Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church

Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church

by Paul Rock, Bill Tammeus


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Pope Francis has taken the world by storm, captivating Catholics, Protestants, and non-Christians alike. Sneaking out of the Vatican at night, washing the feet of inmates, and taking selfies with young fans is certainly unlike any religious leader we've seen in a while, and some of the religious establishment is uneasy about it. The revitalization Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church is not without precedent, however. Jesus had a similar effect in his day, drawing crowds with his humility, kindness, and wisdom—even as he drew the disapproval of established religious leaders. The things that have brought Francis such media attention are the same things that made Jesus so peculiar and attractive in his day.

Thoughtful examination of Jesus' example and legacy, as well as an honest look at the similarities and differences between Catholic and Protestant faith, invites reflection on the heart of Christianity and how we relate to our fellow Christians. Readers will discover the power of heartfelt joy, radical love, and passion for justice to shake people out of religious complacency and into dynamic, contagious faith. Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar looks at what is universal among Christians, what is unique to Catholics and Protestants, and how all Christians can practice understanding and cooperation across differences. Perfect for individual or group use, discussion questions are also included to encourage further thought and conversation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780664260675
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press
Publication date: 09/16/2015
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Paul Rock is Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.

Bill Tammeus is the former Faith section columnist for The Kansas City Star. In addition to his daily blog (, Bill writes columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and the online edition of the National Catholic Reporter.

Read an Excerpt

So Jesus, the pope, and a Protestant walk into a bar. The bartender asks, “What will it be today?” As the pope reaches for his wallet, Jesus winks at his companions and says to the bartender, “Just three glasses—and keep the pitchers of water coming.”

For almost five hundred years, Catholics and Protestants have been standing together on the common ground of Christ Jesus while at the same time often backed into corners, proclaiming that the other is wrong about what exactly it means to be Christ’s church. This sometimes- bitter divisiveness must break the sacred heart of Jesus, who, in his high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, pleaded for his followers to be one.

At times these Catholic-Protestant differences have led to bloodshed—and not just on battlefields hundreds of years ago but in our own era. A prime example is “The Troubles,” a three-decade-long conflict that claimed the lives of over 3,500 people in Northern Ire- land. All too often, Catholic-Protestant disagreements have resulted in deep family schisms and wounds that fester for generations.

Sometimes the disagreements have resulted simply in hurt feelings because of what seemed like unjust accusations of apostasy. An example is the Vatican document Dominus Iesus, published in 2000, which declared that Protestant churches and certain other congregations are not “Churches in the proper sense.” In response to that unfortunate declaration, some Protestants produced hurtful and equally inhospitable rebuttals. One of the more tempered and cordial responses came from the prominent German theologian Eberhard Jüngel, who wrote that the conclusion in Dominus Iesus actually contradicts many of the recommendations and certainly the spirit of Vatican II. Even within our Catholic and Protestant families, there is sufficient disagreement to keep us befuddled about what it means to be the church.

Yet now and then, though rarely until recent years, Protestants and Catholics have come together in good faith to try to understand each other more fully and to affirm our common commitment to the triune God. A good example of this is the “Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism” signed in 2013 between leaders of American Catholics and some American Protestant denominations. Such agreements, we hope, mark a long-desired new chapter in our shared life of faith.

Our often-lamentable history, as well as the approaching five-hundredth anniversary in 2017 of the start of the Protestant Reformation, formed part of the backdrop for a series of sermons that the Rev. Dr. Paul T. Rock led in early 2014 at Second Presbyterian Church, the congregation he pastors in Kansas City, Missouri. The series, “Jesus, the Pope, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar,” sought to help listeners understand the remarkable and almost immediate popularity of Pope Francis among many Catholics and Protestants, to say nothing of people of other faiths. Francis had been in office less than a year when the sermons were preached.

From the cover of Time, as that magazine’s person of the year, to the cover of Rolling Stone, Francis began to turn heads immediately upon his surprising election— and not only because he was the first Jesuit pope, the first pope from South America, and the first pope to take the name Francis. Rather, his appeal seemed rooted in his genuine humility, his insistence that the church should be a stalwart defender of the poor, and his desire not to focus on the hot-button culture-wars issues that had so often dominated the papacies of his two predecessors.

Given all that, the time was right to explore what Pope Francis means not just to Catholics but to others as well, including Protestants, many of whom have backgrounds in a wide variety of faith traditions, such as Catholicism. So Rock spent time marinating in the new pope’s own writings along with information and insights from others about Francis, the church he leads, and his Jesuit religious order. Rock also asked the congregation’s associate pastor, Don Fisher, and its minister to youth, Laura Larsen, each to prepare a sermon for the series. Rock’s sermons, as well as those by Fisher (“Being There”) and Larsen (“#selfie”), form the basis of the seven sessions in this study. You can view all these sermons online at

The week Rock preached the first sermon, Second Church member and elder Bill Tammeus, a longtime journalist, devoted his biweekly column in the National Catholic Reporter to the ways in which Francis was finding fans among Protestants. Tammeus inserted into that online column a link to the sermon series that Rock was leading. The result was hundreds of hits beyond the normal number on the church’s website. Rock began hearing from people in the Kansas City area as well as from around the world, many of them Catholics. Here are a few examples

