Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Brian Greene Hosts "The Fabric of the Universe" on NOVA

Genesis 1.1-5: The First Day

1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

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"The Fabric of the Cosmos," a four-hour series based on the book by renowned physicist and author Brian Greene, takes us to the frontiers of physics to see how scientists are piecing together the most complete picture yet of space, time, and the universe. With each step, audiences will discover that just beneath the surface of our everyday experience lies a world we’d hardly recognize—a startling world far stranger and more wondrous than anyone expected.

Brian Greene is going to let you in on a secret: We've all been deceived. Our perceptions of time and space have led us astray. Much of what we thought we knew about our universe—that the past has already happened and the future is yet to be, that space is just an empty void, that our universe is the only universe that exists—just might be wrong.

Interweaving provocative theories, experiments, and stories with crystal-clear explanations and imaginative metaphors like those that defined the groundbreaking and highly acclaimed series "The Elegant Universe," "The Fabric of the Cosmos" aims to be the most compelling, visual, and comprehensive picture of modern physics ever seen on television.

What is Space

Space. It separates you from me, one galaxy from the next, and atoms from one another. It is everywhere in the universe. But to most of us, space is nothing, an empty void. Well, it turns out space is not what it seems. From the passenger seat of a New York cab driving near the speed of light, to a pool hall where billiard tables do fantastical things, Brian Greene reveals space as a dynamic fabric that can stretch, twist, warp, and ripple under the influence of gravity. Stranger still is a newly discovered ingredient of space that actually makes up 70 percent of the universe. Physicists call it dark energy, because while they know it's out there, driving space to expand ever more quickly, they have no idea what it is.

Probing space on the smallest scales only makes the mysteries multiply. Down there, things are going on that physicists today can barely fathom—forces powerful enough to generate whole universes. To top it off, some of the strangest places in space, black holes, have led scientists to propose that like the hologram on your credit card, space may just be a projection of a deeper two-dimensional reality taking place on a distant surface that surrounds us. Space, far from being empty, is filled with some of the deepest mysteries of our time.

The Illusion of Time

Time. We waste it, save it, kill it, make it. The world runs on it. Yet ask physicists what time actually is, and the answer might shock you: They have no idea. Even more surprising, the deep sense we have of time passing from present to past may be nothing more than an illusion. How can our understanding of something so familiar be so wrong? In search of answers, Brian Greene takes us on the ultimate time-traveling adventure, hurtling 50 years into the future before stepping into a wormhole to travel back to the past. Along the way, he will reveal a new way of thinking about time in which moments past, present, and future—from the reign of T. rex to the birth of your great-great-grandchildren—exist all at once. This journey will bring us all the way back to the Big Bang, where physicists think the ultimate secrets of time may be hidden. You'll never look at your wristwatch the same way again.

Quantum Leap

Join Brian Greene on a wild ride into the weird realm of quantum physics, which governs the universe on the tiniest of scales. Greene brings quantum mechanics to life in a nightclub like no other, where objects pop in and out of existence, and things over here can affect others over there, instantaneously and without anything crossing the space between them. A century ago, during the initial shots in the quantum revolution, the best minds of a generation—including Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr—squared off in a battle for the soul of physics. How could the rules of the quantum world, which work so well to describe the behavior of individual atoms and their components, conflict so dramatically with the everyday rules that govern people, planets, and galaxies?

Quantum mechanics may be counterintuitive, but it's one of the most successful theories in the history of science, making predictions that have been confirmed to better than one part in a billion, while also launching the technological advances at the heart of modern life, like computers and cell phones. But even today, even with such profound successes, the debate still rages over what quantum mechanics implies for the true nature of reality.

Notes on the DVD: The DVD version of the program stated that one entangled photon is sent from the island of La Palma to the island of Tenerife by laser. The photon is sent via laser-guided telescope. In the DVD version of the program, it appears that the research team led by Anton Zeilinger has successfully teleported photons from La Palma to Tenerife. Although the Zeilinger team has used the method described to teleport photons shorter distances in other locations, as of November 2011, photons have not yet been teleported between La Palma andTenerife. The team plans to continue experiments in the Canary Islands, which attempt to complete the teleportation process there.

Universe or Multiverse?

Hard as it is to swallow, cutting-edge theories are suggesting that our universe may not be the only universe. Instead, it may be just one of an infinite number of universes that make up the "multiverse." In this show, Brian Greene takes us on a tour of this brave new theory at the frontier of physics, showing what some of these alternate realities might be like. Some universes may be almost indistinguishable from our own; others may contain variations of all of us, where we exist but with different families, careers, and life stories. In still others, reality may be so radically different from ours as to be unrecognizable. Brian Greene reveals why this radical new picture of the cosmos is getting serious attention from scientists. It won't be easy to prove, but if it's right, our understanding of space, time, and our place in the universe will never be the same.

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Facebook Update on
the Higgs Boson Particle

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July 4, 2012

Hi Everyone,

Here's the situation just announced at CERN:

Each of the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider has discovered a new particle with properties that are consistent with it being the long-sought Higgs particle. It will require more data and work to definitively establish that the particle is indeed the Higgs, but there's now no doubt that a new particle has been found.

When this result was announced at CERN, the auditorium erupted into prolonged applause, fitting for this historic discovery. No doubt, physicists worldwide erupted into similar applause. Decades of work by thousands of scientists around the globe have resulted in this spectacular achievement.


