09 Review: Barry L. Callen, Clark H. Pinnock: Journey Toward Renewal

Benjamin Clark, ,

Barry L. Callen, Clark H. Pinnock: Journey Toward Renewal, Evangel Publishing House: USA, 2000.

My first exposure to the theology of Clark Pinnock was in an investigation into whether a loving God would allow the existence of such a place as hell. Emerging from a fairly conservative evangelical background I had automatically assumed such a place existed without having worked through the fairly emotional issues involved. Pinnock’s work on conditional immortality and annihilationism in the area of life after death ultimately, in my mind, left me thinking of Pinnock as someone on the fringe, not to be laughed at but certainly to be wary of. However with the continued emphasis on Pinnock in my undergraduate courses, and with such resonating works as Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, my interest in Pinnock and his theology continued to build. It was with great pleasure, then, that Barry Callen’s work on Pinnock came to my attention.

On first inspection, Callen appears to write solely to address the evangelical audience in North America, and especially to seek answers to the question, ‘what needs for renewal does it have, and are they (these needs) being faced honestly and constructively’ (p. xvii). By narrating Pinnock’s intellectual life, Callen believes that ‘promising solutions’ can be highlighted and a way forward can be pointed out. Not only is Pinnock’s influence already felt (p. 10) but the diversity of views he presents highlights a rapidly expanding ‘postconservative’ mood in North American evangelicalism (p. 5). As such, Callen believes an intellectual biography of Clark Pinnock is of ‘special significance for Christians who care deeply about biblical faithfulness, theological sanity, life’s transformation and the church’s current mission’ (p. 12). Certainly in Australia, and amongst Pentecostal Christians (refer to review of Most Moved Mover in this issue of APS), Callen would find many would resonate with his desire for renewal and it is in this way that I believe his work will have wider application than simply North American evangelicalism.

Callen writes of Pinnock’s early influences by such thinkers as Francis Schaeffer, his early ‘fundamentalist’ defences of biblical truth and his early Calvinistic theology. What is most engaging, at least from a historicist perspective, is the narrative of transitions from earlier held dogmatic beliefs to more open, dynamic and heartfelt perspectives. Callen’s chapter entitled Walking With the Spirit could quite easily describe most Pentecostal understandings of how we, as fallen creatures, interact with God and how beautiful such interaction is, both creative and loving, emotional yet physical as well. The Appendices of Callen’s work, with the ‘Pinnock Postscripts’, which were written specifically for Callen’s work which cover how Pinnock’s insights have changed in his over 40 years of engagement with the theological endeavour, clearly illustrate how dramatically the development in one’s understanding of God can change in a single lifetime.

Callen’s writing is fluid, structured and well-researched. If anything negative can be said about the book is in its’ terminology and apparent bias towards Pinnock. In his descriptions of transitions in theological understanding, Callen consistently notes Pinnock’s move towards Wesleyanism. Perhaps the distinction in Weslayan/Calvinistic theology can be automatically assumed in most theological markets but perhaps this could limit the appreciation of the work at a more lay level. Also in his obvious positive bias toward Pinnock, Callen’s critical balance is in question. Pinnock certainly is no stranger to criticism and needs little defence from works such as this. In themselves these critiques take nothing away from Callen’s achievement.

For those who would like to see a case study on how theology informs faith and how ‘faith seeking understanding’ enriches spirituality, then Callen’s book on Pinnock is a must read. It is for those who believe earnestly with the heart, while not neglecting the head. It is also a passionate cry for renewal of faith within often-hollow belief systems. I heartily recommend this work for both theology students and anyone interested in faith matters alike.

Benjamin Clark