  • From Northern Ireland: Thank you, Paul, and I pray that God continues to promote Christian unity not only by your teaching but by inviting together people who are truly searching for God’s Word alive in today’s broken world.
  • From Newark, New Jersey: As a social worker, Catholic, New Yorker/Newark NJ-ite, I am pleased to see the spirit of Vatican II return. I appreciate the sermon focus on what we have in common and staying in the mission of Jesus.
  • From a Catholic priest: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I listened to your sermon three times in a row. You touched my heart and soul, confirming many things I have contemplated. God bless you. From Birmingham, Alabama: I have listened to “Jesus, the Pope, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar” three times now. Have forwarded it to my entire Catholic discussion group. Excellent. What brilliant preaching. (You may not know this, but Catholics aren’t used to good preaching.)
  • From a Catholic priest in Cairo, Egypt: I just wanted to thank you for the sermons of Second Presbyterian referring to Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. I am of a mixed Protestant-Catholic family and have considered Martin Luther to be my special patron saint. I truly admire your preaching content/style and look forward to future sermons. You, your other ministers, and your congregation have inspired me and even made me cry.
  • In addition, a Catholic youth group from a suburban Kansas City church watched the sermon series online together and discussed each one. Later some musicians from that group participated in a Second Church worship service.

All of this led Rock and Tammeus to respond favor- ably to a suggestion from Westminster John Knox Press that perhaps the sermon series could form the foundation for a book that would help readers explore Catholic- Protestant common ground, a book that would invite not just ecumenical dialogue but also improved interfaith and interpersonal relations.

If the call of the twentieth century to Americans was to get racial harmony right (obviously still a work in progress), the call of this century is to get religious harmony right. The American religious landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, and it includes a growing segment of people who claim no religious or denominational affiliation at all. Indeed, because of Americans’ history as a people who cherish religious liberty, the United States has a rare opportunity to become a model for how people of many religious traditions can live together in harmony. One of the goals of this book is to raise up that possibility and to encourage conversation about how to make it happen.

Therefore, beyond reflections on Scripture, Pope Francis, and the Christian faith, we offer discussion questions to spark enlightening conversation. There also are suggestions for possible next steps of engagement for people who want to take seriously the challenge to understand other faith traditions more deeply and to begin engaging in ecumenical and interfaith discussions and action. Our hope is that all of this reading, discussing, and engaging can lead to a more harmonious religious atmosphere in the country as people replace ignorance with knowledge and even wisdom.

Something you won’t find in this book is a detailed history of Catholic-Protestant relations. Others have offered that in books by experts in the field. We have recommended several such Christian-history books in the suggested reading section in the back. And because religious harmony depends on understanding not just other types of Christians but people of other faiths as well, we have also included some books for learning about other major world religions.

It’s important to understand that the purpose of authentic ecumenical and interfaith dialogue is not to convert others who are participating in the discussion. Rather, the purpose is simply to know and to be known. This requires humility as well as a willingness to ask nonhostile questions and to listen intently. Beyond that, it takes time and patience to enter into this web of interpersonal, ecumenical, and interreligious discussion, recognizing that participants almost certainly will never reach consensus about matters of faith and recognizing as well that each person’s own understanding of this or that matter is never the final one. In other words, it is helpful to adopt the fascinating attitude of both tentativeness and assertiveness found in Talmudic culture, where rabbis disagree with each other in a spirit of respect and with a common goal of engaging matters of faith ever more deeply. As a result, we all become better people of faith and better humans.

In some ways, we might do well to let our children lead us in this. They often seem to have a capacity both for curiosity and for making friends with people outside their own families and their own racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Ecumenical and interfaith dialogue also seems to succeed more often when participants do more than sit around a table and talk. Indeed, when people work together on common projects, such as building Habitat for Humanity houses or working in a soup kitchen, they quickly come to recognize that people they had thought of as different and even weird are much like themselves.

Dialogue and other connections between and among people of different faith traditions are not meant to lead to a syncretistic faith that all can hold in mushy common without much disagreement. That’s an unworthy and unnecessary goal. Rather, ecumenical and interfaith relations work best when all participants remain true to their own tradition even while being open to understanding the traditions of others. The mandate, in other words, is to be both deep and wide.

We hope this small book will help to guide you toward that theological depth and width so that you are free to be who you are and free to let others be who they are, all the while doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

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StudentofParables More than 1 year ago
This is a book that sticks with you, that you ruminate on over and over, and that inspires conversation with those around you. The points the authors make drive deeply home, in a caring and real tone that resonates with readers from any point on the spectrum they are addressing. In short, this is a great book! And in addition to all these points, the book also starts with the best water-into-wine joke I've ever heard. You have to check it out! There were a couple of points that really spoke to me specifically. The first was about realizing and obeying our true calling. As the authors put it, "If we can't trace what we're doing back to love, then we've lost our way. We're in the wrong boat and are fishing with faulty nets." They pointed out that the disciples, while originally fishermen, were called to something different, and greater. And so after the crucifixion when they tried returning to fishing, their comfort zone, they didn't catch any fish. But as the authors remind us, "God didn't go to such great lengths to be near us in order to condemn us or shame us, but to love us." So Jesus, when he found the disciples off-track in their calling he didn't chastise, but teach. Turn completely around, throw in again. Get our of your comfort zone, get into the hard stuff of living with and for people. That brings me to the next point that I took away from this work: "We are always blessed in order to be a blessing." This is God's promise to Abram in Genesis 12, that I have to admit, I had completely overlooked. This truth made me sit back in wonder, looking at all the parts of my life - all the times I've wanted, yet hesitated, to get involved with those around me, and seeing with clarity how much I've gotten in my own way. The authors say it very succinctly. "The thing that keeps invite lists from growing and circles of inclusion from expanding is not the pressure encountered from without but the reticence, insecurities and fears from within." While all these points in the work are framed in the premise of Catholics and Protestants understanding one another and working together to reach the world for Christ, the ideas can be applied to other themes as well. This book is well worth a second or third read, to dig out all the truths and application therein. I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.