July 16, 2012

Hi Everyone,

Following up on my somewhat cryptic statement on twitter (@bgreene), I want to briefly explain a point about the Higgs idea that, on a few occasions, I’ve seen incorrectly reported.

The Higgs field provides mass to fundamental particles like electrons and quarks, and that’s extremely important. But when it comes to the mass of ordinary matter such as you and me and trucks and baseballs, most of the mass does not arise from the Higgs field.

Ordinary matter is made from atoms, whose mass mainly comes from protons and neutrons—which, in turn, are each made from three quarks. But if you add up the masses of the quarks (whose mass comes from the Higgs) the total is only a few percent of the mass of a proton or neutron. So where does the bulk of the mass of protons and neutrons come from?

The answer comes from Einstein’s famous E = mc^2, written in the equivalent but more illuminating form m = E/c^2, where it establishes that energy (E) yields mass (m). The quarks inside a proton are held together by a kind of nuclear glue (“gluons”), and that glue that harbors significant energy. Indeed, most of the mass of protons (and neutrons) comes from that energy.

So, while the Higgs gives mass to the quarks and other fundamental particles, it’s the energy of the gluons that is responsible for most of the mass of the protons and neutrons, and hence the mass of familiar matter.


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Facebook Update on Nova's Mini-Series

"The Fabric of the Cosmos"

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July 11, 2012

Hi Everyone,

As I just mentioned on twitter (@bgreene), the first episode of my NOVA mini-series, Fabric of the Cosmos, airs tonight on PBS. Tonight's episode -- "What is Space?" -- explores a range of topics from gravity, to the Higgs field, to dark energy, to the quantum activity that defines nothingness. Check out the program and send on your questions. I'll do my best to answer as many as I can.


July 24, 2012

Hi Everyone,

Tomorrow night PBS will air the third episode of Fabric of the Cosmos on NOVA--the episode on quantum mechanics (called "Quantum Leap").

For those who haven't yet seen it, a quick word on the physics in this episode.

The program begins by covering the essential core of the quantum framework: Instead of the definite predictions we are familiar with from the older framework of classical physics laid down by Isaac Newton, quantum theory makes probabilistic predictions. For instance, in predicting the position of a particle, quantum physics can only provide the probability that the particle will be found at one location or another.The episode explains why physicists were led to introduce these probabilities into fundamental physical law, what the probabilities mean, how we can test them, and why we believe them.

In making the program, though, I was committed to going further and covering some of the more modern, absolutely stunning developments in quantum physics. In particular, results which speak to what's called "non-locality": the possibility in quantum physics that what you do here can be instantaneously entwined with what happens over there, even if here and there are widely separated. I consider these to be among the most interesting insights of modern theoretical physics, but they are also quite subtle. So, please feel free to send on any questions. (For previous episodes I did not answer as many questions as I'd hoped, largely because I'm giving various talks at European conferences this month. But I'll try to get to as many as I can).


August 1, 2012

Hi Everyone,

Motivated by tonight's airing of the final episode of Fabric of the Cosmos on NOVA--The Multiverse--I want to say a few words about a development that's now gaining momentum in the physics community: a rethinking of the big bang and cosmology.

For decades, a puzzle that dogged the big bang theory was what "set off" the bang. What fueled the ferocious outward force that drove everything apart? In the 1980s, a proposed solution was finally put forward; as many of you know, it is called Inflationary Cosmology.

The essential idea is that in Einstein's general relativity, gravity can not only be attractive (as in Newton's theory, and attested to by everyday experiences), but in certain exotic circumstances it can also be REPULSIVE. The inflationary theory suggests that the exotic circumstances (a region of space filled with a cosmic "fuel" called an 'inflation field) were realized in the early universe, yielding a fantastically large repulsive push--the BANG.

Wonderfully, the inflationary proposal is not just a vague idea; it's based on solid mathematical analysis which yields testable consequences: the repulsive push would have stretched the universe so enormously that tiny quantum jitters from the micro-realm would have been smeared across the sky, yielding a specific pattern of tiny temperature variations across space. These predicted temperature variations have now been confirmed through precise astronomical observations. And for this reason, inflation has become the dominant cosmological theory for the past two of decades.

So far, this sounds like a spectacular success. But there's another consequence of inflation that's exciting that yet poses a potential problem. Mathematical studies show that the inflationary fuel would be so efficient that it's very difficult to use it all up. Which means that the although ferocious expansion ended in our vicinity of the cosmos, it would continue elsewhere, generating one big bang after another, after another--generating, that is, many universes: the multiverse.

That's a mind-bending idea (and the subject of tonight's NOVA program as well as my latest book, The Hidden Reality). But as I describe in the book (although not fully emphasized in the TV program), it raises a new and subtle challenge:

The other universes would generally have different features from ours, including different patterns of temperature variations. So, the very predictions on which our confidence in the inflationary proposal is based--the observed temperature variations across space--would be compromised: with many different universes you get many different predictions. In fact, there's reason to think that any possible pattern of temperature variations will be realized in some universe in the multiverse. And a theory that "predicts" anything is a theory that predicts nothing.

