Damian Thompson at The Spectator has a new column about Pope Francis entitled : “Here comes the God squad: what the new pope and the new archbishop have in common.” The subtext reads “Evangelicals have taken charge in the Vatican and Lambeth Palace.” Its my favorite article on Pope Francis that I’ve read yet.
What I appreciate most about Damian Thompson’s description is the sense that Francis just may be engaged in the “Best Practices” of both evangelical Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Though we all desire for Christians to be unified as one in the Catholic Church, evangelical Protestants have developed missionary skills that, in my opinion, often surpass lay Catholics in the present day. Yet evangelical Protestants are often rootless, disunified, and incomplete/inaccurate in different strains of their theology. What if Francis could embody the evangelical missionary zeal as part of the New Evangelization with a robust, orthodox Catholicism? Thompson seems to indicate this may already be happening:
This supercharged evangelicalism thrives in Argentina, where its opposition to secularism and its embrace of Pentecostal ‘gifts of the Spirit’ captured the imagination of the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio. The future Pope Francis was never a typical Latin American Jesuit. He distrusted Catholic liberation theologians, preferring the company of evangelicals who entered the slums to preach about God and Satan rather than models of economic justice.
Preaching about God and Satan are, of course, not simply an evangelical Protestant thing, but it’s ok to admit when we’re inspired by evangelical Protestants who dedicate their lives to proclaiming Christ crucified. Yet, less any Protestants get too excited, Francis is not about to change the dogma of the Catholic Church (as if he could). Thompson continues:
Perhaps you have to be a Latin American to understand the seeming contradictions in the new Pope’s spirituality. His intense devotion to the Virgin Mary is deep-rooted: he has dedicated his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima, to the dismay of liberal Catholics who regard the 1917 apparitions, with their warnings of divine retribution, as melodramatic and superstitious. But Francis also favours a literal interpretation of the New Testament — which means that, like Protestant Pentecostalists, he believes that Christians are stalked by the Devil. Almost every day since becoming pope, Francis has warned Catholics that Satan lurks in activities as apparently trivial as gossip — a ‘dark joy’, as he called it. More starkly, he told the cardinals who elected him that ‘whoever does not pray to God, prays to the Devil’.
Such language, coupled with the Pope’s simple lifestyle, has delighted evangelical Christians. Timothy George, the Southern Baptist dean of Beeson Divinity School in Alabama, describes him as ‘our Francis, too’ — a man up to the challenge of ‘energising Catholic leaders for the New Evangelisation — to study the Scriptures, renew the disciplines of the faith, and boldly proclaim the love of Christ’.
I don’t know anyone who would be disappointed if we, as Catholics, became known for studying the Scriptures, renewing the disciplines of faith, and boldly proclaiming the love of Christ. Let’s follow Francis’s example and carry on the work of the New Evangelization.