Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

R.I.P. Clark H. Pinnock (03 Feb. 1937 to 15 Aug. 2010)

Canadian Baptist theologian Clark H. Pinnock, who began his career as a neo-fundamentalist and Carl Henry-style rationalist but moved to a progressive evangelicalism, pioneering an “open theism” theology that occupied a middle ground between classical Arminianism and Process Theology, passed away yesterday.  He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s.  A first obituary from a colleague is found here.

UPDATE: I have been searching for obituaries with more detail since Sunday. Strangely, there has been nothing. Nothing in the Toronto papers or on Religion News Service and nothing even on the websites of any of the seminaries where Pinnock had taught (in reverse order: McMaster Divinity College; Regent College; Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary).  I hope this is remedied soon. I find the lack of notice of Dr. Pinnock’s passing to be disturbing.  So, as I have been trying to sort out my mixed emotions at his passing, I’ll try to be a partial remedy.

Clark Pinnock was neither a huge positive influence on my theology and ministry, nor one of my theological adversaries, but he did influence the environment in which I studied and worked, in both negative and positive ways.  I met him only 3 times: twice at my alma mater (the pre-Mohler SBTS) and once at the Evangelical Theology section of the American Academy of Religion.  He was always gracious, kind, and humble in personal contact–something that cannot be said of all theologians. (I’ve noticed no correlation between type of theology and Christian character.  As a doctoral student, I once had the occasion to meet two famous theologians for about a week–names withheld out of courtesy.  One was very far from my own thought and the other quite close, but I quickly decided that I would rather be on the same faculty with the one I considered heretical. I couldn’t imagine trying to serve on committees or even get lunch regularly with the person I mostly agreed with theologically–because this person was a total ass, whereas the heretic showed Christlike qualities constantly.)

Pinnock grew up in a liberal Baptist Canadian household, but it was a separatist fundamentalist Baptist congregation which presented him the gospel. He was converted and came of age in this scholastic Calvinistic fundamentalism. An early mentor was Francis A. Schaefer, one of the creators of the Religious Right in North America–and Schaefer made Pinnock an apologist.  He departed enough from this background, however, not to attend a Bible school or even a conservative Christian college, but to earn his B.A. at the University of Toronto (1960). He did so well at University that he was awarded two fellowships for graduate work:  A Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to Harvard and a British Commonwealth Scholarship to study at any UK university.  He chose the Commonwealth Scholarship and earned a Ph.D. in New Testament at Manchester University under the supervision of the great Prof. F. F. Bruce with a dissertation on the Holy Spirit in Paul’s writings.  Some have viewed Pinnock’s pilgrimage, at least in part, to the gradual decline of Schaefer’s influence and the rise in influence of the spirit of Bruce’s open and engaged (world affirming) evangelicalism.

Pinnock’s career might have been very different if he had continued in biblical studies, but in 1965, as a fresh Ph.D., he was hired by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to teach, not New Testament, but Systematic Theology–for which he had to prepare quickly.  It is here that Pinnock’s story first intersects my own (though I was only 3 in 1965!), because this appointment first brought Pinnock into the orbit of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The context was volatile:  The Civil Rights Movement, the beginnings of opposition to Vietnam War, the failure of the Great Society’s “War on Poverty,” and the seeds of culture change in American evangelicalism–including in the largest (and, at the time, most insular) Protestant denomination in the U.S., the SBC.  Pinnock came into this and began to conclude that far too many Southern Baptist scholars were theological liberals.  His early apologetics writings defended a strict inerrancy of Scripture–and led to many fights with other faculty at NOBTS (usually considered one of the most conservative SBC seminaries, even in the ’60s) and throughout the SBC.  Pinnock also became a hero to some fundamentalist students at NOBTS, including one Paige Patterson, who would later lead the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC–after Pinnock had left. 