For some physicists, this means that the inflationary proposal has crashed, plain and simple. Others are more sanguine, suggesting that when we understand the theory better, we will be able say something like: sure, any results are possible, but some outcomes are more likely than others. So, if the inflationary theory is correct, our observations should agree with the more probable outcomes of the theory.

To date, however, there's no consensus on how to calculate the likelihood of one outcome relative to another. I suspect this is an issue we will one day crack. But because we've yet to do so, a small but growing number of physicists are contemplating that the inflationary theory either needs a significant overhaul or we might require a new theory altogether. Both are daunting but exciting prospects.


P.S. There's a separate point I'd like to explain regarding the Higgs, but as this post is long I will save that for another day.

Testimonial: Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist (and I actually read “Love Wins”)

Just as a reminder, it has been said in many previous articles on this subject that Rob Bell is not a Universalist because it would be inconsistent with his position of "Libertarian Free Will." Further research on this subject may be found through this blog's sidebars on Calvinism/Arminianism, Love Wins, Rob Bell and Universalism. One may also begin here - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/05/rob-bell-is-not-universalist.html.

Otherwise Greg Boyd makes some deft nuances to the discussion that quickly followed in the weeks and months ahead after the publication was released and which immediately demanded that I, among many others, set the record straight as to what Emergent Christianity was, and wasn't (as declared by well-meaning Emergents and Evangelics, and some who were not so well-meaning nor truthful).

Many long months later Clark Pinnock's statement, "Scripture is normative, but it always needs to be read afresh and applied in new ways” (CT, January 5, 1979: 23-29; pls refer to - http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/11/two-tributes-to-clark-pinnock-olson.html) seems as prevalently true today as ever. And I trust that these many-posts-later within this blog have helped to shape the discussion to what Christianity today should feel and smell like. I believe the emergent, moderating positions found in Catholicism and Protestantism have a lot to offer and continue to promote openness in Christian thinking, relevancy of discussion, and constant reformation from our personally besetting dogmas to the living faith found in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, in His love and grace, truth and justice. Thank you for following along on this journey of self-appraisal and renewed discovery.

- R.E. Slater
November 24, 2011
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Testimonial: Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist
(and I actually read “Love Wins”)

by Greg Boyd
March 4, 2011

On the basis of a publisher’s promotional paragraph and an advertising video in which Rob Bell questions someone’s certainty that Ghandi is in hell, Justin Taylor sounded the web-wide alarm that Rob Bell’s forthcoming book Love Wins espouses universalism (the doctrine that everyone will eventually be saved). Though he too had not yet read the book, John Piper followed up with a puzzling melodramatic tweet bidding Rob Bell “Farewell“. An avalanche of tweets ensued — all (so far as I could discern) by people who had not read Bell’s forthcoming book — to the point that this yet-unpublished book became one of the top ten tweeted topics. (If this was planned by HarperCollins, the publisher of Love Wins, it was brilliant!!!)

Well, I would have blogged on this Twitter madness earlier but someone hacked my website the other day [thank you very much] and we’ve just now got it back up and running. I suspect I have a slight advantage over some who have expressed strong opinions on Love Wins inasmuch as I have actually read the book (I received an advanced copy). There are four brief things I’d like to say about this book vis-a-vis the Twitter madness that’s erupted around it.

First, Rob is first and foremost a poet/artist/dramatist who has a fantastic gift for communicating in ways that inspire creativity and provoke thought. Rob is far more comfortable (and far better at) questioning established beliefs and creatively hinting at possible answers than he is at constructing a logically rigorous case defending a definitive conclusion. I enthusiastically recommend Love Wins because of the way it empowers readers to question old perspectives and consider new ones. Unless a person reads this book with a preset agenda to find whatever they can to further an anti-Rob Bell agenda (which, I guarantee you, is going to happen) readers will not put this book down unchanged. To me, this is one of the main criteria for qualifying a book as “great.”

Second, given Rob’s poetic/artistic/non-dogmatic style, Love Wins cannot be easily filed into pre-established theological categories (viz. “universalism” vs “eternal conscious suffering” vs. “annihilationism,” etc.). I am certain some readers — especially those who position themselves as the final arbiters and guardians of evangelical truth — will try to do this (obviously, they already have!). And, having read Rob’s book, I can almost guarantee you that they will find isolated quotes to justify their labels. As I interpret Rob’s work, however, it would be misguided and unfair to apply any of these labels to him (more on this below).

Third, Taylor’s “review” and the ensuing Twitter madness notwithstanding, Rob’s book really isn’t about the population or duration of heaven or hell.... It’s mainly about the unfathomably beautiful character of God revealed in Jesus Christ and therefore about the unfathomably good nature of the Good News. Putting his formidable communicating skills to full use, Rob paints a New Testament-based portrait of God throughout his book that at times almost brought me to tears. In the course of painting this magnificent portrait of God, Rob brilliantly raises pointed questions about the dominant evangelical view of hell as hopeless conscious suffering as well as about common evangelical views of God’s wrath, the nature of salvation and an assortment of other topics. But these are secondary topics next to Rob’s main focus: namely, the incomprehensible and unlimited love of God expressed on Calvary as Jesus prays with his last breath, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Finally, despite my earlier claim that Love Wins can’t be neatly filed into any preUniversalist. I’m tempted to say — and probably should say —” I’m not sure; read the book for yourself and figure it out.” But far be it from me to shut up when I should, so here’s two thoughts, for what they’re worth.

