The Flame of Love – Clark Pinnock

12 05 2009

pinnock My New Testament tutor gave me some great advice. Always read widely even if you’re just reading to better understand why you disagree with some people. This is how I feel about Pinnocks award winning book. He is clearly well researched but I disagree with a number of his conclusions.
This book helped me better understand where I disagree with Him and why. But like it or not, Pinnock is still a brother in the Lord and if he calls Jesus Lord, I will follow Pauls advice to Timothy. Avoid Godless chatter and pointless arguments. They only hurt those who listen.

My main concern with this book is not so much content by style. It read more like a series of propositional statements about the Holy Spirit than an exposition of what the Bible says about the Spirit. The headings may seem systematic but Pinnocks style is somewhat eratic in those chapters. I did not find his understanding illuminating and refreshing. Rather this style seemed to be a way to overload its participants with too much information in one go. I understand the temptation to do this. He obviously feels very strongly about the neglect of the Holy Spirit in current theological circles.

Yet another annoying feature is that Pinnock consistently states that theology neglects the Spirit or fails to address certain aspects of Jesus’ ministry in relation to the Spirit. Yet he does highlight any authority or theologian who does this. If you’re going to make those kind of big general statements you need to footnote it, and cite a source. Otherwise it’s just opinion.

Pinnock is an outspoken proponent of Open Theism, and this book was helpful to understand where he is coming from in this regard. While I disagree with the conclusion, if you do too you need to make sure you have read the proponents of the system of thought before dismissing it, or at least to be better informed as to why you disagree. My concern here with Pinnock is that he is inconsistent in his application and exposition. He claims that God takes risks in creating creatures whom he wants to love him freely. As such he is claiming that God cannot know what we will do, or how we will respond to the advances of the Spirit. In fact God cannot know the future because it is conditioned on what his free agents will do. Perhaps God can know the future of the weather cycles or animals behaviours, but not people made in his own image. Clark concludes that history and the future cannot have been predetermined in God wants us to love him freely. This seems to be a more radical Arminian position than I’m used to reading. Yet in the next few pages He say talks about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness by the Spirit. He says that the Spirit would not allow Jesus to avoid temptation and neither will he allow us today. Yet is this not an example of something God has predetermined will happen and has brought to pass irrespective of the will of humanity? I could be wrong, but I kept getting the impression that Clark was inconsistent in applying his conclusions fully.

I have many reasons for disagreeing with Open Theist interpretation of scripture. For instance, Scripture tells us that God does not change, is the same yesterday, today and forever (either that or we’ve been singing heresy on Sundays LOL), then how can God take a risk? A risk implies that one does not know what will happen, and that one will learn something new in the process, hence they will not be the same person as they were before. So if God can learn new things, then God can change. If God can change, was He the best option when you first believed or should you have waited for God to become a better person? More importantly if God can change, there is something more powerful than God out there – why don’t we worship that?

Pinnock also believes that Adam would have died in Eden, so death was a reality even in perfection. Last time I checked the only other notable theologian who defended that position was the 4th century monk Pelagius. But perhaps the most concerning is the level to which Pinnock elevates mankind. People are their own co-saviours with Christ if Pinnocks logic is to be followed correctly. Humans have the ability to frustrate or even halt the plans of God. I cannot accept that people have such power. Man may be made in the image of God but he is nowhere near as powerful as God. Pinnock does not follow these premises to their logical conclusion. If man is so powerful does he really need a saviour?

I’ve tried to give a critical appraisal of the book. It’s difficult to rate it when you’ve read it for research purposes. It served it’s purpose in giving me insight into the more radical Arminian position. Yet I don’t think he is representative of Arminianism as a whole. Make sure you read widely. Don’t restrict yourself to reading one point of view. While I don’t agree with his conclusions, he did force me to think outside the square and articulate why I disagree with Him and for that I am grateful.




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