Unraveling the Legacy of Carlton D. Pearson: A Deep Dive

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Carlton D’Metrius Pearson (March 19, 1953–November 19, 2023) is a name relatively unknown in reformed Baptist circles. However, his influence on me and countless others in Black Pentecostal circles is immense—numerous people, including T.D. Jakes, Myles Munroe, Joyce Meyer, Juanita Bynum, Donnie McClurkin, and names too numerous to list, can directly attribute their national notoriety in Pentecostal circles to the platform Carlton Pearson provided.

As I’ve previously mentioned in a post and interviews about my Pentecostal background, Pearson’s impact on me was profound. As a member of Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center (HDEC), Pearson’s church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I witnessed the captivating force of his charisma and the widespread impact it had.

Amidst the collective mourning of his recent passing, I am saddened, albeit for reasons different from those expressing their condolences today. The accurate measure of one’s legacy lies in the enduring impact of their work long after they are gone—a fact that holds particularly true for Pearson. His sermons, music, and writing will serve as a testament to his legacy.

Pearson’s universalist view, encapsulated in his gospel of inclusion, undermines the unique role of faith in Christ alone in obtaining salvation, as outlined in the Scriptures. Few have addressed it directly. Therefore, it is imperative to delve into and comprehend the lasting influence of Carlton Pearson’s work, particularly as it pertains to his gospel of inclusion.

The Man and his Ministry

Carlton Pearson comes from a long line of preachers. Born in 1953 and hailing from San Diego, California, Pearson would frequently recount tales of being called to preach at a tender age. Arriving in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the late 1970s and attending Oral Roberts University (ORU), Pearson captured the attention of Oral Roberts, who became a mentor and friend to Pearson. While at ORU, Pearson represented his school as a World Action Singer, appearing on various shows and platforms.

Pearson left ORU in 1981 to form Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center, Inc., a church that would eventually grow to 6,000 attendees. As an ordained minister in the Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C.), the largest black Pentecostal denomination in the United States, Pearson’s unique blend of black Pentecostalism and white Charismaticism shaped the diverse cultural fabric of Higher Dimensions.

When the depth of your theological understanding solely relies on the ideas found in the black gospel hits sung during the Azusa Conference, your ability to confront heresy will fail.

Pearson viewed himself as a bridge builder in many ways, connecting divides between two worlds—black and white, old and young, traditional and contemporary. As Pearson’s influence grew, he gained widespread acclaim as a highly sought-after speaker nationwide.

Pearson introduced the Azusa Conference in 1991, drawing inspiration from the Azusa Street Revival of 1906, igniting the Pentecostal movement in the United States. The conference took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at Oral Roberts University’s Mabee Center, which, over the years, has attracted tens of thousands of attendees from across the nation and around the globe.

The Pilgrimage to Tulsa

Like numerous people who traveled to Tulsa for the conference, I, too, experienced an undeniable allure to return, albeit driven by distinctly different circumstances. Upon leaving college due to financial constraints, I returned home to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a journey of self-discovery.

Engulfed in my own ethnic self-consciousness, I explored the biographies of historical black leaders. After reading Malcolm X’s autobiography and donning the ever-popular “X” hat (a necessity for a young black man in the early 1990s), I felt a void in the predominantly white environments I was immersed in. Seeking a church fitting a particular ethnic make-up, I found Higher Dimensions, which offered a diverse ethnic identity expressed in an entertaining Christian context.

Aware of Carlton Pearson and Higher Dimensions, I visited occasionally, and by 1990, I became a regular attendee. The appeal of Higher Dimensions, apart from being an ethnically diverse environment, was the fantastic music that drove the church experience. Upon entering the church’s parking lot, you could feel the energy radiating from the building. Arrive one minute late, and you could hear the music from outside, and you knew that finding a seat could prove a difficult task.

If you visited the church on any Sunday morning, you would likely hear one of the most popular gospel music artists—Daryl Coley, LaShun Pace, Karen Clark, or others who happened to stop by for a visit. If by chance you missed them, the church’s music pastor, Gary Oliver, still one of my favorites, along with any solo voice from the choir, was sure to shake the rafters of that church.