1) I strongly doubt Rob would describe himself as a “Universalist.” But even if he did, I would recommend Love Wins just as enthusiastically as I already have. Love Wins masterfully raises all the right questions, even if one ends up disagreeing with some of Rob’s conclusions (which, as I said, are at most alluded to rather than dogmatically defended). Not only this, but questions surrounding the nature and duration of hell and the possibility that all will eventually be saved are not questions Christians should be afraid of. What does truth have to fear? (I sometimes wonder if the animosity some express toward Universalists [or toward those some assume are Universalists] is motivated by the fear that the case for Universalism might turn out to be more compelling than they can handle. For several defenses, see the Addendum to this blog).

2) While its clear from Love Wins that Rob believes (as do I ) that God wants all to be saved, it’s also clear Rob believes (as do I) that humans [and, I would add, angels] have free will and that God will never coerce someone to accept his love and be “saved.” Rob doesn’t himself argue this way in his book, but it seems to me that if God will not coerce people into heaven, then hell (which, by the way, Rob does emphatically believe in) cannot have a pre-set, definitive, terminus point. That is, hell is not, at present, finite. Hence, in this sense, hell is, at present, infinite (= not finite). And this holds true even if Rob believes he has warrant to hope everyone will eventually be saved. And for this reason, I would argue that Rob cannot hold to Universalism as a doctrine: he cannot be, in the classic sense of the word, a Universalist.

Then again, I could be wrong…

which is why this is a good conversation worth having…

but not on Twitter…

and not by accusing and labeling and bidding a brother “farewell” before you’ve even read the book!
THAT is madness!

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Addendum: As I’ve said, I don’t think it’s accurate to describe Rob’s book as a defense of Universalism, though it expresses a hope for all to be saved. If you’re looking for defenses of Universalism as a doctrine, the best I’ve found are 1) Thomas Talbot, The Inescapable Love of God; 2) Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist; and 3) Jan Bonda, The One Purpose of God (quite academic, but insightful). Just to be fair, if you want a sound defense of Annihilationism, see Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes. And if you want a sound defense of the tradition view of hell as eternal conscious suffering, see R. Peterson, Hell on Trial and (with an interesting twist) C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.

Testimonial: "I Used to be a Calvinist"

by David Nilsen
November 18, 2011

Today’s guest post is by my friend David Nilsen. His blog, The Screaming Kettle, is consistently excellent, and I’ve found in his writing a story that is very much like my own.


I used to be a Calvinist. Now I’m not. If you know anything about theology, you know I just told one of the world’s shortest complete stories.

I am a rational thinker. I love math and science and lists and organized categories. So it’s obvious looking back that at the point at which I encountered Calvinism as an adult, the key fit the lock. I had begun meeting weekly with the new worship pastor at our church, and one week we got into the classic argument about sovereignty and free will. We raised our voices. I told him it wasn’t fair. He told me it didn’t matter. I hardly slept for weeks.

I would lay in bed staring at the ceiling trying desperately to make the lines connect in such a way that God would still be just for doing this. I wrestled with the ideas in my head trying to make the lines connect. I crunched the numbers and erased them when they didn’t add up until suddenly, late one night, they did. I can’t remember what the epiphany was, but I had gotten the math to work, and God was still good. I was suddenly a Calvinist, and I saw the world with new eyes. In the words of one young Calvinist I know, I had experienced “second salvation”.

If you’ve ever radically changed your theology as an adult, you know the heady rush that comes with that new perspective. The weeks and months that follow are like putting your mouth to an open fire hydrant – there is so much to take in and you want it all. Calvinism was beautiful to me. It provided a perfect system of answers that left no room for ambiguity. Every doctrine had a place in the house Paul built. You could almost run your hands along them like the clean boards of a new shelf.

I made a good Calvinist, and for the eighteen months it stuck. I’m not afraid of confrontation and I grasp systems easily, so as soon as I was convinced I began convincing others. I was leading the young adults ministry at our church at that point, and I taught Habakkuk, Ruth and all six Post-Exile books from a Calvinist perspective, which is not easy, let me tell you.

We attended New Attitude in early 2007, the twentysomethings conference put on by Sovereign Grace Ministries. Speakers included Mark Dever, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney and John Piper. Three thousand young people, each as restless and reformed as the next, packed into the convention center in Louisville, Kentucky for four days of worship, sermons, prayer and discussion. My wife and I went by ourselves but were quickly taken in by an amazing group of people from a church in another state.

They invited us to their hotel for meals, welcomed us into their group for prayer and fellowship, and in every way showed the love of Jesus to us. Even now, after abandoning not only Calvinism but Biblical inerrancy, creationism, complimentarianism and all the other trappings of reformed evangelicalism, that weekend still stands out to me as one of the truest experiences of Christian community I have ever known. Their hearts were full of love and thirsty for beauty; that they’ve maintained both in the face of Calvinism is a mystery to me, but I am grateful for them.

Calvinism was amazing right until it wasn’t. It was about a year before every last spark of joy evaporated from my spiritual life, and it happened rapidly. At the time I thought it was just a dry spell, but it wouldn’t go away. God seemed absent not only from my time in prayer but from the pages of Scripture. I couldn’t figure it out. I hadn’t fallen into sin, I was being faithful in my reading and prayer, I was holding to truth. I was crossing every T, dotting every i. I couldn’t figure it out.

