Unbounded Love

A Good News Theology for the 21st. Century

by Clark H. Pinnock & Robert C. Brow

Downers Grove, Illinois, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1994
Carlisle, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1994
JLP Digital Publications, Odessa Ont. 2000   ( www.brow.on.ca)

Preface to the Web Edition, 2000

In the four years since Unbounded Love was published, the Creative Love Theism model which we offered (see Introduction) has been developed in various directions. The huge implications of God's openness to us were set out in Clark H. Pinnock (Editor), The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge of the Traditional Understanding of God, Downers Grove, Illinois : Intervarsity Press, 1994. The references to transformation by the power of the Spirit have been developed in Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996. A similar model of God's openness and love is being offered by well-known evangelical writers such as Philip Yancey in What's So Amazing About Grace (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997).

Robert Brow has worked out some radical implications of the chapters on Judgment and Advent in web publications titled Romans : Paul and the Power of the Spirit,1998 and Advent Comings of the Lord Among the Nations, 1998. A brief description of the model is offered in Creative Love, 1999.

We hope that by offering Unbounded Love on a web site for free downloading and use by students throughout the world, further work in developing and discussing the model will be encouraged. Beginning with the outline and introduction in October 2000, the remainder of the book will, God willing, be available on this site (www.brow.on.ca) by the end of the year.

Chapter headings of this web edition note the pagination of the original paper edition of Unbounded Love, InterVarsity and Paternoster Press, 1994. The footnotes (pp. 181-189) are included for convenient access in square brackets in the text. Otherwise the text is unchanged.

The Dutch translation of Unbounded Love is :
Ontketende liefde: Eeen evangelische theologie voor de 21st eeuw (Pinnock & Brow), 2001. Ekklesia, Kon. Julianalaan 17, 4205 RA Gorinchem, Nederland


PART ONE : Doctrine of God

1 RELIGION : Models of Love

2 THEISM : Creative Love

3 RESURRECTION : Victorious Love

4 TRINITY : Personal Love

PART TWO : Doctrine of Sin

5 DIAGNOSIS : Defective Love

6 JUDGMENT : Caring Love

7 ADVENT : Active Love

8 HELL : Rejecting Love

PART THREE : Doctrine of Salvation

9 SACRIFICE : Unconditional Love

10 LIBERATION : Freeing Love

11 BAPTISM : Invitation Love

12 CHURCH : Window Love

PART FOUR : Doctrine of Faith

13 PRAYER : Conversational Love

14 HEALING : Transforming Love

15 BIBLE : Feeding Love

16 FELLOWSHIP : Enjoying Love


Introduction (1994 edition pp. 8-12)

The good news about Jesus Christ is the most wonderful proclamation to have been issued in the history of the world. A bold claim, it announces God's love for all people and tells us that we are made for fellowship with God and that though history has been spoiled by sin, God has not ceased to love us and work toward our redemption.

The message of the Bible is the story of divine grace and human restoration. It invites us all into the joy of fellowship with God and announces his plans to create a new humanity. But the message can be read in different ways, and confusion about its true nature can creep in. The good news can even be made to sound like bad news. The message can be obscured and barriers erected which God does not intend.

Theology is the never-finished task of trying to improve on our interpretation of the Word of God. When the vision gets blurred and the message ceases to attract, it is time to refocus. This book is meant to sharpen the focus. [On theology as an ongoing exercise see Michael Bauman, Pilgrim Theology: Taking the Path of Theological Discovery (Grand Rapids, Mich.:Zondervan, 1992].

This book developed out of an article written by Robert Brow for Christianity Today (February 19, 1990). Entitled "Evangelical Megashift," it called for a revisioning of evangelical theology, especially in the all-important focus of God. Brow is a parish priest of the Anglican Church in Canada, formerly a missionary in India, and author of several books [These include  Religion, Origins and Ideas (Chicago: Interarsity Press, 1966), The Church: An Organic Picture (Grand Raapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1968) and Go Make Learners: A Discipleship Model of the Church (Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw, 1982). These three books are now posted on this web site].

Clark H. Pinnock came into the picture as a respondent to the original article along with Donald A. Carson, David F. Wells, Donald G. Bloesch and Robert E. Webber. As Brow and Pinnock got together and reflected on some reactions to the article and on deeper underlying issues, the conviction grew that there is a shift in evangelical thinking which Brow pointed to and which needed more spelling out.

This book, then, is a fuller exposition of Brow's original vision, merged with Pinnock's parallel thoughts. [Pinnock's books include The Scripture Principle (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984). Tracking the Maze (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990) and A Wideness in God's Mercy (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992).

What is this megashift in evangelical theology? It is an attempt to recover good news for our time. Brow was the one to call it creative love theism, and it is rooted in St. John's affirmation "Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). It is also in agreement with St. Paul's longing that humanity be rooted and grounded in love and come to comprehend love's breadth and length and height and depth (Eph 3:17-18).

