “well done good and faithful servant”? I hope so. Only God knows.

  2. Brad says:

    May the God of all grace give rest to Dr. Pinnock’s soul according to his good will and pleasure.

  3. Mike Johnson says:

    Well written, and very balanced..

  4. Dave Moore says:

    My first book was a sustained critique of Pinnock’s position on annihilationism (or conditional immortality). I sent it to him to make sure it was fair. He went further and gave it a glowing endorsement along with my other three endorsers of J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, and Dallas Willard.

    Clark Pinnock blessed me with his generosity and humility!

  5. Reg Schofield says:

    By the time I was aware of Pinnock, he had traveled down a road that I saw as contrary to the gospel and God’s word. I just could not read his later writings because it made me sad and angry that he was leading people astray.What is his standing before God, no one knows but surely his later writings and damage he inflicted ,will be a sad legacy. May we see his life and a reminder to guard our hearts and doctrine under biblical authority.

    1. Mark S says:

      Thanks, Reg. I’m sure Pinnock’s family appreciates your sentiment.

      1. BlackCalvinist says:

        Mark – Honestly, Reg has a lot more self-control in what he wrote than some others I’ve seen. I know (speaking of my own heart), it’s easy to call Pinnock all kinds of heretics for both his annihilationism and his open theism. But I also realize that like Wesley and many real Arminians I know (as well as many inconsistent ones I know), people can be ‘internally’ inconsistent with their outward profession on many levels. Thought we can disagree with folks, we do have to learn to be gracious in how we do so, since nothing in us merited us being enlightened to God’s grace, much less to finding our way into reformed theology and out of broad evangelicalism.

        I also appreciate Justin’s biography here. Well written and very balanced without demonizing the man. Thanks JT.

  6. donsands says:

    “It’s difficult to write such things upon one’s death, but I’m not sure there is any virtue in skirting this truth.”

    Yep.

    Good post. I assume Clark trusted in Christ and loved his Lord, even with embracing error, and allowing his feelings to rule over Scripture truth.

    I believe every son of God will be told well done, or at least, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!”

    We don’t earn our way into heaven, but our fruit declares Christ regenerated us, even though we may struggle with sin until the very last we live. Paul said, “I am the numero one sinner of all.”

  7. Ernest Manges says:

    My only encounter with Dr Pinnock was at the 2003 ETS conference in Atlanta where his membership was put to the vote over his Openness view of God.

    I noticed he was very gracious. He seemed to be a true Christian gentleman.

    I could not and do not agree with his openness views, but his character was certainly Christ-like. May God grant comfort to his family and friends.

  8. Theologian says:

    JT,

    I agree that it is fair to assess a man’s work and teaching. That being said I doubt that your blog is the place to do that in a negative way so shortly after his death. The firts reason I doubt this is because of the demographic of your readers. I sincerely doubt that very many of your readers were unaware of Pinnock’s controvertial teachings. I wonder how Pinnock’s family and those close to him feel right now? In light of that I think immediately after someone dies there needs to be a season of abstaining from critical assessment. Is there really a need to urgently publish your assessment of his life? I like your blog and am glad Crossway frees you up from some of you other duties at times so you can contribute on it, so please do not hear this harshly. I think you wrote a fairly gracious and balanced peasce, I just question the timing. Many blessings.

  9. Mike says:

    Very respectfully stated. One always learns as much from a man’s life as from what they teach. Thank you.

  10. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “Following his PhD Pinnock learned about the work of Francis Schaeffer and spent a summer at L’Abri.

    Pinnock and Franky Schaeffer are not the two best examples of what Francis taught.

    “It was during his years at TEDS that he made the shift from Calvinism to Arminianism, as he was unable to reconcile the warning passages in Hebrews with his belief in “eternal security.” His move toward Arminianism, and then on to open theism, was one that “logic required” and “Scripture permitted.”

    Pinnock should have stayed a Calvinist. FWIW, I don’t find the passages in Hebrews to be an unsurmountable stumbling block to the Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.

    1. Victor says:

      Those Hebrews passages are very tricky though.

      I once heard R.C Sproul teach on Hebrews 6 and he said that if there was one passage in the Bible that has the potential to convince or sway him against Perseverance of the Saints it would be that one. Sproul then went on to explain the passage, and came to the right conclusion that it does not militate against Perseverance of the Saints, and he added that the propoderance of Scripture upholds the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. He also added that if he were to abandon the P in the T.U.L.I.P he would also have to abandon the rest. Apparently that was the trajic end of Pinnock’s theology.