Looking back I earnestly believe it was the mercy of God. I had grabbed hold of what I perceived as Truth so tightly it had died and turned to dust in my hands, and the way I looked at God and his work in the world was mathematical and cold. I hadn’t done it on purpose, but I had turned God into a logical computer and the Bible into a code book. Calvinism provided all the answers, which had always seemed like the point of faith. I hadn’t yet realized that life was found in the questions. And [...] the questions didn’t come.

After six months of the total absence of joy and passion in my spiritual life, I had the space to begin asking hard questions. The gears and pulleys of my theology had been greased early on with the enthusiasm of new discovery, but that grease had worn away, the machine had seized, and I could finally get in and look at how it worked. I hated what I found. If what I had believed was true, God was not good. It felt like I was seeing the man behind the curtain [sic, The Wizard of Oz], and he was a very bad wizard. I was stuck for a time in the terrifying place of still thinking Calvinism was true, but believing God was a monster if it was.

It’s an awful thing to have to question the goodness of God. In fact, in the couple years that followed the collapse of my faith system, the only thing I felt I could hold onto was that God was good. I refused to let that go even when everything seemed to indicate the opposite. I couldn’t get my mind around how God could be acquitted of great guilt if He really worked the way the Calvinists said, but I refused to accept that He was less than Love. My daily prayer was God, I believe you are good, but I can’t see how. Help me see how. And slowly, painfully, he freed my heart from the weight of the doctrines I had chained to it, and chained to him.

The last several years have been a time of rediscovering joy and freedom. I no longer believe God works in the cold manner I had assigned to him. And I no longer believe he requires me to solve for x in some doctrinal equation in order to know him. I have a head full of questions now, but my heart is far more at peace than when I thought I had all the answers.


David Nilsen is a writer from Greenville, Ohio. He loves good coffee and beer, deep talks that keep him up too late, books and snobby films. He’s been married to Lyndie for ten years this January, and has a four year old daughter who is already asking questions about God he doesn’t know how to answer. He blogs at http://homekettle.wordpress.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @DNilsenKettle.

Tributes to Clark Pinnock (Boyd, Olson, McKnight)

Clark Pinnock Has Finished The Race!

By Greg Boyd
August 16th, 2010

I just received word that Clark Pinnock has finished his race. He passed away Sunday afternoon. Please keep his precious wife Dorthey and their family and friends in prayer.

Clark was an absolutely brilliant thinker, a humble and gracious kingdom servant, a loving husband and father, and a dear friend. Through his writings, teachings and personal relationships, Clark impacted more lives than he could have imagined. I’m certain his work will continue to impact lives and bear fruit until the Lord returns.

What I appreciated most about Clark was his epistemological humility and intellectual integrity. While he held fast to the faith, Clark was always acutely aware that he was a fallible pilgrim “on the way.” To the chagrin of many who consider themselves the guardians of (what they define as) orthodoxy, Clark was always willing to reconsider long-held views. Indeed, Clark was one of those exceptionally rare academics who are humble enough to publicly admit when they’ve changed their mind about a matter. While I happen to agree with Clark on many (but not all) of the particular theological conclusions he arrived at, it was the humble and gracious way Clark thought and conducted himself that most impressed me.

I and multitudes of others are deeply indebted to this humble scholar. We will miss him, and I personally look forward to our upcoming reunion.



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My brief essay on Clark Pinnock (from The Word Made Fresh event)
November 22, 2011 

Clark Pinnock
On Friday, November 18, many of us gathered in San Francisco to celebrate the life and contribution of theologian Clark Pinnock. Five of us read papers about Pinnock, including his daughter Sarah who teaches theology at Trinity University. Other presenters were Scot McKnight, Linda Mercadante and John Sanders. Below is some of what I said about Clark, one of my theological heroes, who passed away last year:

“Clark Pinnock pioneered a new way of being an evangelical in theology. I call that new way “postconservativea label Clark himself used in Tracking the Maze (Harper & Row, 1990) for certain post-Vatican 2 Roman Catholic thinkers and for what he called “another group of theological moderates from the Protestant end of the spectrum.” (66) 

What is clear to me is that Clark laid out the charter for this postconservative type of evangelical theology in his programmatic 1979 Christianity Today article entitled “An Evangelical Theology: Conservative and Contemporary” the subtitle of which was “Scripture is normative, but it always needs to be read afresh and applied in new ways.” (CT, January 5, 1979: 23-29) To be sure, Clark used the label “conservative” positively there, but he also called for an approach to evangelical theology that transcends mere repetition of past doctrinal formulations and even mere restatement of traditional doctrinal formulation for cultural relevance.

Clark’s call in the CT article for a new approach to evangelical theology would wrongly be interpreted as simply repeating Millard Erickson’s “translation” model expounded in Christian Theology:1. There Erickson, a mainstream, postfundamentalist, conservative evangelical thinker, argued for restatement of the essence of traditional doctrines in new forms for the sake of cultural understanding. Erickson presented only two possibilities for a contemporary theology—either “translation” or “transformation.” The difference lies in their preservation or rejection of the permanent essence of doctrines.

