Did Pope Francis Read “Love Wins”?

PopeI am all sorts of confused today.  Regular visitors to this blog know that this isn’t a rare occurrence, but today  I’m taking my confusion and bewilderment to new uncharted heights that will surprise even them!  Last night I read the open letter recently put out by Pope Francis and published in an Italian newspaper (click HERE to read).  This is a direct translation of the letter, and as such it reads in a fairly clunky way, but the overall content of the letter is understood easily enough.  What isn’t understandable is why this letter sounds more like an excerpt from Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” than anything that might have come from the Roman Catholic church!

The letter as a whole should probably be looked over and discussed by someone in the discernment ministry (Mohler, Rosebrough… either of you got a few minutes?) but I think it might be worthwhile to pull a few lines out and take a look just to see the basics of what’s going on here:

Paragraph 13  –  “The Christian faith believes this: that Jesus is the Son of God who came to give his life to open to all the way of love. Because of this you are right, egregious Doctor Scalfari, when you see in the Incarnation of the Son of God the foundation of the Christian faith. Tertullian already wrote “caro cardo salutis,” the flesh (of Christ) is the foundation of salvation. Because the Incarnation, namely, the fact that the Son of God came in our flesh and shared our joys and sorrows, the victories and defeats of our existence, to the cry of the cross, living everything in love and fidelity to Abba, attests to the incredible love that God has for every man, the inestimable value that he gives him. Because of this, each one of us is called to make his own the look and the choice of love of Jesus, to enter into his way of being, of thinking and acting. This is the faith, with all the expressions that are described unfailingly in the encyclical.”

So we are each called to make a choice to imitate the love of Jesus and model His life?  In Scripture the call is when we are told (not asked) to repent and believe, putting all trust in Him and He will change us giving us a new heart so that we will follow and obey because we are now new creatures and we want to.  Isn’t saying the message is the call to imitate Christ and His love putting the results of salvation in place of the message of salvation?  Why was He on that Cross if this is all about imitating His love and life?  Isn’t this very similar to the message we hear from Rob Bell and the Emergent folks?  It’s similar to a lot of the messages coming from Purpose Driven protestant churches too, now that I think about it.

Paragraph 18 –  So I come to the three questions you put to me in the article of August 7. It seems to me that, in the first two, what is in your heart is to understand the attitude of the Church to those who don’t share faith in Jesus. First of all, you ask me if the God of Christians forgives one who doesn’t believe and doesn’t seek the faith. Premise that – and it’s the fundamental thing – the mercy of God has no limits if one turns to him with a sincere and contrite heart; the question for one who doesn’t believe in God lies in obeying one’s conscience. Sin, also for those who don’t have faith, exists when one goes against one’s conscience. To listen to and to obey it means, in fact, to decide in face of what is perceived as good or evil. And on this decision pivots the goodness or malice of our action.

So the forgiveness of sin is based on whether or not we do things that are against our conscience?  Really?  Again…what was Jesus doing on the Cross if mankind didn’t need a savior but instead just needed a moral teacher and someone to point out the importance of conscience?  Why were sacrifices offered in the Old Testament for sins that people weren’t even aware they committed (and so never offended their conscience)?  And why does the book of Judges end with a statement of condemnation pointing out that the people of Israel in those days “did whatever was right in their own eyes”?  Scripture tells us the hearts of men are deceitfully wicked and they delight to do evil, yet Pope Francis (and Rob Bell) would have us believe they are destined for the kingdom of God because sin doesn’t exist where the conscience does not protest!  This is one very small, blurry step away from universalism.  According to this, even Adolf Hitler is saved because he followed his beliefs and conscience!

Paragraph 19 – Now truth, according to the Christian faith, is the love of God for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is a relationship! So true is it that each one of us also takes up the truth and expresses it from him/herself: from his/her history and culture, from the situation in which he/she lives, etc. This doesn’t mean that truth is variable or subjective, quite the opposite. But is means that it is given to us always and only as a way and a life.

