Tuesday, 28 May 2013

In Response to Pope Francis: A Call For Mystery

In a recent article Pope Francis declared that some people can be good and not Christian; I agree. In fact both the Pope and I agree with the some foundational principles of creation and redemption. Everything is originally created good. Man and woman as image bearers of God are created very good. This original blueprint becomes the ultimate redemption promise of Christ who through his Death and Resurrection has sought to restore and work all of creation for his purpose. Colossians 1 tells us that in Christ "all things have been created through him and for him" (Colossians 1:16). This includes Atheists, Buddhists  Muslims  etc. "Through him" all things have been reconciled to him, "whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Colossians 1:20).

Beyond this agreement however I am uncomfortable with the  "if-then" clause he is proposing. The Pope suggests that in this life we should "do good" and "we will meet one another there.” While poetically beautiful and reminiscent of  Maximus' famous line in the popular movie Gladiator ("What we do in life echoes in eternity") it is a false order of reality. The central difference between Islam and Christianity as an example is that we receive the grace of God before repentance. Repentance is but an important fruit of what has already been given. I should be clear however that I am not proposing the modern Christian call to intellectual acceptance of Christianity in order to be saved; nor am I proposing the popular understanding of Universalism (ie: we are all touching one part of the same truth).  Rather I propose we accept the beautiful reality that this is God's mystery. Salvation through an intellectual acceptance of Christianity is simply another form of what the Pope is proposing. The prerequisite for salvation in both instances is in human action. Whether through the mind or the body. The mystery of salvation is that Christ has redeemed everyone, but for whatever reason, in the end not all will be at the wedding table. We can you use different passages of Scripture to support our arguments for why that may or may not be. But nobody really knows, and I think that is how Christ wants it.

Just because all have been saved by Christ, this does not mean that all live into that salvation. While those who experience the ultimate power of grace will seek a new life in him we can (and often do) choose to cheapen this by living without discipleship. We rely on a grace that is devoid of the cross, a "grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship). But we must always remember that it is "only because he became like us that we can become like him” (Bonhoeffer). This fruit bearing life is always "miraculous" and created by God alone.

"It is never the result of the willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of Him on whom their life depends” (Bonhoeffer).

In short the Pope and I agree that God chooses to work good through all people, but this does not mean that  the good that is done will be the reason for our place in the new Jerusalem. The source for all redemption, reconciliation, and new creation is in Christ alone.

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