Pope ¬Ëœs Provocative Promise of Theological Dialogue

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Pope Benedict XVI sounds like an evangelical conservative and it is giving liberal Catholics fits! Even the NYT described him as “an evangelizer on the right.”

First, he is speaks out against secularism.

“We have moved from a Christian culture to aggressive and sometimes intolerant secularism,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in November 2004 in an interview with the daily La Repubblica. “A society from which God is completely absent self-destructs. We saw that in the major totalitarian regimes of last century.”

Second, he speaks out against relativism and cultural conformity.

“This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world,” the document said, “but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another.’ ”

Third, he professes humility.

“After the great Pope John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard. I am comforted by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient instruments. And above all, I entrust myself to your prayers.”

And now He promises theological dialogue. This is no hollow promise. He is an intellectual with a track record for spirited, thoughtful interactions, even with Protestants. Along with Italian and German, the new pope speaks French, English, Spanish and Latin.

AND the Washington Times reports this: “One surprise may pertain to ecumenism and especially Eucharistic fellowship, Vatican observers said. While Ratzinger played an important role in the drafting of the papal encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” (Church of the Eucharist), which generally rules out intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants, he is known to have made some remarkable exceptions to this rule himself. At the funeral Mass for John Paul II, Ratzinger communed the Rev. Roger Schutz, a Swiss Protestant pastor and founder of the Taizé ecumenical community in France. A German Lutheran theologian well known to the cardinal told UPI that he, too, received the sacrament from his hands.”

My friend, Peter Jones, founder of Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet,
tells a very personal story of his meeting this Pope a few years ago; it affirms this Pope’s openness to dialogue and appreciation for an intellectually & spiritually devoted evangelicalism.

[Somewhere in the personal library of the new Pope, Benedict XVI, is a leather-bound copy of Calvin’s Institutes, and (surprisingly) a copy of my article, “1 Corinthians 15:8: Paul, the Last Apostle.” In the hundreds of stories that will appear about the new pope, this trivial fact will not appear!

In 1988, representatives from the French Reformed Seminary of Aix-en-Provence in southern France where I taught for 18 years were guests at the Vatican through the auspices of some very orthodox French priests who loved Christ and the Scriptures and who wanted us to visit Rome. We were shown the more protected tourist sites, such as Peter’s tomb and the pagan necropolis under St. Peter’s Cathedral. We were also received in the private quarters of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at the time was serving his seventh year as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This same Ratzinger is now Benedict XVI.

Who is Ratzinger? For liberal observers, he is Papa Ratzi, the polarizing, ruthless enforcer, the “papal rottweiler,” disciplining Latin American “liberation” theologians, denouncing homosexuality and gay marriage, and reining in Asian priests who see non-Christian religions as part of God’s plan for humanity. For Bible believers, his courageous positions, made in the light of a deep and informed commitment to biblical theism, have created a bulwark against rising world paganism,.

Who is Ratzinger? Here is my personal testimony, for what it is worth. This very powerful ecclesiastical figure, even then the No. 2 in the Vatican hierarchy, warmly received us, an unimpressive group of French orthodox Protestant/Reformed theologians, for two hours. In the first hour, in fluent French, he gave a magnificent overview of the state of theology and of the dangers of German liberal theology in particular. His critique of Bultmann was superb. We Protestants then took an hour to present the case for orthodox Protestant theology. Cardinal Ratzinger listened with rapt attention. Our time together was not a casual, nor perfunctory “audience,” but a genuine theological exchange. I was impressed by his intellect, by his linguistic ability (fluency in at least five languages), by his theological wisdom and by his openness to biblical theology. As we left, we gave him a bound copy of Calvin’s Institutes, and he graciously accepted my article on the apostle Paul as the last apostle (see photo). Clearly my article did not change his mind about the papacy, but I have it on good authority that he has been reading the copy of Calvin’s Institutes.

So that was that, I thought. However, the next day while sight-seeing in Rome I happened to meet his secretary, a French priest. “How did the Cardinal enjoy our visit?” I asked. Without hesitation he replied: “The Cardinal said he wished there was a seminary like that in the Catholic Church.”

I have rarely thought about that moment, until today. As the presiding Cardinal announced in Latin: “Habemus papam¢â‚¬¦.Josephus¢â‚¬¦,” I knew it was Ratzinger and I stared at the photo I have had on my study wall for many years, drawn strangely in to an event of global proportions.

I began to put things together.

When Ratzinger said in his homily at a pre-conclave Mass in St. Peter’s, denouncing the essence of paganism: “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires”;
When, in his first address from the Vatican balcony he spoke of the “joy in the risen Lord, trusting in his permanent help”;
When, in his first papal homily in the Sistine Chapel, addressing all Christian churches, he said: I take this opportunity to send all of them my most cordial greetings in Christ, the only Lord of all”;
I did think: “That’s the same Ratzinger I met for those two hours seventeen years ago.”

How do Protestants respond, seeing that Rome often masks the pure Gospel of grace and sometimes places Christ behind Mary and even the Pope? The massive glistening white marble statue of Mary on a hill dominates the city of Santiago, Chile, with the head of the Serpent under her feet, while a small figure of Christ on a little cross below, to the left, is hardly visible.

How do we respond? This morning, Robert Godfrey, historian and President of Westminster Seminary in California (where I am adjunct professor and scholar in residence), ended our daily chapel by announcing the name of the new pope. He then did something few Protestants do. He prayed that the Spirit might lead Benedict XVI into a deeper and fuller understanding of Scripture and the Gospel.

Knowing what I learned about this man in that short but meaningful encounter, surely this prayer is not in vain.
Peter Jones
Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet]

My goal in life is to help people find deep, culturally enriching faith that blends spiritual devotion, intellectual vitality and artistic creativity with loving service.”

It appears you might find this in the new Catholic Pope. Do we search in vain to find it in today’s evangelicals?

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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