Pinnock was soon from New Orleans to Deerfield, IL and the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), a seminary sponsored by the Evangelical Free Church, but actually a major interdenominational center of U. S. evangelicalism–from the right to center of the U.S. evangelical spectrum.  Here, Pinnock began to change.  Still a mild Calvinistic Baptist with a Carl Henry-style rationalist bent, he became less combative and more open to wider theological trends. He helped to push the Theological Students Fellowship, a graduate effort of InterVarsity Fellowship, into greater prominence, serving on the editorial board of TSF Bulletin.  This effort was especially geared to support evangelical graduate students at non-evangelical institutions–encouraging them to do Ph.D. work at Harvard, Yale, at major universities in the UK and in Europe and to take this greater educational breadth back to the colleges and seminaries of their evangelical institutions–while being evangelical witnesses at “godless” Harvard & Yale (and Union/Columbia, Chicago, Princeton U. and Princeton Sem., etc.), too.  As a young man in the Army struggling with my burgeoning conscientious objection, I was also wrestling with a call to ministry–and copies of TSF Bulletin, including many articles by Pinnock, were very helpful to me.

During his TEDS days, Pinnock also became a faculty mentor to a group of socially radical students led by a young Plymouth Brethren student namd Jim Wallis–the original “Post-American” community that was to become the Sojourners community and Sojourners magazine when it moved to Washington, D.C.  Here, Pinnock played a very different mentoring role than he had with Paige Patterson–with very different results for American Christianity.  Pinnock began to talk about the need for “an evangelical liberation theology” and to combine conservative theology with radical social ethics–and the “Evangelical Left” of the 1970s was born.  I participated in that “Evangelical Left” as a subscriber to Sojourners and The Other Side, meeting Wallis and others from the Sojourners community, and Gordon and Mary Cosby of The Church of the Savior, working with Habitat for Humanity, visiting Koinonia Community in Americus, GA, The Open Door in Atlanta, GA (with its ministry to both the homeless and to death row inmates), visiting John Perkins and Voice of Calvary Ministries in Missippi, Reba Place Fellowship (Mennonite) of Chicago, and more.  Pinnock wasn’t the primary influence, but his was an encouraging voice into the early ’80s when I came of age.

By 1980, while the U.S. lurched to the right culturally and politically, Pinnock had returned to his native Canada to teach, first at the ecumenical Regent College, and then at the Baptist, McMaster Divinity School.  His return to Canada led him him to further steps (in different directions) in his pilgrimage.  After some disappointing experiences voting for some avowed socialist politicians in Canada, Pinnock moved in a more conservative direction politically. He began to raise more questions about liberation theologies (especially the Marxist influences) and, by the mid-’80s, he quit the board at Sojourners and served for awhile on the board of the conservative think-tank known as the Institute for Religion and Democracy (the IRD worked with the CIA to undermine Christian and peasant movements throughout Latin America in the ’80s), founded by the then-Lutheran-minister-now-Catholic-priest, Richard John Neuhaus.  I and others of the Evangelical Left were less than pleased by this movement on Pinnock’s part.

But theologically, Pinnock moved left instead of right.  Under the influence of British Methodist N.T. scholar, I. Howard Marshall’s book, Kept by the Power of God, Pinnock broke with the Calvinist view of “eternal security” and embraced evangelical Arminian views, writing a foreward to a second edition of the book. (Pinnock could have learned this perspective earlier from the Southern Baptist giant, Dale Moody, but he had been too busy denouncing the influence of Barth and Brunner on Moody, in those days! Later, he did reconcile with Moody and the two recommended each other’s books.) He also nuanced greatly his view of biblical inspiration in his bestselling, The Scripture Principle, though choosing to keep the term “inerrancy,” which Pinnock believed would “stretch” further than I do. (He also wanted to end the controversy over inerrancy in evangelical circles by this method, which didn’t work.)

