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)


  • Reuben says:

    This is possibly the first time since the Reformation that Catholics have been accused of minimizing human cooperation with salvation!

    You’re right that there is some unclarity in the Pope’s remarks. Unfortunately the entire text doesn’t exist, so it’s not clear how the words quoted relate to the whole.

    But two important points should be taken into account:

    1) The distinction between redemption and salvation. To redeem something is buy it back by paying a price. Christ paid the price necessary to free us from sin. Therefore all have been redeemed. The price paid was sufficient for, and covered, all. Salvation involves taking hold of the freedom bought by redemption.

    2) What you quoted from Pope Francis came from one of his homilies at daily Mass. These are not “public” addresses — most of the people who come work in the Vatican. Therefore, the Pope can safely assume they have an understanding of Catholic theology. (By the way, the homilies are rarely reported in their entirety. Only brief, transcribed quotations appear in the press, and the Pope doesn’t review them before publication.) Considering that, he has no reason to speak with the kind of theological rigor that may be required in a public statement.

    To be sure, the particular homily quoted in your post does seem to contain puzzling statements, but statements often are puzzling when reported without context. Still, understanding these incomplete comments in light of the two points mentioned above should alleviate most of the difficulty.

    • I make no claim to know the mind of the Pope, but the Bible has always impressed me with its clarity in revealing the mind of Christ.

      Matt. 7:22 “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (KJV)

      “In that day” – Day of future judgment??
      “Never knew you” – No past redemptive relationship at any time???
      “Depart from me” – No future redemptive relationship??

      From a position of logic, it makes no sense to me to send a savior to be crucified for a world of sinful humans beings who are already universally and eternally elected to salvation. However, add in the ingredients of prevenient grace and free will releasing me from bondage to sin, and the Gospel changes my heart and life eternally.

  • We are suppose to be reading meanings out of the scriptures instead of reading meanings into the scriptures. The style of the Vatican and many others have always been reading meanings into the scriptures, instead of reading meanings out of it.
    Jesus Christ provides redemption for all but one needs to accept it and access it in order to be redeemed. The atheists do not believe that God exists and provides redemption at all, so the pope cannot be right by that view that “Jesus Christ redeems all, even the atheists”.
    Redemption from God through Jesus Christ is universal but must be taken with responsibility and commitment of action.
    May God help us to fully understand Him in Jesus’ name. AMEN.

  • andymcgaw says:

    Hi Tim, i have to disagree with your interpretation of Pope Francis – redemption is not salvation. your article – & some comments – seem to have conflated the terms.