Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, is a longtime participant in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an initiative that seeks common ground between these historically antagonistic traditions. He spoke with Christianity Today assistant editor Collin Hansen. For George's discussion of how "the greatest pope since the Reformation" changed evangelicalism, see his interview in Christianity Today.
For much of Protestant history, Catholics have been derided as "papists." The office of pope symbolized what was wrong with Catholicism. Now, with Pope John Paul II's death, you don't often hear that rhetoric in sermons. When did this begin to change?
I think it's a fairly recent phenomenon. If you go back to the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, you have a watershed moment. You would find on the Protestant side a lot of anti-Catholic rhetoric and deep reservation. Just look at the newspapers and some of the sermons and read about the dangers that would happen if you elect a Catholic President who answers to Rome.
Certainly Vatican II is another watershed. In the sense that Vatican II falls far short of what evangelical Protestants would like to see, it does move significantly beyond where the Roman Catholic church was. Most notably for evangelicals is the role of the Bible, the fact that Roman Catholics now study the Scriptures with a new intensity and devotion that would not have always been the case prior to Vatican II. The stand on religious liberty that Vatican II takes is another example. Those are significant changes that, in some ways, we're just beginning to feel the impact of 40 or 50 years later.
But I would not underestimate the role of John Paul II's world historical significance. If there's one thing that evangelical ...