The relationship between evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism is back on the agenda. Just consider "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium," the reconciliatory statement produced earlier this year by a number of leading evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders, including Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus. (See "Why I Signed It," by J. I. Packer, in this issue.) If this controversial document is any indication, there is every reason to think that there is a lessening of suspicion on both sides of the evangelical-Catholic gulf and a growing awareness of the possibilities for working together, as well as the dangers of not doing so.
The commonalities between evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism are substantial, particularly in this present "post-Christian" age. Both are major presences in the modern Christian world. (In fact, a leading German theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, predicts that the next century will have room for only three major Christian groups - Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and evangelicalism.) Both are alarmed at the growth in secularism and materialism in Western society, and the dangers posed to Christians throughout the world by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Both are concerned about the increasing moral chaos in the West, at both the individual and social levels.
At the same time, both sides are aware of the growing tensions in Latin America as evangelicalism continues to make deep inroads into areas traditionally dominated by Roman Catholicism. Theological disagreements can too easily explode into violence, and, without question, nobody wants Latin America to go the way of Northern Ireland. (I write as someone who spent his first 18 years of life ...1
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