Creative love theism then is a composite model with the following basic features. First, it celebrates the grace of God that abounds for all humanity. It embraces a wideness in God's mercy and rejects the idea that God excludes any persons arbitrarily from saving help. Second, it celebrates Jesus' category of father to express God's openness and relationality with us. God seeks to restore relationships with estranged people and cannot be thought of primarily as a Judge seeking a legal settlement. (The heart of Brow's original model was that we make family rather than courtroom images central.) Third, it envisions God as a mutual and interrelating Trinity, not as an all-determining and manipulative transcendent (male) ego. [Though our book does not often press this key, we see similarities with feminist theology when it is done in a classical way, as for example by Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (Mew York: Crossroads, 1992)]

The model is not new - it is as old as the Scriptures - but it is a transforming truth that needs to penetrate more profoundly into minds whose thinking has been distorted by darker images. We think there may be many, inside and outside our churches, who do not perceive the gospel message as really good news for them and are, as a result, suffering. To them we dedicate this book. [To address this problem, Pinnock earlier edited The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1989), which was in it own way a statement of creative love theism.]

Creative Love Theism

The model Brow calls "creative love theism" is a vision of God who, having created us to enjoy his love, does everything to enable us to participate in grace to the full. It is a composite model designed to replace another one that has developed over the centuries; this distorted model is marked by a minimizing of divine grace, an exaggeration of the legal dimensions of salvation and a misrepresentation of God's sovereignty.

First, against minimizing divine grace we insist that God's love extends to all humanity (if they accept it) and not only to selected persons. Augustine taught (and the Reformers followed him) that God deliberately refrains from being gracious to an undetermined number of sinners for reasons that are completely mysterious. They call it sovereign grace, though it seems only arbitrary and stands in flat contradiction to the gospel, which declares that God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). This tradition imputes to God a character flaw by representing him as arbitrary in the distribution of grace. It would imply that those like St. Paul who weep over the lost are actually more merciful than God is in not weeping (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1). It suggests that whereas we are supposed to love our enemies, God does not always love his.

Second, over against an exaggeration of the legal dimension of salvation, we contend that seeing God as a parent is more fundamental than seeing him as judge. Legal categories from the Latin tradition have heavily influenced theology in the West, causing the image of God as judge to predominate in an unbiblical manner. God is both parent and judge, but it is important not to equate the two or to reverse their proper order. God primarily seeks a restored relationship with sinners, not a legal settlement. Theologians like Anselm and Calvin have led us astray when they have interpreted salvation in heavily formal and legal terms. People have gained the impression, for example, that God needed to be placated before he could bring himself to love us. But this is plainly not so: as Paul states, it was while we were yet sinners that God showed his love for us in sending Jesus (Rom 5:8). God takes the initiative in the matter of reconciliation and does not have to be placated into doing so by a third party.

Our starting point is Jesus' disclosure of God as father who cares for us even though we are sinners. From this we take our cue that the most fundamental image is one of the family, not of the law court. Of course there is a legal dimension in the picture, because God is Judge and because the situation between God and humanity is broken in a complex of ways. But the legal aspect must not take center stage. Love and wrath do not exist in the life of God on a equal footing. We must say that God is love; we cannot say in the same way that he is wrath. We have to challenge this confusion in people's minds before it does them harm.

Third, against our misrepresentation of divine sovereignty, we affirm the mutuality and openness of God. Another teaching that comes from Augustine, and which the Reformers repeated, sees God controlling the world so completely that there are no real surprises, nothing going contrary to his will, no disappointments. Here we confront the Hellenistic tendency to render God as an absolute principle rather than a person - contrary to the biblical portrait. In the Bible the emphasis is on God's vulnerability and openness: rather than deciding history in advance, God creates human beings with a capacity to surprise and delight him. Our heavenly Father rejoices with us when we do well and suffers with us when we are in pain. Graciously upholding our significance, God continually works to attain his loving purpose for each one of us without pushing us around. Our emphasis falls on God's generosity and vulnerability, on God's sensitivity and ability to relate to his subjects. [Another book from InterVarsity Press, The Openness of God (1994), written by Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker and David Basinger, deals with the openness of God. It seeks to retrieve this biblical idea from long-standing neglect but puts less stress on the legal distortion that is central to Brow's original concern.]

