Remembering Clark Pinnock: Postconservative Evangelical Par Excellence

Remembering Clark Pinnock: Postconservative Evangelical Par Excellence August 17, 2010

I just heard about my friend Clark Pinnock’s death on Sunday, August 15 at age 73.  My heart is heavy for his family but full of joy for him.  He was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and is no doubt now in the joy of the Lord’s presence without pain or loss.

I followed Clark’s career and theological path over the years after first reading him while in seminary.  I made note of his change from Calvinism to Arminianism and then to open theism and talked with him often about his journey.  Even when I did not agree with him, I always found his reasoning Christ-centered and Bible-centered and therefore thoroughly evangelical.  He was a model of what I call the postconservative approach to theology–always willing to change his mind when convinced scripture requires it.

He was a gentle soul who was deeply wounded by harsh and often unfair criticisms of him and his work.  He was a prolific and creative theologian.  I only wish he had written a summa.  When I asked him to do that he honored and flattered me by saying “You’ve done it for me.”  (He was referring to The Mosaic of Christian Belief which I do not think rises to the level of what Clark would have produced had he ever put his hand to writing a systematic theology.)

I believe the evangelical and ecumenical worlds have lost a great thinker in Clark.  He was a mentor and friend to many of us.  My heart and my prayers go out to his wife and daughter and other loved ones and to his many friends and former colleagues.

(A note to those who may be tempted to use this opportunity to criticize Clark’s work at this time: I don’t think it is proper or Christian to attack someone’s life or work shortly after their death.  Such attacks on Stan Grenz’s theological career and contribution within days of his passing were extremely hurtful and distressing to his family.  Save your criticisms for a later time.  I will welcome constructive criticisms of Clark’s work after 30 days from the 15th.)

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  • Thank you for writing on this. I am 30 years old and have just started reading Pinnock over the last 5 years. In that time, his scholarship has deeply impacted my faith and challenged me to look deeper into the Bible. There are areas where he made me feel ‘uncomfortable’, but I never took it as a bad thing. His reasoning was always solid, even when I haven’t come to the same conclusion. I believe the world has lost a great light in the passing of Dr. Pinnock. Thank you for honoring his memory and not allowing it to be slandered. He deserves nothing less.

  • Yes, Pinnock went with his quest! RIP..

  • Russ

    Since reading Tracking the Maze in college, I’ve made it a point to read every book Pinnock published. I’m saddened there won’t be any more.

  • Clay Knick

    Years ago when I was in theological school and a few times after that I wrote him letters (yes, letters!). He wrote back each time, taking the time to answer my questions and recommend books to read. He even asked me to pray for him as he faced going blind (he had already lost sight in one eye, the other was going). As time passed God healed him. I’ll always treasure those letters.

  • When I heard the news today, one of the first things to come to mind was how the Christian community has lost a humble and brilliant mind… Truly a post-conservative patriarch. My selfish regret is that I had not had the opportunity to sit under his tutelage at McMaster. Some of books and articles have had a tremendous influence on my developing theology. Keeping his close friends and family members in prayer.

  • Matthew Whitten

    Excellent words, Dr. Olson.

    With the loss of Clark Pinnock, evangelical theology has lost a man of great courage and humility. It’s been a real privilege for me, personally, to have been able to read a few of his works.

  • Thank you, Roger.

  • Donald Hightower

    I read some of his writings on hermeneutics it was hand out for a class. It reflected warmth and wisdom. I have other questions regarding him, to ask but I will probably wait, they are not negative mind you.

  • His book, Flame of Love is one of my fav. It really stirred me deeply. I’m sorry to hear of his passing and time of trial.

  • Robert

    Clark Pinnock was one of my favorite “provokers”. I would toast him as one of the greatest “provokers” I have ever met or encountered.

    One of my mentors who is himself a classic “provoker” introduced me to this mentality. It is sort of like the opposite of a “Yes Man”. My mentor encouraged me when considering a subject always check out what the “provokers” say! A “provoker” presents ideas that even if you disagree with them: THEY MAKE YOU THINK THROUGH THE ISSUES! They provoke you to think more about things. In every field of study there is the “orthodoxy” and then there are the “provokers” (want to quickly find out what the important issues in any area are, then know the current “orthodoxy” and know what the “provokers” are saying on the subject).

    My mentor encouraged me to always be open to and on the lookout for this kind of person. You want them in your discussions, you want them when you are planning things, you always want them around. If you really are into pursuing truth not just fortifying your cherished positions, these are just the people you want to bounce ideas off of and consider the provocative ideas they themselves are suggesting. When Science is practiced correctly some of the greatest progress occurs on the account of “provokers”.

    I disagreed with Pinnock on some things (his view of hell and his open theism most notably) but I always found him to be a person that it was smart to read his material, if you take “provokers” seriously. I had a long lunch discussion with him at an ETS meeting and found him to be a very likeable guy. Brilliant but humble. Open to discussion, passionate, and yet tolerant. He really listened to you and he was really worth listening to.

    It is tough being a “provoker” though, as you will always be a threat to the status quo, to the “good ole boys” who perpetuate traditions and ideologies over thinking and useful change. Pinnock was such a threat, especially in my estimation to calvinists. He strongly promoted libertarian free will and strongly opposed determinism. That meant he naturally threatened calvinism. And you could tell by their responses to him that they did not appreciate him or his views.

    Pinnock in person was one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and yet judging by critical comments about him you would think he was the devil. That is typical of “provokers”. For those pursuing truth, they are stimulating, even if you end up disagreeing with them. To those defending a tradition or system or ideology, they are a threat and sometimes hated.

    But we need “provokers”.

    And in my opinion of you live the Christian life properly you will end up being a “provoker” yourself: Jesus certainly was.