Clark H. Pinnock's life journey is over. The influential and often controversial evangelical theologian died unexpectedly August 15 of a heart attack. He was 73. In March, the long-time professor of systematic theology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, had announced he was withdrawing from public life and revealed that he was battling Alzheimer's disease.
It was a difficult admission for a man whose mercurial mind and openness to the Holy Spirit led him to stake out theological positions that challenged evangelical orthodoxies. Renowned for exploring the frontiers of biblical truth, he was reputed to study carefully, think precisely, argue forcefully, and shift his positions willingly if he discovered a more fruitful pathway of understanding. He said he preferred to be known, "not as one who has the courage of his convictions, but one who has the courage to question them and to change old opinions which need changing."
Born in Toronto in 1937, Pinnock's mind was changing from his youth: His parents were liberal Baptists, but at age 12 converted to the more conservative evangelical faith of his grandmother and Sunday school teacher. After years of involvement in Youth for Christ, the Canadian Keswick Bible Conference, and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Pinnock graduated from the University of Toronto. He went on to study under F. F. Bruce at Manchester University, where he earned his Ph.D.
"My early interest on scholarship came about from an interest in foreign missions, specifically the Wycliffe Bible Translators and therefore the biblical languages being translated into new tongues," he said. "That led me into Hebrew and Greek."
He also came under the influence of Francis Schaeffer and worked for a time at L'Abri. Pinnock came to the United States in 1965 and taught at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he became an influential figure in the Southern Baptist Convention's battles over biblical inerrancy. From 1969-1974 he taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and from 1974-1977 at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
He arrived at McMaster in 1977 with great hopes of becoming an agent of biblical renewal in what he described as a "comfortable mainline seminary." In his inaugural lecture, he said that evangelical theology must be both conservative and contemporary. "We should strive to be faithful to historic Christian belief taught in Scripture, and at the same time be authentic and responsible to contemporary hearers."
The blend of intellectual theological rigor and emphasis on practical application of Christian principles in daily practice and church life was a hallmark of his personality. He was extremely courteous and engaging in person, keen to worship in almost any setting (including the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship in its holy laughter heyday, which he described as gentle, with people just "blissing out"). He was eager to equip people in the churches with the theological tools they needed to engage in mission.
His career goal was to help the church worship God "with freedom, to experience the truth of the Bible in fresh ways, and to be able to share the gospel in a more effective and natural manner."
The late Stanley Grenz once observed that Pinnock "has been lauded as an inspiring theological pilgrim by his admirers and condemned as a dangerous renegade by his foes. Yet no story of evangelical theology in the 20th century is complete without the inclusion of his fascinating intellectual journey from quintessential evangelical apologist to anti-Augustinian theological reformist." In his own account of his spiritual journey, Pinnock recounts how he started right, moved left, and then ended up in the center