Clark seemed to be working with a similar model for a truly contemporary evangelical theology in his CT article, but I find there something more dynamic and exciting. And he spent the rest of his theological career working it out in terms of restatements that amounted to faithful revisionings of traditional doctrinal loci from the doctrine of Scripture to the doctrine of God to the doctrine of salvation. In his CT article Clark criticized both the “classical approach” to theology for “neglect of the contemporary situation” (24) and the “liberal experiment” for “losing continuity with Scripture and tradition.” (26) Overall he sides more with the classical approach which he described as “characterized by a concentration upon fidelity and continuity with the historic Christian belief system set forth in Scripture and reproduced in creed and confession.” (24) However, he expressed dissatisfaction with that approach represented especially by B. B. Warfield and Francis Schaeffer. He wrote “Much of the modern contempt of classical Christianity is due, not to its stand on Scripture, but to its nonessential narrow-mindedness in regard to the gifts of common grace that God has freely given us.” (25)

Clark’s own proposal in the CT article is the forging of a new evangelical theology that is genuinely conservative, in the best sense of faithful to given revelation, and at the same time contemporary in the best sense of responsible to culture and authentic in relation to truth. (27) One finds in the last few paragraphs of the article the difference from Erickson’s translating model of a contemporary evangelical theology. Pinnock calls for “creativity” in evangelical theology without accommodation to secular (especially naturalistic) thought forms. He declared “I am not advocating static conservatism. Fidelity does not consist in simply repeating old formulas drafted in an earlier time.” (28-29) If he were following Erickson, one would expect him then to say something about restating the old formulas for cultural relevance, but he goes beyond that. Next he says “It includes the creative thinking required to make the old message fresh and new” and “I see a kind of theological synthesis possible in which the Bible remains normative, but in which it is read afresh under the illumination of the Spirit who makes it live for us.” (29)

Clark’s program for a truly postconservative evangelical theology is only tentatively set forth in the CT article, but a close reading of it reveals something new in evangelical theology. Clark was calling for theological creativity without capitulation to non-Christian norms [sic, folk lore religion*]. He spelled it out in more detail in Tracking the Maze where he labeled it “postconservative” and compared it with post-Vatican 2 Catholic thought that affirms the essentials of the faith, basic Christian orthodoxy, but is willing to make some changes in theology that go beyond altering the ways in which they are expressed. Among these changes he mentions:

  • “more openness to the humanity of the Bible,” [relational theology*]
  • willingness to “talk about diversity in the biblical teaching,” [the Spectrum of Christianity*]
  • “open discussion about the nature of the deity and the possible need to place more emphasis on the openness of God to temporal process,” and, [Open Theology / Open Theism*]
  • “a growing tendency to allow for the possibility of the salvation of the unevangelized.” (67-68) [relational theology's soteriological element*]

Of course, these are changes Clark himself explored in later monographs on particular doctrines. All throughout his exploration of this postconservative paradigm of evangelical theology and his attempts at working it out in particular areas of theology Clark remained firmly planted in the evangelical tradition of biblicism, conversionism, crucicentrism, activism and respect for the Great Tradition of Protestant orthodoxy—even as he found it necessary to alter and adjust some aspects of these in light of fresh and faithful reflection on the Word of God in light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing, dynamic presence among us.

That Clark’s theological pilgrimage since 1979 has been condemned by neo-fundamentalist evangelicals is not surprising; the postfundamentalists like Henry, Carnell and Ramm were condemned by the old fundamentalists. Courage in creativity is always going to be criticized and even condemned by the gatekeepers of tradition. What concerns me is not that neo-fundamentalists have condemned Clark and his pilgrimage in theology but that many mainstream evangelical leaders and spokesmen have in a cowardly manner neglected or refused to speak up in his defense.”

*[...] additions by R.E. Slater

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Clark Pinnock: My Tribute
November 23, 2011

Clark Pinnock
I was kindly asked by Tom Oord as a leader in the Word Made Fresh group of AAR/SBL to participate in a wonderous event that paid tribute to the late Clark Pinnock. The treat to this event was a presentation by Sarah Pinnock, Clark’s daughter, on her father; Linda Mercandante reflected on her experience as a student of Clark’s; John Sanders gave a presentation on the hassle he experienced with Clark in the open theism debate, mostly notably in ETS; the final paper was by Roger Olson on the place of Clark in evangelical theology. My paper, which was shortened so I had to speak from my feet at times, is below. I didn’t enter into the open theism debate as my assignment was on Clark’s use of the Bible and I had my hands full with three other of his topics — all of them hot and debated: Scripture, inclusivism and annihilationism. The highlight of the night was when the papers were all over — six in one hour — and folks in the room stood to witness to the influence of Clark in their life.


Clark Pinnock and the New Testament: A Man on the Move

When I was asked to offer a presentation about Clark’s hermeneutics I thought back to my college days when I bought and read his 1971 book called Biblical Revelation. That book was one of the impulses that made me think of studying at Trinity because Clark taught there, though by the time I arrived Clark had moved on to Regent and then to McMaster. The invitation also made me think of Clark’s “revision” of that book on Scripture in his book The Scripture Principle, which I still think was a courageous book in its day. (In some ways his successors today are Kent Sparks and Pete Enns.) The invitation also made me think of Clark’s stuff on hell and annihilationism. What the invitation also triggered was a conversation I had with a friend when I was a student at Trinity. My friend’s name was Bill and he said he took Pinnock for a class and, if I remember this correctly, he said, “Pinnock began as a Calvinist, midway through the course he became Ariminian, and then by the end of the semester he had become Calvinist again.” Then he said something that probably each of us both knows and admires about Clark Pinnock. Bill said, "I liked Pinnock because he was man on the move. His theology was always growing." He then said, “… unlike …” and I shall not mention the name. The other name won. Clark did call Trinity a “ghetto,” and Clark moved on.

