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Monday, July 23, 2007

The Gospel of Inclusion by Carlton Pearson

I've been taking a look at The Gospel of Inclusion, Carlton Pearson's book about the changes that have come about in his Theology in the past few years (see this Christdot item and the comments for more details). I did not expect to be swayed to his way of thinking, but I always try to look at everything with an open mind. Sometimes, even in things that are far more off-base than Carlton's book is, there is a glimmer of truth. I was looking for that, and I think there is a glimmer there... but more than that, there is confusion and misrepresentation both of the Bible and what it teaches, and in what others believe about it.

I was shocked to read this sentence right no page 7: "The so-called word of God, referred to as the Bible, is less the true logos (Greek for 'meaningful thought') of God but rather the word of man about God, as man perceives Him or Deity." Seems like maybe that's where he and I begin to part ways. That sentence gets us started on the familiar, slippery slope of relativism. If there is no definitive record of God's intentions for His creation, then most of the Bible was "made up" by Paul, Moses, David, and whoever, and I am as free to make up something about God as they were. I get the impression that Carlton does not include the recorded words of Jesus Himself in this, but he never clearly says if he thinks the words recorded as coming from Jesus' mouth can be considered the words of God or not.

Carlton apparently began his journey into inclusivism while watching the TV news. He saw images of people suffering and dying in some remote corner of the world, and cried out to God that it wasn't fair that God was sending those people to Hell and that Carlton was not able to go "save" them. He says God told him that He had already saved them, and that that wasn't Carlton's job. The crazy thing is that this is absolutely TRUE. God has already done all He is going to do to bring Salvation to the world (the work fo Christ on the Cross); there is nothing you or I can do to bring it to anyone but ourselves. But Carlton makes the faulty jump of logic that if the work is done, then everyone is already "saved." The fact is that there is nothing we can do to "earn" our Salvation, and in fact even the one thing we need to have in order to be saved is faith that comes directly from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), but we do have to "accept" our salvation for it to go into effect.

What Carlton is forgetting is that God has given us a free will. God does not force anyone to accept the sacrifice of Christ and obtain Salvation. However, Carlton is right that it is available to everyone.

I have a friend who believes that each individual has a choice presented to them at the point of death... they can choose God at that point, or they can choose to reject God. He bases this idea on a near-death experience that he once had himself. If that is the case, then even those starving, tormented people Carlton saw on his TV will have that chance to choose. And logically, evangelism could be seen as providing people exposure to a truth that will help them make an informed decision at that point, whether they actively embraced Christianity during their lifetime or not. I can't say that I know this for a fact, and in my own life I am seeking to live for God every day and I'm not waiting for a post-death-bed conversion, but that is one theory that could explain how people could be "without excuse" (Romans 1:20) for rejecting Jesus.

Carlton also seems to have some misconceptions about the place called Hell. Carlton seems to think that Christianity says that Hell was made for people, and that God sends them there. Maybe that's what some churches teach, but the Bible clearly states that Hell is a place that was made to contain Satan and his cohorts, but that people will indeed wind up there (Matthew 25:41-46), but it will be because of their own choices, not because of God's vengefulness.

I got a feeling while reading the book that Carlton has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. He has rejected some of the excesses and errors he has seen in the Christian Church's attitudes, and has substituted his own excesses and errors. Jus because Salvation has been made available to all, does not mean that all will accept it. Just because people wind up in Hell does not mean that God wants them there. And just because some Christians believe things that are off base does not mean that everything they believe is off base.

I look at the picture of Carlton on the cover of the book... I look at his eyes... and they don't look particularly peaceful to me. They are partly closed, and one eyebrow is in an almost sardonic arch. His smile turns down at the corners. I realize that ofthen photos capture things in a way that misrepresents them (the other day a friend showed me a picture of a little girl giving her mommy a pretty evil-looking, red-eye look for playing with someone else's new baby!) but for something like the cover of a book, you would expect the publisher and author to choose the picture that they feel best represents the author. I very much believe that you can tell something about an individual by looking at his eyes, but I hope what I perceive in Carlton's eyes is not what is really there. Maybe he was tired from finishing up the book. Maybe I'm seeing the stress of getting rejected for your honest beliefs. I do firmly believe that Carlton himself will go to Heaven, but I also believe that he is bringing confusion to a subject that should be clarified, not muddied. I hope that Carlton is able to find the peaceful place to live in that God wants for him (and each of us).

Jesus completed Salvation on the Cross. YES. Salvation is available to all. YES. Yes, even you on the back row. Everyone is already "saved"? In one sense, sorta. God considers the Salvation of all purchased and completed. But Salvation MUST BE ACCEPTED by faith. If Salvation is rejected when offered, that person has damned himself to Hell. God doesn't want us in Hell; God wants to bring us life. However, if we choose death over life and cursing over blessing, God will not go against our free will.

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