I fondly recall every word of the songs sung at Higher Dimensions. The melodies still resonate vividly in my memory, evoking a sense of nostalgia. Yet, I find it challenging to recall a sermon that exemplified sound Biblical hermeneutics and left a lasting impression. However, I do remember the false teachings of Dr. Myles Munroe, who, long before the Black Lives Matter movement, suggested that black people held a unique position in the body of Christ. According to Munroe, unlike any other ethnic minority, black people served as the “eyes of the church” within the body of Christ.

The Church and Pearson’s Radical Shift

Those who experienced the ministry’s heyday will vividly recall the music when asked about their time at Higher Dimensions Evangelistic Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And for those who were there toward the end, they’d share memories of Carlton Pearson’s shift towards what he later termed “The Gospel of Inclusion.”

Pearson’s transformative journey toward this new gospel didn’t happen overnight. It unfolded gradually, scattered throughout numerous sermons, often overlooked by the people amidst widespread biblical illiteracy—a truth I only realized years later, recognizing my own deficiency.

The Christ that Pearson promoted is a false Christ, and his gospel of inclusion is a false gospel. In the end, it will not bring salvation.

For some, parting ways with Pearson occurred only after his fully formed and false theological ideas were openly expressed. However, despite the fact that these ideas did not line up with Scripture, Pearson’s charismatic appeal persisted, mesmerizing many. While some remained captivated by his charismatic persona, others longed for a change in direction. It would finally be their commitment to Scriptural principles that prevented them from embracing Pearson’s denial of the existence of hell. Consequently, they ultimately chose to go their separate ways.

The slow departure of the more than 6,000 regular attendees of Higher Dimensions would eventually take its financial toll and force the church’s closure. This story has been captured accurately through the Netflix movie Come Sunday.

The Gospel of Inclusion

Witnessing Pearson’s remarkable descent was disheartening, as was seeing the media recount the narrative. The portrayal of Pearson as a victim, even though he was responsible for his altered course, shouldn’t have been surprising. Yet, the media’s reasons for displaying such profound empathy were soon apparent. Pearson’s message of inclusivity extended to embracing members of the LGBTQIA community as saints long before it became popular to do so.

Long before the idea of embracing an unorthodox view of human sexuality, Pearson’s theological gymnastics began as he wrestled with the doctrine of Hell. In his book God is Not a Christian, Pearson writes, “Hell was never God’s intention. It is man’s invention. It is a human-manufactured religious icon, no less idolatrous than deifying a statue.”1

Pearson continues,

“To this day, this emotionally infantile God remains in power, a fear-based aberration produced by fevered imaginations, promoted by those who understand how such a deity can be used to gain and consolidate power over believers, and protected by flocks of billions who refuse to question their damning God for fear of their own damnation… But I argue that it is precisely this image of God—an infantile, simplistic, ridiculous notion of the sublime power that underlies the world—that is destroying civil religion, fueling the rage of the ‘angry atheist’ movement, and pitting science against the spiritual at a time when we should be using every tool within reach to discover what it means to be human—and divinely human at that.”

Pearson, C. (2010). God is not a Christian, nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu. . .: God Dwells with Us, in Us, Around Us, as Us. Atria Books.

Later in the evolution of his message, Pearson expressed his belief that the divinity within humanity would ultimately evolve to a form of religious consciousness, allowing the god in each of us to be fully restored. This idea would become the central focus of his later years. Pearson writes,

“People who hear the call to conscience follow what they know inwardly—what they know in consciousness or at higher levels of awareness. I call this irresistible knowing. It is a form of divinely transcendent memory.”

Pearson, C. (2010). God is not a Christian, nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu. . .: God Dwells with Us, in Us, Around Us, as Us. Atria Books.

Although Pearson’s theological circles were not unfamiliar with the concept of humans as deities or “little gods,” this new formulation was more overt in its acceptance of new thought mystics such as Phineas Quimby. Most congregation members left Higher Dimensions Church, voting with their feet, even though many felt unprepared to confront their charismatic leader.

