Pope John Paul II and evangelical Billy Graham: two icons of our distinct traditions

I have known JohnDave Medina for several years. We were introduced to each other when we moved in the same Pentecostal circles. A few years later we reunited in Portland, Oregon, when JohnDave enrolled in his MA program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary (GFES) and I had begun my Master of Theology program at Western Seminary. Now, GFES is an evangelical seminary that is sympathetic to the emerging church movement and similar expressions of evangelicalism. It is somewhat like Fuller Theological Seminary in that it represents “big tent” evangelical ecumenism. To my surprise (kind of) JohnDave’s studies moved him  not toward the Christianity represented by Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Leonard Sweet, or even Scot McKnight, but back to the Christianity of his youth: Catholicism.

Of course, we had some great chats because of this. I wanted to know how this happened and why he had returned to Rome. My transition from sectarian Pentecostalism to evangelicalism isn’t much of a story. JohnDave’s move from Pentecostalism to evangelicalism then quickly to Catholicism is more interesting. I came to appreciate his decision and I confess that (1) JohnDave’s (re)conversion made me revisit Catholicism to see if there was something I was missing and (2) he gave me a new appreciation for the tradition. Honestly, there are many, many aspects of evangelical theology that I find unsatisfying. I can live with tension and some degree of cognitive disconnect. If I couldn’t do this I may not be an evangelical at all. The Catholic tradition is deep and wide, old and dynamic, and it reminds me that there is something to a worldview that includes what G.K. Chesterton calls “the democracy of the dead.”

But alas, I did not follow JohnDave’s example. I did not convert to Catholicism. So why? Well, that is part of what motivated me to email JohnDave this week to ask him if he wanted to resume the discussions we were having in person back in Portland, but now we would do it over our shared blog for anyone and everyone to read. This will be a casual discussion. I will write a blog post, JohnDave will respond, and I’ll respond to his response. Readers of this blog will have the opportunity to peak in on our discussion and join us via the comments.

Next week I will write part 1a of the series with JohnDave responding in part 1b the following week. Now, I may not fit some people’s presuppositions when it comes to the label “E/evangelical,” and I am sure that JohnDave’s Catholicism may be foreign to some fellow Catholics, but we ask that those who join us try to share the spirit of our dialogue. JohnDave and I are very good friends. We are brothers in Christ. Our doctrinal differences matter, so we will discuss them, but we do so as two fallible Christians trying to understand each other better. If this is the type of conversations you’d like to join come back next week for my opening post. In the meantime, if you have anything you’d like to say–whether topics you’d like us to cover or something else–please let us know in the comments section.