Clark Pinnock (1937-2010)August 18, 2010
Long before my days as a journalist, I was a student of theology. In retrospect, it was partly due to growing up in an evangelical Baptist home, and partly because of my need to understand how thinking works. It’s often intuitive and often counter-intuitive.
Theology — talk about God — is a demanding intellectual discipline, requiring philosophical acumen, interpretive rigour, historical precision, and an insatiable curiosity to probe some of the greatest minds in history. It is also an exciting set of questions: Who is God? What is the meaning of meaning? How do you think faithfully?
Theology is also a discipline that teaches about patterns of thought. Your future shapes your present. Your understanding of God affects your humanity. Your place in the world determines your way of interpreting that world. Salvation is inseparable from your actions, and vice versa (for it all). It’s all interconnected, a web and a matrix. Theology gives you a sense of the beauty of thought, and how the questions you ask have been asked before and will be asked again.
In those days, I cast about for intellectual role models who were faithful to the tradition that I loved and that shaped me, yet who exemplified curiosity and a willingness to change.
Clark Pinnock died from a heart attack on Sunday. He was probably the most important theologian to hail from Canada since Bernard Lonergan. Pinnock was an intellectual pilgrim. Raised a liberal, he became an evangelical. Becoming a Calvinist, he morphed into an Arminian. He was a truly open soul, entering into dialogue with all kinds of thought and all kinds of people. His name was also anathema in many places.
I never actually met Pinnock, but his books were lovely. Flame of Love, Pinnock’s theology of the Holy Spirit, is prayerful and heartfelt. Tracking the Maze, Pinnock’s exploration of the future of modern theology, was irenic and balanced. And The Openness of God pushed boundaries.
Close friends of mine at Regent College took his summer school class in 2002 and spoke of his kindness, as well as his distracting habit of making some sort of clicking noise while deep in thought. Sadly, that was just before the final chapter of his life, marked by the long, dark descent into Alzheimer’s.
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