PITTSFORD — Pope John Paul II was a born-again Christian and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great introduction to the Bible.
According to William M. Shea, author of the 2004 book The Lion and the Lamb: Evangelicals and Catholics in America, such sentiments have been expressed by certain evangelical Christians in recent years. The fact that evangelicals would come to such conclusions indicate just how much has changed in relations between evangelicals and Catholics over the past several decades, he noted.
Shea, who directs the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., gave two talks at Nazareth College Feb. 9 and 10 on Catholic-evangelical relations. His visit was the third in a series of presentations on “American and Catholic: Perspectives on Faith and Culture.”
In part, Shea distinguished between fundamentalist Christians, who he said wish to be separated from the world, and evangelical Christians, who, like Catholics, wish to engage the world. Not only are Catholics and evangelicals united in their concern for promoting family values and in opposition to such ills as abortion, they’re also increasingly talking to each other about what beliefs they hold in common, he noted.
In a interview prior to his Feb. 10 talk, Shea said that Catholics and evangelicals today share concerns about the secularization of culture, the stability of marriage, violence and the forcing of religion to the margins of cultural life. During his Feb. 10 talk, Shea noted, however, that the growing unity between evangelicals and Catholics came only after centuries of division.
At one time, he said, evangelicals and Catholics held strongly pejorative views of each other. Martin Luther desired to return Christianity to a “pure apostolic church” uncorrupted by the papacy, evangelicals believed, and they regarded Catholicism itself as “unbiblical,” Shea noted. Meanwhile, Catholics held that Protestants “shouldn’t exist,” Shea said, pointing out that both sides have indulged in condemnations of one another.
Yet, during the 20th century Catholics and evangelicals made great strides in lessening the divisions between them, Shea said. Noting a number of important moves made by both sides, he particularly credited both the late Pope John Paul II and the evangelist Billy Graham for their ecumenical efforts, which helped to bridge gaps between Catholics and evangelicals. Shea added that the Second Vatican Council, which formally embraced the idea of religious liberty, also helped pave the way for reconciliation between evangelicals and Catholics.
Shea also noted that Catholics “are now much more at home with Scripture than they were,” helping to improve dialogue with evangelicals who prize the Bible.
As for the differences between the two groups, Shea summarized Catholicism as “liturgical Christianity” and evangelical beliefs as “biblical Christianity.”
“Both have elements of the other,” he said. “For Catholics, the Bible is interpreted in the framework of the community’s worship. For Protestants, the Bible occupies the focus of liturgical worship.”