My time is limited so I want to make four brief points about Clark’s approach to the Bible as the means of theologizing in our world today, but first a few general comments. As I read Pinnock, I read a theologian who was essentially a biblical theologian who explored topics that matter to contemporary theologians, particularly those in the classic evangelical orbit. Maybe I can say that Clark Pinnock is what happens when New Testament PhDs decide to become theologians, which happened to Clark when he was teaching at New Orleans among the Baptists. I don’t see him as a systematician so much as a theologian who operated through the Bible’s categories, and this is what we would expect from a student of F.F. Bruce. And his approach to the Bible might be called mostly a “plain reading” of the Bible, though at times he resorts – as nearly all theologians do – to some more arcane and intricate interpretations. That “plain reading” tilts in the direction of the Arminians and charismatics though by that I don’t want any suggestion it is not anything less than rigorous. All of this has been told well in Barry Callen’s wonderful book on Clark’s light landings in moderate evangelicalism, Journey toward Renewal.


I begin, first, with this: Clark Pinnock’s approach to the Bible was courageous. Evangelicalism is a wonderful group as long as you are safe, but the moment you wander outside that safety, which is protected by alarmists positioned everywhere, made even worse by the internet and blogs,… once you wander outside you are susceptible to alarms and charges and trials, some of them apocalyptic. Clark somehow managed to sustain sanity while setting off alarms in all directions. Like Aslan, Clark was not a tame theologian. In A Wideness in God’s Mercy, when Clark explored the “Bible’s view of other religions,” he transgressed the boundaries the missionary movement had established, convinced as it was of a strong exclusivist posture toward all things religious. Having read Jean Daniélou’s Holy Pagans of the Old Testament, Clark feasted on the generosity of God at work in the world outside Israel, and then was willing to probe into the implications of those holy pagans for religions today. Thus, he can say, “Some [outside the church today] intend the same reality Christians intend when they believe in God (as personal, good, knowing, kind, strong etc.)” (96). And then this: “People fear God all over the world, and God accepts them, even where the gospel of Jesus Christ has not yet been proclaimed” (97). And he digs: “One can make a faith response to God in the form of actions of love and justice” (97). He then pokes evangelicalism in the eye: “We have tended to ignore this line of teaching in Scripture because of a control belief which blocks it out” (99). He pushes further: “World religions reflect to some degree general revelation and prevenient grace” (104). Yet, religions are part of a fallen human culture, but God uses them – and thus the Bible, Pinnock is claiming, opens up a more generous approach to the religions of the world.

Another example of his courage. Anyone who wants to talk about inerrancy has to be courageous, or foolish. Clark was the former. As he puts this in The Scripture Principle: “But the case for biblical errorlessness is not as good as it looks. Of course God cannot lie, but that is not the issue” (added) – that very comment, which goes against the grain of the deductive habit of inerrantists, is both not the point and the point. It depends on which theologian is writing. He adds, “What we might expect God to do is never as important as what he actually does” (57). He gets personal, but this has been omitted from the newer edition of The Scripture Principle (84): “I can only answer for myself, as one who argued in this way [of total inerrancy] a few years ago. I claimed that the Bible taught total inerrancy because I hoped it did – I wanted it to” (58). He did get personal again in the second edition, in the Appendix, with these words: “I have moved from defending the Bible in a scholastic manner to understanding it in a more pietistic way” (255), and Clark uses the word “neo-evangelical” for himself (258), and so he describes his move from “philosophical” to “simple” biblicism (257). Perhaps most clearly, he said he moved from Francis “Schaeffer’s militant rationalism to [F.F.] Bruce’s move bottom-up irenic scholarship” (258).

But Pinnock wasn’t about to give in completely. “I wish also to state my conviction,” Clark claimed at the end of his Scripture Principle book and, once again, this was revised slightly in the new edition of the book, “that it would be wise for us to continue to speak of biblical inerrancy. Though the term is not ideal by any means, it does possess the strength of conviction concerning the truthfulness of the Bible that we need to maintain at the present time, while offering a good deal of flexibility to honest biblical study” (224). Now he gets positively provocative for the inerrancy camp: “Inerrancy is a metaphor for the determination to trust God’s Word completely” (225). That is, “…Scripture can be trusted in what it teaches and relied upon as the infallible norm of the church” (225). Which puts us where many have come: “The wisest course to take would be to get on with defining inerrancy in relation to the purpose of the Bible and the phenomena it displays” (225). Or, better yet, to where Clark came when the second edition was published: “… the wisest course now is either to abandon this term altogether or to alter its common meaning to better fit the purpose of the Bible …*” (250). It would be fun to stop here and chat, and I am on record saying that the word “inerrancy” to me is mostly a posture word today and that there’s a better word – truth – but we can’t pause or we’ll run over time. I do want to say that many today would argue that once we do what Clark suggested in his more functionalist approach to the Bible we have in effect abandoned what most people, most notably ETS, mean by inerrancy. Asking ETS to change its assumptive definition of inerrancy in Clark’s direction is like asking Mohler to become a moderate again.




