Friday, April 3, 2009

A Theology of Hell Versus The Gospel of Inclusion

I’m tired of all that talk about Hell. Talk of the old fiery place seems to get in the way of more pressing issues related to faith. Obligations like loving your neighbour and serving the downtrodden take a back seat to scaring people to the alter to give their lives to Jesus. I’m convinced that many Christians sign on the old dotted line to secure Hell Insurances versus a real commitment to the teachings of Christ.

My concerns with the fire and brimstone messages of the Church have led me to follow the work of Carlton Pearson.Pearson was a star among Pentecostal Christians. He was an advisor to President Bush, served as a guest host on the Trinity Broadcast Network, worked as a member of the Oral Roberts University board of trustees, and led a 6,000-member megachurch before his theological shift.

On September 7, 2009, Pearson preached his final sermon at New Dimensions. The church has been folded into All Souls Unitarian Church-the largest church in the Unitarian denomination. Before closing their doors, New Dimensions was billed as the friendliest, trendiest, most radically inclusive worship experience. Pearson tried to prove that hell doesn’t exist.

“I wanted a place where my people could find safe harbour,” Pearson told the Associated Press after closing the doors at New Dimensions. “They’re already outcasts in the evangelical-charismatic community.” They are outcast because they have embraced a “gospel of inclusion” that asserts all people will go to heaven. The rise and fall of Pearson brings to the forefront an intense theological debate that is deeply rooted in the need to delineate those who make it from those who don’t.

The “gospel of inclusion” is more about affirming God’s love and work in securing the salvation of the world, versus a concentration on the limits of those who find themselves ousted due to their works and thoughts. The “gospel of inclusion” seeks to love people to the kingdom rather than to scare them to the cross.

The debate on the validity of Pearson’s claims has far reaching impacts in reaching the outcast of the world. The theology of hell asserts an obligation on the part of the sinner to: (1) confess sin, (2) accept Christ and (3) change their ways as a measure of their faith. Hell becomes the place assigned those unwilling or incapable of abiding by the expectations of the Church.

That’s when things get s tricky and contentious. Hell theology grants the community of believers the right and power to determine who gets in and who is cast to eternal damnation. Faith is subverted by works. The traditional contention is that one is “saved by faith, not works”; however, works, in the theology of Hell, are used to determine faith.

The language of the Church becomes muddled in relating its position on Hell. The role of grace depends on the time in which it is used. Grace applies to those who have no relationship with God and come to Christ-by faith. Upon coming to Christ judgement settles in. It is works, not grace or faith, that assigns ones position in the kingdom.

All of this talk about Hell leaves me frustrated on the work that goes undone due to our obsession over the wrong message. For me, it doesn’t matter if hell exists. I don’t spend much time dealing with the furniture in heaven or the temperature in hell. What concerns me are matters related to life in the here and now. Things like the academic performance of youth. Things life the economic conditions that hinder so many around the globe and the existence of structures that oppress men and women. I worry about those who are left out due to the mean spirits of those who believe they are the holders of truth.

I’ve kept my eyes on the ministry of Carlton Pearson for other reasons. Like me, he stands outside the box. He took a risk. He stood for the validation of those who came seeking spiritual truth. He refused to cast them out, force them to be like others, and to keep them hiding due to the judgments of others.

New Dimensions had to close their doors. Is this the fate of those who refuse to think like other Christians? I Hope not.


  1. Well said, well said.

    Too many times those who claim to worship and follow Jesus, Mohammed, etc. are no more than the pharisees of old. Too caught up with making and enforcing their own secular decisions about God/Allah's will instead of following the spirit of their God's teachings, they get caught up in themselves. They love the power that seems to come from directing exclusions instead of advocating the inclusion that their religion demands.

  2. Well said. I was shocked a few months ago to read an article in a Christian advice column advising ministers how to delicately and lovingly "tiptoe" around the fact that Joe Blow is in hell during the funeral....

  3. Carl: I read the post about Hillside. I'll have to think about that one before I respond. This one, however, I can respond to right now.

    As an Athiest I don't have these sorts of concerns. In fact it was this kind of discussion that helped me realize that I was trying to fit unrealistic ideas into my head.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.


  4. Hell is God's righteous punishment for those who reject the free gift of salvation through Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. James explains how works and faith go hand in hand. Works don't bring salvation, but they are the evidence of one's faith in Christ. If you have faith in something you will act according to that faith. If you have faith in Jesus as the King of Kings than you will live according to His commands. 1 John says those who love God obey His commands. We all stumble in many ways, but those that live according to faith in Christ will go to the God of mercy and find grace and forgiveness. However, grace will always call us out of sin. The wages of sin is death. If we don't repent of our sin we can't share in God's forgiveness, and therefore won't be aloud into God's house. If we don't agree with God's ways and His rules we can't dwell in His house.

  5. ''Hell...versus real commitment to Jesus' teachings....''?

    I think you forgot to mention that Jesus was actually the first Person to introduce the revelation of Hell to its listeners. Hell = Jesus teachings. It seems as though you don't like the Jesus that is presented to you in the Bible and so you create your own jesus, a sweet and kind jesus. Because you believe in a sweet and kind jesus, you consider yourself to be a sweet and kind christian, especially in comparison to all those fire and brimstone christians. However, you are more of a hypocrite than those who just accept Jesus as He is. It all comes down to your love for the self, which is more important to you than the love of truth. You are looking for a jesus who takes you as you are, yet you don't not even consider the fact that you don't take Jesus as He is, whereas He is the Son of God and you are just a wicked sinner like the rest of us. Therefore, you are being deceived by your own proud heart and you need to repent before this gets out of hand. I've been there, got the t-shirt. May God bless you and give you a love for the truth.