2016-06-30
Bishop Carlton Pearson, a Charismatic minister, is the founder of the Azusa Interdenominational Fellowship of Christian Churches and the pastor of Higher Dimensions Family Church in Oklahoma. Pearson preaches the "gospel of inclusion," a controversial doctrine claiming that Jesus Christ saves all people no matter what their beliefs or actions. He spoke with Beliefnet recently about what his theology means for non-Christians.

Could you describe your message--the "gospel of inclusion"--in a nutshell?

The Gospel of Inclusion is the exciting and liberating news that in the finished work of the cross, Jesus redeemed the entire world to God from the cosmic and organic sin imposed upon it by Adam, the original man. In effect, the world is already saved, they just don't know it; and, unfortunately, most Christians don't believe it. First Timothy 4:9-10 says, "...we have put our trust in the living God who is the Savior of all men, and especially those who believe." Jesus did not just die for Christians, He died to redeem, reconcile, and ultimately save the Cosmos.

Jesus was not a Christian, He was a Jew. God, however, is Spirit and cannot be confined exclusively to any particular religion including Christianity. He's not Jewish or Christian or Hindu or Buddhist; yet, He is all of that if we want or need Him to be, while at the same time, none of it conclusively, because He can't be and, in fact, is not limited to a person's or culture's perception of Him.

He loves everybody, He understands everybody, and He has a covenant with everybody-again, whether they know it or not.

Every human being in the history of the planet was created in the image and likeness of God. Anything else is an impersonation. God sees Himself in everybody, in every belief system, in every icon, perhaps even the devil. The devil can't subsist on his own. He came from God, has a specific assignment, and carries it out well.

The devil is in the image of God?

In the totality of [God's] vastness, there is evil. But the evil of God is not the way we perceive evil. It's a distortion of good, good in a different form. With God, there is no bad in the sense that our human consciousness understands "bad." Scripture teaches that everything that is or was made, was made or created by God and that everything God made was good. (Gen. 1:31, John 1:3 and Col. 1:15-20). Everything works for good, for God and has a specific and designated purpose.

According Isaiah 54:16-17, nothing the devil does, even though it may appear to us as destructive, will ultimately prosper. It is temporary, it has a purpose, and is ultimately accountable to the sovereign God.

So everyone is saved through the cross and through Jesus, but people don't have to believe that?

It's just like the sun's rays reach Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and backsliders. Do you have to believe in the sun for it to shine on you? How do you receive sunlight? Even on an overcast day, the solar rays reach the planet, and you will see it and feel it and receive it. You have no choice or vote on the matter. The S-o-n of God is as inclusive and non-discriminatory in his light and warmth as the s-u-n is.

You don't have to do anything or believe anything. You can be born blind, but the sunlight will still shine on you. God is greater and bigger than the s-u-n, he created and can override any resistance to him. And by his Grace he does.

Everyone loves Christ. The word "Messiah" simply means "anointed one." All the religions spiritually overlap and are intertwined. They all have meaning and all should be respected and valued. I'm discovering that the Prophets are basically saying the same thing; it is the theologians that are confused.

So how do you answer critics who quote the gospel verse "No one comes to the Father except through me"?

When my detractors interpret that passage, they tend to mean, "No one comes to God except through 'Christianity' rather than Christ." They think it means "no one can get to the Father except you (they) get down on their knees, confess Jesus, and jump through all the traditional religious hoops in order to reach God." But that scripture doesn't mean that at all.

For example, the door you entered through to get into your office building. Did you kiss it, acknowledge it, or ask it to let you enter through it? Thousands of people may walk through that door and not pay any attention to it at all; in fact, most don't. But because the door is unlocked and open, they simply go through to gain access to the inside of the building.

Jesus is the open door through which all of humanity accesses God, including Buddha and Muhammad or Gandhi. We all go through the same door to access God and Him us. The same way the sun finds its way to the earth and earthlings, so Christ's redemptive love found its way to the whole of humanity and reconciled it (us) to God.

Just to push your "door" metaphor one step further, what if someone does pay attention to the door and says "Hey, this door is Jesus! I've read the Bible and I don't accept Jesus"?

I don't think that's possible. You can say, "I don't accept the door" no more than you can say "I don't accept the sun." You can put on sunscreen and wear shades, but the sun still shines on you. God is irresistible. If a person says, "I'm not going to accept this air," does that mean the air will disappear? How can you not accept air?

Jesus came to redeem mankind back to God. He did that without your vote or permission. This is a fixed fight and a fixed Light.

The gospel agrees with humanity whether humanity agrees with it or not. The good news of the gospels is not so much that you accept Christ, but that Christ accepts you. Jesus said, "You did not choose me, I chose you." When it comes to eternal matters and life, it's not as much about our personal decisions and choices, as we had little to nothing to do with coming here in the first place.

People are fickle. People talk about free moral agency, but the Bible nowhere actually says or shows that we are free moral agents, that we get to make all the most important choices.

Yet many religions maintain that we are free moral agents--that we do have choices that have consequences.