Alongside courage, second, Clark Pinnock’s approach to the Bible was comprehensive. In a Wideness in God’s Mercy, where Clark was examining the hopefulness of the Bible, we are treated not to a verse here and there and not to some theological deduction, as one finds in some less-than-biblical-focused theologians, but instead we are treated to a wonderful sketch in fifteen pages of the expansiveness of God’s vision and what Clark calls a “hermeneutic of hopefulness” (20-35). The election of Israel is not a soteriologically-obsessed election but an election unto mission, as Chris Wright has recently articulated in his magnum opus, The Mission of God. For Clark, “this election is for the sake of all peoples” (24). It is a “corporate election… and a call to service” (24). Then this: “This is the election of a people to a ministry of redemptive servanthood. Election does bring privileges, but primarily it carries responsibilities” (24).

To show this angle on what God is doing in the world, we get a treatment of Job, Abimelech, Jethro, Baalam, the Queen of Sheba up to the Magi and we could go on. It is Clark’s comprehensiveness that I’m concerned with here. He turns over one stone after another in the quest to sort out what the Bible says for a theological problem today: who will be saved? Is God’s mercy narrow and stingy or wide and expansive? His question is that of YHWH to Abraham, “Have you seen the stars? Go ahead,” God says, “count them. So will your seed be.” Clark takes that as gospel truth: God’s people is wide and inclusive and expansive and way beyond our expectations, and it outstrips our exclusivity. In reading Clark, I’ve been impressed time and time again with his comprehensive grasp of the Bible.


Next to his comprehensive approach to the Bible, I see a third thing: in Pinnock we find a rock-solid commonsensical approach to Bible reading. He asks in Scripture Principle (xix), "Why do Christians believe the Bible?" He answers – and I love what he says: “…because it has been able to do for them exactly what Paul promised it would: introduce them to a saving and transforming knowledge of Christ.” On the near idolization of the Bible among some sorts of Christians that leads to a neglect of God’s manifestation in other ways, Clark says this: “For my part, I cannot see how any revelation from the God of the gospel can be other than saving in its basic significance if it is truly a revelation of him [who is a saving God]” (7). That commonsensical approach leads to his chaser comment: “If we grant that such a revelation to all peoples… then it must be the disclosure of the gracious God from whom our creaturely existence flows.” There you have it: a brief apologetic for accessibilism or inclusivism or some kind of universal revelation of God’s gracious ways to all humans who have ever been capable of comprehending the world in which God has placed them.


Clark’s approach to the Bible has been, fourth, rhetorically compelling to many. I am teaching a course on Universalism and Hell to our 4th Year Students this Fall. The first assignment was to read the principal essays in Bill Crockett’s book called Four Views on Hell. Prior to that reading I had given two lectures on the method in theology and the options on these topics. No one in the class was at that time an annihilationist. Most, so it seemed to me, had not even heard of such a view. When the students had read the Four Views, where Clark takes the annihilationist view, Clark had convinced a number of my students that the traditionalist view of Walvoord and the metaphorical view of Crockett were not adequate. I read this chp again for this paper and when we come to his conclusion, I have to say it is nothing short of rhetorically compelling to the reader: “I conclude,” he says, “that the traditional belief that God makes the wicked suffer in an unending conscious torment in hell is unbiblical, is fostered by a Hellenistic view of human nature, is detrimental to the character of God, is defended on essentially pragmatic grounds, and is being rejected by a growing number of biblically faithful, contemporary scholars.” And then this: “I believe that [a] better case can be made for understanding the nature of hell as termination” (165). But Clark is a persuader, after all he was Baptist: “The real choice,” he says in the last words of his essay, “is between universalism and annihilationism, and of these two, annihilation is surely the more biblical because it retains the realism of some people finally saying "No" to God without turning the notion of hell into a monstrosity” (166). One can’t help be caught into his rhetorical web of logic in this chapter, though I have not yet myself been convinced of annihilation (though for me it is entirely within the spectrum of sound evangelical theology). [You can read what I think in my book One. Life. I took another poll of my students yesterday; only one is now an annihilationist; nearly all of my students voted for the metaphorical view as the most biblical and theologically sound.]


Well, I’ve now run out of time. One might be tempted to think Clark Pinnock was also creative, but as I read him he doesn’t offer brand new ideas, but he takes the old message of the Bible and gives it life for a new day when people are struggling with potent problems in a modern and postmodern context. In the 9th chp of his Scripture Principle, where he offers how to read the Bible, Clark offers a two-fold plan, and it is as old as it is important: first, we listen to the text as God’s Word in human language given to us, and second, we open ourselves to God’s Spirit to reveal the particular significance the text has for the present situation” (197). Clark had both an objective dimension and at the same time was unafraid of the subjective, which goes all the way back to his dissertation on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament in 1963. This subjective side made some nervous. I sort of think Clark liked that others were nervous about what he might say next, and in part this was because Clark was not afraid of pneumatology in his hermeneutics. Many are.