Confronting Heresy

Christian apologetics, a defense of the Christian faith, posed a significant challenge, particularly within the theologically Charismatic and Pentecostal circles in which Pearson found himself. Few were able to confront the heresy with a particular book, chapter, or verse from scripture; they knew something was wrong but often they weren’t sure of what it was. When the depth of your theological understanding solely relies on the ideas found in the black gospel hits sung during the Azusa Conference, your ability to confront heresy will fail.

However, confronting heresy did not prove challenging for the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops, who, in 2004, after listening to Pearson present his positions, declared, “We do hereby declare that the doctrine of inclusionism is an unorthodox teaching and shall be classified as a heresy by the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops Congress.”

The JCAAPB added this warning: “Because of our concern for the many people that could be influenced to adopt this heresy and put at risk the eternal destiny of their souls, we are compelled to declare Bishop Carlton Pearson a heretic.”

Many are reconsidering their position on these essential doctrines with Pearson’s passing. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that the majority of the doctrine concerning hell originates from the teaching of Jesus himself. Throughout scripture, we find repeated depictions and powerful language describing hell as an “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41), a place of “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12) where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus calls it the “hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22), an “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and a “place of torment” (Luke 16:23). In addition, Jesus explains that we are not to fear those who can kill the body, but we are to fear only the one who can “destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). These are but a sampling of the 149 verses of the Old and New Testaments that speak to the doctrine of hell. Do not be misled. Hell is an actual place, and the admonitions are indeed valid.

As for the inclusivity of the gospel, the gospel is for all who believe by faith in Christ alone. The idea that all are saved from God’s judgment apart from Christ is refuted by Jesus when he says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter writes, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The apostle Paul writes, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus himself said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

Let’s now address the passage Pearson mentioned in 1 John 2:2. Doesn’t it state that Christ, in fact, served as the propitiation for the entire world, appeasing God’s wrath? By allowing Scripture to speak through the entirety of Scripture, we can gain clarity on its meaning.

From the preceding verses, we understand that the only way to approach the Father is through Jesus Christ. Moreover, there is no other name by which men must be saved. During Peter’s inaugural sermon on the day of Pentecost, the people were deeply moved and asked, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter’s response was clear: “Repent and be baptized, each one of you, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37–38).

Shortly after the resurrection, Peter further explained that the benefits of salvation are accessed solely through repentance and faith in Christ for salvation. This truth remains unwavering.

One of the most well-known passages in Scripture states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Those promoting universal salvation often point to this verse as evidence that God intended salvation for all and that Christ’s sacrifice secured it for everyone. However, we must not overlook the significance of John 3:18, which states, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

By examining the Scriptures carefully, we discover that Christ’s sacrifice was the sufficient sacrifice for the entire world, but it is only through “confessing with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believing in our hearts that God raised him from the dead that we can be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Reflections on Pearson’s Legacy

I will forever be grateful for the incredible way God used Higher “D” (as we affectionately called it) in my life. Carlton Pearson’s leadership was truly unmatched and left a lasting impression on me. The memories of my personal interactions with Pearson are etched in my mind, and the friendships that began there continue to thrive to this day. But let me tell you, one of the most extraordinary things that happened at Higher “D” was the start of my relationship with my amazing wife, Tomeka. We crossed paths at Higher “D.” She was a student at Oral Roberts University, and it was there, at Higher “D,” that our love story began.

However, I couldn’t be more saddened by the end of the life of Carlton Pearson. I couldn’t be more concerned about those who follow his false gospel. My hope is that those who have committed themselves to Pearson’s false gospel of inclusion, should they read this blog, will repent of their sin and place their faith in the Christ of the Scriptures. The Christ that Pearson promoted is a false Christ, and his gospel of inclusion is a false gospel. In the end, it will not bring salvation. Embrace the Christ of the Scriptures and experience eternal life.

  1. Pearson, C. (2010). God is neither a Christian nor a Jew, Muslim, or Hindu. God dwells with us, in us, around us, and as us. Atria Books. ↩︎
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Virgil Walker

Vice President of Ministry Relations G3 Ministries

Virgil L. Walker is the Vice President of Ministry Relations for G3 Ministries, an author, and a conference speaker. He is the co-host of the Just Thinking Podcast and a contributor to Fearless with Jason Whitlock. Virgil has a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Virgil and his wife, Tomeka, have three children. Listen to his podcast here.