April 10, 2005


The evangelical pope?: No one would mistake John Paul II for an evangelical Protestant. But he contributed to a dramatic warming of relations between evangelicals and Catholics that may mark a turning point not only in American politics but in the history of Christianity. (Mark Noll, April 10, 2005, Boston Globe)

DURING THE 1960 presidential campaign, leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals - including Harold John Ockenga of Boston's historic Park Street Church - joined other Protestants in warning the nation about the danger of electing a Catholic, John F. Kennedy. Last year, the conservative evangelical spokesman Gary L. Bauer saw the matter very differently.

''When John F. Kennedy made his famous speech that the Vatican would not tell him what to do,'' Bauer told USA Today, ''evangelicals and Southern Baptists breathed a sigh of relief. But today evangelicals and Southern Baptists are hoping that the Vatican will tell Catholic politicians what to do.'' [...]

ver the past few decades the once isolated worlds of Catholic and evangelical Christianity have experienced unprecedented interchange, overlap, and cross-fertilization.

. . .

To see evidence of the kind of change that is taking place, one need only look to recent developments like the following:

* At several of the World Youth Days convened in recent years by Pope John Paul II the ''Jesus Film'' - a dramatization of the Gospel of Matthew produced and distributed by Campus Crusade for Christ, one of the strongest evangelical youth ministries - was shown to all in attendance.

* In the year 2000 a group of 15 officially sanctioned Catholic delegates attended a major conference in Amsterdam sponsored by Rev. Billy Graham for the purpose of promoting the proclamation of the Christian gospel worldwide. Afterwards, Bishop Michael Warfel, Chairman of the United States' Bishops Committee on Evangelization said, ''I wish I could get more Catholics to have such enthusiasm for their faith in Christ.''

* In 2003 John Paul II hosted an official reception at the Vatican for leaders of the Alpha Course, the video series created by Anglican evangelicals in Britain that is today the most widely distributed introduction to basic Christianity in the world. The purpose of the Vatican meeting was for the pope to commend the Alpha leaders and for Vatican personnel to coordinate their own use of Alpha materials for Catholics.

* Hymns, songs, and Christian music of all sorts have built a bridge for spiritual traffic between the two groups. Evangelicals buy the CDs and attend the performances of Catholic troubadours like John Michael Talbot. In turn, evangelical praise songs and hymns are being sung in all manner of Catholic churches and campus groups.

Multiple forces lie behind these developments, the most important being the ongoing effect of the Second Vatican Council, the great conclave of all Catholic bishops convened by Pope John XXIII shortly before his death in 1963. After the Council was over, the evangelical theologian David Wells, who now teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, concluded that the Council's actions had ''rendered the vast majority of Protestant analysis of Catholic doctrine obsolete.'' Wells correctly predicted that the Council would push change among Catholics in many different directions, with some moving toward social radicalism and theological liberalism and some moving closer to evangelical theology and practices.

As a result of the Second Vatican Council, Catholics sought ecumenical dialogue with many other Christian bodies, including evangelicals. The Council's stress on encouraging the laity and on opening the Scriptures to the whole church also led to new points of contact with evangelicals. These developments are not leading to a formal union of churches. But they have led to much better communication and a general relaxation of mutual suspicion.

The reunion will come.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 10, 2005 10:01 AM

And then will come the end of the Roman Church as you know it. It wouldn't be the first time Rome was assimilated by those they sought to convert. Except this time there will be no Reformation.

Posted by: NC3 at April 10, 2005 10:57 AM

Somebody (PJ?) help me out here. It seems that JP-II's whole approach to his papacy weakened the church's infrastructure by emphasizing his direct connection to the people and, obversely, promoting something close to a direct connection between the people and God. "All you need is one good shepherd" seemed to be the message, inadvertently or otherwise. Evangelical, it would seem. Christlike. (Even heretical, although that would be redundant, wouldn't it?)

This direct connection largely ignored the Curiate, thereby allowing them to run roughshod over the Cardinals. This, in turn, provoked a not-so-quiet internecine war that now enters a new and critical phase. Yogi's proverbial fork in the road. This is not your father's church.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 10, 2005 12:27 PM


That is the Reformation.

