Recently, I have been doing more reading and I have just finished reading The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Fundamentalism to the True Love of God by Carlton Pearson (ASUZA Press/Council Oak Books, 2007). Today, Bishop Pearson is considered a heretical pentecostal preacher who no longer believes in hell and believes that everyone will be saved. Proponents of universalism believe that whether or not one leaves this earthly life believing in Jesus Christ as the son of God, one will eventually be saved. This is the theology that Pearson has now accepted.
The rise and fall of Carlton Pearson intrigued me. Before being rejected by his congregation of 5,000, by his fellow pentecostal-charismatic clergy, and labeled a heretic, he was at the height of his pentecostal ministry in the charismatic world, but it all came crashing down. In his early days, he sang in the Oral Roberts gospel choral team, attended Oral Roberts University, and was noticed by Oral Roberts himself and taken under his wings. He was considered a protégé of televangelist Oral Roberts, and even sat on the Board of Regents at Oral Roberts University (ORU). But what a change of events when he announced to the world that he held universalist beliefs. He eventually lost the congregation he worked so hard to build. They left him. The church property went into receivership. He was no longer welcomed to speak at pentecostal conferences.
He begins his book discussing where he came from and where he has gone in his theology and ministry. Living a life holiness and evangelism defined his Christian life. He was as typical a Pentecostal as one could get. He also started the Asuza Conferences that brought in the big names like T.D. Jakes, and others.
Today, he has invited gays and lesbians to take an active part in the ministry of the church. The bulk of his book is spent discussing why he disagrees with the theologies of hell and damnation. He refutes the orthodox understanding of faith and grace. His book also begins with some quotes from the early church fathers. He also claims that most of the early church fathers were universalists themselves.
I was taken aback as I read his book, The Gospel of Inclusion. I could never imagine that a person of conservative evangelical influence could ever go that far away from one’s theology. By the end of his book, I got a slight feeling of insecurity because if someone like him I can go that far with his theology, who is to say that I might never go this far myself? When I look back and reflect on where I have been and where I am now, some might also consider me a heretic…but I’ll be quiet about that.
From what basis does Carlton Pearson build his theology? Is it the bible? Or is it from the writings of the early church fathers? I am cautious of putting the early church fathers on a pedestal simply because their theologies contradict one other’s. Some read their theologies as if they were the gospel truth but there is a hidden element of danger to doing so because it puts their writings on the same level as the holy scriptures. It is ironic that the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox church, and some from the liturgical Anglican and Lutheran persuasion hold that the historic faith of the ante-Nicene fathers are orthodox and apostolic. How can anyone claim that there is a true historic episcopate when the theologies of the early church fathers contradict one other’s theology? In my humble opinion, this simply does not square. Today, a part of the emerging church movement has placed a premium on the theologies of the early church fathers, but at what cost? Have they traded in theological truth for theological acceptance and inclusion of all religions?