In my my experience, not much. I’d hardly ever heard of him. Catholicism, for me and for many of my friends, was always something strange and distant, something we’d heard of but weren’t thinking about.This changed, a bit, when I spent a summer during college with an evangelical mission organization in Poland, John Paul II’s, home country.
Many evangelical mission organizations send missionaries to Catholic countries, and I adapted quickly. My ignorance of this country and of Catholicism at this time was astounding, and I would look at tributes to JPII and wonder how God could have let this man lead so many astray. One time, I’m ashamed to admit, I remember making fun of a large picture of John Paul II with his crook, likening it to something out of Star Wars. It is, of course, ironic that after telling Catholics in Poland about the Protestant gospel of “faith alone” for a summer that I am now Catholic. I’d love to return to Poland again and revisit many of the sites we saw and learn more about John Paul.
As to what other evangelical Protestants think of John Paul II or his upcoming canonization, that’s a difficult question. When one friend described what was necessary for canonization in the Catholic Church I looked at him like he had just eaten a porcupine. The most perplexing thing for evangelicals is that all of this seems so superfluous when compared with the idea of “faith alone” and going straight to heaven after death. If you don’t believe in purgatory, canonization just seems silly.
Albert Mohler’s reflection on John Paul II’s death may be a good resource to further answer the question. Albert Mohler is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a frequent featured speaker at large evangelical conferences like Together 4 the Gospel. and is well-respected in the evangelical community, though he is more conservative than some.
In the end, evangelicals should be thankful for the personal virtues Pope John Paul II demonstrated, and for his advocacy on behalf of life, liberty, and human dignity. Yet we cannot ignore the institution of the papacy itself, nor the complex of doctrines, truth claims, and false doctrines that John Paul II taught, defended, and promulgated. As Roman Catholics mourn the passing of the pope, we should take care to respond with both compassion and conviction, fulfilling our own responsibility to take the measure of this man and his legacy.
Mohler admires the man’s courage, even though he disagrees with his theology. May we all lead lives that lead to an admiration of our character, even when someone doesn’t practice our religion.