Carlton Pearson fell from one of the coveted peaks in evangelical Christianity a few years back — and it had nothing to do with inappropriate relationships usually associated with disgraced star preachers.
Before the fall, Bishop Pearson preached to a flock of about 5,000 in his Tulsa, Okla., church and a bunch more on television. A graduate of Oral Roberts University there, he served on the conservative Christian school’s board.
What stopped Pearson in his tracks was a change in his beliefs — a big change. Pearson concluded and started preaching that God’s grace is completely inclusive. That is, everyone is already saved by grace.
Reaction was predictably swift and strong. In 2003, a council of fellow African-American Pentecostal bishops officially condemned Pearson as “a heretic.”
Embracing “universalism” — the belief that everyone will experience God’s full acceptance in eternity — will get you kicked out of evangelical circles quicker than wearing a Hillary for President button or bad-mouthing fried chicken.
However, Bishop Pearson has not backed down or recanted his position. He now preaches to a much smaller crowd in Tulsa and is getting use to being a reprobate in the eyes of his former colleagues.
I bring no defense to Pearson’s case. However, one thought continually comes to mind whenever the issue of universal salvation is raised.
Dr. John Eddins, now retired in Pensacola, Fla., was a fabulous teacher at Southeastern Seminary when I was fortunate enough to pass through the Forest of Wake as the ‘70s turned into the ‘80s.
One day in our systematic theology class, Dr. Eddins was lecturing on universalism — a perspective he did not embrace or espouse. (I’m sure that surprises those who believe the tales of current Southern Baptist Convention powerbrokers that virtually all seminary professors during this time were unbelieving liberals.)
The Bible teaches that the decisions we make in this life impact the life to come, I recall Dr. Eddins stating. But then he asked one of those uncomfortable, but needed questions.
“However, if you got to the end of time and found out that God had decided to let everyone in — would it make you mad?”
Good question. Because both a sound theology and a loving attitude should be desired.