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ANALYSIS: Pinnock takes on Southern Baptists in book on the ‘openness of God’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–In the 1960s, Clark Pinnock was a young professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary who took on the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention for its lack of commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture. Now, Pinnock is once again turning sights on Southern Baptists, but this time from the left. What is most surprising about this transformation is not that Clark Pinnock has changed his mind; it’s that Pinnock now thinks God changes his mind too.

For several years, Pinnock, professor of theology at Canada’s McMaster Divinity School, has advocated a view known as the “openness of God.” This perspective holds that God does not know the future decisions of his creatures. Therefore, Pinnock argues, God sometimes changes his mind, moving from Plan “A” to Plan “B” as God gains new information about the unfolding of history. Pinnock’s newest book, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness” (Baker Book House) seeks to explain further exactly what Pinnock means by this.

In developing this new view of God, Pinnock devotes much space to lamenting the stance taken by the Southern Baptist Convention in affirming the traditional view that God knows everything. Pinnock specifically takes aim at the SBC’s 2000 Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement, which explicitly repudiates “open theism.” The BFM 2000 instead states that God is “all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.” Pinnock further laments that the SBC passed a 1999 resolution, authored by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., which affirmed the classical view of God as omniscient and omnipotent.

Pinnock contends that the Baptist Faith and Message’s statement on God is linked to its further statement that the Scripture limits the pastorate to qualified men, and that husbands are to lovingly lead their homes.

“I get suspicious when the same people who want to protect God’s sovereignty also want to keep women in their subordinate place,” Pinnock writes, pointing to the 2000 BFM. “Why do they not see that the Father whom they claim to exalt is not the ‘father’ of patriarchal power but the God of Jesus Christ who woos us through his self-giving love?”

Additionally, the conservative theologians Pinnock engages in the book are, almost to a man, Southern Baptist scholars. Pinnock takes particular issue with Mohler and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor of Christian theology Bruce A. Ware. Ware’s most recent book, “God’s Lesser Glory,” is a defense of the orthodox doctrine of God’s knowledge against the revisionist view asserted by open theists such as Pinnock, Gregory Boyd and John Sanders. Pinnock acknowledges that Ware understands and fairly states the open view, but Pinnock vigorously disagrees with Ware’s contention that the open view is blatantly unbiblical.

Although most of Pinnock’s volume is a restatement of the “open” view of God already articulated by him and others, the book does include several surprising new arguments. For example, Pinnock reveals just how far his doctrine of Scripture has evolved. While on the faculty of New Orleans Seminary in the 1960s, Pinnock traveled the country calling Southern Baptists to a “new reformation” of belief in the words of Scripture as totally true. His most far-reaching influence, however, may have been in the classroom where he taught the importance of biblical authority to students, many of whom would later lead the conservative resurgence in the SBC.

Having years ago abandoned this conservative view of Scripture, Pinnock goes so far in the pages of Most Moved Mover that the biblical writers sometimes simply disagree among themselves, even on the question of what God knows.

“The Bible does not speak with a single voice; there is a dialogue between the different voices,” Pinnock argues. “The writings contain a long and complex search for the mind of God and in this struggle various points of view compete and interact.”

Pinnock also makes the frank claim that God’s limited knowledge of the future causes him sometimes to get prophecies simply wrong. Noting that evangelicals “might not like to admit it,” Pinnock recites a litany of prophecies that turned out to go unfulfilled. Pinnock suggests that John the Baptist was wrong when he prophesied that Jesus would cast the wicked into the fire, and that “contrary to Paul, the second coming was not just around the corner.” Perhaps most startlingly, Pinnock claims that Jesus was wrong at one point because “despite Jesus, in the destruction of the temple, some stones were left one on the other (Mt 24:2).”

“God is free in the matter of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own,” Pinnock argues. “The world is a project and God works on it creatively; he is free to strike out in new directions. We cannot pin the free God down.”

Pinnock further “strikes out in new directions” of his own when he suggests that there is another issue “that has not been raised yet in the open view of God,” namely the question of whether God has a body. While classical Christian doctrine has always insisted that God the Son does indeed have a body, having taken upon himself human nature in the Incarnation, orthodox Christianity historically has maintained that the Father is a spirit, a consensus Pinnock asks Christians to reconsider.

The publication of Pinnock’s book comes as the debate over the “openness of God” reaches the boiling point in evangelical life. In its November meeting in Colorado Springs, the Evangelical Theological Society is expected to vote on whether open theists may remain as members of the professional organization for conservative theologians and biblical scholars.

Pinnock’s book also highlights the role of the SBC in this discussion. Not only has the nation’s largest Protestant denomination taken a confessional stance on this controversy, the revised statement of faith also ensures that SBC seminary faculties and publications are to reflect the convictions of Southern Baptist churches that God’s knowledge is unlimited.

Not all Baptists agree with this stance. A leading defender of the evangelical authenticity of the “open” view is Roger Olson, professor of theology at the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. Olson has endorsed books promoting open theism by authors such as Bethel Seminary professor Gregory Boyd and has declared himself “open” to open theism.
Moore is instructor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he also serves as executive director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

    About the Author

  • Russell D. Moore