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Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, offers his thoughts on the ecumenical gathering the Pope convened April 18 at St. Joseph’s Church in New York, which he attended.
BY TOM MCFEELYCONTRIBUTING EDITOR
PRAIRIE, Minn. — Pope Benedict XVI’s focus on an ecumenical dialogue based in
clarity, truth and love has a particular resonance among American Evangelicals.
Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, attended the
ecumenical gathering the Pope convened April 18 at St. Joseph’s Church in New
York. Anderson, who is pastor of Wooddale Church in suburban Minneapolis, spoke
April 28 with Contributing Editor Tom McFeely about how Benedict’s approach is
Do you think Pope Benedict XVI’s
approach to ecumenical dialogue, which emphasizes clarity with respect to areas
both of agreement and of disagreement and that stresses the need for adherence
to apostolic Christian doctrine, has advanced ecumenical discourse between
Catholics and evangelical Protestants?
think the simple answer is yes.
question is just one with lots of good words. Clarity is a critical key. We
need to have an understanding of what we share in common and how we differ.
evangelicals, the shared belief in the historic Christian faith with the
Catholic Church is of great importance. For example, when Pope Benedict spoke
at St. Joseph’s Church in New York, he made at least one, probably several,
references to the triune God. His emphasis on the Trinity, that’s a core
answer is yes, but clearly there are differences, and I appreciate his
willingness to not gloss over what the differences are.
Do you think this approach is
proving helpful to advancing ecumenical dialogue among all Christians?
Yes, because it opens channels of communication.
But for evangelicals it is most helpful that we agree on the central doctrines
of Christianity, as well as the sanctity of human life.
of those have been core issues in a pluralistic world for evangelicals and they
are core issues for Catholics. And Benedict’s emphasis of the importance of
these issues, especially of doctrine, is of value to us. That’s good.
Does is it harm dialogue with some
other Christian denominations that do not share these emphases when the
Catholic Church spells out these areas of disagreement?
prefer that we emphasize where we have commonality and agreement, but it’s a
mistake to ignore where we have differences.
historic Christianity is historic Christianity, and we need, as believers in
the triune God and the teachings of Scripture, to uphold those doctrines. If
people disagree, I guess they just choose to disagree with it.
What did you think about
Benedict’s remarks at the ecumenical meeting at St. Joseph’s Church?
covered a lot of territory, and I think the things that stood out in my mind
were the importance of basic beliefs and evangelism. He was communicating that
we need to be clear in our message to those who are not Christians and to the
extent possible have a coherent and cohesive message to them.
since I’m someone who believes in the central doctrines of Christianity and
evangelism I appreciated him making those emphases.
Are you familiar with Benedict’s
earlier writings as a theologian and as prefect of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith?
in a limited way. Most of my familiarity with what he has previously written is
I think what I most appreciate is that he speaks both theologically and pastorally.
And that was woven together in many of the speeches that he gave, but
particularly the one I heard [in New York]. You’re listening to a theologian
who speaks pastorally — that’s an amazing combination.
In your judgment, what are the
prospects for eventual Christian unity? What are the main problems that need to
we mean by that organizational unity, I think that’s pretty unlikely.
think the prospects are good for celebrating agreements and acknowledging
differences, but for example the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox
Communion are the most similar. And they’re still distant after almost a
So I think that Protestant and Catholic doctrinal
divergence is real, and I don’t think either is likely to change to the point
Tom McFeely is
based in Victoria, British Columbia.