Monday, November 20, 2006

The Gospel of Inclusion

Amy just sent me a link to this program from This American Life on Rev. Carlton Pearson and his Gospel of Inclusion. Rev. Pearson, an Oral Roberts protege, had an inconvenient epiphany at the height of his career as a nationally known evangelical leader and megachurch pastor: God didn't make hell, we did.

He had envisioned God as an angry judge, casting all who were not saved into the fires of an eternal hell. He built his career, a career which even made him a frequent White House guest under both presidents Bush, and even president Clinton, on the foundation of hellfire and damnation. But as he watched the news one night, with his little daughter in his lap, he saw the devastation of Africa. He saw starving people dying of malnutrition before their AIDS could kill them. He saw babies crying out for milk from dried up breasts. And, as he saw their suffering, he saw the evil of a vision of God which says that if someone doesn't preach the Gospel as he understood it to these people, and if they don't accept it just as he believed it, they would be sucked straight from this hell to the next.

His denial of a literal hell led him to a figurative one, as the community which nurtured him in the faith denounced him and turned their backs on him. The force with which he - an evangelical darling - was rejected by that community reminded me a bit of my own story of what happens when hell is no longer used by a pastor to hold a spiritual community in check by fear.

But it also led him to a deeper faith, a deeper understanding of God, and ultimately, I think, a deeper, richer ministry. If you can carve an hour out of your busy day, do yourself a favor and listen to his story, a story of the liberating power of the Gospel of Inclusion.

You can find the website for Rev. Pearson's church here.


MadPriest said...

Excellent, and how are you feeling by the way? All better?

Sandalstraps said...

On the mend, anyway. Recovery is a long road, but at least I don't have anesthetic grogginess anymore! Thanks for asking.

PamBG said...

Well, that made me shed tears of both joy and sadness. It just goes to show that when one is open to the Spirit, the Spirit speaks. This is true Christianity, in my view. Praise the Lord! (I'd like to point out that many of the African Methodists I worshipped with in London would have agreed with his new view on the location and origin of hell.)

This said it all for me (apropos of the starving children in Rawanda and Uganda):

[God "said" to him:] "You can’t save this world. That’s what we did. You think we’re suckin’ em into hell? Can’t you see they’re already there? That’s hell. You keep creating and inventing that for yourselves. I’m taking them into my presence.”

And I thought, “Well, I’ll be. That’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Troy said...


I went back and read your altar call post; I admit I don't have the hour, at least today, to listen to the broadcast. But I few things:

people believe in a literal hell for a number of reasons, but high on the list (the same with condemnations of homosexuality) is how they read the Bible. And this is the question I would like to see answered. Does the NT teach a literal hell, or are we misreading Jewish imagery which depends on pre-NT Jewish imagery...the same way apocalyptic is misread by some who are waiting for the moon to turn to blood, the world to end, etc.

On the other hand, did Jesus in fact teach hell? And if so, was he speaking within the limitations of Jewish religion, his own religion, at the time? This is all desperately complex, but if those who believe in hell are going to be de-convinced, they need to be taught to read the NT, including the gospels, differently. It's where they get the idea. And in some ways their reading needs to be tolerated until we can prove their reading inappropriate because their reading depends on the plain sense of the text as a modern reads it. Jesus preaches both judgement and, in some form, hell. Rev. certainly teaches it, though again, both places do so using OT phrasing and imagery.

I, incidentally, have no idea. But I would surely like to know what to do with the references in the gospels.

Even if we believe hell exists, coming to God out of fear doesn't seem a lasting motivation. Fire and brimstone altar calls have their limitations, as does a Christian life lived out of fear! The latter was clearly never Jesus (or Paul's) intention.


Sandalstraps said...


A couple of ideas for now; I'll have to do more research to refresh my memory, especially concerning Jesus' teachings on hell.

Hell is not an orginially Hebrew idea. Neither is heaven. The oldest texts in the Tanakh assume that life ends with death. There are some reference to sheol, but they seem to be a metaphorical way of speaking of death, similar to the Greek Hades, but without such a complex mythology surrounding it.

As Hebrew thought mingled with Persian dualism, heaven and hell (the domains of Ahrha Mazda and Ahriman, though I've forgotten at this point which is the good god and which is the bad one!) creep in. They become most evident in the period that we Christians call the "intertestamental period," between the Tanakh and the New Testament. And they are clearly a part of the teachings of the earliest churches.

Jesus did speak of hell. That much is certain. But I'm going to have to go back and study the context of his statements concerning hell to see exactly what he taught about hell, and what role it played in his ministry. That may also shed some light on the question of whether he treats hell literally or figuratively.

I can say, whatever is meant by hell, that I agree with you that Jesus did not use hell to inspire fear as a moral enforcement mechanism. Jesus taught that God should be obeyed for the sake of obedience, not out of fear of punishment or desire for reward.