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Carlton Pearson is the 'bishop' of the Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA.
Pearson is controversial because he teaches inclusivism: the belief that while there is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ, God will ultimately accept the 'implicit' faith of those who - while not having (fully) known or accepted Jesus - nevertheless led moral lives. This includes adherents of non-Christian faiths.
The doctrine of inclusivism (sometimes called inclusionism) is considered heretical - the opposite of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is the body of essential Christian doctrines - those doctrines that make Christianity Christian and not something else.
Heresy is "[d]octrine which is erroneous in such a way that Christians must divide themselves as a church from all who teach or accept it; those adhering to heresy are assumed to be lost, although Christians are unable to make definitive judgments on this matter." [Source: A Biblical Guide To Orthodoxy And Heresy Part One: The Case For Doctrinal Discernment" (an article from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1990, page 28) by Robert M. Bowman.]
Dressed casually in an open white shirt and no clerical collar, the Rev. Carlton Pearson was relaxed recently as he sat in his office at Higher Dimensions Family Church and discussed a controversy that has rocked his world.
Tulsa's high-profile pastor, mayoral candidate and Grammy-nominated singer has paid a high price recently for straying from the orthodox evangelical theology in which he was raised.
His alma mater, Oral Roberts University, has denied him use of the ORU Mabee Center for the Azusa Street Conference and forbidden his church buses to pick up students for services. He has resigned from the ORU board of regents.
Several associate pastors have left his church, and attendance has fallen off.
National Christian publications and leaders have criticized him.
He believes the controversy undermined his support among evangelicals in the mayoral primary earlier this year, and possibly cost him the election.
Even his dry cleaner refuses to do business with him.
Pearson's troubles began as word got out in the Christian community that he was teaching a form of universalism -- that everyone will be saved.
That theology put him at odds with evangelical churches and the many mainline Christian denominations, which teach that Christ's death and resurrection make salvation available to all people, but that each person must accept that salvation.
In a two-hour interview last week, the 49-year-old Pearson did not back down from his position, which he calls the gospel of inclusion.
"My posture is that all will be saved, with the exception of a few," he said.
"I believe that most people on planet Earth will go to heaven, because of Calvary, because of the unconditional love of God, and the redemptive work of the cross, which is already accomplished."
He said that includes sincere people who do not directly acknowledge Christ -- Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists.
The traditional evangelical view, he said, is that all will be lost with the exception of a few -- those evangelical Christians who have accepted Jesus Christ.
"They think that salvation is triggered by an act of faith on the seeker's part," he said.
"I say, is it more important that you accept Christ, or . . . that Christ accepts you? Which is the gospel?"
Pearson said he still believes in heaven and hell, and that there will be souls in both places. But hell will be for those few people who "deny in their hearts that there is a creator; who have a disrespect for the deity."
And his concept of hell differs from evangelical orthodoxy.
- Pearson faces theological controversy, Tulsa World, USA, Sep. 1, 2002
Pearson's theological errors do not stop there:
Bishop Carlton Pearson, the nationally prominent evangelical preacher, has already stirred one controversy for preaching the doctrine of inclusion - that everyone is saved no matter what they do.
He's about to light another fuse.
Pearson, founder and pastor of Tulsa's Higher Dimensions Family Church, now says he believes "it is reasonable" that Satan himself will go to heaven. It's possible, he says, that God could have made a mistake in condemning Satan to eternity in hell.
"Is God not big enough to change the devil?" Pearson said in an interview. "I can conceive of the devil bowing down and repenting to God, saying, 'I competed with You, but I was wrong. I'm sorry.' "
Asked if that "confession" would be enough for God to forgive Satan and allow him into heaven, Pearson replied, "He (the devil) came from heaven."
"He's crazy," said Bishop Clifford L. Frazier, pastor of The City of Life Christian Church in St. Louis. Frazier wrote a scathing response to Pearson's doctrine of inclusion after the Oklahoma preacher in March presented his views at a conference of the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops.
The organization is in the process of deciding whether to declare Pearson a heretic. Frazier is a member of the organization, but Pearson is not.
"Even people who renounce Christianity but are familiar with the sacred text would realize that some fundamental problem exists here," Frazier said. "For him to hold that view would mean that he is contra-biblical. To call what he has theology is really a malapropism. To espouse what he has is not theology, nor Christian. It is sheer, wild imagination."
- Devil may go to heaven, says beleaguered bishop, The Dallas Morning News, via GoMemphis.com, USA, May 10, 2003
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