Noticing by the mid-1980s that North American evangelicals in general, and the Southern Baptist Convention especially, were in full-fledged civil war over many things, but symbolically centering around the debate over the inerrancy of Scripture, Pinnock realized that many of the conservative leaders, especially Paige Patterson, were his former students. So, when the SBC seminary presidents tried to quell the feud by holding major conferences on the authority and interpretation of Scripture, bringing in “outside evangelical scholars,” Pinnock was one of those who came. And he said to the conservatives, “You listened to me in the 1960s, so please listen to me, now.  End the feud. If there were liberals in the SBC then, they have all been vanquished. There is room for broad agreement on the authority of Scripture and diversity on the details.”  Patterson and others felt betrayed and Pinnock was unable to stop the rightward lurch of the SBC.  That was when I first met him. I am 6’3″ and he towered over me by nearly a foot.  He was deeply saddened at the way the SBC was tearing itself apart and he  had little of the combative Schaeferrite influence left.

Soon after this, Pinnock became a leader in the “Open Theism” movement–a halfway ground between classical Arminian/Freewill theology and Process Theology.  He rejected hell as eternal suffering for annihilationism and, while retaining Christ’s uniqueness and supremacy, began to move to an inclusive view of salvation (rather  like my teacher, Molly Marshall)–arguing that God’s work in general revelation meant that some truth could be found elsewhere–and may even be salfivic, though one would continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ as the only sure way of salvation.

The Evangelical Theological Society tried Pinnock for heresy–but he survived by a narrow vote.

When he was hired by McMaster Divinity College, Pinnock was the first openly evangelical faculty member in some time–easily the most conservative member there.  It could have led to a repeat of his experience at New Orleans BTS.  Instead, Pinnock moved to a progressive evangelical theology at the edges between the evangelical spectrum and mainstream liberal Protestantism.  Meanwhile, MacDiv became more conservative. By the time of his retirement in 2003, Pinnock was one of the more liberal faculty members there and today MacDiv openly advertises itself as Canada’s premier evangelical seminary in a secular university setting (downplaying it’s denominational identity as Baptist–once far more important to it than the “evangelical” label).

The mature Pinnock’s social and political commitments remained too conservative for me and I do not think the term “inerrancy” stretches as far he did. I think “inerrancy” is a bad way to characterize biblical authority.  But I share his Arminian commitments and SOME of the perspectives in the Open Theism camp seem to be to be biblical and helpful while I still wrestle with other issues. But I encountered these perspectives and issues primarily from others–seeing Pinnock’s input only later.  He has been a background figure and never a primary influence on me.

Still, this Pilgrim theologian who was NEVER afraid to say, “I was wrong and my last book is quite mistaken,” was a huge force in English-speaking Baptist and evangelical circles–and a controversial one–throughout my entire life.  His passing leaves us all poorer and I hope that the near silence since Saturday will be soon broken.  There should be tributes and reflections throughout many theological circles.  I predict many a dissertation on his work, from various perspectives, in the future.

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August 16, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, obituary, theologians | 16 Comments

Gospel Nonviolence: An (Ana)Baptist Approach

This is another reprint from Levellers. In 2007, Halden Doerge, who runs the great blog, Inhabitatio Dei (“Inhabiting God”), invited a group of theological bloggers to contribute to a guest series on his blog called “My Peace I Leave With You” –defenses of Christian pacifism (gospel nonviolence) from different Christian traditions.  He got 6 contributions–from a new convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, from a Free Church perspective, from an American Evangelical perspective, from a British Reformed perspective, from the Stone-Campbell Restorationist movement, and mine from an Anabaptist-Baptist perspective.  All the posts are indexed here.

