James Dobson of Focus on the Family had a program featuring two Roman Catholic priests in memory of Pope John Paul II (4/6/05). The program started out all wrong, as Dobson said, and this is a quote,
His impact on people everywhere has been profound, and there are many areas wherein we found common cause with him and the other Catholic leaders. I’m a Protestant, and most of our listeners know that, I think, and I do have significantly theological differences with my Catholic brothers and sisters, but I’m grateful, and I say this with great meaning, I’m grateful for the moral force of Pope John Paul and especially his advocacy for the culture of life rather than the culture of death which has us by the neck here in the United States and other places around the world.
Once again, there is everything good about standing for life, whether a Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or plain old pagan. But you will note that Dobson laid the foundation of the rest of the program right at the start. Some might think it is wonderful that Dobson raised the issue of theological differences. Then again, don’t we all have theological differences, even between the closest friends? Reformed Baptists have a “theological difference” with their Presbyterian brothers on the issue of baptism (paedobaptism vs. credobaptism, baptism of covenant children vs. baptism of disciples alone), but that is all just “in the family” is it not? Theological disagreements are a dime a dozen.
What Dr. Dobson did by raising the “theological disagreements” between “Protestants” and Roman Catholics in the context he did was to remove the gospel from the definition of Christianity. How so? Well, he referred to our “Catholic brothers and sisters.” There’s the issue. If they are our brothers and sisters, then the gospel does not define who our brothers and sisters in the Christian faith are. Now, I truly doubt Dr. Dobson holds to the Federal Vision view of covenantal baptism that made up the substance of my debate with Doug Wilson last year, so I doubt he is using the term in the nuanced fashion it is used by FVists. And since it seemed to me, listening to the program, that the faith of the Pontiff, and his acceptance into the presence of God based upon the orthodox understanding of Roman Catholic theology and practice, was a given, it seems obvious that Dobson views Catholics as fellow Christians, heirs of grace, outside the proper realm of “evangelization.” The Roman gospel of the Mass and Mary and purgatory saves, it seems, according to Focus on the Family, or, at least, James Dobson. And having set that tone, what came after could hardly change it.
I likewise note the fact that one of the two priests on the program, Frank Pavone, is involved in the Roman Catholic apologetics movement. In fact, he will be on the Catholic Answers cruise in November (along with Michael Medved). That means he is hardly one of those Roman Catholics who is going to say that Protestant theology is “just fine.” It would be nice if there had been a real debate on that program between Pavone and a Protestant who would stand firm and say, “No, I’m sorry, as much as common grace led John Paul II to do things that are moral and ‘good’ from a human perspective, the gospel he embraced, and his dedication to Mary, is completely inconsistent with the Christian faith.” But that would have been pretty hard, given Dr. Dobson’s opening lines.