Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Arthur Pink's Pink Wall of Text

From the January 2011 E-Block.
**
When performing reviews of authors as has been done here in the E-Block, it is not often that I find myself having to stop reading a work before I finish it, in order to preserve my sanity. It happened in this case with one of the works of Arthur Pink. 

It is not so much that there is a great deal wrong with Pink (there are a few problems – see below). This prolific author, who wrote early in the 20th century, was one I chose for the start of this new series for two reasons. One is that I recall, in my first church, that his works were all over the church library, indicating that someone at least considering Pink worthy for others to indulge in. The other reason is that I recalled Pink as being one of the few evangelical sources read by Skeptic Steve Allen in one of his books on the Bible. 

Unfortunately, Allen apparently thought Pink was the best scholarship we had to offer and had something of a temper tantrum over how gullible Christians are for thinking so. But Pink wasn’t a scholar; his works, in the main, are devotional.

And they’d have to be. I have spoken very often of authors who are mainly effective at saying in 5000 words what could have been said in 50. Pink exceeds the margins of that description significantly, often saying in one to three chapters what could have been said in 50 words. I could not but be bewildered by reviews on Amazon that described Pink’s work as “spiritual gold” or “meat”. I can only suppose that such readers were so mesmerized by the repetition that they mistook a 200 ton tough-as-leather steak for a delicate filet mignon.

Let’s note now the three books I checked for this report – three of but many Pink had produced, and I could hardly have done more than this and remained sane:

The Holy Spirit [HS]
Why Four Gospels? [W4G]
Practical Christianity [PC]

The Positive Pink

The best part of what Pink offers has to do with his criticisms of the Christianity of his day. In those criticisms we can see him responding to the seeds of today’s fruit found in teachers like Osteen and Meyer. He also does a fairly good job in terms of his overall conclusions. In HS, he rightly concludes in general that the Spirit’s role is much like that of a conscience in the life of the believer. In PC, he rightly stresses the need for faith to be followed up by action, anticipating the later Lordship salvation controversy and arriving at an answer that is much like Semitic Totality (link below). In W4G, his answer for why there were four gospels is generally correct: To give a fuller picture of Jesus; and the Gospels are different because they were written from different points of view. (However, some of his applications of this are unsound; see below.)

Pink is also not afraid to take a stand for what he thinks is the truth. Now and then he will criticize both Calvinists and Arminians for what he considers to be flaws in their theology. He is uneasy about using personal testimonies as evidence for conversions, and offers the memorable line in favor of discipleship: “The Bible is not designed for lazy people.”

The Negative Pink

As noted, Pink’s greatest shortcoming is a galling habit of reiterative repetition. Some 85% of Pink’s material is repetitive exhortation – the same few ideas repeated ad nauseum in a wide variety of ways. Most of his doctrine is sound, however; I only found a few disturbing elements.
  • There is, in Pink, an occasional snideness towards academics. While he rightly says (mainly in PC – and at least 10 different ways) that a dedicated heart makes for a more earnest Christian than a trained mind, he fails to see that unless the mind is sound in loyalty, the heart has no anchor. In that sense Pink is very much like modern emergents who assume that their own ability to remain loyal to Christ through emotional attachment will serve as well for all.
  • Pink relatedly blames the ebbing of Christianity on “a grieved and quenched Spirit in our midst.” But he doesn't do much to explain how we can differentiate the Spirit from personal preferences, other than contextually common sense tests like "it doesn't contradict the Bible."
  • Pink does little in terms of dealing with difficulties with the text. While he has occasional harsh words for cultists or others who compromise the Gospel, Pink seldom deals in any hard questions. To be fair, this is not unexpected since his purpose is mainly devotional. But it also means that those who call his work “meat” are seriously overestimating it – or else I’m overestimating them.
  • Prior to becoming a Christian, Pink was a Theosophist, and there are times when that background comes through. At one point in HS, he makes a list of “Parallels in the Advents of Christ and of the Spirit” such as: “As the Son became incarnate in the holy land, Palestine, so the Spirit descended in Jerusalem.”
    When Jesus born, Herod was “troubled” (Matt. 2:3) and when Spirit was given, multitude was “troubled” (Acts 2:5. 6).
    The latter example is a bit problematic because the two words used in Greek are not the same. Even so, one wants to ask Pink of these parallels, “What’s your point?” These parallels are mostly contrived.
    Two other examples: Pink relies on John Gill for the observation that “Abba” “reads backwards the same as forwards, implying that God is the Father of His people in adversity as well as prosperity.” It does? No, actually, it implies no such thing, though it does make for a monster of a non sequitur. Finally, in W4G he makes rather too much of the numerical order of Biblical books; for example, Matthew being the 40th book in the Bible is taken as meaning that it “shows us Israel in the place of probation.”
  • Although most of Pink’s explanations are sound, a few of his points are outlandish enough to cringe at:
    • He tries to explain that the presence of the word “church” in Matt 16:18 is not an anachronism, because the Jews rejected Jesus, and that means that the “church” has “superseded the Jewish theocracy.” This only works as an explanation for the presence of the modern, English word, “church” – the word used in Greek was used of any assembly of persons dedicated to a cause.
    • While most of W4G does fairly well in explaining why the four Gospels differ, some explanations are simply outlandish. Pink says that there is no genealogy in Mark, because Mark portrays Jesus as a servant of God, and “in connection with a servant a genealogy or particulars of birth are scarcely points of interest or importance.” This is false: Such things were always of utmost importance to the people of this era. A few of Pink’s explanations create problems he apparently doesn’t recognize. For example, he tells us that Mark does not relate Jesus saying, “it is finished,” because “It is not for the Servant to say when his work is finished – that is for God to decide!” But if Jesus did historically say this as e.g., Matthew relates, then the servant DID say when his work was finished, and Pink has implicitly indicated that Mark is leaving out information dishonestly – though I doubt if Pink thought through and realized that this was what his argument implied.
    • A couple of other outlandish ideas: Mark uses “and” a lot to start sentences because it “tells of ceaseless activity” of Christ. Luke 2:1’s reference to taxation “tells, in suggestive symbol, of the burdens imposed by Satan on his captive subjects.” These are simply out in left field, if not over the fence.
    • Most embarrassingly, in PC, Pink opens the volume with a quote of Mark 16:16, and says of it, “None more important were ever spoken to the sons of men.” Given the serious textual issues surrounding this verse, and the fact that use of it and surrounding verses has caused seeds of doubt in some (see link #2 below), Pink’s use of it should inspire uneasiness. 
Such is what we think of Pink. I suppose his work might appeal to those who appreciate being mesmerized by walls of text, and for the most part, his ideas are sound. However, it’s all been done a lot better, and a lot more efficiently, since he was active.

 Links:
On faith and action
Forge entry on apostate whose doubts began with Mark 16:9-20

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