It was a great series that illustrated my contention that while warmakers (and war cheerleaders)  sound boringly the same, peacemakers are all wonderfully different.  Witness to the peace of Jesus Christ takes many forms.  But I was disappointed that the series contributions ended with these. I’d hoped for female and non-white voices.  I’d also hoped for contributions from Quakers (maybe one from the unprogrammed Friends tradition and one from an Evangelical Friend like Richard Foster), from a Mennonite, from a Catholic, an Orthodox pacifist who had been Orthodox longer, a Methodist, a Lutheran, example. More people from outside the U.S. context.  A Pentecostal pacifism.  A feminist pacifism.  A pacifism from a distinctly liberal Christian perspective (since we had several contributors from evangelical backgrounds).  So, maybe by reprinting my contribution here–and linking to Halden’s index of all posts, others will decide to contribute–either here or at Inhabitatio Dei (preferably the latter since this was Halden’s series).

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Gospel Nonviolence: An Anabaptist-Baptist Approach

A guest-post by M. L. Westmoreland-White

When Halden asked me to contribute to this series, I suddenly felt as if I was failing to heed the Petrine command to “always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands an accounting of the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15b).” Do I really know what “my tradition” of Christian pacifism looks like?

The problem is that I was not raised in a peace church tradition, and my denomination, the Baptists, have never been a “peace church,” though we have always had a pacifist minority. That minority has been larger or smaller, less influential or more, in various times and places–but always a minority. (For a survey of this tradition see Paul R. DeKar, For the Healing of the Nations: Baptist Peacemakers[Smyth & Helwys, 1993.]) I came to gospel nonviolence from the U.S. military, so my “pacifism” may be a reaction, a rebellion, as much as a theological tradition. I was not formed in nonviolent virtues like a Mennonite, Quaker, or member of the Church of the Brethren would have been. So, I feel unworthy to participate in this series. But here goes, anyway.

Baptists began as radical Puritans who were influenced at key points by Dutch Anabaptists. The General, or more Arminian, Baptists began earlier (1609-1611) with John Smyth and Thomas Helwys and were influenced by Waterlander Mennonites from Amsterdam. The Particular, or more Calvinist, Baptists (who were to become the dominant strand) began a generation later (1638-1644) and were influenced by Collegiant Mennonites (and a translation of Menno Simons’ Foundation-Book) from Leiden. From the Anabaptists, we took a radically Christocentric orientation and an emphasis on a visible church and active discipleship. From the Reformed/Puritan heritage, we took a strong emphasis on God’s Sovereignty and Christ’s Lordship over all of life (thus rejecting either Lutheran or Anabaptist “two-kingdoms” thinking).

Both those strands inform my pacifism. Because Christianity is “following after” Jesus Christ, I must love my enemies and be an active peacemaker. The Anabaptist heritage (mediated to me especially, but not only, via John Howard Yoder) keeps my pacifism centered in the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of Jesus’ teachings. It means that my refusal to kill is part of a larger pattern of non-conformity to “the world.” That pattern includes simplicity of living (striving against materialist consumerism), radical egalitarianism in home, church, and society (resisting the heirarchies of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation), mutual servanthood, economic sharing. The Anabaptist orientation means that I cannot separate my love of God (my “spiritual life” or piety) from my love of neighbors–and that I must continually recognize personal, communal, or national enemies as tests of the seriousness of that neighbor love.

Because God is Sovereign and Christ is Lord over ALL of life (not just Lord of the Church or of some “inner realm”), as the Reformed rightly stress, then my nonviolent witness cannot be apolitical. The Baptist defense of “separation of church and state” is not out of any Lutheran “two-kingdoms” theology in which God works through the state with a radically different ethic (the Left hand of God, as Luther put it) from the ethic of personal relations in which the Gospel is to be followed. The idea that “religion and politics have nothing to do with each other” is heresy. Rather, we Baptists (at our best) defend the institutional separation of church and state precisely so that the church is free to give prophetic witness to the state.

