Pope Francis preaches a different gospel

Pope Francis seems confused about the true Gospel.

On 12/12/12, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to send a tweet. It was a brilliant marketing move, sure to give the aging pontiff a bit more street cred with the younger demographic, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the fact that he bore an uncanny resemblance to the evil Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars films.

Pope Benedict retired in disgrace, and the Catholic Church replaced him with the only person that could turn the tide and bring back millennials: a charming, socialist, tango fanatic named Pope Francis. Thanks to the popularity of Pope Benedict’s successor, the @Pontifex Twitter account now has over 10.6 million followers, none of whom are actually Christians.

Well yesterday Pope Francis took his coolness factor to a new level by becoming the first pope to deliver a TED Talk, which I will now critique:

  1. The title slide introduces him as “His Holiness Pope Francis.”
    • I understand that this honorific is meant to refer to the fact that the pope “is called to practice exceptional sanctity“, but it just sounds off because the Bible repeatedly stresses humility.
    • Instead, I prefer the attitude of John the Baptist, whom Jesus considered the greatest prophet of all (Luke 7:28):
      • “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
      • “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” (Mark 1:7)
  2. He said, “life flows through our relations with others” and “Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component.”
    • I would argue that his definitions are a bit off. The only way to experience eternal life is through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23 and Colossians 3:4), and the only path to true joy is through Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:1-12).
  3. He said, “First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other.”
    • It’s strange that he would focus more on our need for one another than on our need for forgiveness from our sins through the shed blood of Christ.
  4. He said, “Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the ‘culture of waste,’ which doesn’t concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems.”
    • It’s strange that he would trust more in education than in the power of the Gospel to change the world from the inside out.
  5. He said, “Solidarity, however, is not an automatic mechanism. It cannot be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and everyone. Yes, a free response! When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?”
    • He seems to think that people naturally have good hearts, but the Bible says that the “heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9) and that “out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19).
    • It sounds like he’s describing someone who is born again and begins bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). However, it’s strange that he doesn’t give God the credit for this change of heart (Ezekiel 36:26 and Psalm 51:10).
  6. He told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, but he used it to illustrate his argument that we should all be doing more to help those around us in need.
    • As I mentioned in my blog post on this parable, the point was to show us that God’s standards are unattainable and that we need a savior to redeem us.
  7. He said, “We are precious, each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God.”
    • It’s true that God has a general love for everyone and everything in creation (John 3:16), but those who are unsaved are enemies of God (Romans 5:10).
  8. He said, “[Jesus] lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love.”
    • The main goal of Jesus’ incarnation was to take the punishment for our sins. Although Jesus did give us a perfect example of what it looks like to love one another, we’re missing the whole point of the Gospel if we just tell people to follow Jesus’ teachings.

Overall, I think the pope’s speech did little to show people their need for a savior. In fact, it probably did more to reinforce the false notion that Christianity is all about man’s need to do good, just like every other religion. In that regard, Pope Francis’ speech was eerily similar to Rick Warren’s 2006 TED Talk in which he said:

Did you know that God smiles when you be you?…Some people have the misguided idea that God only gets excited when you’re doing, quote, ‘spiritual things,’ like going to church or helping the poor, or, you know, confessing or doing something like that. The bottom line is, God gets pleasure watching you be you. Why? He made you. And when you do what you were made to do, he goes, ‘That’s my boy! That’s my girl! You’re using the talent and ability that I gave you.'”

Folks, this is a false gospel, and Chris Rosebrough’s comments regarding Rick Warren’s speech, could apply equally well to the pope’s speech:

“If I were a non-believer and I heard this message I would think, ‘Wow, God is happy with me when I be myself. That’s a religion that I can agree with! I don’t have to worry about that sin stuff and have to be like those religious fanatics who believe in Jesus. This is a liberating piece of good news. This is a gospel I can believe in.'”