Sunday, August 30, 2015

Clark H Pinnock, "From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology"

Here is an excerpt and then some shorter quotations from Clark H Pinnock, "From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology", The Grace of God, the Will of Man, Clark H Pinnock ed.,  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, (1989), 15-30. You can read the full chapter online here. (HT: TC Moore ):

I held onto this view until about 1970, when one of the links in the chain of the tight Calvinian logic broke. It had to do with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, likely the weakest link in Calvinian logic, scripturally speaking. I was teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at the time and attending to the doctrine particularly in the book of Hebrews. If in fact believers enjoy the kind of absolute security Calvinism had taught me they do, I found I could not make very good sense of the vigorous exhortations to persevere (e.g., 3:12) or the awesome warnings not to fall away from Christ (e.g., 10:26), which the book addresses to Christians. It began to dawn on me that my security in God was linked to my faith-union with Christ and that God is teaching us here the extreme importance of maintaining and not forsaking this relationship. The exhortations and the warnings could only signify that continuing in the grace of God was something that depended at least in part on the human partner. And once I saw that, the logic of Calvinism was broken in principle, and it was only a matter of time before the larger implications of its breaking would dawn on me. The thread was pulled, and the garment must begin to unravel, as indeed it did.   
What had dawned on me was what I had known experientially all along in my walk with the Lord, that there is a profound mutuality in our dealings with God. What happens between us is not simply the product of a set of divine decrees that, written on an everlasting and unchangeable scroll, determine all that takes place in the world. I began to doubt the existence of an all-determining fatalistic blueprint for history and to think of God's having made us significantly free creatures able to accept or reject his purposes for us (Luke 7:30). Even the good news of the grace of God will not benefit us, as Hebrews says, unless "mixed with faith in the hearers." (Heb. 4:2) For the first time I realized theologically that the dimension of reciprocity and conditionality had to be brought into the picture of God's relations with us in creation and redemption and that, once it is brought in, the theological landscape would have to change significantly. The determinist model cannot survive once a person starts down this road, as scripturally I came to see I must.    
Driven by Scripture itself as I reflected on it, and not out of rationalist motives as some might unkindly suggest, I found myself having to push ahead and do more rethinking in several other areas of doctrine adjacent to this one in the years that followed during the 1970s. Just as one cannot change the pitch of a single string on the violin without adjusting the others, so one cannot introduce a major new insight into a coherent system like Calvinian theology without having to reconsider many other issues. Let me explain five of the doctrinal moves that logic required and I believed Scripture permitted me to make during this period.   
1. The first and the best discovery I made was that there was no "horrible decree" at all. Calvin had used this expression in connection with his belief that God in his sovereign good pleasure had predestined some people to be eternally lost for no fault of theirs (Institutes, 3.23). Calvin was compelled to say that because, if one thinks that God determines all that happens in the world (his Augustinian premise) and not all are to be saved in the end (as he believed the Bible taught), there was no way around it. Calvin's logic was impeccable as usual: God wills whatever happens, so if there are to be lost people, God must have willed it. It was as logically necessary as it was morally intolerable.   
Of course I had always known how morally loathsome the doctrine of double predestination is and how contradictory it is to the universal biblical texts, but I had not known previously how to avoid it. But now with the insight of reciprocity in hand, which had just surfaced for me in rethinking the doctrine of perseverance, it became possible for me to accept the scriptural teaching of the universal salvific will of God and not feel duty-bound to deny it as before. I was now in a position to rejoice in the truth that God's will is for all to be saved (I Tim. 2:4), and that God's grace has appeared for the salvation of all people (Titus 2:11).   

On election (bold mine):
One possibility that presented itself was to think of election as being based on the foreknowledge of God (Rom. 8:29; I Peter 1:2). This was the standard Arminian position--one favored by early Greek fathers--and it would deviate least from the Calvinian idea of the selection of a certain number of specific individuals from before the creation of the world to be saved. [...] I found myself attracted to a second possibility--that election is a corporate category and not oriented to the choice of individuals for salvation. I knew that everyone admitted this to be the case in the Old Testament where the election of Israel is one of a people to be God's servant in a special way. Was it possible that the New Testament texts too could be interpreted along these same lines? Upon reflection I decided that they could indeed be read corporately, election then speaking of a class of people rather than specific individuals. God has chosen a people for his Son, and we are joined and belong to the elect body by faith in Christ (Eph. 1:3-24).   
Viewed in this way, election, far from arbitrarily excluding anybody, encompasses them all potentially. As a corporate symbol, election is no longer a dark mystery, but a joyous cause of praise and thanksgiving. Not only so but this model has the distinct advantage of construing election as a divine decision and not the pale notion of God's ratifying our choices as in the standard Arminian interpretation. If election is understood as a corporate category, then it would be God's unconditional decision and be potentially universal as regards all individuals. All are invited to become part of the elect people by personal faith.

On predestination:
Previously I had to swallow hard and accept the Calvinian antinomy that required me to believe both that God determines all things and that creaturely freedom is real. I made a valiant effort to believe this seeming contradiction on the strength of biblical infallibility, being assured that the Bible actually taught it. So I was relieved to discover that the Bible does not actually teach such an incoherence, and this particular paradox was a result of Calvinian logic, not scriptural dictates. Having created human beings with relative autonomy alongside himself, God voluntarily limits his power to enable them to exist and to share in the divine creativity. God invites humans to share in deciding what the future will be. God does not take it all onto his own shoulders. Does this compromise God's power? No, surely not, for to create such a world in fact requires a divine power of a kind higher than merely coercive. 
Obviously what is happening here is a paradigm shift in my biblical hermeneutics. I am in the process of learning to read the Bible from a new point of view, one that I believe is more truly evangelical and less rationalistic. Looking at it from the vantage point of God's universal salvific will and of significant human freedom, I find that many new verses leap up from the page, while many old familiar ones take on new meaning. In the past I would slip into my reading of the Bible dark assumptions about the nature of God's decrees and intentions. What a relief to be done with them!

On human inability:
In any case, what became decisive for me was the simple fact that Scripture appeals to people as those who are able and responsible to answer to God (however we explain it) and not as those incapable of doing so, as Calvinian logic would suggest. The gospel addresses them as free and responsible agents, and I must suppose it does so because that is what they are.

On the atonement:
[...] Christ's death on behalf of the race evidently did not automatically secure for anyone an actual reconciled relationship with God, but made it possible for people to enter into such a relationship by faith. Gospel invitations in the New Testament alone make this clear. It caused me to look again first at the theory of Anselm and later of Hugo Grotius, both of whom encourage us to view the atonement as an act of judicial demonstration rather than a strict or quantitative substitution as such. Paul's word in Romans 3:25-26 then became more important for me where the apostle himself declares that the cross was a demonstration of the righteousness of God, proving God's holiness even in the merciful justification of sinners.

Further Reading:


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