What will it take for evangelical leaders to learn from Pope Francis? He has a deep appeal to millennials. One cannot imagine the likes of Franklin Graham, Russell Moore, or Al Mohler gracing the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Pope Francis is an exemplar of an open transcendent faith.
He has not changed Catholic doctrine, but he has single-handedly changed the tone in which the doctrine is heard and encountered. Closed transcendent Catholics rail against him. Meanwhile he appears on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. This Pope understands the dynamics of the New Copernican frame shift. He states, “The Christian who ‘wants everything clear and safe... will find nothing.’ Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. The church was wrong in the past in accepting slavery and the death penalty. ‘Ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective... have now lost value or meaning.’ The church must ‘grow in its understanding’ and ‘mature in its judgment.’” Here is a Pope that places pastoral care before doctrinal boundary maintenance. “Who am I to judge?” he responded when asked about homosexuality. Instead he encourages homosexual seekers to pursue a love relationship with God. He is not willing to let the church be known for side issues when the joy of love is primary. He is an authentic, humble, joyful person in whom modern New Copernicans can see Christ.
And so it is not surprising that Time magazine reports on how young, energized millennials are ready to remake the church. Elizabeth Dias writes in her article, “The God Squad,” that the frame shift of the pontiff coupled with the shortage of priests is putting the Roman Catholic Church in a good position to capitalize on emerging millennial priests. Bishops are looking for millennial leadership. Dias writes, “Young priests now must take on more responsibility sooner with fewer resources.... The share of men under age 29 who enter Catholic seminary has risen 15% in the past fifteen years, and the average ordination age has fallen from 37 to 34.” What makes Pope Francis a revolutionary is that he has adopted a new frame. It may be a stretch to say that he is a pontifical New Copernican, but he has changed the minds of many and has opened up a new plausibility to faith. Activist actress Maria Bello stated that she has returned to the church of her youth largely because of the witness of Pope Francis.
Catholics are well positioned to make the most of this New Copernican frame shift. What will it take for the evangelical church to follow suit?