Within our earthly experience, there are negative consequences to wrong choices. But when it comes to eternity, we can't make decisions because they were made before we existed. Scripture says Jesus is the "Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world" (Rev.13:8). There are certain decisions we make in this dimension that have both immediate and long-term consequences. But we are too finite to have a part in the eternal decisions.

Remember God said in Genesis, "Let us make man." That decision was a consensus made without our participation, at least as far as we know.

Let's take an extreme case: What happens to an unrepentant child molester when he dies?

The Bible says, "Every knee will ultimately bow and every tongue will confess in heaven and earth and even under the earth" [the Lordship of Christ] (Philippians 2:9-10). Even in the afterlife some will get the revelation of Jesus and be inspired by the Holy Spirit to confess His Lordship.

Child molestation is deplorable and inexcusable, but not unpardonable. The child molester is being controlled at that time by a spirit over which he evidently has no control. Child molesters don't want to be child molesters-they don't know how not to be. We try to help them, but we can only do so much. People who murder, commit suicide, abuse drugs, and commit any number of other shameful and deviant acts, are somehow consumed by the evil energies our rebellion releases upon the earth. Without Christ, they are helpless. People need help and Truth. This is why preaching an accurate Gospel is so important. People are only as free as the truth they know. People who get cancer don't get it on purpose, even though some of them live lifestyles that make them more susceptible to it.

Even if they smoke cigarettes, they're not always convinced that what they're doing is lethally destructive, or they don't care, which is a form of mental illness. Even someone as ruthless and despised as Hitler is a victim of evil energy, which rebellion and perversity generate on the planet. As horrendously inexcusable as he was, Hitler couldn't be Hitler on his own. He had to have permission to do what he did. He is not more powerful than God or good will. A God who can have Himself, in effect, birthed by a virgin can stop a Hitler or have him stillborn. But for whatever reason, He didn't. He can stop the devil but for whatever reason, He hasn't.

God gave permission for Hitler to do what he did?

He may not have commissioned Hitler, but he evidently permissioned Hitler, or he would have stopped him. Why did he allow Hitler to do what he did? In my estimation Hitler's acts are absolutely unforgivable. However, God is responsible for that kind of deviance, and he uses other human beings to counteract and/or prohibit such things. God is ultimately responsible for the devil because He created him. He's got to fix all such aberrations Himself, and Christ is His ultimate answer to such questions and speculations.

I make allowances for God. There's something about evil that we don't understand. It seems so horrible to us in this consciousness. But God must have known, and does know why and how it exists so seemingly unimpeded. There must be something beyond what those precious people endured that is greater than their horror.

I've had to think through this as an African-American. My ancestors were snatched from their homeland, beaten, subjugated to such horror for so many hundreds of years--and there are still many residual remains. But I'm no longer angry at God, and I'm not even angry at white people any more. I don't give anyone that much control over me.

You seem to be saying that even if we act in a Christlike manner we'll have the same eternal life as the child molester. Some Christians might say, "What's the point of believing in Jesus, going to church, and giving to the poor if we're all going to end up in the same place?"

Being kind on earth makes earth kind. If we would all do that, it would be a peaceful planet. Our behavior here affects our planetary experiences. It doesn't necessarily affect the eternals, because that's where perfection is.

So in the "faith vs. works" debate, you say we don't really have to do either.

Yes. Why we should be good is because Jesus wants his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The award of heaven is to all the redeemed. The rewards of heaven are what we receive based upon how we live here on earth.

When you say Jesus is the answer, you obviously mean something much more broad than many Christians do.

[God is] so inclusive, it's hard to believe. He put the versions of Himself back together in Christ. There's a version of God that's Hindu. There's a version of God that's Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha'i. It's so beautiful. Christians are hung up on "You need to believe in Jesus." Christians forget that it's not about somebody believing in Christianity, it's about Christ believing in humanity. He created humanity and understands the diversity of humanity. He accepts us as we are. There's a difference between being Christlike and simply liking Christ. Everyone likes a Messiah. Everyone wants one. Everyone thinks in one way they have one, whether it's Buddha or Muhammad or Jesus. But to be Christlike, the likeness of Christ, His spirit, His goodness-that's what we've gotten away from. What are your views about conversion and proselytism?

My objective is not to convert but to convince. If you convince people they're absolutely and unconditionally loved, that will alter their behaviors. Christians have tried to convert people based on "If you don't convert, there is a customized torture chamber called hell that this God of love will send you to." That I'd like to correct. You can't tell me God says to love my enemies and love those who hate me--but the same God says he'll smite people who offend or don't love Him. So is anyone going to hell?

Hell is a place you go through, not to. We all go through hell. There are people that are so tormented right now-a hell that we created for them or that they created for themselves and they can't imagine a worse experience.

We've created this monster called the devil that lords it over this eternal torture chamber. None of that is scriptural, if you really study the Bible thoroughly. If Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, then hell is irrelevant as a punitive thing. It can only be a corrective thing. The punishment for sin has been paid by Jesus. We've been exonerated.



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