Holy Spirit Theology

A Review of Clark Pinnock's Flame of Love

by Robert Brow   (web site - www.brow.on.ca)

(Originally posted on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association discussion list on Dec. 24, 1996 and continued on January 1,1997)

 With the publication of Clark H.Pinnock's Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996) an important component of his vision now fall into its proper place.

 Clark Pinnock begins with a quote from Pope John XXIII: "Holy Spirit, renew your wonders in our day as by a new Pentecost." The Introduction then suggests that we neglect to talk about the Spirit as the environment we live in like a fish might forget to mention the sea (11). And in fact it is by the Spirit that we first experience "God's flying by" (14).

 In Flame of Love Pinnock first thought of referring to the Holy Spirit as feminine, as is properly done by feminist writers such as Elizabeth Johnson (She who Is, Crossroads, 1992). He points out that Jurgen Moltmann used the feminine in his God in Creation (Harper & Row, 1985) but reverted to the masculine Spirit in The Trinity and the Kingdom (Harper & Row, 1991). Pinnock eventually decided with Moltmann to keep to the masculine throughout (25).

 In the first chapter Pinnock helpfully notes the biblical references to Spirit as referring to the presence of God (Wolfhart Pannenberg's "field of deity" in his Systematic Theology, [Eerdmans, 1991]). He then follows the Nicene Creed, the Cappadocian fathers, Leonard Hodgson's Doctrine of the Trinity (1943), Cornelius Plantinga, Gordon Fee, and many other recent theologians who recognize biblical references to the Holy Spirit as one of the three Persons of the "Social Trinity" (25-35).

 Pinnock then gives us a rich reminder of evidences of the Holy Spirit in our life experiences: love, joy, creativity, dance, play, music, mutuality, and community celebration, "let the party begin" (37-48). As the book proceeds we note the implications of this vision for the risky Openness of God (argued in Pinnock, Rice, Sanders, Hasker, & Basinger's 1994 InterVarsity book by that title) as opposed to a model of God as unchangeable, all determining, and with fixed decrees (43, 44, 56, 74, 75).

 The second chapter on "Spirit in Creation" views the Spirit as "choreographing the dance of creation." The Spirit is the active agent in breathing life into our creation, fostering loving relationships and community, and all with an ultimate goal in mind of a oneness of love (50-63). Pinnock quotes Moltmann's view of the Spirit as the creative force "on all levels of matter and life" (God in Creation [Harper & Row, 1985], p.100).

 The creative activity of the Holy Spirit does not oppose a scientific model of "evolutionary continuity" (65) in the various stages of evolution. But it should encourage scientists to ask why "paintings and symphonies exist?" We do not need them to survive the evolutionary struggle. Pinnock has already suggested that they are the outcome of God's "celebration and sheer delight" (55) How did chance matter produce an animal that can discuss "the process that created it ?" (71) Better think of matter as "on the march toward resurrection" (74).

 This explanatory model has huge implications. As Elizabeth Johnson points out, the Spirit is not limited to religious activities such as "church, word, sacraments, and prayer." The whole range of "just plain ordinary human life" is touched by the mystery (She who Is [1992], p.125). There are also implications for a creative attitude to ecology (76-77). In chapter 6 Pinnock works at some of the theological problems of "Spirit and Universality."

 Clark Pinnock's theology of the Holy Spirit now fits into an emerging vision of Creative Love Theism (the term used in Unbounded Love: A Good News Theology for the 21st. Century [InterVarsity, 1994], p.8).

 Christians all over the world, and most theologians, accept the Trinitarian assumptions of the Nicene Creed. A major difference in emphasis then emerges between the theology of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Latin speaking Western Church. With the Reformation there are further differences in the explanatory models used in the various denominations of the Western

 Church. Beginning with Grace Unlimited (1975), and The Grace of God and the Will of Man (1989), followed by A Wideness in God's Mercy (1992), and The Openness of God (1994), Clark Pinnock has systematically worked at a twentieth century model of Creative Love Theism, which has at least ten components:

  1. God as a Social Trinity
  2. Theiosis (being perfected into the Love of God), and God's Love for all people
  3. The consequent Openness of God
  4. The Cross as the outcome of God's sacrificial love
  5. Hell as a free choice of eternal death
  6. A Family Model of the Atonement
  7. The continuing advents and final advent of the Son of God
  8. The Creativity of the Holy Spirit in all creation and human life
  9. The Church functioning in each place as a Charismatic Body
  10. Ethics as an expression of the love, joy, dance, play and celebration of the heart of God
In all his books Pinnock has been careful to point out his debt to many other twentieth century writers. The Social Trinity was argued for example by Leonard Hodgson, Cornelius Plantinga, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and many others. Theiosis is celebrated by Madeleine L'Engle. Philip Yancey wrote Disappointment with God (Zondervan, 1988). Hell as a free choice was set out by C.S.Lewis in The Great Divorce (1945). The Church as charismatic body of gifted members was argued by Arnold Bittlinger in Gifts and Ministries (Eerdmans, 1967) and Robert Brow, The Church: An Organic Picture of Its Life and Missions (Eerdmans, 1968).

