George Fox professor discusses “Visions of Christian Unity” at Vatican

November 14th, 2006

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NEWBERG, Ore. – George Fox University religion professor Paul Anderson recently returned from Rome, where he met with Pope Benedict and three dozen other Christian leaders from around the world at the Conference of Secretaries of World Christian Communities.
Professor Paul Anderson and Pope Benedict
The leaders, who represent about 1.8 billion Christians, met with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on Oct. 27. Two days earlier, Anderson and the others met in the Vatican with Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Their focus for the week was “Visions of Christian Unity.”
In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter unprecedented since the division of Roman Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy in 1054 AD. The letter, “Ut Unum Sint” (from the prayer of Jesus for his followers in John 17, “that they may be one”) featured an invitation to the rest of the Christian movement for input as to how he might fulfill his responsibilities to be the shepherd of Christ’s flock when his voice is largely unattended by those outside Catholicism.
Having received dozens of responses from individuals and groups, Cardinal Kasper sent the invitation on to others who had not responded, including the National Council of Churches Faith & Order Commission, on which Anderson currently serves. After the 50-member Commission had prepared a group response in 2003, Anderson was invited by Ann Riggs, the director, to write an individual response.
Riggs sent Anderson’s 16,500-word essay, “Petrine Ministry and Christocracy´┐ŻA Response to Ut Unum Sint” to Cardinal Kasper and received a positive letter. She also sent it to a leading international ecumenical journal “One in Christ,” and it was published in January, 2005 as the lead essay.
“I really believe that an emphasis on Christian unity under the lordship of Christ could lead to a new day for the church,” Anderson says. “We may disagree on how to get there, but if following Jesus is our common goal, that’s something we can celebrate in world-wide catholicity.”
Anderson says he received a favorable response to his essay from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church.
“When the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading Cardinal on ecumenical relations in the Vatican, and a Quaker teacher from Newberg all agree on the authority of Christ in the Church, that might indeed signal a new day for Christianity and the world.”
Anderson took his two books along to give to the pope. He also carried a personal copy of his published response to the Vatican. As Anderson greeted Pope Benedict, he handed him his gifts. Anderson says the the pope exclaimed, “Oh, Johannine Christology” and received them with eagerness.
“I really think he’ll like my books if he gets a chance to peruse them,” Anderson says. “They show a vision of John’s author as a dialectical thinker with his own, independent reflection on Jesus. This is why John is so different from the other Gospels.”
Anderson says he has found new evidence connecting the Gospel of John with an apostolic reference in the first century, a full century before Irenaeus. “I think he’ll warm to that.”
Paul Anderson is not the first Quaker to visit the Vatican, although he might be the first Evangelical Friend to do so. In 1658, two Irish Quakers, John Perrot and John Luffe traveled to the Vatican to witness to their convictions about Christ’s being here to teach his people himself. They were both imprisoned; Perrot was confined to an insane asylum for three years, and Luffe was sentenced to death by hanging in the Inquisition. As Anderson had not heard anything further regarding his response to the Vatican, he shared that story with Cardinal Kasper last week, as well as another.
Anderson told the Cardinal, “Recently I was asked how my response to the Vatican was being received, and I was able to say that there’s been some improvement over times past. In the past, Quakers sharing their views at the Vatican were hanged in the Inquisition. Now, their contributions are simply hung up in committee.” At that, both he and the Cardinal shared a laugh.
In addition to being a Quaker theologian, Anderson is a New Testament scholar who specializes in the Gospel of John and Jesus studies. His first book, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” features an analysis of leadership in the early church.
Anderson’s new book, “The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus,” features a new theory of John’s composition and distinctive contributions to the Jesus Quest.
Anderson is currently working with eight denominational leaders as the director of the George Fox University Congregational Discernment Project (discernment.georgefox.edu).
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Contact: Paul Anderson
Professor of Religion
panderson@georgefox.edu
503-554-2651

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