- December 2, 2023: Send-offs show Carlton Pearson’s split legacy spurred by his inclusive beliefs, rejection of hell, Darren Sands, AP [As archived at Archive.Today] [Also in the WayBackMachine]
- November 21, 2013: Carlton Pearson, Pastor Deemed a Heretic for Denying Hell, Dies at 70, Trip Gabriel, New York Times [WayBackMachine]
- November 21, 2023: Carlton Pearson, Tulsa Pastor Declared Heretic for Views On Hell, Dies At 70, Adelle Banks, The Roys Report [Also as the WayBackMachine]
- November 3, 2023: Bishop Carlton D. Pearson Sends Final Message Amid ‘Inoperable and Fatal’ Cancer Battle
- November 1, 2023: Former megachurch pastor Carlton Pearson moves to ‘comfort care’ as cancer endures
Carlton Pearson teaches inclusivism (inclusionism)
Carlton Pearson was 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.”
Pearson—a one-time protegé of Oral Roberts— skyrocketed to fame in the 1980s with one of the most-watched TV programs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and as pastor of 5,000-member strong Higher Dimensions Family Church, one of the largest churches in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His Azuza Conferences drew some of the biggest names in Christendom and gospel music, attracting thousands. In 2018, Netflix released a biopic called, “Come Sunday,” exploring Pearson’s life.
The pioneering televangelist’s frank and often controversial opinions on different subjects have earned him appearances on television programs such as NBC and MSNBC’s Dateline, ABC’s Nightline, 20/20, Good Morning America, and CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.
His popularity, however, began to fade in 2004, when he rejected the existence of Hell and was deemed heretical by the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops. Membership in the church dropped to under 1,000, and by 2006, the building was foreclosed on.
Pearson would go on to become an affiliate minister with All Souls Unitarian Church.
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’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.”
Carlton Pearson declared a heretic
A group of Pentecostal bishops has declared that Bishop Carlton Pearson of Tulsa, Okla., is a “heretic” because he preaches the controversial doctrine of “inclusionism.”
“We do hereby declare that the doctrine of Inclusionism is an unorthodox teaching and shall be classified as a heresy by the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops Congress,” wrote Bishop Clifford Leon Frazier, chairman of the joint college’s doctrinal commission, in a March 29 report released to Religion News Service.
“Because of our concern for the many people that could be influenced to adopt this heresy and in so doing put at risk the eternal destiny of their souls, we are compelled to declare Bishop Carlton Pearson a heretic.”
The strongly worded report–“`Inclusionism’: A Heresy Explored and Rejected”–comes more than a year after Pearson addressed the organization at a Washington doctrinal forum. At that forum, Pearson defended his “gospel of inclusion.”
While many evangelical clergy believe that a personal confession that Jesus is savior gives a person entrance to heaven, Pearson has a different perspective. “A more careful study of Scriptures will reveal that salvation is also and, perhaps more often or more comprehensively, pictured in a universally inclusive way, in which God is redeemer of the whole world or creation, including all human beings,” he told forum attendees in March 2003.
Pearson, 51, pastor of Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa, was in Africa and could not be reached immediately for comment.
The Joint College of African-American Bishops Congress is based in Cleveland and is part of a movement known as “high-church Pentecostalism.” Its members combine the fervor known among Pentecostal worshippers with vestments and other aspects of liturgical churches.
The leaders of the joint college said they will now urge their colleagues not to welcome Pearson into their pulpits. They felt compelled to speak because they believe “the suggestion that all ways lead to God is false.”
The document, which cites numerous Scriptures, said Pearson is guilty of “gross distortion of the Bible.” It notes verses in Romans that speak of the need for redemption. “To put it succinctly, the Inclusionist (Pearson) rubs the sin-hardened repudiation of the Gospel message in the face of a loving Lord who died for the sins of the world,” the 18-page paper reads.
“To suggest that the reward of heaven–the ultimate gift of salvation–will be provided to unrepentant, unregenerate man … is ludicrous in its concept, lethal in its effect and contrary to both the content and intent of holy writ.”
Research Resources on Carlton Pearson
Bishop Pearson’s Gospel of Inclusion (Contra) by Bob Waldrep, Watchman Fellowship of Alabama.