Believers need to grow as hearers of God's Word, and we want to help. It is not good enough to repeat old slogans that may have had their day and are not very meaningful anymore. Evangelical theology does not seem to be keeping up with evangelical thinking in other areas such as biblical studies, missiology and psychology. Our theology sometimes seems shallow, content not to address pressing issues. At other times, when theology does go deeper, it tends to sidestep the sorts of difficulties in traditional thinking that we want to correct. Our hope is that this book might stir the pot and stimulate deeper explorations among us. We would like to break at least some of the complacency and stimulate more serious reflection. [We welcome with enthusiasm Stanley J. Grenz. Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st. Century (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), as the sort of creative work that may win a hearing for our faith in the modern situation. We also delight in the tone of Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomena to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993)]

The book will arouse debate and cause a degree of discomfort, because it is never altogether comfortable to be asked to reconsider one's model for understanding God. In the process it can feel temporarily as if God himself were being lost, even though this is not so. That is because we tend to equate our model of God with God himself - and this we should never do. What will happen in this book is that we will be asked to weigh competing models of God, not to decide between different gods. Critics may want to speak about a battle between different gods here, but - without minimizing the profound differences between creative love theism and the traditional model - we think this is an exaggeration. [One who may see it this way is Robert A. Morey, Battle of the Gods: The Gathering Storm in Modern Evangelicalism (Southbridge, Mass.: Crown, 1989)]

Unbounded Love is an invitation to consider God as a dynamic and loving triune being who wants to have meaningful interaction with us. Insofar as theology has allowed this vision to become clouded, we want to clarify it. There may be a great deal at stake here for some of our readers. The image of God as severe Judge and absolute Sovereign has driven and can still drive people to unbelief and despair. Modern atheism is not so much the denial of the existence of God as the denial of a God like that one. What is needed is not arguments for God's existence but clarification of God's gracious character and actual identity.

The family model we are proposing best picks up (we think) how God relates to the world. It is Jesus' way of speaking about these matters (Paul likes to call it "reconciliation"). In the parable of the prodigal son Jesus focuses on the pardoning love of a grieving father, full of care for a wayward son (Lk 15:11-32). The boy has chosen to spurn the father's love and has turned his back, but the father still longs to welcome him home, eagerly and without reproach. The father does not think of himself in a self-centered way - he does not brood over the possessions he has lost because of his son's rebellion, and he does not worry about any affront to his honor. All he cares about is having the lad reconciled and reintroduced into the fellowship of the family. God's goal, we are meant to gather, is the joyful experience of restored relationship in his family.

This way of thinking surfaces everywhere in Jesus' life and work. It is reflected in his table fellowship with sinners, for example. Jesus said by this action that God longs to welcome people back into fellowship. In the story of the prodigal son it is the elder brother who looks at things from a legal standpoint. He cannot share the father's joy because he does not think the brother is worthy of acceptance - and indeed he is not. Jesus acted generously toward sinners because he knew how God feels. God loves sinners like wayward children and longs to bring them back to communion with himself.

Reconciliation is Paul's category for salvation - a personal category, akin to a healing of relationships. God overcomes enmity and makes friends with sinners by triumphing over alienation and transforming us by grace. Paul builds on what Jesus said when he pictured God as one who takes the initiative to justify the ungodly. God's goal is that his own Son should be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters in the redeemed family of God (Rom 8:29). [On the link between Paul and Jesus, see Ralph P. Martin, Reconciliation: A Study of Paul's Theology (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981).]

Central to our vision is the fact that the prodigal is not merely pardoned but received back into the family with the full rights of sonship. Yes, his sins are forgiven, but what is most prominent is the father's embrace. The son is not just not-liable to punishment; the point is that he receives a warm welcome from a loving parent. It is not just that he is released from charges, but that he is restored into a loving family. [This point gives the doctrine of justification by faith a more personal meaning by placing it in the family context, not just in the courtroom. See Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), pp. 127-28, 255-56.]

What we are opposing is that development in Western theology which twists the gospel into legalistic terms, conceiving sin as primarily a disturbance of God's justice and salvation primarily as a propitiaton of God's wrath. This forensic reading of the gospel portrays God not as the passionate lover of humankind but as an implacable judge. It also depicts the cross not as the revelation of a compassionate God but as an instrument of God's revenge. This is an error of interpretation that can have deadly consequences in those who accept it. We will try to correct it. We want to lift up a God who is all-loving and open to the world, and we invite all our readers to embrace the Father's heart.

The image of the creative love of God has tremendous attraction, and the gospel is itself the best apologetic. Understood properly, God is practically irresistible. It is a mystery to us why anyone would reject him who loves them so. Why would anyone reject the One whose glory consists in everlasting love toward humans? We are moved to love God because he first loved us. The good news about Jesus is indeed the pearl of great price (Mt 13:45-46). It is the answer to any who are restless and unfulfilled, who seek for meaning and forgiveness. Life is not "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (as Macbeth said), because the universe was created and is sustained by the love of the triune God. The discovery of this reality is humankind's destiny and joy.

This book consists of four parts with four chapters each. Each part addresses a major issue. Part one considers the doctrine of God and the goal of existence as loving fellowship with the Trinity. Part two studies the hindrance that stands in the way of reaching this goal: the refusal to receive God's love. Part three examines the provision of salvation through Jesus Christ, while part four considers the means of its appropriation.  [A systematic theology that grasps our model well is Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991).]

PART ONE : Doctrine of God
Chapter 1 .....