Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Carlton Pearson, Universalism, and the Denial of Sin

Life is endlessly challenging and also painful. How then do we make life livable? A popular solution is “self-love.” Universalist and former mega-church success-story, Carlton Pearson, claims that self-love has to be based on a god who is all-loving – one who would never un-love anyone:

  • We are all sexual, sensual, social and spiritual beings. Finding our way through the long distance soul journey is an art, science and grace most struggle with all their lives. Sin consciousness, something Jesus never taught or encouraged, both prohibits and prevents self-love, something we must learn and re-learn to do, especially when we're brought up in a kind of "hate yourself" religious climate as many were and continue to be, whether, Christian, Jewish or Islamic.

Many Christians would have no idea what Pearson is talking about - “hate yourself religious climate.” Instead, we have found in Christ’s love and forgiveness the ultimate answer to self-contempt, assured that if He accepts us, we can begin to accept ourselves.

Instead, Pearson seems to think that once we become conscious of the enormity of our sin, we will automatically hate ourselves. Although this is a possibility when we fail to grasp the cross – the boundless extent of His love and forgiveness – denying sin consciousness is like denying physical infirmity consciousness. Instead, it’s important to know when we are sick so that we can do something about it. If the doctor tells me that I need cancer surgery, I would be foolish to deny it. Something worse would likely happen.

It’s also important that we have a conscience to tell us when we have sinned and hurt others. Maturity is a matter of owning our sin and confessing it. However, if we refuse to be conscious of our sins, they will merely fester as an untreated cancer, and our relationships will deteriorate.

I thank God for my sin consciousness and so does my wife. When I become impatient with my wife, I tell her that I am sorry and try to make it up to her. The effect is healing.

Pearson seems to be in denial about this very significant part of life and even the teachings of Jesus, claiming that “Sin consciousness [is] something Jesus never taught or encouraged.” This assertion is flagrantly off-base, as these few teachings from the Sermon on the Mount illustrate:

  • “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:20-22)
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Mat. 5:27-30)
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Mat. 7:21-23)

All of this makes me wonder whether our endless quest for self-love is merely the self-centered perversion of our me-generation. Achieving self-love is certainly nothing that comes naturally, as even Pearson seems to admit: “Finding our way through the long distance soul journey is an art, science and grace most struggle with all their lives.”

Perhaps this generation has encountered so many problems in trying to achieve self-love because it is not attainable through Pearson’s “art, science.” Perhaps instead, it’s a gift that comes from Christ, as Jesus suggested:

  • To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

However, this gift of freedom does not come by denying sin but rather by confessing and turning from it, as so many millions have discovered. It comes from humbling ourselves to acknowledge our ugliness, only to find that we have been exalted in the process (Luke 18:14). I too have found great freedom in committing all of my sins, inadequacies, and failures to my Savior, who gladly receives them, shouldering my heavy burdens (Mat. 11:28-30).

In contrast, Pearson claims:

  • Sin consciousness is something with which most hyper-religious people seem to be severely "afflicted" and must be treated as if it’s a life threatening disease. It causes more anxiety, fear and delusional thinking than most clinically diagnosed mental illnesses do.

Instead, it is the denied and untreated “disease” of sin that causes the “anxiety, fear and delusional thinking.” I know, because I spent years of my life talking to psychologists, all of whom told me that I was a good person and should love myself. However, we are not constructed in a way that we profit through false positive affirmations but through confronting the truth about ourselves – God’s truth.

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