Christianity Today executive editor Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, says Pope John Paul II authored theological masterpieces that will be studied for centuries, and fostered a climate that led to historic Catholic-evangelical dialogue. George spoke with CT assistant editor Collin Hansen.
Help us gauge the historical significance of Pope John Paul II.
There are only two possible competitors to John Paul II being the most significant pope since the Reformation: Pius IX in the 19th century, who was also one of the youngest popes ever and reigned for a long, long time. Vatican I and the doctrine of papal infallibility happened under him, along with the loss of the papal states.
The other competitor would be John XXIII, and that's just because of Vatican II. But his pontificate was so brief, it was almost like a flare against the darkness. So I think John Paul II, on balance, given everything, would rise above even them.
How did John Paul II change Catholicism in relation to evangelical Protestantism?
He was eagerly interested in reaching out to everybody. I think his greatest interest, ecumenically, was not with Protestants or evangelicals, it was with the Eastern Orthodox churches. He talked about the church being able to breathe with its two lungs, of which he meant East and West. He saw the Protestant movement and evangelicalism as an offshoot of one of the lungs, and therefore not urgent on the agenda.
But having said that, I think he came to see, particularly in the last probably 10 to 15 years of his pontificate, the enormous importance of evangelicalism as a world Christian force. You know the often quoted statement by Wolfhart Pannenberg that the three great ascendant forces in world Christianity in the 21st ...1