NBC ponders Hell

Did anyone else see this episode of Dateline on Sunday? It was an interesting look at pastor named Carlton Pearson who had built up quite an impressive pentecostal ministry with the help of Oral “900 Ft. Jesus” Roberts. While riding high with a wildly succesful ministry in Tulsa, he came to a different understanding of Hell and then proceeded to watch his ministry dwindle to next to nothing.

Pearson claims to have had a revelation of sorts that lead him to believe that hell is not a place we go after we die, but that hell is a part of our life now. In the end, Pearson began to teach that everyone would be redeemed after death and that the widely accepted view of hell that christians have held on to is not an accurate portrayal.

While watching this piece, I was really impressed with Pearson and his story and I related well with much of what he shared. Regardless of his views, it took a great deal of courage for him to push forward toward where he felt God was calling him, even though that meant loosing his ministry he worked so hard to build up. In that regard, it was a very inspiring story. Plus, the story has a little Ted Haggard action in it as well! It was fun for everyone, regardless of what views of hell you share! Gotta love Ted.

Hell is such an interesting subject. I’ve was taught as a child that it’s a real place you go to after you die when you’ve failed to accept God “into your heart” and it’s a lake of fire and that it’s really hot. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that belief impossible for me to hold on to. If my failures as a human being require a seperation from God after I die, then the fact that some have to throw in hot flames to boot seems to undermine the agony of simply fully knowing you’ve failed to honor the one who has created all things.

I really enjoyed Brian Mclaren’s book “The Last Word and the Word After That” in which he discusses the issues of hell and judgement. In one section of the book he highlights the idea that the New Testament pharisees used the idea of a literal hell as a device of control and fear as they propagated their Jewish purity system (a system Jesus came to dismantle). I can certainly see a parallell between the pharisees of the New Testament and the Ted Haggard’s of today. If hell isn’t a literal scary place of fire and pitchforks where people might go if they die, then the transactional gospel so many evangelicals offer up is rendered totally useless.


15 thoughts on “NBC ponders Hell

  1. I learned that you don’t mess with some folks’ doctrine of hell. About 20 years ago I was told to step down as a Sunday School teacher after I told the pastor my personal views on the doctrine of hell. My opinion (which was still somewhat in development) had nothing at all to do with my ministry in that congregation–I never taught on the subject; it’s hardly an appropriate topic for third graders–but that didn’t matter. The fact that my views didn’t mesh with his was enough to make me anathema.

    Not long after that, for reasons not really related to this event, I became a United Methodist–a much better fit. Methodists actually began emerging long before anyone else, they just never were any good at PR.

  2. that was an awesome story. thanks for posting it. it is definetely sad to see how christians have reacted and then seperated themselves from pearson.

    after watching the video of spoong, i can see why so many people think that mclaren is a heretic. to them he sounds like spong. i too loved the last word and the word after that. it opened my eyes to new ideas about our interpretations of hell.

  3. I agree that–like Heaven–Hell is often discussed as a present reality (see healingmalchus.blogspot.com/2005/08/hell-as-present-condition.html). But it’s also identified as a future state as well.

    I think anyone with a good heart will long for Hell not to exist. It is not as though eternal torment is something we would wish on even our greatest enemies. However, it is very difficult to eliminate Hell from our theology, for Jesus, in non-metaphorical language, is quite clear that such a place as Hell exists.

    CS Lewis rightly said, when the belief in heaven becomes anything more that unity with God, or the belief in hell seperation from Him, both become superstitions. Much of our personal revoltion come at the images used for hell (fire and the like), but we ought to consider the core of what hell is: it is seperation, and that seems to square with much of the weighty matters considered in the New Testament: sin, personal holiness, full dedication to Jesus.

    See also healingmalchus.blogspot.com/2006/08/sample-chapter.html
    for a bit more on Hell as used by Christ regarding Rage and Lust.

    Much love all,

  4. Jeff, thanks for the comment. I would totally agree with CS Lewis’ position. I’m not saying that the idea of hell (or separation from God) doesn’t exist, but I’m simply calling into question the generally accepted concept of hell that so many seem to be propagating for the purposes of control and fear.

  5. I didn’t get to see the whole special. I just saw that one segment your refering to. I agree that we paint our own picture about hell. I mean we haven’t ever been there so we have to go off of what we do know about it. I guess some people interpret it differently.
    But even with that said I dont’ see why this guy would be credited for a novel idea. He said we need to become more human. Thats a load of stink. Dying to self, anyone remember that?

  6. Randy, I don’t think “becoming more human” and “dying to self” are mutually exclusive. We, human beings, are created in the image of God, then for us to be fully human means for us to journey back to the Garden of Genesis. Adam and Eve were fully human, created in the image of the Creator. To suggest we strive for that is not saying we need to embrace our selfish motivations, but to shun them in order to get back to who God created us to be.

  7. I agree with what people are saying. A lot of people think of heaven and hell as places we go, but this is a very material understanding, and probably the only way for some to grasp it. Like Lewis’ idea, it seems more reasonable to think of it as a state of unity or being, but not a physical place. In a way, it’s similar to the idea of “nirvana.” but then again, most religions mirror others.

  8. by the way, i can’t tell if that comment about ted haggard was sarcasim or not. i’m gonna go with i think it was.

    rob is right on about perelandra too.

  9. I get squemish talking about hell because I don’t ever want to come across as if I can ever know with any certainty that someone is going there.

    I don’t think that you can deny that Jesus himself spoke of hell in the literal sense.

    But I get real uptight when I hear a guy like haggard say that he knows who is going to hell.

    My reading of the Bible tells me that I don’t have the right to speak of, condemn, or judge anyone to hell. I can say that the scripture says that we only gain access to heaven and to God through Jesus, but doesn’t Jesus get to decide who comes through him??

  10. I am repentive of the judgment and ridicule I might have had towards Pearson for being nothing more than a flashy TV evangelist.

    This man has been betrayed, publicly mocked, and left to die by his own “family” (just Google his name and see for yourself). Just for questioning what has been automatically (and forcefully at times) passed down in our faith heritage.

    Yet, he seems so clear and at peace for a ‘dead man’. Like Tim, I too (nearly) cried when his healing was intiiated by the washing hands of a ‘gay preacher’ and her community.

    I am encouraged by his story and his clear articulation of our inclusive and unconditional connection with God through Christ. Based on my resonance with his (new) conviction of “hell” and based on the track record of those now opposed to him and attacking him; I would say he is on right(er) path.

  11. Zach,
    “To suggest we strive for that is not saying we need to embrace our selfish motivations, but to shun them in order to get back to who God created us to be.”
    I agree except from a different perspective. Who God created us to be is not what we are(human). It is us living as Him. Our weaknesses are His strengths. I don’t think I could view that as needing to be more human. For this one The Bible is pretty specific. If I live it is for Christ because I die to self and if I die it is gain.

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