Pope Francis, Old Princeton and Evolution

FullSizeRenderPope Francis made some statements affirming the validity of evolution which some no doubt find     controversial, especially those of the conservative protestant stripe. What’s interesting is how much of what he said seems to echo what the 19th century Old Princeton theologians had to say on the matter (whom many evangelicals look to as theological ancestors, especially where the doctrine of inerrancy is concerned).

In a recent review of Bradley J. Gundlach’s Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845-1929, the reviewer points out the Gundlach’s research demonstrates that while the Old Princetonians rejected atheistic naturalism, they were quite interested in what some today call forms of theistic evolution:

Gundlach devotes the subsequent two chapters to surveying the relationship between progressionism in evolutionary biology and progressionism in orthodox Calvinist theology among the generation of Princeton scholars who succeeded McCosh and Hodge. Gundlach’s examination of the views of the theologian B. B. Warfield might surprise contemporary readers who assume that Warfield’s commitment to biblical inerrancy inevitably led him to reject evolution. Well-known for co-authoring an 1881 article with A. A. Hodge that articulated the Princetonian understanding of inerrancy, Warfield, like numerous Princetonians before him, criticized atheistic naturalism. Yet Warfield, who embraced evolution even more than McCosh, went so far as to consider the possibility that an immaterial aspect of animal life served as a precursor to the human soul, constituting a second and essentially separate evolution alongside the physical one.

Warfield also stated:

I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution.

Maybe some room for ecumenical rapprochement?

Two Kinds Of Churches

A friend of mine once told me that there were essentially two kinds of churches: the kind that are concerned primarily about who’s already there and the kind that are concerned primarily with who’s not yet there. Pope Francis certainly wants his flock to be the latter kind.

While reading through his wonderful little recent work Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of The Gospel), I came across this passage which summarizes what motivates the church that is always looking beyond the boundaries of its existing community to those not yet there:

 I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. As John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: “All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion”.

Immediately the protest from those inclined to a church that prioritizes those who are already there will be something like: “What about caring for the sheep?!? You can’t neglect the needs of the community for the sake of outreach!” Pope Francis anticipates this objection later in the document when he talks about pastoral care:

Today more than ever we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, patience and docility to the Spirit, so that they can protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders…One who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without. The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow.

He expresses a deep and sensitive pastoral concern for God’s people, yearning to seem them shepherded and cared for in intentional and compassionate ways. But he goes on to add the following, which is a crucial point:

Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization. Paul’s relationship with Timothy and Titus provides an example of this accompaniment and formation which takes place in the midst of apostolic activity. Entrusting them with the mission of remaining in each city to “put in order what remains to be done” (Tit 1:5; cf. 1 Tim 1:3-5), Paul also gives them rules for their personal lives and their pastoral activity. This is clearly distinct from every kind of intrusive accompaniment or isolated self-realization. Missionary disciples accompany missionary disciples. [emphasis mine]

The healthiest people in the church who are experiencing healing and in the process of spiritual formation do so unto a purposeful end: joyful participation in the Mission of God in the name of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Too catholic to be Catholic

Peter Leithart recently posted a blog entry (http://www.leithart.com/2012/05/21/too-catholic-to-be-catholic/#more-14412) entitled “Too catholic to be Catholic”. It’s a wonderful piece about why he remains a Reformed Protestant, and his reasons are catholic ones. The post concludes with the following:

One final reason has to do with time.  I cut my theological teeth, and still cut them, on James Jordan’s biblical theology.  At the end of Through New Eyes, Jordan argues just as the temple was unimaginable to Israelites living through the collapse of the tabernacle system, so the future of the church is unimaginable to us.   We can’t see the future; we can’t know how God is going to put back the fragmented pieces of His church.  We can trust and hope that He is and will, but all we have access to are the configurations of the past and present.  It’s tempting to imagine that the future of the church will be an extension of some present tradition – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, whatever.  But the future never is a simple extension of the past and present (how can it be, with the massive surge in Christianity in the global South?).  So I remain contentedly and firmly in my reformed catholicity, but I remain also eager and impatient for the church to come.  Of that church we know nothing except that it will be like nothing we know.  We worship a living God, which means (Jenson tells us) a God of constant surprises.