As one who is naturally attracted to the notion of heretics (from the Greek – to choose), I was interested in a real life, officially declared, heretic Carlton Pearson. Heretics challenge orthodoxy and look at things in a different way, adding fresh perspectives, and that is why we need them. I am currently reading his book The Gospel of Inclusion and you can read some of it from the link.
Pearson was one of the first black evangelical, fundamentalist, mega-preachers. He had one of the most popular shows on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, considered by Oral Roberts to be his “black son”, credited with launching the careers of TD Jakes and Joyce Meyer amongst others, campaigned for George Bush, and so the list of credits goes on.
His church, the Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Centre, was averaging a membership of 5,000 and bringing in $50,000 a week.
He had the same doubts that many people have. A central doubt appears to have been why his friends and grandparents, all good people, were all going to be condemned to hell. Why did a loving God create such a place and why could he not show the forgiveness that we are able to? He did the same thing that many appear to do. He couldn’t reconcile the contradiction so he pushed it to the back of his mind.
Atheists have long seen the contradictions and are unimpressed with this denial or the attempted justification for these contradictions.
Contemporary Christians appear to believe in many ideas at odds with what they claim. In practise they believe that Jesus’s work was not accomplished – that he did not save us (us, meaning the world). They believe a God that is loving, created an eternal torture chamber from which they can be no forgiveness, that God will punish everyone who doesn’t embrace one particular religion (Christianity) and follow one particular man (Jesus), that evil does triumph over good because Satan is as strong as God (and also can never be forgiven) and that despite giving us choice and free-will, in reality there is only one acceptable choice which if you refuse to make will result in everlasting punishment.
Christian churches often appear to be little more than self-help groups or self-esteem clubs, helping their membership feel arrogant in their chosen-ness and ability to abstain from their perceived vices, such as secular music, drinking alcohol and smoking. They encourage focus on their selfish desires for a ticket to the afterlife and see everyone else as fodder for their aims, or else condemn them as damned and not worth bothering with. The walls of the church are the walls of fear, fear of the world, fear of not believing and fear of someone else’s views.
Pearson changed. He had an epiphany. He was sitting in his comfortable house watching women and children on TV, mostly Muslim, starving and persecuted, return to Rwanda. He wondered how a good God could be sending all these (non-Christian) people to hell. In his mind he heard a reply, “Is that what you think we are doing, sucking them all into hell?” The traditional solution for the Evangelical would be to say that someone needs to go and preach the Gospel to them. The voice told him that if that was his solution he should go and do it. Pearson broke down in emotional turmoil and replied, “I can’t save the world!” “Precisely,” the voice responded. “That’s what we already did.” The voice went on to explain that people were not being sucked into hell, they were already there. “We redeemed and reconciled all of humanity at Calvary.”
This led Pearson to develop his “Gospel of Inclusion” which has led to the accusations of heretical thought. His new understanding appears to resolve many of the traditional contradictions of Christianity.
Pearson does not just rely on English translations of the bible but goes back to the original Greek of the New Testament. This is vitally important to anyone who wishes to understand the bible, as English words are often shorthand for different Greek words with different meanings. This resolves some of the absurdities that often appear in pop Christianity. For example, how did Jesus save us from sins we haven’t even committed? And if the claim is God knew we would commit them then how do we have free will? The answer, from the two Greek words, seems satisfactory to me. Jesus didn’t save us from individual indiscretions – the use of sin meaning “falling short of the mark” but from the “offence” that this causes to God. This leads Pearson to the conclusion that if God is no longer offended by sin then he will not judge us on it.
Pearson offers a genuine Gospel of Hope not the Gospel of Fear many churches rely on. He notes obsession with sin and obsession with the belief that Jesus didn’t save the world and therefore it was down to individuals to complete the work of Jesus, has damaged many Christians and destroyed lives and families. He sees a way beyond this. He offers a space for those damaged by fundamentalism to heal and to move forwards.
His message is that everyone is already saved, no matter whether you are Christian, Muslim, Hindu or atheist. It is a perspective that allows love to flourish and may save Christianity from itself.
- Carlton Pearson muses on no hell’s Bell… (thewearypilgrim.typepad.com)
- The Gift of Acceptance – Bishop Carlton Pearson (themysteryofchrist.wordpress.com)
- How Will The Church Address Universalism? (scottstimson.com)
- The Gospel of Inclusion (uuworld.org)