The Francis Effect: Is This the Next “Great Awakening”?

The Next Great Awakening?

Might Pope Francis be the defining witness for the next “Great Awakening”?

I started asking that question as I watched and listened to Pope Francis as he made his made from Havana to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

We were on a “Fall Foliage Cruise” where I was speaking on the way religion in Colonial New England contributed to the formation of our nation. As is usually the case, it’s the story of particular individuals who at a particular moment in history acted in particular ways that influenced the events that followed.

One talk focused on “The Great Awakening,” the spiritual revival that spread across New England in the middle of the 18th Century. It’s key witnesses were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, followed by Francis Asbury.

As I watched and listened, I began to wonder if God has called this particular Pope to this particular moment in time to bear witness to the gospel in a particular way that will awaken us to a way of witness that transcends the often mean-spirited, contentious, politically-polluted ways of some of the supposedly “evangelical” figures who have dominated the news in our time.

Francis’ Way of Witness

In both his words and his life, Francis demonstrates a way of witness that is:

Rooted deeply in the past, speaks courageously to the present and points prophetically to the future. Everything about Francis grows out of the long traditions of the Church while connecting with the needs of the present and calling us toward God’s vision of the future.

Nurtured in and by the Church. Francis is not making this stuff up on his own the way political candidates frame their message to impress the constituency they are trying to win.  Everything he says and does is grounded in the faith and social convictions of the Roman Catholic Church.

Lives into the vision of God’s Kingdom revealed in Jesus Christ, coming on earth as it is in heaven. He shows us what it looks like to take the gospels seriously, particularly the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Jesus—words that are noticeably absent from some of the politicians who supposedly are the representatives of Christianity in America today.

Draws people in rather than driving people out. As I watched the massive crowds that were drawn to him, I remembered Jesus’ promise, “If I be lifted up I will draw all people to myself.”

Consistently directed toward the “least of these.” Consistent with his chosen name, Francis consistently challenges those of us who “have” to be personally engaged with the “have-nots.” Some of the most moving moments were the times he took children into his arms the way his Master did.

Works relentlessly for reconciliation and peace. His message to the United Nations was a prophetic witness of Jesus’ call for his followers to be peace-makers.

Respects national loyalty without surrendering to it. Francis is the same person in every nation he visits, never allowing any nation’s flag to take priority over the cross.

Challenges every political party without becoming the possession of any of them. Politicians who attempt to co-opt Francis for their agenda are consistently frustrated by the consistency of his message.

Maintains the integrity of his own faith tradition while providing space for others.  The Interfaith Service at the 911 Memorial was a powerful witness to the common values that are shared by every major religious body in our nation.

One of the CNN reporters who traveled with the Pope from Cuba through the U.S. simply called his visit here a “come to Jesus moment” for all of us.

I’m still a Protestant. There are points at which I would disagree with the Pope. But if God can use him as the harbinger of the next “Great Awakening,” you can count me in! At least it’s worth praying for!

Grace and peace,


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14 thoughts on “The Francis Effect: Is This the Next “Great Awakening”?

  1. well said jim. 9/11 service was especially poignant….palpable humility fostering common cause for the common good..

  2. Well considered, Jim, well considered indeed.

  3. Well said, Jim. And picking up on your theme sign me up for a Great Awakening in contrast to End Times!


  4. Right on! Great to have you back !

  5. Well said Jim! Peace and Blessings, Judee

  6. Kris and Doug Ryckman September 27, 2015 — 11:35 pm

    A wonderful post that I share with my visiting daughter’s in-laws (who you know)-. As an ex Priest and Nun, but still devoted Catholics, they share your sentiments–and are energized by his outward inclusive focus. Great stuff !!

  7. Thank you for this cohesive summary of Pope Francis’s pilgrimage . Your words eloquently present what so many of us are hoping to experience… To be in the presence of a Godly man living and breathing the gospel. A man called not to offer political opinions but to offer the hope rooted in basis of good works… I liked your way of connecting the Popes life/actions to the past, present and future… Your writings are a source of inspiration and enlightenment . Thank you Jim.

  8. What a wonderful way you have of gathering details into common sense and the Gestalt of the matter…no matter what “matter” you are discussing. I always look forward to your blogs. You have your finger on the pulse of current human events and your heart and mind on a heavenly perspective of them.

    Our 59 year old pastor died suddenly in his sleep at the same time that Pope Francis arrived here. Our METHODIST congregation has been reeling in confusion and questions. The Pope’s speeches and actions have been so universally truth based and faith affirming, he helped us without even being aware of it. That has to be the work of God.

  9. Nancy Silverfield September 28, 2015 — 1:01 pm

    Loved the way you put this into prescpective. Truly this would be perfect timing for a ” Great Awakening.” My mother, who is now living alone after the passing of my father, found great comfort in Pope Francis’ words and actions as she followed his visit. I, for one, was thrilled that my southern Baptist mother of 90, was so taken by it all. Will send this to my mom as well; as you know, she thinks the world of you.
    Thank you, Jim, and hope you and Marsha enjoyed the cruise!

  10. Lawrence Ingram (7555) September 28, 2015 — 2:38 pm


    We were having a Monday Men discussion along the same lines a few weeks ago. I sense right now a longing in our popular culture for Christian spirituality in a way I have not seen before. We talked about David Brooks’ book – he almost gets there. I read the review of David Gregory’s new book (haven’t read the book yet) but it appears that he is at least appreciating if not being drawn into his wife’s Methodism. Like you I don’t think I will ever be a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but as with C.S. Lewis – I want to focus on what we agree upon – not on our disagreements. There is very little that Pope Francis is saying that I could disagree with.

    Miss you.


  11. I found your thoughts truly insightful and wonderful. We need collectively visionaries and dreamers, based on the Christian rootedness and open to the others. I found your summary of the Pope’s actions and presence really touching. I intend to use this blog for our class reflection. Thanks a lot for this writing.

  12. It worked out well until we discovered that he met with Kim Davis, that bigot who won’t participate in the celebration of gay marriage. Yep the masses and the press follow until they discover there is actually a standard of Godliness expected. Then like the crowd that welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday they cry give us Barabbas on Thursday.

    1. The rest of the story is that the Pope was blind-sided by this…perhaps some Vatican intrigue going on there. But even though I can’t stand Kim Davis, I wouldn’t hold it against the Pope for being gracious to her…more gracious than I am probably willing to be.

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