Baptists, at least, non-fundamentalist Baptists, are fond of self-descriptions that use a set of principles, axioms, or “identity markers,” rather than by reference to a formal “creed” of confession of faith. Though, unlike our “cousins” in the Stone-Campbell movement, we Baptists have often written confessions of faith, we have seldom treated them as creedal “tests of orthodoxy,” but as guides to biblical interpretation and witnesses to outsiders of our faith. We have often given these statements elaborate “preambles” that deny their creedal status and explicitly claim that they are not to be used as substitutes for simple faith in Christ and that they are always subordinate to biblical authority. Many Baptists have identified with the Restorationist motto of “No Creed but the Bible,” whatever other disagreements we have with those we often term “Campbellites.”

Consider one widely popular such list of “Baptist identity markers”:

  • Biblicism, understood not as preference for one or another theory of inspiration (or “inerrancy”), but as the humble acceptance of the authority of Scripture for both faith and practice and accompanied by a Christocentric hermeneutic. (This is related to the Baptist “primitivism” which desires to replicate “New Testament churches.”)
  • Liberty, understood not as the overthrow of all authority for an anarchic individualism, but as the church’s God-given freedom to respond to God without the intervention of the state or other Powers. (Related themes are intentional community, voluntarism, “soul competency,” and separation of church and state.)
  • Discipleship as normative for all Christians and so understood neither as a vocation for the few nor an esoteric discipline for adepts, but as life transformed into service by the lordship of Jesus Christ. (Signified by believers’ baptism–usually by immersion to signify the believer’s identification with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to new life; related themes are “the rule of Christ,” and “the rule of Paul.)
  • Community, understood not as some group’s privileged access to God or to sacred status, but as sharing together in a storied life of witness to Christ exercised in mutual aid and in service to others. (Signified by Communion or Holy Eucharist, most often called by Baptists the Table or Supper of the Lord; a related theme is the regenerate or believers’ church, i.e., the concern for churches of “visible saints.”)
  • Mission or evangelism, understood not as an attempt to control history for the ends we believe to be good, but as the responsibility of all Christians to bear witness to Christ–and to accept the suffering that such witness often entails. (The deep missionary impulse is connected to claim that all true faith is voluntary and uncoerced and thus leads back again to the defense of liberty of conscience for all–including for those whose views we deem wrong or even wrongheaded.)

Now, I do not claim that pacifism or gospel nonviolence is entailed or demanded by such any vision formed through such principles. That claim is too strong considering how many non-pacifist Baptists there are! Rather, my (slightly more humble) claim is simply that gospel nonviolence fits such a vision, such principles and that each of these “identity markers” are strengthened and their unity more apparent in pacifist perspective. If space permitted, I could run through each principle and spell out the pacifist implications, but I leave that to the reader’s own reflections. It is my rather audacious claim that the pacifist minority among Baptists for our 400 years have had it right: That gospel nonviolence makes us more authentically Baptist, as well, of course, as more authentically Christian.

So “my” pacifism has a deeply “Baptist” shape as well as ecumenical influences. It is informed by the Social Gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch and the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (both Baptists), as well as from the nonviolent strands of liberation theologies. I deeply adhere to a saying from Pope Paul VI, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Biblical peace, shalom, is a product of justice–of right relationships throughout society. So, “my” pacifism, must always be an activist peacemaking: Engaging in nonviolent struggle for a better world–not in a vain attempt to “bring in the Kingdom,” (God does that–although God may use us as instruments), but to bear witness of God’s character and actions for redemption–and, to prepare the way for the Ultimate realization of God’s Reign by penultimate actions for a relatively just and peaceful world. (See Bonhoeffer’s Ethics).

It has been said that Baptists are “practical idealists.” Insofar as I belong to a tradition of Christian pacifism, it is one informed by the practical idealism of the Anabaptists of the 16th C., the “democratic” impulses of early Baptists like Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Bunyan, and Richard Overton; the Levellers of the 17th C., 19th C. abolitionists and evangelical feminists, of Social Gospel and Civil Rights radicals, and of nonviolent struggles for justice globally. With such “practical idealism” I try to bear witness to the nonviolent Christ who is my Lord.

August 16, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, blog series, pacifism, spirituality, testimony, theology | Leave a comment