Tag Archives: total depravity

Pope Francis as a universalist?


Pope_Francis_in_March_2013-1

Edit: Here is a catholic explanation. Doesn’t sound universalist at all if you ask me…

Pope Francis, the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, has already proven to be a controversial person from time to time in his career of only a few months. And luckily it has been in a surprisingly Christlike way, not in the way most modern liberal people expect popes to conservative and oldfashionedly irrelevant: The pope who denied the papal palace, shuns wealth, calls the church to focus on the poor,  washed the foot of women and Muslims instead of Catholic priests and criticised capitalism now stated that atheists are redeemed too and can do good works.

2 articles have been going round on facebook since yesterday, first one from the Vatican Radio and then one from the American Huffington post, which tried to interpret the words of the pope from an American perspective, but to me they seemed to miss the point and tried to make him answer questions he wasn’t addressing…

But let’s have a look at what our papal friend is saying:

“The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

(bold parts from the Vatican radio website)

Some people, like Paul from disoriented, reoriented, actually do think Francis’ words point to Christian universalism (the idea that through the saving work of Christ all will be saved in the end), and point to the old tradition of universalism within christianity that goed back to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, but I’m not so sure of that actually. I don’t have much problems with hopeful universalism or even praying for the salvation of Satan in the end (as Gregory of Nyssa did), but I believe in free will, and I am afraid that some will never be able to enjoy an eternity with God, it would be hell to them.  But it’s not my task to even speculate about those things, let alone proclaim that I know all the answers here.

It is clear that the pope is an inclusivist here, not in the the sense of salvation (which is not addressed) but when it comes to doing good, which is what is expected from all human beings. (I suppose Rahners idea of anonymous Christians or the older idea of virtuous pagans does fit in here somewhere.)

What we can be sure of though is that the pope here rejects 2 doctrines that are important to certain protestant traditions, especially those based on Calvinism: limited atonement (Jesus did only die for the chosen)  and total depravity (man is fallen in a comprehensive way, and can’t do good himself)

(My problem with total depravity lies in the people whom the NT calls good and just, like Zachary and Elisabeth who were Thora-abiding Jews, and Cornelius who was a God-fearing pagan. Apart from that I do believe very strongly in human depravity, and I see it all the time in the news, around me, and in myself!)

The pope acknowledges here simply that all people can do good, whether they’re atheists or catholics:

“Doing good” the Pope explained, is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because He has made us in His image and likeness. And He does good, always.”

What’s interesting is that he roots the possibility of doing good works both in Creation (man being the image of God) and in being redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Note also that Pope Francis is speaking about good works and bringing peace here. he isn’t speaking about salvation per se, especially not in ‘going to heaven after you die’ kind.Francis in his view on Christianity seems to be focussed more on the ‘here and now’ aspect of the Kingdom of God, specifically for the ‘least of those’ than about the ‘pie in the sky’ dimension of salvation that some people prefer.

To be sure about how to interpret what the pope said I asked  a catholic, Rob Allaert who writes in Dutch on http://www.thuiskerk.be , and he responded with the next paragraph:

Redemption needs to be uderstood as gift and assignment. Become who you are in Christ. Or as Saint Paul would have it: “Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” So, there is an assignment attached to salvation which has in itself a universal scope.

(He also said my interpretation in this post ‘nailed it’.)

So, redemption is only the beginning point here, not the end point at all as ‘salvation’ is often seen in  evangelicalism. Salvation may be universal, but it gives us ‘an assignment’. I don’t think I can disagree with that actually. I even think we should say the same about predestination: if some are predestined by God, it is not just to be saved themselves, but to bring Christ, and salvation and redemption, to this broken world.

So what can we take from this, except from a strong affirmation of the popes inclusivism and love for all people of all religions, and the call to everyone for peace and doing good? I hope there’s also the last thought included somewhere: Loving God and neighbor as the great commandment says (which will include living out that love, maybe even in radical ways) is not the way to salvation, it is part of salvation itself. The Christian idea of both heaven and the Kingdom of heaven on earth looks forward to a world in which all relationships have been restored, and everyone and everything lives in harmony with God, other humans, and all of Creation.

If that’s what the pope means, I agree with him…

what do you think

Bram

PS: The most creepy thing about a universalist pope, especially if he is the second pope after John Paul II, is that in the dispensationalist end-times plots I encountered as a kid (that the pentecostals for some had borrowed from dispensationalism) the endtimes-pope would be some kind of ‘all-religions-are equal’ universalist who would be very popular but open the door for the worship of the beast 666 by the people of all religions.
(Not that real Christian universalism in which it is Christ and Christ alone who saves all would apply here, let alone a pope who calls the Church back to following the gospel in simplicity as Francis does. But somewhere in me the idea still lingers sometimes, and it feels a bit creepy…)

are babies evil?


My daughter Hazel-Lore Cools, picture by Jo Cools, She’s not an evil bundle of sin!

