This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 4 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Carlton Pearson grew up in San Diego, California, as a member of the conservative Church of God in Christ, the world’s largest Black Pentecostal denomination.1He was eventually ordained in the Church of God in Christ. He also attended Oral Roberts University, but failed to graduate.2
In 1981 Pearson founded Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with an initial membership of 75 members.3 The Center quickly grew to more than 5,000. In 1988 he started the popular Azusa Conferences at Oral Roberts University, attracting 20,000 or more participants every year,4 and for many years he was a regular on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. In 1995 he was made a bishop by the International Communion of Charismatic Churches.5
Pearson’s slide into heresy began in childhood when he formed the faulty view that God is out to get us if we aren’t good. “So we had all that mentality, be good, be godly, be right, be holy….Or else you go to hell.”6 It particularly bothered him that his grandparents, also preachers, became involved in drinking and adultery before their deaths. In his view at the time, they were probably in hell. Pearson says, “I was resentful of God. See, if you fear God the way we’re taught to fear him, you’ll serve him, you’ll believe in him, you’ll worship him, but you probably will never really love him.”7
Despite his reservations, for many years Pearson taught the orthodox view of salvation. The turning point in his preaching came in the mid‐1990s while he was at home watching the evening news. He related his experience on National Public Radio in 2005: “The Hutus and Tutsis were returning from Rwanda to Uganda…I was watching these little kids with swollen bellies and it looks like their skin is stretched across their little skeletal remains, their hair is kind of red from malnutrition….I said ‘God, I don’t know how you could call Yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and just suck them right into hell.’”8
According to Pearson, an inner voice that he believed to be God, asked him why, if that was his belief, he wasn’t there in Africa preaching to them. When Pearson responded that he couldn’t save the whole world, God replied, “Precisely. You can’t save this world. That’s what we did. You think we’re sucking them into hell? Can’t you see they’re already there? That’s hell.”9
The repercussions of his new theology were devastating to his ministry. Attendance at Higher Dimensions dropped to a few hundred. His beliefs were denounced by Oral Roberts and T. D. Jakes, and the Azusa Conference soon died. The 2004 Congress of the Cleveland‐based Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops declared that he was guilty of the heresy of inclusionism.10 Finally, an inability to pay the mortgage resulted in the loss of his church in 2006.
Pearson, however, was not without his sympathizers during these years. A gay‐friendly church in San Francisco invited him to speak, and in 2005 Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa allowed him to hold services rent‐free. On November 11, 2006, Carlton Pearson and his senior associate pastor Jesse Williams were ordained as ministers in the liberal United Church of Christ, and Pearson’s church was renamed New Dimensions Church.11
Pearson does not deny the existence of hell, but relegates it to a form of purgatory. He writes, “If, in fact, Jesus nailed the law (with us) to the cross as recorded in the Colossian passage, then the punishment for sin has been assumed by Jesus; thus making hell or any further punitive action irrelevant, except perhaps for its curative value. Except for some form of corrective significance of purgation (purging) as inferred
by some of the early church fathers, the way I see it, hell will have no significance in the ultimate finality of God’s plan for a peace prevailing eternity where every knee bows and every tongue confesses the Lordship of Christ.”12
He even maintains that, based on Philippians 2:10–11, Satan himself may one day end up in heaven: “It is completely reasonable and theologically feasible that Satan and his minions would be included in those ultimately confessing the Lordship of Christ. Scripture says they (the demonic) already believe and tremble.”13
Pearson admits that eternal punishment is taught in Scripture:
I can take that Bible and denounce what I’m teaching. There is plenty of Scriptures that say that salvation is limited to only those who trust Christ. The Bible clearly says that….If you take it literally, Jesus preached hell, the way the King James translators translated it, which is inaccurate…. The average person, even preacher, that you approach and ask “Where did we get the Bible?”, most of them can’t tell you that. Men sat around tables in rooms for weeks drinking wine, eating and taking breaks, fussing and sometimes cussing, arguing over what would be in the Bible and what would not. I won’t get into great detail but I’m just saying that which we revere as the most sacred lexicon of truth on the planet is not necessarily—and any true scholar will tell you—infallible or inerrant….I am saying what we were taught was wrong. We’ve been sold a bill of goods. I’m assaulting 1,500 years of tradition.14
New Dimensions is now gaining a new following. In May 2007 it held what it termed its “Sacred Activism and the Power of Inclusion Conference,” consisting of speakers such as environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., New Age proponent Caroline Myss, and Buddhist teacher Jacqueline Roemer.15 — Bob Hunter
- Selwyn Crawford, “Preacher Has a New Message, Is Ready for a New Audience,” The Dallas Morning News, February 19, 2000, 1G.
- Selwyn Crawford, “The Fall and Rise of Carlton Pearson,” The Dallas Morning News, March 4, 2006, 1H.
- Crawford, “Preacher Has a New Message.”
- Russell Cobb, “Heretics,” This American Life, National Public Radio, December 16, 2005,
- Carlton Pearson, to Keith Morrison, “To Hell and Back,” Dateline, NBC, August 13, 2006,
- Russell Cobb, “Heretics.”
- Julia Duin, “’Inclusionism’ Deemed Heresy, Black Bishops Eject Proponent,” Washington Times, April 21, 2004, A02,
- Bill Sherman, “Pearson Joins United Church of Christ,” Tulsa World, November 18, 2006, A10.
- Carlton Pearson, “Gospel of Inlcusion [sic],” New Dimensions Worship Center, New Dimensions,
- Gwen Gomes, “Did God Really Make a Mistake Sending Satan to Hell, or in Creating Him in The First Place? Oklahoma
Bishop Challenges Traditional Views of Christianity,” PR Newswire, May 21, 2003.
- Russell Cobb, “Heretics.”
- Sacred Activism Conference,” New Dimensions website, https://www.wisdomuniversity.org/ sacred‐activism‐html.