A Review of Flame of Love by Clark H. Pinnock

Pinnock, Clark H. Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996. 280 pages.

Pinnock begins by defining the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinity, emphasizing the social nature of the Trinity to not only clarify the concept of Trinity, but also to clarify the being and role of the Spirit, which is traditionally the most obscure member. The Spirit is not only active in our redemption and piety, but also in creating and sustaining the world (chapter 2); acknowledging this helps us to have a more integrated theology, as well as improving our integration of theology with science, questions of origins and death, our understanding of humanity and the human spirit, and our motivation for environmental stewardship.

Pinnock then describes a “Spirit Christology” (chapter 3), framing the Incarnation and Atonement as part of a work already begun by the Spirit (in prevenient grace), empowered by and dependent upon the Spirit (empowering Christ in his kenosis), and unifying humanity with Christ to participate in his representative recapitulation, thus emphasizing the saving power of his life and resurrection as well as his death. The church is the continuing incarnation and mission of Jesus in the world, empowered and directed by the Spirit, who is experienced in the church through both sacrament and charisma, and requires both in order to be a healthy and holistic tool of the Spirit for Christ’s mission (chapter 4).

Salvation is described not as a legal transaction of justification, but as a journey of being brought into union (at-one-ment) with God through the power and love of the Spirit, as evidenced in normally-charismatic events such as conversion, baptism, and Spirit-baptism, which should all be read as one event that may unfold over time rather than as distinctive events; charisma and tongues should be seen as normal rather than normative, and read in light of our growing union with God, which predates our conversion and is present in the world in God’s prevenient grace, as the Spirit works to make a new creation, part of which is forming us in the likeness of Christ (chapter 5).

As for access to salvation, historic emphasis on the particularity of the mission of Christ has distracted from the universality of the prevenient mission of the Spirit, whose universal activity in the world, including in other religions, can be recognized in light of the particularity of Christ, allowing us to hope for all others (chapter 6).

Pinnock finishes by describing revelation as God’s self-revealing (as opposed to liberal experiential models or conservative notions of timeless principles), mediated by the Spirit who both inspires and illuminates Scripture and safeguards it through the Spirit’s presence in and gifts to the Christian community, which is empowered to discern truth in consultation and unity with the body of Christ; in this way God’s self-revelation is both eternal and timely (chapter 7).

Pinnock’s approach is a breath of fresh air: a systematic pneumatology, written for a popular audience! Doubly rare! He focuses on how the Spirit has been neglected in theology, and points out how a more robust pneumatology helps us to solve theological debates, providing a synthesis that moves us past old arguments and into “both-and” solutions, doing so without excessive recourse to oversimplification of issues or to mystery. He writes with humility, acknowledging possible arguments and seeking support from many other traditions; he may be the most ecumenical baptist I’ve ever heard of! He’s often repetitive, and I felt that the book could have been cut down by about 1/3 without losing content, but his conversational and humble tone make up for it and allow me to recommend this book to readers of every level.

A solid “A”.

Sounds like a bad romance novel, I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover, or its title. Also, don’t search for this book title without safesearch on.


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