Sometimes I’m quite shocked to find out what people in other parts of the world consider to be normal Christian ideas. And at that moment I’m glad that I’ve grown up with not much influence of certain quite weird ideas that are endemic in for example certain strains of American fundamentalism. Sometimes ignorance is a bliss, and sometimes it’s better to learn about certain things when you’re old enough to look at them with discernment. (And I’m not talking about these things now) Yes, I am happy to bluntly restate that sometimes I’m really glad that I’m quite oblivious towards things certain things, that some have to battle with and unlearn all of their lives to retain what’s left of their sanity, and it’s actually a luxury that I don’t even understand some things I guess. (See also my post about not understanding complementarianism here)

So one of the things that is quite new and shocking to me, every time I encounter it, is fundamentalist ideas about parenting that are based on total depravity of babies and small children. When people insinuate that babies are evil creatures, the only reaction I feel is ‘what the bleeping hell?’. I try to understand, but as the father of a 20 months old toddler myself, I just don’t get it. And I don’t believe it would be healthy, neither for her nor for me, to try to get inside that way of thinking…

This post on the love, joy, feminism blog is a good example, as is the post on the latebloomer blog she quotes from. Let’s start with a quote from the first one:

I had been taught to see parenting as a contest, a contest in which I must defeat my child’s will. I was taught that my daughter when she was a babe in arms was “a little bundle of sin.”

I find this idea of a baby as a ‘little bundle of sin’ quite weird and inconeivable, an actually pretty offensive too. Even though my daughter has a very strong will, as was clear even before she was born, that’s not something evil. It’s something which needs to be guided, and sometimes blocked off, but not everything a baby wants is evil. Babies are helpless creatures that have a lot of needs (food, diapers, attention) and crying is their best way of getting attention and communicate that they need something. It’s very normal for them to need these things, and they cannot do anything by themselves.

Yes, a baby can be hard to deal with (especially if she kills your sleep) but I fail to even see how it is possible to interpret babies as evil. But it seems like there are whole traditions that completely disagree with me, like the one latebloomer came from.

If I believed that my child had a sin nature that predisposed him to evil, that would certainly predispose me to interpret his actions very negatively.

When he insists on exploring the world and touching everything, I could see it as stubbornness.  Instead, I am free to see it as healthy curiosity and a drive to discover the world.  …

When he fights sleep at bedtime, or wakes up multiple times during the night, I could see it as defiance.  Instead, I am free to assume that he has a real need.  …

When he takes toys from other children, I could see it as selfishness.  Instead, I am free to notice that he also spontaneously gives his toys to others. …

When he screeches for me to pick him up, I could see it as manipulation.  Instead, I am free to see that he is just learning to feel and communicate, and crying is one of his main tools of communication right now.  …

My child is not depraved.  He is a good person with a lot of potential.

The extending of the theory of total depravity to babies to me sounds quite problematic. I am more into ancestral sin than strict Augustinian original sin, and therefore inclined to believe that children learn evil from the broken world around them, than that they are evil in themselves.

I don’t think my daughter is totally depraved. She is a like everybody, a flawed person with very good tendencies nonetheless (she already shared stuff when she was a crawling baby, she even shares her pacifier with me sometimes!) and unhealthy egoistic tendencies too, that need to be restrained. But totally depraved and an evil bundle of sin? Can anyone look at a baby and really believe that???? I don’t get it, and I hope I never will.  Com’on, what evil nonsense is it? And it leads to quite violent ways of parenting too, as Elizabeth Esther, a post-fundamentalist woman, recalls in this very interesting post:

Sometimes I wonder what motivated such harsh discipline. Was part of it the rigorous meeting schedule that required all children to sit through 5 hours of meetings on Sundays? I mean, how else do you get a 2 year old to sit quietly through 5 hours of meeting? Lots of spankings, of course.

But I wonder if the other part, the part that gets to the deeper root of why there was so much harsh discipline was due to our deeply ingrained assumptions about who we were. We believed in the inherent evil of all humans.

Isn’t it easier to repeatedly spank your child when you believe she’s inherently evil? In our group, parents started spanking their babies when they were around 6 months old because this was when babies started trying to “manipulate” their parents by exerting their “rebellious will.”

Apparently there’s a very popular method or parenting, based on a book called ‘to train up a child’ by Mike and Debi Pearl, a method that even cost lives of children! (Find more posts by Elizabeth Esther on the subject here) If we are to judge the tree by its fruits, then I would say that this method is a very good candidate of the words ‘total depravity’, actually…

So I restate I’m glad that I’ve never encountered this kind of stuff. Really glad. It is really destructive. I think I grew up with a vague idee of the ‘age of accountability’ theory, which probably isn’t without its own problems. But at least it affirms that babies are not evil ‘bundles of sin’. They are imperfect and flawed, like we all. But I would agree with love, joy, feminism, that there’s a very big blind spot in it:

The Pearls explain how to exact immediate obedience from your children. And you know what? Immediate obedience sounds really nice. The Pearls promise that if I follow their spanking method my daughter will do whatever I want when I want it. If I followed the Pearls, my daughter would never embarrass me in public. I would never have to wait on my daughter while she tries the stairs one more time. Instead, it would be whatever I said, the moment I said it. That’s very appealing, but you know what? If that’s not pure selfishness, I don’t know what is.

