Clark Pinnock and Biblical Inerrancy
When I teach Baptist History students about the Conservative Resurgence, I mention that many conservative stalwarts of a particular generation were educated at New Orleans Seminary in the 1960s. I tell them about a certain young professor who encouraged conservative students like Paige Patterson with his zeal for orthodox doctrine, his defense of the inerrancy of Scripture, and his vocal advocacy of a theological course correction in the SBC. Most students are shocked when I tell them that the young scholar was Clark Pinnock, a theologian they understandably associate with a rejection of inerrancy and advocacy of open theism and inclusivism.
Clark Pinnock passed away on August 15 at the age of 73. During his lengthy career as a prolific theologian, Pinnock became known for his many significant theological shifts—from Calvinism to Arminianism, from cessassionism to continuationism, from restrictivism to inclusivism, from traditional theism to open theism. But most significant, at least in my mind, was his shift from a being a stout defender of inerrancy to becoming an outspoken rejecter/redefiner of that crucial doctrine. It is a significant and symbolic shift that at least in part helps explain the other transitions in Pinnock’s beliefs.
Pinnock’s Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology (Moody, 1971) is one of the most impressive defenses of biblical inerrancy written during the latter half of the 20th century. Unfortunately, like far too many evangelicals he modified his views in The Scripture Principle: Reclaiming the Full Authority of Scripture (Harper and Row, 1984) and adopted a more progressive understanding of biblical inspiration and authority. In the last twenty-five years, you could tell a lot about an evangelical scholar by inquiring whether he or she resonated with Pinnock 1.0 or Pinnock 2.0.
Coincidentally (providentially?), on the same day that most of us learned about Pinnock’s death, Al Mohler published an excellent blog post titled “The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Fifty Years’ War . . . And Counting.” Pinnock perhaps most famously epitomized the very unfortunate trend that Mohler documents in his article. It seems that every generation of evangelical scholars contains some thinkers who are bent on casting aside inerrancy. Unfortunately, the spirit of Pinnock is alive and well.
For two brief introductions to Pinnock’s thought, see Robert Rakestraw’s essay on Pinnock in Baptist Theologians (Broadman, 1990), eds. Timothy George and David Dockery, and Robert Johnson’s entry on Pinnock in Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Baker, 1993), ed. Walter Elwell. For a sympathetic treatment of Pinnock’s theological journey, check out Barry Callen’s Clark H. Pinnock: Journey Toward Renewal: An Intellectual Biography (Evangel, 2000). Stanley Porter and Anthony Cross edited a Festschrift for Pinnock; most of the essays offer at least some appreciative interaction with elements of Pinnock’s theology. See Semper Reformandum: Studies in Honor of Clark H. Pinnock (Paternoster, 2004). SEBTS dean of faculty Ken Keathley’s dissertation offered a critique of Pinnock’s inclusivism—see “An Examination of the Influence of Vatican II on Clark Pinnock’s ‘Wider Hope’ for the Unevangelized” (Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2000). See also Keathley’s essay “Pinnock’s Pilgrimage,” which can be found in the regrettably out-of-print Here I Stand: Essays in Honor of Dr. Paige Patterson, eds. David Alan Black, N. Allan Moseley, and Stephen R. Prescott (Davidson, 2000).
For a short list of some of Pinnock’s more important writings, see Andy Goodliff’s brief bibliography. For a more substantive list of works, see Stanley Grenz’s bibliography at the conclusion of the aforementioned Semper Reformandum. If you are interested in learning more about Pinnock’s early promotion of theological renewal in the SBC, try to snag a copy of the long out-of-print A New Reformation: A Challenge to Southern Baptists (Jewell Books, 1968).