Flame of Love
| Clark H. Pinnock
A Theology of the Holy Spirit
Pneumatology, as many theologians and scholars would agree, is best discussed in a dialogical sense, with many denominations, voices, and perspectives all contributing with their respective experiences, exegeses, and traditions. Clark H. Pinnock’s text is no different. Pinnock draws on his own Evangelical, even Pentecostal experiences and philosophies to create a space for dialogue amongst the wider ecclesial body, whilst being able to be read and comprehensible to a non-academic audience.
Pinnock writes with a depth of experience and with clarity of mind, making it an invaluable piece of work, that anyone studying pneumatology would be remiss to pass over. With a Baptist church upbringing, a missionary grand-child, Pinnock sought higher education and achieved a B.A in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, from the University of Toronto, went on to complete his PhD under F.F Bruce at Manchester University. From here Pinnock taught at many differing schools including; Trinity Evangelical Divinity, Regent College, and McMaster Divinity School. Having grown up within the church, and developed through seminaries, and Universities, Pinnock is recognised today for his contributions to inerrancy, even if he were to leave this belief later in life, and for his Open Theistic beliefs.
However, in this text, Pinnock’s aim “is an attempt to view old truths from fresh angles and in new contexts in order to hear a relevant word from the Lord”, one can see that whilst Pinnock has a creative, intellectual, albeit provocative way of expressing his perspectives on the Trinity, ecclesiology, soteriology, and creation, whilst effectively engaging with contemporary thought. Pinnock’s magnum opus is not to be silenced or left by the wayside. Flame of Love is a significant, prayerful, personal, contemporary addition to the theological community.
Flame of Love is written in a traditional chapter by chapter way, each one compounding on its predecessor. Karkkainen describes it as, “a full-scale systematic theology from a pneumatological perspective.” Pinnock employs, almost a topical preaching style methodology, in that he builds his case to conclusion, and within the body of the text, relying on critical exegeses performed by notable scholars such as Fee, Schatzmann, Grenz, Burgess, Dunn and Rahner, and drawing from a plethora of philosophical and theological giants in Lewis, Descartes Augustine, and McGrath, not neglecting the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions. Pinnock is critical in places, but seeks to elevate the Spirit, and the truth existent in the ideologies discussed, and thus rights himself when he sees himself becoming too one-sided. This echoes the underlying emphasis of his text, to right the oft-neglected Spirit and his role in the church, creation, and community.
There are a few glaring critiques to be made about this book, and some of the perspectives held, or emphasised within its pages. Many of which, as one may well have read in many other reviews, focus on Pinnock’s rejection of the traditionally Reformed view of the Doctrine of Salvation and Election. This review will speak to these briefly, but will attempt to give a wider critique of the text. The largest issue one might say is Pinnock’s view on the divine will of God, pertaining to the election of sinners for salvation, found in Romans 8:28-30. Pinnock view this text, as not speaking to predestination to salvation, rather a sort of privilege one enjoys as they are being conformed to Christ. This obviously is an open denial of the doctrine of predestination for condemnation and salvation, based in the sovereignty of God. This interpretation however, one could argue, lacks an insight to the occasion and intent of the author in the epistle. Pinnock openly criticises the West, in particular the Evangelical movement for their Christocentrism, which only becomes a helpful critique if it is held in the balance of the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Additionally, Pinnock’s challenging of Logos Christology, relegating it to an apologetic device of early Greek philosophy, is disheartening to see, as one may interpret this as a misreading of the first 14 verses of John’s gospel account. Another critique of this text may be that whilst Pinnock does make mention of many issues within contemporary pneumatology, he lacks in offering an exploration of these issues, and defers instead to merely telling the reader to discuss it ecumenically.
Some of the strengths of the text are Pinnock’s clear emphasis of the Spirit, within the body of Christ, and outside of it. Encouraging readers to engage with other worldviews to discover truth. Pinnock also encourages the use of sacrament and the involvement of the sense within the worship and praise of God, this is valuable for a Pentecostal body, in which one can easily condemn such things as idolatry, in place of an encounter with God Himself, however as Pinnock argues, when the Spirit’s power is present in them, to affect and move us in our souls. One of the strongest elements of the text is Pinnock’s refocussing of the Spirit’s role in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Best summed up I believe by his sentiments, “It was anointing by the Spirit that made Jesus “Christ”, not the Hypostatic Union”. Pinnock creatively, and passionately describes the function of the Spirit in bringing about the mission of Jesus, the resurrection, and the continuation of that mission, within the church today. As well as effectively emphasising the Spirit’s role in the Trinity, as the ‘bond of love’ between the Father and the Son, ever serving and passing on the glory to the Son and Father.
Pinnock’s text, has enabled him to be heralded as a thoughtful, and formidable Pentecostal theologian, and has provided a bridge on which believers can walk upon, as they continue the discussion of pneumatology.
For my own life, I feel as though this text, whilst not perfect, is an anointed, and powerful tool in the work of ecclesiological unity and the celebration of diversity within the beautiful body of Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, brought about solely by the power and the bond of love found in the person of the Holy Spirit.