This American Life: "heretics"

i just stumbled upon a program called "this American life."
it is a weekly show offered by Chicago Pubic Radio and available via Podcast.
this past week [my first listen] there was a story of a prominent Pentecostal Pastor named Carlton Pearson who was recently booted from his high position in conservative Christianity and deemed a heretic....


another pastoral scandal. Pearson recently discovered he does not believe in hell. he explains that God came to him on a trip overseas and told him that hell as he preached it does not exist. there is no fiery place "down there" where bad people go when they die. you have to listen to the program.

from this epiphany of sorts, his stance on evangelism has changed drastically, to say the least. he was ousted from his place of prominence, lost his church, his support, and finds himself black-balled by the Christian elite of America. because he doesn't believe in hell, he is shunned...shun on.

what do we do about this? what, after all, does Christ say about Hell? there are numerous references in Scripture about Hell, or the place for the wicked. observations. in speaking about the reality of Hell, Jesus is usually talking to "religious folk" and not unbelievers. he does not use Hell as a scare tactic or tool for manipulation. Jesus doesn't scare people out of hell. instead, he talks to you and me. he tells us know-it-all religious folk to watch out. also, Jesus tells story about being invited into the Kingdom banquet based on readiness. what is readiness? did you feed me when i was hungry[matt 25]? did you pay attention to the begger at your gate [Lazarus and the rich man]? did you obey my commands? did you love your enemies? etc.

what makes a heretic? someone who claims to follow Christ, yet fails to obey his teachings and tell others about him. telling others about Christ is about inviting them into the Kingdom. it is more about inviting than it is warning. to be sure, Christ offers warnings. Christ says to be prepared. be ready.

i'm interested in your opinions:
1) is it our job primarily to warn about hell, or invite into the Kingdom? is there a difference?
2) if Hell doesn't exist, what changes about how we present/live the Christian faith?
3) is Pearson a heretic? what makes a heretic?

1 comment:

Ingrid said...

1) WWJD? :) In all seriousness though, you can't have one without the other. Christ practiced Kingdom life and invited people into it. He also warned about judgment, which is exclusion from the Kingdom based on (as you so beautifully put it) one's readiness to accept the invitation.

2) Hell exists--I believe it's a spiritual state more than a place-- but we don't need God to send us there; we're perfectly capable of creating it ourselves by making decisions without him, which is its own punishment. Isn't that the essence of the Fall?

3) Yes. Though that might be a good thing. Heresy simply means thinking for oneself. :) Who gets condemned for heresy and who gets sainted for it depends on who is writing history at the time. It's much more about power relationships and PR than about theology. (BTW, I wrote a 15-page Christian Heritage paper on heresy.) WWJD? Get executed for heresy against both the Roman Emperor Cult and the Jews' notion of what a Messiah should be. "My kingdom is not of this world . . ."