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2005 12:43 PM

As David pointed out to us, evangelicals don't even think Catholics are Christians. The oecumene isn't that stretchy.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 10, 2005 2:57 PM


You're sixty years out of date...as in all things.

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2005 4:45 PM

OJ -

Your ignoring my (obvious but) implicit question would seem to answer it, especially given your response to NC3.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 10, 2005 4:52 PM

What question?

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2005 5:21 PM

Whether JP II set in motion the "withering away" of the traditional Church bureaucracy.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 10, 2005 7:16 PM


No, he didn't. It's far more likely, thanks to him, that various protestantisms will be brought back under that hierarchy.

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2005 7:22 PM

I hope you're wrong as to the first part. The premises for vast bureaucracies aren't what they used to be. Even the military understands that. As to the second part, I too would like to see a reconsolidation of Christianity. But I don't think its structure and operations will look like the Catholic Church of 100 years ago. Eventually there will be a merger with other major faiths, with numerous adaptations all around. The result will be traumatic to many traditionalists.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 10, 2005 9:17 PM

America is a vast bureaucracy. The Pentagon is a vast bureaucracy. MicroSoft is a vast bureaucracy. The Church is a vast bureaucracy. The premise seems secure.

Posted by: oj at April 10, 2005 9:29 PM

Modern bureaucracies are half-vast and becoming less vast all the time. Partly due to higher productivity, rather then actually shedding power, true enough.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 10, 2005 9:45 PM

ghostcat - I think JPII's papacy was wonderful for the Church. He re-moralized the Church and restored its morale.

I don't believe there's an internecine war in the Church. There's really only one conflict, Christianity vs secularism, and secularism has partly infected the Church. But JPII led a Christian revival.

On the bureaucracy side, things will evolve. More people will be involved in church governance, more checks and balances will be established, and greater transparency. There will be more unity, and more coordination, both within the Church and among all Christians. Christian unity will continue to progress.

Posted by: pj at April 10, 2005 11:32 PM

The Church largely inherited the bureaucracy of the Roman empire. It actually has fewer layers than most large corporations and national governments. It works fine.

I do agree that it's more likely we'll see some protestant denominations rejoin the church. Some catholics may also flee for the more lefty protestant congregations as well, if and when we get a traditionalist Pope from the 3rd world. Still, I am hopeful the net flux is towards unity for the reasons pj states.

I have noticed we sing more protestant hymns. I appreciate the variety as the Protestants seem to have better music while the Catholics were in this guitar and sandals phase for way too long.

Posted by: JAB at April 11, 2005 12:41 AM

Thanks, PJ. You may have noticed that I'm a lapsed Catholic and then some. My wife of 40 years is an agnostic, at best. Yet we have both been seriously moved by JPII's life and death. If we're any indication (and my wife has proven to be an eerily reliable gauge of American public opinion) he certainly didn't hurt Christianity.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 11, 2005 12:49 AM

Considering the Catholic Church has over a billion adherents who live throughout the entire world in countries vastly different from one another, it has the smallest bureaucracy of any international organization.

The Church has 50 years before the 1000 year anniversary of the Roman-Greek schism. It'd be nice to end it before then. Most of the mainline Protestant Churches with apostolic succession will probably rejoin Catholicism at some point. Some might even do it within our lifetime.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 11, 2005 1:05 PM

Orrin, do you know any evangelicals?

Not all, but many, perhaps most, of the ones I know despise Catholics; and the more serious they are, the more adamant they are that Catholics cannot be Christians.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 11, 2005 3:42 PM

Yes and none that hate Catholics any more. It's 2005 you know?

Posted by: oj at April 11, 2005 3:46 PM

Hi, I'm an evangelical. Catholics are Christian, and I don't hate them. Happy?

Harry appears to be confused between "fundamentalists" and "evangelicals," which is an easy mistake to make, as the media ignores the difference.

Posted by: Timothy at April 11, 2005 5:03 PM

I know the difference, Timothy.

Many are both.

The pastor of the largest evangelical church in my county (by a factor of about 10 over the one in second place) is both. He certainly does not consider Catholics to be Christians.

Heck, he doesn't think most non-Catholic Christians are real Christians.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 13, 2005 3:35 PM


A word to the wise: if an acorn landed on Harry's head it would mean the sky was falling. He's completely subjectivist.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2005 3:41 PM