    2. Untruth Incites... and Deprives says:

      No kidding. We should burn books writteb by Francis Schaeffer. You lead the way TUAD!

  11. Tim says:

    Thanks for a great summary of Pinnock’s life. What I really appreciate is the honoring tone of your comments. It deeply saddens me to see Christians rip and tear at each other thinking they are defending God. You’ve given us a fine example of how to disagree honorably!

  12. Leo says:

    Couldn’t stop yourself from throwing in the (underhanded but clear) “heretic” charge, could you? I am so tired of people like you.

    - Leo

  13. Moxon says:

    I was first introduced to Clark Pinnock in 1962, or perhaps 1963, when he was still a student of F.F. Bruce’s. I was told that he was a Calvinist. Then at Regent in the 70′s. By then his hair was longer, and he took a counter-cultural line. Then – many years later – in London, talking to a crowd of people about openness, and chatting afterwards. And in Boston, at the AAR. He seemed more anxious then.

    He was restless. But also gracious, and gentlemanly, and funny, and sometimes naive. I am saddened to learn of his passing.

  14. Moxon says:

    I was first introduced to Clark Pinnock in 1962, or perhaps 1963, when he was still a student of F.F. Bruce’s. I was told that he was a Calvinist. Then at Regent in the 70′s. By then his hair was longer, and he took a counter-cultural line. . Then – many years later – in London, talking to a crowd of people about openness, and chatting afterwards. And in Boston, at the AAR. He seemed more anxious then.

    He was restless. But also gracious, and gentlemanly, and funny, and sometimes naive. I am saddened to learn of his passing.

  15. Michael says:

    Having only recently begun my study of theology, I have only come across Pinnock’s later, more liberal views. Thank you for an introduction into his earlier beliefs.

    This brings up a difficult question. No disrespect towards Dr. Pinnock, but how do we define those who reject the revealed attributes of God, as Open Theists do? Are they false teachers or no? If yes, is their error serious enough to say “but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us”? (1 Jo. 2:19)

    I ask this not to judge Dr. Pinnock’s heart, but going forward into a scholarly world that gets more and more liberal by the hour, we need to be “wise as serpents”.

  16. Brad says:

    Dr. Pinnock’s death is news and newsworthy and this post is consistent with the emphasis of JT’s blog. I think any perceived criticism was very mild and the post was far more reportage than opinion.

  17. donsands says:

    Michael,

    I would say, from the study of Scripture, and from Church history, that Open Theism is a false teaching. There are good books that deal with the whole argument of Open Theism, with many quotes from the Open-Theists themselves.

    I have a friend who disgarees with Open Theism, and yet thinks it is biblical. He puts in a catagory of doctrine that is within the Scripture’s mysteries, or something like that.
    I would encourage you to study all the Scripture you can about God repenting, and pray for the Holy Spirit to help you understand.
    My three cents worth.

    Clark Pinnock is most likely with His Lord and Savior. I pray that his family is comforted in a tremendous way from our Father in heaven, and our Redeemer and King. Amen.

  18. mike says:

    I’m from Hamilton, Ontario and attended MacDiv where Dr. Pinnock was a professor. For what it’s worth, in these parts he is known far more for his contributions regarding the work of the Holy Spirit than for any others. The church he was involved with is a small, very missional and very evangelical congregation in a very poor section of town. Whatever his left-of-center views concerning God’s foreknowledge and the Scriptures, they didn’t keep him from being engaged in Kingdom work.

  19. Great post. Balanced. Timely.

    Pinnock is definitely and example of both positive and negative theological reflection.

    He has had tremendous impact, and my hope is that we will learn from his strengths, and recognize in his weaknesses the fallibility of human reason when it stands apart from God’s Word.

  20. Paul says:

    I’m glad a later commenter highlighted Pinnock’s later work on the Holy Spirit – ‘Flame of Love’. There is much of value in that book for the discerning reader, and it shows to critics all of his later theology wasn’t aberrant. Although I am a Wesleyan, I wish, however, that he had written this book with a more orthodox understanding of God’s attributes.