Ultimately Pearson asks to just be left alone, stating, “The Church folk are having a fit [over the message I preach] and I say why don’t ya’ll just leave me alone? I’m not hurting nobody, I’m harmless.”19
The problem, as with all who offer a different gospel, is that it isn’t a harmless message. By denying the true gospel, it leads people from the truth; it becomes a barrier to their responding to the real gospel of Jesus. As such, it places them in great danger, as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in the passage quoted above. But Paul wrote that not only are those who respond to a false gospel in danger, but so is the one who presents such a gospel
Carlton Pearson, “The Gospel of Inclusion” by Gary A. Hand
Carlton Pearson wishes to see himself as the leader of a new theological approach, redefining God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation and sanctification. He looks to himself as the head of the movement and to others in order to provide a foundation for his beliefs, pointing toward those who call themselves “Universal Reconciliationists,” with similar views. He uses the trendy terminology, that is so overused in charismatic circles today, that is supposed to assign a high level of importance and intellectual credence to what is being stated, indicating that a “paradigm shift” in thinking identifies his theological system, hoping to convince other people that he is doing great and mighty things.
Paradigm shifts, no matter how they are defined by their proponents, must adhere to the teachings in the Scripture, otherwise, like Carlton Person’s “new” theology, they are simply the old heresies wrapped in another package.
Carlton Pearson and Universalism (contra) by Mike Oppenheimer
Pearson has recently come out with a book and statements that has endorsed universalism. Oral Roberts University took action and removed him from its board of directors due to his theological differences. According to “The Tulsa Beacon,” Pearson has been confronted over his teaching by televangelists John Hagee, Marilyn Hickey and his mentor, Oral Roberts. Roberts sent Pearson a 12-page response after he sent him details on the teaching. While I certainly do not agree with what these people mostly teach, what I do appreciate is even his own friends did not bend their views because of friendship and stood for Biblical truth on this matter. This is a rarity in these times.
What is Carlton Pearson’s “Doctrine of Inclusion?” (Pro) by Gary Amirault
I was asked by Carlton Pearson to write an editorial for the Tulsa Beacon, a Christian newspaper in Tulsa Oklahoma on behalf of himself as to what Carlton’s “Doctrine of Inclusion” consisted of. I assumed since he asked me to write it that he (Carlton) believed like I do, that is, the universalism expressed in the Scriptures by all of the prophets, Jesus Himself and His apostles. Here is what I first wrote.
Heretics “The story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a renowned evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who cast aside the idea of hell, and with it, everything he’d worked for over his entire life.”. Public Radion, This American Life, WBEZ Chicago. Listen online.
Prologue. Carlton Pearson’s church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the Reverend. He didn’t have an affair. He didn’t embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse … he stopped believing in hell. (2 minutes)
Act One. Rise. Reporter Russell Cobb takes us through the remarkable and meteoric rise of Carlton Pearson from a young man to a Pentecostal Bishop: from the moment he first cast the devil out of his seventeen-year-old girlfriend, to the days when he had a close, personal relationship with Oral Roberts and had appearances on TV and at the White House. Just as Reverend Pearson’s career peaked, with more than 5,000 members of his congregation coming every week, he started to think about hell, wondering if a loving God would really condemn most of the human race to burn and writhe in the fire of hell for eternity. (30 minutes)
Act Two. Fall. Once he starts preaching his own revelation, Carlton Pearson’s church falls apart. After all, when there’s no hell (as the logic goes), you don’t really need to believe in Jesus to be saved from it. What follows are the swift departures of his pastors, and an exodus from his congregation — which quickly dwindled to a few hundred people. Donations drop off too, but just as things start looking bleakest, new kinds of people, curious, start showing up on Sunday mornings. (23 minutes)
Song: “Let the Church Roll On,” Mahalia Jackso
News and News Archive
- The fall and rise of Carlton Pearson, Selwyn Crawford, The Dallas Morning News, March 3, 2006
- Carlton Pearson: To hell and back, Keith Morrison, NBC Dateline, August 14, 2006
- ‘Nobody Goes to Hell’: Minister [Carlton Pearson] Labeled a Heretic, ABC News, July 10, 2007
- Higher Dimensions Former official web site of Carlton Pearson, who has been declared a heretic for preaching false doctrines. [Note: the link leads to an archived version of the website, at the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine. Check any link before Aug. 29, 2006. After that, the archive shows the domain name was dropped, and subsequently purchased by an ‘Adults Only’ outfit.]
- New Dimension “The Friendliest, Trendiest, Most Radically Inclusive Worship Experience!” Carlton Pearson’s new official web site. Again, archived versions at the Internet Archive. The new site went up in August, 2006. The domain name was dropped sometime in 2012, and features advertisements for unrelated services since then.
- CarltonPearson.com The modern website, up since 2012
- Wikipedia entry on Carlton Pearson