When I wrote Friday's blog about Reagan, Thatcher, and the Pope, I expected the praise that would be laid at John Paul II's feet. Some of it is well-deserved. By many accounts, he was a man of tremendous character and leadership. His biography is amazing. One reporter told how he visited the prison cell of his would-be assassin to forgive him. Attributed to several Baptists, including Paige Patterson and Richard Land, is a statement that John Paul II was a Pope "who really knew how to Pope." That seems fair to me.
But what I never anticipated was the herd of evangelicals trampling over one another in a rush to elevate him to Protestantism's version of sainthood. It's true that most of them carefully avoid endorsing his theology. Dobson's statement is a good example. On the other hand, Billy Graham went so far as to pontificate on the late Pope's eternal standing with God. From the Larry King Live transcript:
KING: There is no question in your mind that he is with God now?I'm not asking Graham to condemn him. Just have some allegiance to the Gospel of salvation by faith alone that you claim to believe, that was paid for by the blood of Christ, and that was defended by the blood of the martyrs. Please, hold your tongue and let our sovereign God apply His grace, mercy, and justice as He will.
GRAHAM: Oh, no. There may be a question about my own, but I don't think Cardinal Wojtyla, or the Pope -- I think he's with the Lord, because he believed. He believed in the cross. That was his focus throughout his ministry, the cross, no matter if you were talking to him from personal issue or an ethical problem, he felt that there was the answer to all of our problems, the cross and the resurrection. And he was a strong believer.
I have encountered one evangelical so far who has spoken with balance and clarity. The statement below is from Al Mohler's blog today. The whole post is worth a read.
Even so, we must also recognize that John Paul II also represented the most troubling aspects of Roman Catholicism. He defended and continued the theological directions set loose at the Second Vatican Council. Even as he consolidated authority in the Vatican and disciplined wayward priests and theologians, he never confronted the most pressing issues of evangelical concern.
Even in his most recent book, released in the United States just days before his death, John Paul II continued to define the work of Christ as that which is added to human effort. Like the church he served, John Paul II rejected justification by faith. Beyond this, he rejected the biblical doctrine of hell, embraced inclusivism, and promoted an extreme form of Marian devotion, referring to Mary as "Co-Redemptrix," "Mediatrix," and "Mother of all Graces."
Thanks to Dr. Mohler. If one must speak, this is the way to do it. Perhaps I and others without Dr. Mohler's skill and wisdom would be better fit to keep silent and merely be thought to be fools.