Truth is a relationship?  Pope Francis states clearly that it isn’t subjective, but the rest of the paragraph teaches that truth is a living, breathing thing not given in words but in the living out of a relationship unique to every individual.  Of course, what he’s really saying is that truth is subjective!  This reminds me of Rick Warren’s book where he opens the first chapter with the statement “It’s not about you” with the rest of the book teaching that it is indeed all about you.  Francis’ disclaimer about subjective truth makes no sense.  For the record, Scripture make it very clear…”Thy Word is truth” and that Word is written down for us.  I wonder if he’s ever read it? This subjective truth with a focus on relationship and the discounting of the written Word is one of the trademarks of the Emergent Church.

Paragraph 15 – The originality, I would say, lies precisely in the fact that the faith makes us participate , in Jesus, in the relationship that He has with God who is Abba and, in this light, the relationship that He has with all other men, including enemies, in the sign of love. In other words, Jesus’ offspring, as presented by the Christian faith, is not revealed to mark an insurmountable separation between Jesus and all others: but to tell us that, in Him, we are all called to be children of the one Father and brothers among ourselves. The singularity of Jesus is for communication, not for exclusion.

I find the final statement in this paragraph very odd.  Jesus is unique because of His communication?  Again, this sounds a lot more like Rob Bell than anything I have heard coming from the Papal chair in the past.  Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and others of that stripe are always talking about “the conversation” rather than the clear teachings of Christ’s deity, death and resurrection as a means of making the glory of God known through the saving of wretched creatures such as us (for we deserve destruction rather than salvation).  This line is a really, really weird focus point when it comes to what makes Jesus unique.

Again I admit to you – I’m confused!  This letter doesn’t look like anything a sound Christian who possesses a solid grasp of the Scriptures would write.  It doesn’t even look like something a poorly trained but well-intentioned part-time Christian pastor might put out.  In fact, it doesn’t even look like it lines up with the teachings of the Roman Catholic church!  Of course, since it was clearly written with Francis operating in the position of the Papal office, Roman Catholic dogma tells us it is infallible and contains no error, so I guess it’s Roman Catholic now whether they like it or not!  But to me, it still sounds an awful lot like Rob Bell…

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3 Comments on “Did Pope Francis Read “Love Wins”?”

  1. informationforager Says:

    That’s an interesting insight but it’s not disturbing to me. Maybe we are experiencing a cultural and religious shift of beliefs. if we look at the timelines we can see that religion and spiritual growth have changed considerably. It has never been stagnant.

    I’m not Catholic but I like what he’s saying. Is it “new” infallible rules? I don’t know and I don’t care. What I care about is that he is reaching out to people and recognizing the old ideals in a new light. Truth, Justice, Compassion and Understanding. I think that is what Rob Bell is doing also.

    Reply

    • ChurchSalt Says:

      Hey Forager,
      Encouraging truth, justice and compassion is a good thing, I agree.  But the Bible has some pretty clear teachings that just doing good things and being a good person will in no way save us from a very real and eternal punishment.  If the Bible is wrong, then the presentation of good morals and behaviors (using any method) is probably what all religion should be about as it helps to better mankind.  However, if the Bible is correct (I am convinced that it is) then to simply encourage morality and good behavior is completely missing the boat.
       
      The Bible says we are guilty of outward sin and even have sin inside of us.  It also says that there are inflexible laws established by our creator (being the creator He has the right to make those laws) and that all who break the laws will be found guilty by the judge who is just and cannot simply look away from the law-breaker (or He wouldn’t be a just judge).  Unless somebody pays the fine for us, we have no chance as we cannot pay for our sins ourselves, which is what Jesus was doing on the Cross – paying for the sins of His people.  When Bell, Francis and others ignore or minimalize sin, justice, punishment and atonement they turn from biblical teaching and indeed the Christian faith.  It all sounds warm and fuzzy, but their teachings deny the plight we are in and the incredible solution that has been presented and in so doing they deceive their followers.  They fail to give God the credit for the incredible thing He has done in sending His Son and make folks look to themselves, their morality and their own deeds instead of those of Christ.  Man-centered teachers like this rob God of His due glory, take the focus of people off of the One who can save and puts it on man who cannot, and leads people straight to eternal punishment.  Looks to me like some really wicked stuff wrapped up to look moral and good.
       
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply

      • Bill Abel Says:

        Great insight, CS. I agree with your reply above, whole-heartedly. If the translation above is correct, this Pope is dead wrong and those that start to think that way are in for a surprise when the face-to-face comes.

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