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May 24, 2014

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Wayne Northey

I was privileged to have lived with Clark Pinnock as student renter at Regent College from 1974 to 1976 in a basement room of a house he had bought in Kitsilano (Vancouver). I told him and Dorothy (his wife) a few times that my claim to fame would be that I once rented a room from Clark Pinnock…

For that first year, lifelong friends psychology professor (Dr.) Mack and Joan Goldsmith and daughters rented the main floor. That’s a claim to fame too! Mack was the first “scholar-in-residence” Regent hosted. We all participated delightedly in a Pinnock-led Bible Study group in their home.

I had been forewarned that my theological categories were about to be enlarged under the tutelage of Clark. That from a fellow PBer (Plymouth Brethren) adherent who had studied under him at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS). (I’d also been direly warned against studying at Regent College by other fellow PBers because “they” did not accept the first 11 chapters of Genesis “literally” (please see in response a book review here: http://waynenorthey.com/book-review/the-lost-world-of-genesis-one-ancient-cosmology-and-the-origins-debate/); and because “they” taught “amillenialism”.

No one warned me however that I might be forced (indeed “kicking and screaming”) through two much more excruciating conversions at Regent College, both directly due to Clark Pinnock, in particular an interterm course he taught in 1975 called The Politics of Jesus, based on John Howard Yoder’s book first published in 1972:
1. Christian spirituality is meaningless if not expressed in the political/social. In other words, it is above all incarnational! (Surprise – it actually includes the dirty-fingernails “earth-bound” public square and space!)
2. The way of doing politics in the social realm is the non-violent way of the Cross. (Surprise – it actually means nonviolence!)
In other words: being “in Christ”/“a new creation” eschewed all forms of Gnosticism, all forms of redemptive violence. Wow! This began actually to sound Christian to me!

To be such consequently meant aligning oneself with the grain of the universe (Stanley Hauerwas) or the moral nature of the universe (Nancey Murphy and Geore F.R. Ellis) that we were to aggressively pursue in a creation-based ethical arc established in Genesis One. If only in subsequent Hebrew and Church history I say from the rooftops!

As Ron indicated in this article, Clark never changed his mind (which he was ever wont to do if confronted by an alternative compelling theological argument) about point one of my double conversion story at Regent College. But he subsequently reverted to a pre-Christian (indeed pre-creation) ethic concerning violence – without compelling theological argument so far as I know. Which means he was all too (contextually) human!

On two occasions, each in response to articles he had written, once in Faith Today, once in Christian Week (both Canadian evangelical periodicals) I questioned his backing capital punishment (in the former) and American engagement in the First Gulf War (in the latter). On both occasions, he was shortly afterwards back at Regent College to teach a summer course. On both occasions I invited him by lengthy letter to dialogue. He both times graciously acceded. On the issue of capital punishment, I quoted Pinnock against Pinnock. He had previously taken a strong position against retribution at a 1976 Corrections conference I had co-organized (and later published the proceedings of, and other articles, under Mennonite Central Committee Canada, entitled Crime Is a Peace Issue). In the latter case, on a beautiful summer evening we walked about the University of British Columbia campus, not as I had hoped in deep theological engagement – there was none – but talking more generally about our families and life. Which was great nonetheless.

Clark never changed his mind again about either viewpoint. Though friends told me that Clark had attended with indication of warm appreciation, a conference at McMaster University on emergent Restorative Justice that I had been unable to go to.

I wrote Clark after the second encounter with more on my theological concerns, summed up in my claiming that his ethic now stopped at the end of the Hebrew Bible – though even there he missed the “torah of nonviolence” (Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb) that coursed through that tradition, that I had first also learned from him in a marvelous Amos/Galatians course he co-taught with Carl Armerding in 1974. But in each case, he presented no counter theological argument. I concluded as Ron: that Clark, my first teacher then mentor in the nonviolent way of the Cross had indeed lost his way in favour of a vapid republicanism so contrary to everything Christ.

But I long-since made my peace with Clark. Well, there never really was conflict per se. You may wish in this regard to read my tribute to him on this website at his passing: http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2010/08/remembering-clark-pinnock-by-wayne-northey.html.

In that tribute I mention that Clark:
• set me by example (he was a prison volunteer under M2/W2 when I first met him) and encouragement on a 40-year career (just retired in 2014!) in peacemaking criminology within criminal justice;
• endorsed my coming-of-age novel that amongst other things wrestles with State violence against international and domestic enemies, and ultimately with violence in a doctrine of hell as “eternal conscious torment”. I just re-edited it and posted notice on my website here (including some downloadable chapters): http://waynenorthey.com/chrysalis-crucible/;
• infused me with a passionate embrace of spirituality as incarnational and nonviolent that like God’s hesed in Psalm 30:5 is for a lifetime!

Clark’s aggressive passion for theology and the “theo” subject, his utter openness to “truth” and changing his mind regardless of praise or censure, his humility and profound faith have impacted me like no other for forty years and counting!

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