Evangelicals Should Take Cue from Catholic Confession App

Professor warns of cheap grace with lack of confessions among evangelicals

A new Catholic Church-approved app lets sinners confess on their iPhones before heading to the priest for the real deal.

"Confession: A Roman Catholic App" transforms a user's iPhone into a confession coach of sorts, and walks users through a dry run of what they might encounter in the confessional booth. For about two bucks, churchgoers and rusty Catholics alike can go through the steps of a confessional, from examining their consciences to confessing their sins.

Protected by a user password, the app allows Apple users to custom tailor their confessional experience by creating an account based on their age, sex and vocation. There is also a questionnaire that guides users to check which of the Ten Commandments they have broken lately.

After weathering the skepticism of the blogosphere last week, the Confession app is, one by one, garnering praises from the Catholic community and at least one evangelical.

Like most people, John Mark Reynolds, a professor of philosophy at Biola University and co-editor of The New Media Frontier, initially thought that the app allowed users to confess and receive forgiveness through the iPhone. He told The Christian Post that his first reaction to the app was, "Arghh, another example of failing to understand that physicality matters."

But after looking more closely at the tool's features, he said evangelicals should take a cue from their Catholic counterparts on the practice of confessions and checking their "spiritual temperature" with the Ten Commandments.

"A checklist like that is totally compatible with evangelical traditions. Someone like John Calvin or Martin Luther would want you to go through the Ten Commandments and reflect thoughtfully on how you may have broken them," said Reynolds.

As digital confessors tap their way through the app, they are asked questions like: "Do I not give God time every day in prayer?" "Have I been angry with God?" and "Have I encouraged anyone to have an abortion?"

Daily and thorough introspection is a good thing, according to Reynolds.

"If we're not careful, we fall into cheap grace," he cautioned. "We don't pay any specific attention to a lot of the bad things we do. A lot of people get two or three things that they struggle and those are the only sins that they only considered that they have committed."

The novelty of the app alone has been enough to peak interest in the blogosphere, with several sites running tongue-in-cheek headlines like, "Bless me iPhone for I Have Sinned." The imprimatur, or official Catholic Church blessing, from Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes of the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend, granted to the Confession app has also helped it land endorsements.

"In all seriousness, I think this app may be a boon for the sacrament. While confession may be on the decline, I can attest that it remains a powerful venue for grace and healing …. I'm all for whatever makes it easier for others to take that cleansing plunge," said Father Edward L. Beck, a religion contributor for ABC News.

Reynolds said some mainline Protestant denominations such as Lutherans or Episcopalians still observe the tradition of confession before a priest or pastor. According to Roman Catholic beliefs, however, the presence of a priest is required for absolution.

Evangelicals aren't required to adhere to the same standard of confessing their sins to a pastor but they should still follow the biblical mandate to confess their sins to one another, he said.

"The Bible says you should confess your sins to Jesus but it also says you should confess your sins to one another," said the Biola professor. "It's true that ultimately only the power of the Holy Spirit can save me and only Jesus can truly help me, but sometimes they need advice and counsel from someone."

Reynolds said that a lot of Christians, including himself, falls into the "cheap grace" camp. That observation has led him to be more concerned about Christians under-confessing to the Holy Spirit rather than becoming obsessed over their sins.

"Sin separates us from God ... It's good to review what we are doing wrong," he said. "If we say that we love Jesus but we want to do things that separate us from him then once again we're lying and the truth isn't in us."

Sin needs to be examined seriously but it's not something to dwell over 10 years down the road, according to Reynolds.

"Once we've received forgiveness from Jesus, it's time to move on."

The Confession app was developed by Little iApps, which claims Confession to be the first app to be sanctioned by the Catholic Church. In January, Pope Benedict delivered a speech on World Communications Day in which he urged Catholics to embrace new media technologies and make "good use of their presence in the digital world."

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