Some of you may be wondering why I’d be writing a blog post on the Catholic pope since I’m an evangelical Christian (though not a typical one).
Does this mean I ascribe to Catholic theology? No. No more than I ascribe to many versions of Protestant theology. However, I do like the Catholic concern for the poor as well as their emphasis on the corporate, collective nature of the church.
When it comes to my Catholic brethren, I follow the precept “cooperation without compromise.” I can disagree with a person’s theology and yet affirm their spirituality as well as be friends with them. In addition, I can join arms with Catholic or Protestant groups in their service to the poor and needy, cooperating with them in Kingdom, without compromising my ecclesiology.
(Dwight Longenecker, who is also on Patheos, happens to be a friend of mine. Dwight is a Catholic priest.)
Like it, love it, or hate it, the person who fills the office of the pope has monumental influence on the world. And so regardless of your religious affiliation, it’s good to be educated about the man who fills this position right now.
Francis: Man of Prayer by Mario Escobar is getting a lot of attention as Christians in all denominations are trying to find out all they can on the new pope, with the hopes of predicting how he will lead the Roman Catholic Church.
Interestingly, the book is published by Thomas Nelson, and evangelical publishing house that’s published two of my own books (Jesus Manifesto and Jesus: A Theography). I was a little surprised by this as I assumed the book was published by a Catholic publisher.
However, this just testifies that even Protestants and evangelicals are interested in the new pope and the direction of the Roman Catholic community. Some of the questions that people are asking are:
Will he allow priests to marry?
Will he say grace over homosexuality?
Will he bridge the gap between Protestants and Catholics?
Will he change any standards or theology of the Catholic church?
Will he adjust the RCC’s view of abortion?
In this review, I’ll share what I found to be fascinating about the book — meaning, what intrigued me about Francis, the new pope.
First, the book is very easy to read. Escobar did a great job with the text. His writing is accessible and engaging.
Second, the book is less than 200 pages. I blew through it quickly.
Third, it was informative. Escobar covers the following:
* The origin of the Jesuits, the life of Ignatius of Loyola, the history and present standing of the Jesuits.
* The evolution and process of how the Roman Catholic Church elects a new pope.
* A little about Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), the previous pope. Ratzinger is a tremendous scholar. His series Jesus of Nazareth is remarkable. So much so that I made it part of my Best 100 Christian Academic Books List.
* The life, from birth to the present, of Francis, whose real name is Jorge Mario Bergolio.
Some fact that I found of personal interest to me are as follows. The book, of course, expands each point.
* Francis is the first pope from the Americas. He’s from Latin America. So he’s the first American pope.
* He is the first Jesuit pope. (Jesuits are a minority order in the Catholic Church.)
* As a young boy, his father made him work. He has a strong work ethic.
* As a young man, he experienced great suffering from an unknown illness that had no diagnosis. His insights into suffering and the Lord are worth reading. He “gets” the fact that God uses suffering to draw us close to Him. “Pain is not a virtue in and of itself, but the way we deal with it can be virtuous … we understand the sense of pain in fullness through the pain of God in Christ.” ~ Francis
* His rise from seminary to archbishop to being a cardinal in 2001 to being elected pope.
* He rejected the traditional golden fisherman’s ring, but opted for a more modest silver ring. A gesture of his humility.
* He has a heart for the poor rooted in his childhood, but he is not a fan of liberation theology.
* His view of homosexuality is fairly traditional. It’s always existed, he says, but the difference is in our attitude toward it. I won’t give away his views on it, but they are present in the book along with a direct quote. For his recent statements on the subject, click here to read Dwight Longencker’s post with transcript.
* He is concerned with the declining church membership all over the world. Along with the declining number of priests each y ear.
* He is anti-abortion and has a rather articulate way of defining personhood. His view is rooted in science rather than religion.
* He is not closed off to the idea that priests don’t have to be celibate. Time will tell on this, of course.
* One of his major emphases is the importance of having interfaith dialogue. This includes Jews and Muslims and Protestants. This was fascinating to me as he has a strong history with it.
* He has a Facebook and Twitter account (over 1.2 million followers at the time of the book).
* He is 76 years old with a Buenos Aires accent, a lover of soccer, and a tendency to call things as he sees them.
* Popular evangelist Luis Palau says “Pope Francis is a Jesus Christ-centered man who reads the Bible every day.”
The book ends with quotes from Francis along with a chronology of his history.
The only criticism I have of the book is that the title is “Man of Prayer” but there was very little about the details of Francis’ prayer life. What is emphasized is that his first act as pope was to ask for people to pray for him.
I think this book is an educational read for all Catholics and Protestants. Time will tell what Francis ends up doing, but I’m expecting some interesting years to come from his life and influence.