 The ten components of Creative Love Theism unite into one theological stream the Greek Orthodox vision of theiosis, the Wesleyan emphasis on God's intention to perfect us in love, the theological renewal in the Roman Catholic Church begun by Pope John XXIII, and the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. But as Pinnock points out, in terms of human experience our first contact with God is by the creativity of the Holy Spirit, and other components of this model are understood later.

 In this century of the Holy Spirit more and more Evangelicals are expressing one or more of the ten components of Creative Love Theism in their songs and liturgies and popular writing. It is time for us to recognize the work of Clark Pinnock in giving us the theological tools needed to recognize, and attempt an explanatory model, of what God is doing.

 The third chapter on "Spirit and Christology" points out that long before the incarnation the Holy Spirit was active in the mission of drawing people into the love of God. Pinnock then works at a model in which the ministry of the Son is part of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in creation and recreation. This means that the work of saving men and women throughout the world had begun by the Spirit long before the incarnation of the Son.

 Pinnock marshals massive evidence to remind us that at every point the Holy Spirit is defined as the creative agent of the Son's conception (Luke 1:35), birth announcements (Luke 1:67, 2:25- 27), childhood growth (Luke 1:80), prophesied ministry (Mark 1:8, Matthew 3:11), baptism (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22), temptation (Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1), filling for ministry (Luke 4:16) preaching (Luke 4:18), healing (Acts 10:38) casting out of demons (Matthew 12:28), offering up for death (Hebrews 9:14), resurrection (Romans 1:4, 8:11, Colossians 2:12), and church building (1 Corinthians 12:4-13, Ephesians 4:4-13).

 To my mind this proves that the New Testament writers took it for granted that the Son's life on earth was constituted and empowered at every stage by the Spirit. It also suggests that the early Christians were very conscious of the fact that the Spirit who worked in the Son of God when He came into our world was the same Spirit now at work in them. Not only was the creative Spirit working to empower and change them from glory to glory in this life, but the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead would also take them through death and resurrection.

 Pinnock then works at the implications of this for our model of the atonement. In the first chapter Pinnock established that the three Persons of the Trinity intended from the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27) to perfect us into God's image of perfect love. In the second chapter he shows that from the beginning it was Spirit who worked as the agent of creation and recreation. This enables Pinnock to bypass the doctrine of original sin with everyone destined to eternal damnation until the Son has made the payment to save us.

 Readers will be tempted to compare this to the move Matthew Fox made when he replaced original sin by original blessing. The difference is that Matthew Fox is quite clear that he does not want to be a Theist, this life is all there is, and there is no resurrection. Pinnock is decisively Theistic, and the end product is a resurrection into God's heaven of perfected love. As in C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce it is possible to reject the love of God and prefer the outer darkness of grey city. But from the beginning and among all people the Holy Spirit works to call, and woo and persuade us by every means to respond to the love of God. There is therefore a freedom of heart response for all people. As John puts it they "come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God" (John 3:21).

 In the Western Church the differences between Roman Catholics and various forms of Protestant theology focused on how the payment made by Christ could be accepted or encashed by faith. Based on Pinnock's theology of the Holy Spirit, the at-one-ment by the Spirit offers a new model to review the interminable discussions of the various theories of the atonement. No payment has to be made (as was often argued so forcibly by Robert Farrar Capon), and Satan may tempt but he can never hold us captive for ever.

 To explain what he means Pinnock uses words like recapitulation (95), representation (97, 100, 102, 108), participation (97, 102, 105, 110). I must admit I do not grasp the ordinary language meaning of those words. But the net result is that we are made one with God as the Holy Spirit does in us what He did in the incarnate Son of God. In using such terms Pinnock does not want to deny a legal "penal substitutionary model" (102, 106, 107, 111), but the model no longer holds center stage. Pinnock wants to recover the centrality of the work of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our atonement. He says for example that atonement is "a power event" (99). This means that we can experience exactly the same power that was at work in Jesus (111). In other words "the Spirit's task in atonement" is to transform and empower us (106, 111) so that we can love and suffer rejection, and finally be taken through death and resurrection in the same way as the Son of God.