I’ve used this experience as a reminder to better listen to my daughter and her needs. I’ve also used it as a reminder of my own selfishness. My daughter and I aren’t enemies or opponents, we’re just two flawed humans stuck together by blood and deep affection. We’re a team, and we need to treat each other with mutual respect and make sure to consider each other’s needs and feelings. And sometimes I guess I need a reminder of that

That last paragraph could be from my wife, and sums up quite good how I see parenting… But I suppose that that’s another sign that neither of us is even capable of thinking hierarchically in the way some people do… Yes, a child cannot do much by herself, and needs to be guided, restricted, led in the right direction, and disciplined sometimes. But the goal is to initiate her in life as a human being, not to train her up like a dog, or program her like a computer.

What do you think?

shalom

Bram

please don’t call me ‘arminian’!


warning: this post is for all those christians who identify themselves with the ‘calvins-ist’ or ‘reformed’ tradition and who feel the need to dub me or others ‘arminian’ because I’m not one of them…

All my life I’ve been a Christian, and I’ve encountered a lot of traditions in those 30 years (wow, am I that old?). I must say I’ve learned a lot from all different streams of Christianity. I’ve been a pentecostel kid, and now I’m a part of the vineyard movement with it’s centered ‘radical middle’ approach. I’ve been learning from a lot of traditions over the years. My charismatic background and the wesleyan evangelicalism underneath it were enriched by the human solidarity, charity and ‘creation care’ -as I’d call it now- that I picked up from the (otherwise mostly dead liberal-on-slippery-slope-to-atheism) catholicism of my catholic school. (did I tell you that I grew up in a dechristianising post-catholic countrty?)

I think that I’ve picked up what I would call now ‘a generous orthodoxy’ from C.S. Lewis, and I learned to find things of value in most Christian streams, and I read books, articles and websites from all kinds of traditions over the years since my teenage years, which enriched me a lot.

There were at least three streams of thought that never resonated with me within the broad range of Christian thought, without beginning about the pope and the magisterium that is… The first one is the so-called ‘liberal’ impulse to explain everything away that doesn’t fit with modern science, which is just unrealistic to a charismatic like me. The second one is the ‘I am right on all details or you can just throw your bible and faith in the trash’ approach of fundamentalism. and the third one is the weird doctrine of double predestination, which I find a blasphemous idea, even if it’s supposed to give God the most glory according to their philosophical framework.

I must say that honestly I’ve never encountered much calvinism before I got into some debates on the internet. And it never interested me, I didn’t recognise God, Christ and the bible like I knew them in their way of thinking. But one of the things I noticed when in debate on some websites was the label ‘arminian’ that some used to describe me or any other person brave enough to admit not to believe in the ‘TULIP’-doctrines. I soon learned that it was a derogatory term used by some calvinists to label anyone they disagree with, so they didn’t have to take them seriously. I later found out it had something to do with some Arminius guy, but reading about the guy he didn’t stir much interest I’m affraid.

(I’m fully aware that not all calvinists and reformed Christians are like this, but this is part of my experience that I can’t deny. My excuses to all good christians in the reformed tradition who don’t use the word ‘arminian’ as a synonym for ‘bad christian’ or even ‘heretic’. It’s the loudest ones that get heard and that spoil the reputation of the group for all of the rest…)

I’m sorry, but I reject the label ‘arminian’. I don’t follow the guy named Arminius. In fact the guy was, unlike me, a calvinist. He might even have been a better calvinist than the guys of the synod of Dordt, who made up the 5 points of calvinism (TULIP) but history is always written by winners, and he and his followers were the losers… But that’s an in-house discussion for calvinists and those inside the ‘reformed’ tradition, and none of my business. It’s as relevant for me as what’s going on in the vatican…

Calling all evangelicals, or more or less protestant Christians who believe in free will over predestination ‘Arminians’ is just plain nonsense from a calvinistocentric worldview, creating non-extisting dichotomies where there’s a whole lot of traditions of which the ‘reformed’ is only one. It would be the same if I as a Charismatic would call all non-charismatics ‘darbyists’ and trace all forms of cessionism or otherwise non-charismatic christianity back to Darby. The guy has nothing to do with most of non-charismatic christianity, and it’s the same with Arminius and non-calvinists…

So, I’m a Christian, and I believe in free will, or more exaxtly the synergy of Gods grace and free wil, it’s not that we do everything alone. I reject the ideas of irresistible grace and limited atonement. If you use small letters I won’t be offended with labels as evangelical, charismatic, or even (neo)anabaptist or wesleyan.  All these traditions are part of my roots I guess, and I’m even inpired by the eastern orthodox and greek church fathers lately.

But I’ve never cared about that rebelious and rejected calvinist called Arminius. And I don’t need to be named after the guy… There are followers of him who still identify with him, so keep the name for them!

shalom

Bram