Today Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz will appear in court for beating to death their 7-year-old adopted daughter Lydia. Autopsy reports indicate that she died of rhabdomylosis — a rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle due to injury to muscle tissue. All of this is consistent with the parenting practices the Schatzes followed from Amish-ish fundamentalist preacher and author, Michael Pearl.
Quite simply, Michael Pearl is not just a nut or a monster or a narcissist. He is a heretic. When in 2006 his advice pushed 4-year-old Sean Paddock’s foster parents to smother him to death, I vowed to God that I would not keep silent any longer. In a small way, I thought, I would speak out in my own little slice of the world. Not about Pearl’s parenting advice per se, but about his theology. Because, as I said then, “If there’s anyone in Christendom who’s good at sniffing out heresy, it’s the fundamentalist.”
I was incorrect about that. Not about the heresy, but about the fundamentalist. But that’s another discussion.
I spoke out on an attention-getting fundamentalist forum, Sharper Iron, in 2006. I tell more of the story here, but that, too, is another discussion.
Today, however, I want to highlight what I said back then because in viewing it this morning — especially in light of Lydia’s death — I realize how right I was about the dangers of Pearl’s heresy.
I strategically attempted to soften my argumentative blow by settling for “soft heresy” or “semi-Pelagianism.” But Pearl’s ideas are full-blown Pelagianism. He’s worse than Charles Finney. Way, way worse.
My former fellow fundamentalists concluded I was cherry-picking. They worked hard to discredit me. “Appeal to motive” is the fallacy. C.S. Lewis would call it Bulverism. But I can admit it to myself now that I’m proud of what I said. And I’ll say it again. Only louder now.
Semi-Pelagianism is often the problem we fundies have with Charles Finney. Our criticism of him runs pretty deep and has always surprised me until I studied it further. And Pearl doesn’t get a pass, I would contend, ’cause he’s quaint.
It means, among many things, that we are good enough to achieve salvation alone. And it denies Original Sin. And it makes Augustine spin in his grave.
As for Pearl, I’ll quote him.
From his statement of faith:
In the eating of the tree, the willful and direct disobedience to God resulted in legal estrangement from God and precipitated the curse of death on Adam and all his descendants. All men are born under the curse and totally estranged from God. When a descendant of Adam reaches a level of moral understanding (sometime in his youth) he becomes fully, personally accountable to God and has sin imputed to him, resulting in the peril of eternal damnation. No man is capable of rectifying this state of estrangement from God. Apart from the free gift of God through the substitutionary work of Christ there is no hope of salvation.
When man reaches his state of moral accountability, and, by virtue of his personal transgression, becomes blameworthy, his only hope is a work of grace by God alone.
Sounds like Original Sin. But one of his recordings on Romans 1 and again on Romans 5, he expands on that and claims that the “death” that Adam gave to all of us was physical death alone. “Death passed upon all men, and that’s talking about one thing and one thing only – physical death. It says nothing about sinfulness passing upon all men.”
Okay. That’s kinda vague. Let’s move on. . . .
To Pearl, we are born like blank slates — neither good nor bad, neither with God or against Him:
When a baby comes into the world the baby is separated from God, without the presence of God, without the Spirit of God, without the divine life of God inside the baby. It is disadvantaged in that it does not have the resources of spirit that comes from God to overcome these bodily drives.
Need more? Okay. . . . From Pearl again:
When a descendant of Adam reaches a level of moral understanding (sometime in his youth) he becomes fully, personally accountable to God and has sin imputed to him, resulting in the peril of eternal damnation. No man is capable of rectifying this state of estrangement from God. Apart from the free gift of God through the substitutionary work of Christ there is no hope of salvation.
On Romans 7, Pearl explains Paul’s would-not-could-not passage:
In his experience historically, at one point he was alive, he was not dead in trespasses and sins. He was probably 3 years old, maybe 4.
Putting it all together, he believes that we aren’t born dead in sin, but that we’re in a neutral state. And that sometime in our “youth” we become sinful. From the statement of faith, he states that sin doesn’t come to an unbeliever until a certain age and, thus, he needs no justification until that age.
Still too arcane? Okay — try this on for size. From his article “Living Parallel Lives in the Same Space” (No Greater Joy, Jan-Feb 2005) he says:
These messages are not motivational teachings or principles for you to apply. They are the wonderful good news that Christ has done everything to free you from all sin, all the time, from this day forward, to sin no more.
… We should and can sin no more!
… I have been preaching and living this gospel of sanctification for many years. It is not a theory.”[emphasis mine]
That’s exactly what raises our fur about Finney — and it should! This is classic Semi-Pelagianism or so-called “soft” heresy.
Michael Pearl will appear on CBS’s The Early Show on Friday, March 19. Watch and pray.
UPDATE at 7:47pm, Thursday, March 18, 2010 — According to Michael’s Pearl’s Facebook group, “the interview is canceled.” The saga continues.