 What Pinnock's Flame of Love suggests to me is that from the Day of Pentecost the early Christians experienced the tremendous power of the Holy Spirit. They were filled with unexpected sacrificial love, freed from the powers of this world, and given a new kind of ministry of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:3-9) and worship in the Spirit. That was power atonement. And it is exactly the kind of theology that Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Charismatic Christians need to explain what has happened to them.

 Instead of the convoluted explanations which we have been given, I suspect that Pinnock's honoring of the work of the Holy Spirit will make easy sense in our post-modern world. Pinnock's work might even convince New Testament scholars that trying out a Holy Spirit model of the Epistle to the Romans might give us a very different understanding of Paul. All over the world humans know that their unruly flesh can never be tamed to become what they long to be (Romans 7:12-25). The good news is that the Holy Spirit is willing to do in us infinitely more than we have imagined (Romans 8:1-39). That makes Romans 8 the conclusion of Paul's argument rather than the Roman law court idea of justification, which is not needed anywhere in the Greek text.

 A final suggestion is that the term Arminian needs to be pensioned off. It belongs to a model in which we are condemned to eternal damnation by original sin, and it suggests that we receive or encash the atonement by some human effort or decision. In Clark Pinnock's proposed model any change or transformation is by the Holy Spirit alone, and it is totally by grace without any admixture of human effort (the Galatian heresy). We are in fact predestined to being perfected in love, and the three Persons of the Trinity working together lovingly intend by all means to get us there. One might as well call a daffodil Arminian because it is open to the rain, sunshine, and soil. The faith that makes us right is not a work but a direction of looking like Abraham (Romans 4).

CLARK PINNOCK, Flame of Love, 1996, Review Comment by Robert Brow (as posted on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association Discussion List, March 4, 1999)

In the current issue of Books and Culture (March/April 1999, pp.34-37) Stephen N. Williams offers a review of Clark Pinnock's Flame of Love, InterVarsity 1996. The review is titled "Pneumatologies have Consequences: Theologians in Pursuit of the Spirit."

Williams is obviously fascinated by the winsomeness of Pinnock's model. "The theological treatment is thematic, characterized by a sense of the dynamic movement of the Spirit and of rejoicing and celebration in his presence . . . its depiction of a Spirit who deeply attracts, his saving grace extended wide, wide as the ocean of the world." So the review has captured exactly what Pinnock succeeded in doing so well.

William has also grasped that Pinnock has long abandoned a proof text method of theologizing. This was the method Pinnock began with. The idea was that if only one did painstaking exact exegesis of texts one could prove the truth of a particular theological emphasis, or even the Christian faith as against all other religions and ideologies. Williams comments: "Hermeneutical schemes will differ and will not always be proposed or rejected sheerly on the basis of exegesis. Further, Scripture offers something like a portrayal of God and not just propositions about him; different perceptions here are not easily adjudicated by recourse to an assumed and perspicuous textual objectivity."  Right on.

Williams then realizes that Pinnock "needs maximal care, since he is overtly challenging a strong tradition that apparently restricts' the saving operations of the Holy Spirit to the church." Williams does not dismiss Pinnock "since the position he maintains deserves careful consideration, whether or not eventual acceptance." Again, right on.

I couldn't believe such great praise till I went on to the very next sentence of patronising counterattack. "But the rigor is lacking.
Portions of Scripture are often quoted more in the presumption that they make a point than in the demonstration of it. Scottish readers will regularly tend to a not proven' verdict."

Clark Pinnock's method, as is mine, is that theology begins with a hunch, a feel for, an experience of God's love. This can be set out and commended as a model. But a model can never be a proof, and if you ask for a proof you have missed the point before beginning. We can say "This is the way I see it now. If you can offer me a better model I want to look at it carefully and try it on for size." And Clark Pinnock began looking at other models meticulously with Tracking the Maze, Harper & Row, 1990.

Theology has moved on from proof, which has been proved to be impossible (the Bible does not even prove God's love). What we now have is playful exploration (Clark's own words), and commitment to an explanation. But we are always open to change our minds if a better explanation is offered.

"Pinnock has again changed his mind" is used to portray him as fickle without realizing that this is precisely what we are told to do. "Be continually transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Romans 12:2).    This means that evangelical apologetics and hermeneutics are engaged in on a different basis. Pinnock's model of the Holy Spirit belongs to a wider model set out in The Openness of God, Unbounded Love, and Flame of Love.

The only way for his critics to reject that winsome model is by offering a better one. But that is not what traditional evangelicals want to do. They prefer to be picky about Clark's array of Scripture texts, reject them as proof texts (which they never were in the first place), and pray fervently that Pinnock will go away.

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