A certain set of folks will surely chalk this up to my innate stupidity, blindness, and general lack of in-depth knowledge of the sewing methods of French nuns in the northwestern corner of France in the year 1219, but I just read Peter Leithart’s comments on the death of John Paul II, and I am once again launched off into the netherworld of utter confusion brought on by “reformed Catholicism.” I’m sure it is very “broad minded” to speak this way, but honestly, I just don’t get it. Here’s the final paragraph of the commentary:
Flawed though his theology was, he remains far and away the greatest Christian leader of the past century. No Protestant comes anywhere close. Billy Graham may have preached more (maybe!), but Graham had nowhere near the political weight or the theological depth of Pope John Paul II. John Paul II’s life is not only testimony to the wonders that God can perform through imperfect instruments but an inspiration for all Christians, whether or not we aspire to pope.
Let me see if I can figure this out. What makes a great Christian leader has nothing to do with the gospel. It has to do with political weight and theological depth. I guess it follows that “theological depth” is also disconnected from the gospel, too. You can be “deep” theologically without having any depth at all regarding such topics as the sovereignty of God in salvation, God’s self-glorification in salvation, justification by grace through faith, the cross, atonement, substitution, the imputation of righteousness, forgiveness, the nature of adoption, sanctification, glorification…well, it would be easier to just say “the entirety of soteriology, ecclesiology, and the vast majority of eschatology.” I guess that leaves theology proper, and ethics, as the realms of John Paul’s “depth.” But, oddly enough, I don’t think you can be “deep” in either if 1) you don’t see how God’s triune nature is involved in the gospel itself, and 2) you can’t do ethics outside of a proper view of man and God that again involves the gospel. So I’m at a loss as to what this “theological depth” is all about. But I’m just a Baptist, so that is probably just a given anyway.
This morning I preached at the Cornerstone Baptist Church near Detroit, and I chose to take a risk and go ahead and address the issue of the death of John Paul II. My emphasis was to challenge those gathered there to proclaim the gospel powerfully to those who open up the door to the discussion over the next few weeks, and I focused my attention upon Romans 4:4-8 and Hebrews 10:1-4 as my texts (nature of saving faith, justification, the blessed man, reminder of sin in repetitive sacrifices vs. the singular, perfect work of Christ). The exhortation was received very well, if the comments of those who came up to me after the service are representative. Those who have been delivered from bondage to Rome were in the majority of those who came forward and gave thanks for the message. They in particular understand the importance of this time, and the importance of not compromising the gospel for the sake of the ecumenical jihad.
But reading things like Leithart’s blog reminds me that I am in a rather small minority. Sure, there are plenty of folks running around who are “anti-Catholic” and, if asked, would tell you the Pope is lost. But, when you ask them why, they can only give you an answer based upon such things as grossly ignorant bias and bigotry, or some Jack Chick style reading, or mere taste or predilection. I’m no friend to those folks (though their counterparts in the Roman movement will caricature me in that fashion). I have been very, very consistent for a long time now: Rome’s gospel does not save. I say that because of her dogmatic teachings on the nature, efficacy, and purpose of baptism; her dogmatic teachings on justification, the state of grace, infusion, and the will of man; her dogmatic teachings denouncing and anathematizing faith alone and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ; her dogmatic teachings concerning the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice, transubstantiation, purgatory, and satispassio. Are there liberals in the Curia who in reality are embracing inclusivistic principles and, in essence, abandoning the historic position of Rome? Sure are. But you will find me significantly less impressed with liberals, no matter what their denominational orientation, so I have great empathy with the conservative Roman Catholic who finds the liberals in his church a horrid betrayal of faith. Of course, those liberals might just take over someday, at which point everything is up in the air. But till then, it surely seems a fair assertion to say that John Paul II believed every single thing I listed above regarding the gospel, and that isn’t even touching upon his Marianism. So, evidently, at least up at NSA, all that stuff isn’t nearly as important as your political weight and your theological depth when it comes to being the greatest Christian leader of the century. I will have to work some more on this. Perhaps I will find the answer in some obscure treatise from the 11th century.