Pope Francis, the Gospel and Theological Clarity

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Pope Francis created quite a stir recently when he made the following statement:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” Someone then asked the Pope if this statement applied to the atheist. The Pope responded, “Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class!”

Now there has been a lot of hairsplitting about what the Pope intended to say, so let’s start by looking at the following three statements:

1. “Jesus Christ died for the elect, and all the elect will finally be saved.”
2. “Jesus Christ provides redemption for all (even the atheists).”
3. “Jesus Christ redeems all, even the atheists.”

The first statement reflects Reformed theology, especially the doctrine of unconditional election and limited atonement (The “U” and “L” in the famous TULIP five points of Calvinism). This first statement affirms that Jesus Christ died only for those who have been elected unto salvation. Those who are elect will be regenerated by the Holy Spirit and given the grace to respond in repentance and faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The second statement reflects Wesleyan theology which affirms universal provision, without diminishing or neglecting the role of human agency. In fact, in Wesleyan theology, prevenient grace “frees” the human will from bondage to sin so that a real response to the gospel is possible. The human will or agency is actually two-fold. It refers to those who make real decisions to share the gospel (through word and deed) as well as the real decisions people make in responding to the gospel in repentance and faith (or rejecting the gospel, thereby, preserving the dignity of unbelief).

The third statement is the one the Pope made. It is a statement of Christocentric universalism, sometimes known as inclusivism. This notion entered some Roman Catholic seminaries in the 20th century through the writings of the German Jesuit, Karl Rahner in his Theological Investigations. Inclusivism was primarily used to comfort those who may never have heard of Jesus Christ but who sincerely seek after God (which is why the question about atheists was asked to the Pope). The Pope’s reply seemed to push the theological envelope even beyond the inclusivism of Vatican II, but to develop this point would be to miss the central point of this blog. Let’s return to the three statements.

There is a big difference between saying “Jesus Christ provides redemption for all” and “Jesus Christ redeems all.” Why is this so important? This is important because. . . (continue reading on seedbed.com)