Skip to main content

PopeI’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia next week.

First, let me say that I’m really happy for those of you who are among the lucky few to secure a ticket to get within 10 miles of the Pope. For the record, he’s been calling me for weeks to see if I can carve out some time to talk while he’s here (something about evolution), but I’m just too busy at the moment.

Plus the traffic. The Holy Father is going to create an unholy amount of traffic.

Philadelphia is an abysmal traffic mess as it is, and I don’t even want to think about the primordial chaos that will erupt on the PA Turnpike (East-West and Northeast Extension) and I76, the Schuylkill (a.k.a. “Sure kill”) Expressway, which is normally a parking lot 23 hours a day anyway.

I really don’t know how long it will take me to get to school. I live on a dead end street and I’m allowing myself an extra 15 minutes to back out of my driveway. Maybe I should just cancel classes (but I won’t).

trafficAll that being said, I am glad to see Pope Francis come to Philadelphia.

“Glad” is the wrong word. I’m encouraged in my own faith even though I’m not Roman Catholic.

I know some of my evangelicals friends can’t deal with the whole Mary rosary bead thing, and they probably still haven’t gotten over the sale of Indulgences—although I’m really not sure how selling God’s forgiveness in order to build a cathedral in the 16th century is all that different from a TV “pastor” telling his congregation that he absolutely can’t serve God without his own fleet of jets and airport. But I digress.

Here are 2 reasons why I am encouraged by Pope Francis.

First, Pope Francis models a “faith” that I need to be reminded of and that I think often gets lost, especially among evangelicals.

True faith isn’t simply something we “have” inside us, but something we do. The Greek word often translated as “faith” (pistis) more often than not means “faithfulness” (or something similar)—it’s an action word. “Faith” is something we do, not simply what we think or feel.

Calm down, Protestants. No one’s talking about adding anything to God’s grace. But God’s grace is for something more than just making sure we are members of the God club and our thinking is neatly lined up. We are called not to “have” faith but to be faithful—in humility and love toward others.

And I’m simply saying here what James wrote a very long time ago.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. (James 2:14-19)

Pope Francis is pulling this off pretty well, and on a global stage. Maybe this will neutralize the effects of presidential candidates who invoke God’s name for all sorts of unholy mischief.

Second, personally I need to Christian faith bigger than my limited, culturally determined gaze.

I need to look elsewhere and be surprised by God.

I want to be reminded that the Spirit moves about entirely out of my control or my ability to predict.

I need to see—for my own spiritual state—that the gospel “works” here and now in the world we live in.

Not by increasing church membership, or debating fine points of in-house matters, or proving through clever arguments that Christianity is true.

I just need to see that it works, that Christianity isn’t a mind game, but that it matters here and now in the difference Christians make in the world we live in—all of which is perfectly consistent with what Jesus talked about, and you can look it up.

Pope Francis reminds me of the simplicity of the gospel and that the gospel can pop up far away from me.

And I’m glad there is a public global face of Christianity that, like Mother Teresa, doesn’t make me want to vomit, run away, or doze off, and that won’t be the subject of a Comedy Central take-down or SNL skit.

So, welcome, Pope Francis. Sorry I can’t make it. Just make sure you leave plenty of time to get to where you need to go. And if you’re up for it, the Center City-Doylestown line runs right through my town.


Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.