PRV2: General Responses

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Protestant Reactions to Vatican II.

Ariel VaticanHaving briefly noted a history of the council and some of the historical and methodological problems associated with this study, we may now turn to the Protestant reactions to the Second Vatican Council. Here we examine several areas of engagement: Broad Protestant Reactions to Vatican II, responses engaging the Church and Revelation, reactions concerning Protestants and Other Christians, and several other issues that remains outliers in the greater conversation. As noted before, this study argues that despite Protestant warming to certain Roman Catholic ideas stemming from Vatican II, there remain deep-seated concerns pertaining to the Roman Catholic conceptions of Divine Revelation and the Church.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of broad and overarching Protestant reactions to Vatican II has been the notation of the divided interpretation of the council by Catholics and Protestants alike. George Lindbeck suggests that, “both the ecumenicists and anti-ecumenicists cite the Council to show how, from their respective points of view, things have changed immensely or really haven’t changed at all.”[1] Also noting the divided interpretations of the council, Thomas Howard argues that popular accounts of the council tend to focus on hot-button issues such as female ordination, contraception, and clerical celibacy, and offer judgment calls on the “children of light (progressives, who saw Vatican II as a down payment on more far-reaching reforms) and the children of darkness (conservatives, who worried that Vatican II itself was a step too far)”.[2] W. Morgan Patterson, writing shortly after the Council concluded suggests that Vatican II could be viewed as Catholicism’s contribution to 20th century ecumenicism and a move towards dialogue with Protestantism.[3]

Francis Beckwith
Francis Beckwith

Another relatively common aspect of post-conciliar discussion involves the increase in American Evangelicals traversing back to Rome,[4] as was the case with Francis Beckwith, one time President of the Evangelical Theological Society who publically converted to Roman Catholicism in 2007.[5] Such denominational movement, though generally among laypersons, suggests that Vatican II enacted a largely positive shift in thinking, at least among certain American Protestants, which was relatively unheard of prior to the council. Scholars such as Robert McAfee Brown affirm that the Vatican II was a step toward not only greater Protestant and Catholic understanding, but was also good for Protestantism as well, as “…what happens for the good in one branch of the Christian family rebounds to the good of all, and just as clearly (maybe even more clearly), what is harmful to one is harmful to all.”[6] Speaking very broadly then, the initial reactions of many Protestants to the Second Vatican Council seem generally positive in nature. But what of more specific reactions to more definable facets of the council?


[1] Lindbeck. [2] Howard, Thomas Albert. “Two Anniversaries: Vatican II and the 95 Theses.” The Anxious Bench. October 15, 2012. Electronic. Non-Paginated. [3] Patterson, 7. [4] Scot McKnight, “From Wheaton to Rome.” [5] Sproul, R.C. “Misunderstanding Vatican II.” Electronic. 2012. Non-Paginated. [6] Cited Duncan, 9.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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