Christianity Today executive editor Thomas C. Oden, a Methodist theologian at Drew University, met Pope John Paul II last December as general editor of InterVarsity Press's Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Oden, formerly chairman of the board for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, looks back at the pope's impact on evangelicals in an interview with senior associate news editor Stan Guthrie.

What were the pope's most significant contributions concerning relations with evangelicals? He was certainly known as a very ecumenical pope.

John Paul II opened the door in ways that had not been opened before for Protestants, especially for evangelicals, to see that their doctrines, although they differ [from Catholic doctrines] in many ways, have important levels of similarity between them. I regard this as a work of the Holy Spirit in our time to bring the Christian community and all of its different manifestations worldwide into a greater proximate unity as the body of Christ.

The pope gave firm, moral leadership not only on culture-of-life questions, but on questions such as the firm commitment of the church to care for the poor without the overlay of secularist and socialist ideology. John Paul II was a strong, moral voice at a time when evangelicals were beginning to wake up to the fact that while we do, indeed, have many differences with Roman Catholics—on Scripture, sacrament, penitential practice, and many other things—we have many common and shared values, and, in some profound ways, shared doctrine. We share the same New Testament, the same canonical Scripture. We share the same confession, the same Nicene Creed, the same Apostle's Creed, and so forth.

What John Paul did is bring that into much greater ...

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