Pope Tells Atheists to “Just Be Good”?

Written by Wes Walker on May 24, 2013

4577728-3x2-700x467I am not bringing attention to this story to ignite a flame war in the comment thread.  (Especially those of you who tend to monologue for 6 or 7 comments in a row — enough already.)  I generally try to be fair and even-handed to people of other denominations, reserving my criticisms for leadership and direction of an institution itself.  I know full well that most denominations will have a blend of faithful and merely nominal believers.

This story strikes me as newsworthy because it raises an important point about what it really means to be Christian, and what it means to be ‘Good’.

The Pope made an announcement that all people, even atheists are redeemed through Jesus.  (To minimize critical bias, I’ll cite a source friendly to him.)

I’m going to need our Catholic friends to step up and explain what he meant by this, because to an Evangelical, these are troubling words. Here’s why:

– A friend of mine (Atheist, lapsed Catholic) took him to mean that atheists are just as morally good as Christians.  If he were ever inclined to be troubled over conscience, this advice would seem to say the remedy is by “doing good”, not trusting Christ.

– My own understanding of his statements is different.  It sounds like he is saying that faith in Christ is secondary to behaviour.  If that isn’t an endorsement of Pelagianism, please explain to me how it is not.

-Christ did not come to merely improve the ethics of bad men.  Redeemed has a very specific meaning.  It accurately describes bad people who  have experienced a “metamorphisis”.  (Greek Biblical term for it.)

Jesus’ use of “dead” and “alive” hinged not on pulse but faith. But now we are telling people that lacking faith isn’t a big deal, so long as you have good works?  What about “without faith it is impossible to please God?”

There are two kinds of good.

One kind is friendly, helpful and a good neighbor — even ancient Rome and Greece recognized the value of that, however pagan their nations were.  Anyone can be that kind of “good”.  Also, many Christians fail at that.

There is another kind of good that is moral perfection.  You either are or are not absolutely morally perfect.  Compare it to a perfect batting average or save percentage (1.000).  Jesus is the only human example of that.  (This is why Jesus criticized the pharisees, and said that our righteousness had to exceed their fastidious rule-keeping.)

The whole point of the gospel is that ALL people are morally bankrupt.  All of us.  But the good news is that Jesus was not.  If we put our trust in Him, and repent of sin, his sacrifice on the cross and saving righteousness are both accepted by the believer — not by effort, but by trust.  Our good behaviour follows, rather than precedes that belief.

That’s why these two statements are so troubling.  They seem to completely overturn the gospel, and replace it with the discredited ancient heresy of Pelagianism.

My Catholic friends, if I’ve got this wrong, please set me straight.

Comments are open.  Keep it civil.  And please, no “monologue-ing”.

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