  21. Steve says:

    Since getting to Heaven on Sunday, I wonder if Dr. Pinnock is still trying to convince the Almighty that his “openness of God theology” is correct?

    1. Deven says:

      Is this comment needed? Will your first day with God be one where he says, “Wow, you nailed it. All of it!”?

      1. Steve says:

        Deven,
        Needed? Warranted? I don’t really know. But you seem to think it wasn’t. So I ask your forgiveness & bow to your sensibilities. However, as for me, I’m not sure what I’ll do once I get there, except this one thing. I will not be trying to defend the “openness of God theology.”

      2. Steve says:

        Deven,

        Mr. Carter over at First Thoughts made a similar observation about Bertrand Russell as I did in asking my question about Dr. Pinnock.

        “I suspect that upon their meeting, God corrected the ol’ Brit, showing how the evidence was there and that Russell had simply chosen to ignore it.”

        http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/08/18/the-probability-of-god/

    2. Victor says:

      If Pinnock is in heaven he don’t believe in open theism anymore, that’s for sure!

  22. todd robinson says:

    The “Federal Vision” route would have helped him keep his Calvinism AND his exegetical integrity with regards Hebrews, etc.

    Rest in peace, Dr. Pinnock.

  23. unmuddle says:

    I count myself privileged to have sat under Pinnock for a semester during his more conservative years. I found him gracious, humble, deeply engaged in pursuing truth, and a stimulating lecturer. He was always honing his material, and fully open to class dialog. I did not follow his later wanderings (though my dippings in his “Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit” I found vigorous and stimulating), but I have only fond memories of the man and great respect for his personal integrity. Earlier comments about Pinnock endorsing a book critiquing his position, plus his working in a small church, rings very true to the man I remember.

  24. Dan Erickson says:

    Thanks Justin, for an excellent post. In the early 1980′s (even after embracing Arminianism) Pinnock was strong critic of both “liberation theology” and “liberal” theology in general. I remember hearing him ask the question, “Where do you think theological liberals come from? Does the stork bring them?” His point was that theological liberalism has no power to attract secular people (why go to church if you can stay home and believe the same things) and thus the converts to liberalism are almost always disenchanted evangelicals. How ironic, and tragic, that this is the road that Pinnock soon started to travel. However, I believe Pinnock was a man of genuine faith who now, in the presence of the Lord, can rejoice in His amazing grace that saves all kinds of sinners, including rather confused theologians.

  25. XiYuan says:

    “But art thou a proud, boastful, free-willer, saying, “I will repent and believe whenever I choose; I have as good a right to be saved as anybody, for I do my duty as well as others, and I shall doubtless get my reward”—If you are claiming a universal atonement, which is to be received at the option of man’s will, go and claim it, and you will be disappointed in your claim. You will find God will not deal with you on that ground at all, but will say, “Get thee hence, I never knew thee.” He that cometh not to me through the Son, cometh not at all.” I believe the man who is not willing to submit to the electing love and the absolute sovereign grace of God, has great reason to question whether he is a Christian at all, for the spirit that kicks against that is the spirit of the unhumbled, unrenewed heart. May God take away the enmity out of your heart to His own precious truth, and reconcile you to it, and then reconcile you to Himself through the blood of His Son, which is the bond and seal of the Everlasting Covenant. Amen!”

    From a sermon titled “The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant”, C. H. Spurgeon

  26. Russ says:

    Very well written! Thank you for being balanced and fair.

  27. Kim says:

    I sat under his teaching and he was definitely a heretic. I say this with pathos.

  28. Thank you for your balanced summary of Clark Pinnock’s theological journey. In an odd sort of way, I was blessed to have Clark Pinnock as a theology professor when I was in Seminary. I was always impressed with how engaging he was as well as his gentleness. The greatest blessing however was the fact that my own theological assumptions were challenged at almost every turn. I openly disagreed with him on his position on eternal punishment but he was so very gracious even while I probably lacked it. His theology lectures drove me to study to prove him wrong and my journey took an opposite direction to his. I came to seminary as a largely pragmatic Arminian-in-denial (claimed to be partly Calvinistic) and have continually veered to the right where I am now solidly evangelical (in the reformation sense).

    My great fear is that so many have been led astray by what can only be described as “another gospel.” For me, I credit Clark with driving me back to the scriptures when I might have just assumed all the things I had been taught.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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