Rob Bell, meet Clark Pinnock

I just finished reading Rob Bell’s Love Wins. In short, Bell makes the case for a post-mortem opportunity for those who didn’t receive the Gospel during their earthly lives. His gift at turning a phrase helps to hide the weaknesses of his arguments. Take for example his handling of our Lord’s denunciation of the cities of Capernaum in Matt 10 (“It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for you”). Bell interprets Jesus to be teaching that there still is hope for Sodom and Gomorrah. Oh come on. It’s hard to take this stuff seriously.

I found myself thinking, “Clark Pinnock did a much better job arguing for all this.”

Pinnock, who passed away last August after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 73, was by far the most articulate and forceful recent evangelical voice for embracing inclusivism, annihilationism, and the possibility of salvation after death. In his A Wideness in God’s Mercy, Pinnock takes basically the same position as Bell, but with arguments more cogent and well thought out. When one considers where he was theologically at the end of his life, it’s difficult to believe that Pinnock started his theological career as an arch-conservative, inerrancy-affirming, 5-point Calvinist. Pinnock’s theological journey was one of the more convoluted odysseys in evangelicalism.

Years ago, when I was a theology student in the doctoral program at Southeastern studying under Paige Patterson, I was digging through Dr Patterson’s personal files which were located (at that time) in SEBTS’s archives. I stumbled across the class notes he had taken while he was a student at New Orleans Seminary (circa1969). He took Clark Pinnock’s classes often. As Dr Patterson explained to me, the conservative, early Pinnock played a formative role in his theological development; and in ways I am not at liberty to elaborate on a blog, Clark Pinnock rescued Paige Patterson from some very unfair treatment at New Orleans Seminary.

In those days, the liberal element of the New Orleans faculty viewed Paige Patterson as a “fundamentalist troublemaker,” but he and other conservative firebrands knew they had an ally on the faculty in Clark Pinnock. Pinnock had studied under F. F. Bruce at the University of Manchester, and was recognized by both friend and foe as a brilliant scholar. He presented a clear, logical framework for adhering to the Bible’s infallibility and defended the doctrine of the inerrancy in an environment where such views were ridiculed. Bible believing students loved Pinnock while many of the other professors considered him a loose cannon.

Perhaps he was a loose cannon; he certainly careened across the theological landscape. I wish that Dr Pinnock had continued to hold to a consistent doctrine of biblical inerrancy through the remainder of his academic career. Alas, he did not. His early works, A Defense of Biblical Infallibility (1967) and Biblical Revelation (1971) are classic presentations of the historic doctrines of biblical authority, infallibility, and inerrancy. However, though the 1970’s and 80’s Pinnock’s view of Scripture shifted, and he argued instead for what might be called an inerrancy of purpose.

Other changes followed. He moved from Reformed theology to classic Arminianism and eventually to Open Theism. Pinnock advocated neo-Pentecostalism and third wave theology. And as I said before, he embraced inclusivism, annihilationism, and post-mortem evangelism. For conservatives within the SBC that he had helped in the early days of the controversy and who had counted him as an ally, Pinnock’s theological wanderings were difficult to watch.

I would encourage anyone tempted to take Bell’s position to consider the sad twists and turns of Clark Pinnock.

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  1. Mark Dooley   •  

    Cogently stated sir! Thank you for the excellent comparison. Bell’s fundamental flaw comes from a confusion of tenses. Love will not WIN in any post-mortem sense at all. Rather love WON 2000 years ago at Calvary and was verified three days later at an empty garden tomb! HE IS RISEN!

  2. Matt   •  

    I still have yet to see a good review of Bell’s book that actually tackles the position he really stands for instead of making blanket statements about his book and using obscure examples that prove your point or place him in camp A while all the serious Christians are in Camp B. There was so much more to that book that people missed because they picked it up with a axe in one hand and a conservative theology book in another.

  3. Rev. Prescott Jay Erwin   •  

    Very nice piece. Thanks. The ministerial fellowship in my area has been discussing Rob Bell’s book and subsequent appearances. Certainly something to think about.

  4. John   •  

    Excellent article, the comparison between Dr. Pinnock and Rob Bell is very accurate. I read some of The Openness of God a few years back. When I read about Bell’s book, I thought it sounded like Pinnock’s theology. Thank you for a very well written article

  5. Louis   •  

    What an interesting post.

    Pinnock was at least a scholar. Bell, it should be stressed, is a pastor with very thin academic credentials. He and his arguments deserve rebuttal, but that doesn’t take too long. After it’s done, he doesn’t warrant further attention.

    In that regard, tell me you did not pay for the book?

    I don’t think that I will read the book because 1) I have heard these arguments before from more substantial people, 2) I only have a limited amount of time and this book will not reach the top of my “to read” stack, and 3) I am opposed, on principle, for giving money to a guy like this so I can read something that no one has said is any good.

    Would enjoy talking with you sometime about New Orleans seminary and your observations. I visited with a man who got his PhD there several years ago. Frank Stagg was his faculty adviser and worked mightily to try and deny him the PhD. He got it by 1 vote because one of the liberal profs could not make it to the disseratation defense. The gentlemen told me that his dissertation was on the Holy Spirit in Isaiah. Dr. Stagg opened the session with the statement that while the student had successfully completed the course work and done all that was required of him that he was announcing that we would vote against the student because he was not a serious scholar. That was his advisor.

    I am sure that some folks at New Orleans saw Paige and Paul Pressler at the Cafe DuMond and suspected something was up. Johnny Baugh was already after Pressler, since about 1964. The 2 were members at Second Baptist together.

  6. Ken Keathley   •     Author

    Louis, I’m afraid I did pay for it–but it was a Kindle edition.

    Matt, in fact there are some very thorough reviews available. Rob Bell does not present his positions clearly, does not explore the implications of his positions, or interact with opposing viewpoints. My post simply points out that Clark Pinnock held to similar viewpoints but presented them more clearly.

  7. John   •  


    Bell has an MDiv from Fuller and a BA from Wheaton. These are this academic credentials? I certainly am no fan of his, just trying to be fair.

  8. Rich Jacobson   •  

    Ken – what was the turning point for Mr. Pinnock? How could his theological pendulum swing from one extreme to the other?

  9. Ken Keathley   •     Author

    Rich, The only answer Pinnock gave (of which I am aware) is found in the book he edited “The Grace of God and the Will of Man.” In a chapter entitled “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology,” he indicates that the first link to break was his belief in the perseverance of the saints. However, in some other places he acknowledges the impact of his involvement with the Charismatic movement. Ken

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