I have very mixed feelings about Bishop Pearson’s book. On the one hand, I am thrilled that Pearson recognises that Christ died for all and achieved salvation for all. He does appreciate the depths and breadth of divine love and the value of human beings to God. He has a strong view of God’s grace. There is much in the book that I would celebrate. He is most certainly a brother in Christ. I am certainly impressed by the courge with which he acted when he declared his views in the face of such opposition. He lost a lot but did not waver in his convictions. And he seems like a good person.
However, theologically the book is weak - both confused and confusing.
First, Pearson engages in several dubious argument strategies.
There is, for starters, some argument via false dilemmas. We are sometimes told that we must choose between x and y, that y is false so we must choose x. But in many of these instances either, (a) x and y are compatible and no choice need be made, or (b) x and y are not the only options so rejecting y is not a choice for x. An example: we are told that must choose between Religion which has rules and spirituality which is about union with God (p. 52). Really? Why must we choose? Can’t we have both?
Another dubious argument strategy is the caricaturing of the views of his opponents. For instance, he speaks of the preponderance of Christian leaders who espouse hatred, prejudice, terrorism, arrogance, ignorance and oppression (p. 51). He seems to think that if one believes that some will end up in Hell then one must think that God hates them and one will thus imitate God by hating them too (p. 121). But traditional theology simply does not have such implications (even if there may be some Christians who act that way).
Pearson also has a habit of reacting against the type of Christianity in which he grew up but then generalizing the critique to apply to all Pentecostalism, all evangelicalism and all Christianity. For one such as me, who has not lived in that particular Pentecostal stream, these critiques can often feel wide of the mark.
Finally, Pearson mounts regular attacks on ‘Religion’ (including institutional Christianity) but fails to see that he himself is subject to some of the same objections. For instance, ‘Religion’ is castigated for being intolerant and excluding what it sees as heretical views – but Pearson himself is doing exactly the same thing in this book and arguably falls foul of his own objections.
Second, there are points in the book where he moves outside of the bounds of orthodox Christian faith. For instance, his suggestion that as Trinitarians we Christians are polytheists and that it is only cultural chauvinism that stopped the Trinity being a quartet with God the Mother (p. 183). This reflects a very basic and disturbing misunderstand of the Christian view of God. Also his periodic (and fortunately inconsistent) flirtation with pantheism (e.g., p. 147) and his very unPentecostal proposal that the second coming be demythologized to refer to the arising of Christ-consciousness in people (p. 195). On all these matters Pearson has moved beyond the bounds of biblical and orthodox Christian faith. Fortunately none of these ideas has been properly integrated into his systematic theology. I would urge Pearson to reject them because he can still be true to his gospel of inclusion without them and they are genuinely unChristian ideas.
Third, an inadequate view of sin. In his understandable desire to shift the emphasis away from a Christianity obsessed with sin-consciousness Pearson ends up with a Christianity that seems to seek to convince people that they do not need to be concerned with sin (chapter 4). Pearson rightly sees humans as created fundamentally good and not as fundamentally evil. He rightly reacts against the judgmental attitudes that Christians can have towards those who fail but he is most uncomfortable about encouraging people to stop sinning lest it come across as judgmental. And that is a problem.
Fourth, one cannot move so fast from the claim that all are saved in Christ to the claim that all are saved. Christ represents humanity in his death and resurrection so in Christ all humanity is saved (rightly Pearson, p. 100). But from a NT perspective (and *pace *Pearson) not all humanity is in Christ. Currently humanity is divided into those some who participate in the salvation of humanity already achieved in Jesus and some who do not. Consequently showing that all people are saved in Christ does not show that all people currently experience salvation.
Pearson’s attempt to get away from evangelism as calling people to conversion is not simply contrary to the NT but also seems to me to be contrary to the logic of his own theology. If Pearson proclaims to people that they are already saved in Christ he is presumably inviting them to believe that this is indeed so (which would require them to hold a whole network of Christian beliefs) and to live in the light of that. If that is not conversion then what is? He might not be saying that if they fail to believe they will burn in Hell but he is surely inviting them to become Christians in order to enjoy the reality of their salvation through an awakened Christ-consciousness.
Sixth, traditional Christians are a people of the book – and evangelicals and Pentecostals especially. To persuade that audience to take the route of inclusion needs him to show how the Bible as a whole fits it and this Pearson signally fails to do. There is a regular ad hoc dipping in to biblical texts but no thorough look at the Bible. So by the end of the book one is still left asking the most basic of questions such as, “What about the biblical passages about Hell?” Pearson’s periodic comments on such passages for the most part fail to convince. Indeed, it is not always clear whether Pearson sees himself as offering a correct interpretation of the Bible or demoting the message of the Bible in favor of his ‘new message from God’ (e.g., the book of Revelation is written off because its author was stressed out by persecution). Pentecostals would be open, in theory, to new light on Scripture but will simply not be able to embrace his willingness to dismiss inconvenient parts of the Bible.
So in all honesty, much as I would dearly love to recommend his book I do not feel that I can.