Monday, January 5

What will the rise of the south mean for global Christianity?

Samuel Escobar is a leading Latin American theologian. He is a professor of missiology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, and is theological consultant for the Board of International Ministries in Valencia, Spain. He is also president of the United Bible Societies and past president of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

As a peruvian evangelical student I met briefly Samuel on some conferences.
He is peruvian too and he is a good example of those who tought my post modern generation.

National Catholic Reporter
Posted August 17, 2006

Extract of an Interview with Samuel Escobar

Conducted August 14, 2006


all copy rights belongs to National Catholic Reporter this is only a incomplete copy and paste

Some Catholic observers say there’s an additional factor in the attrition -- the impact of liberation theology, which they believe “politicized” the church and drove some percentage of the middle and upper classes into Protestantism. True?

There may be some truth in that, but I think it has to be qualified. Liberation theology had its high point in 1968, when the Latin American bishops in Medellín committed to the “preferential option for the poor.” In turn, Medellín stemmed from what happened in 1955, when the Catholic Church recognized that it was losing both to Protestantism and to Communism. The working class and the young both seemed more attracted to Marxism than to the church. The bishops asked for help from abroad. In Peru, for example, they went to the United States and asked for missionary priests to come to the country as a kind of “tithe.” The idea was to save these people from Communism. These foreign missionaries were sent to work with the poorest of the poor, and when they got there, they discovered that the problem was not Communism but rather that the church was part of the oppressive structures of society. Influenced by these foreign missionaries, the bishops decided to realign themselves with the poor. In some forms, this choice became highly politicized, and they forgot about the spiritual dimension -- that is, people need a spiritual experience from the church, not just political guidance. This produced the popular saying that the Catholic Church opted for the poor, and the poor opted for the Pentecostals!

At the same time, however, I’m very conscious that liberation theology responded to a reality in Latin America. We still have the pastoral question of poverty.

Are you saying that it’s unfair to blame liberation theology for the declines in the Catholic Church?
Yes, I think it’s unfair. For example, the small Christian communities that were one of the fruits of liberation theology are one of the areas in Catholicism in which there has been new life, and a new commitment to the basics of the faith, with an effort to turn that commitment into social awareness. Civil society in Latin America owes much to these small Christian communities, which have their parallels in Protestantism.

Will the growth in Protestantism in Latin American continue?
Two things need to be said.

First, there’s a new phenomenon in Latin American Protestantism, which is the emergence of new charismatic mega-churches, which is not typical of the Protestant churches of the past. They have some similarities with the mega-churches in the United States, though the strongly charismatic element makes them different.

These mega-churches in Latin America appeal to some deep-seated aspects of Catholic culture. For one thing, they rely on symbols such as blessed water, which classical Protestantism shunned. They also feature a more authoritarian pastoral style and a denial of the priesthood of all believers, which has historically been a key element of Protestant churches.

We might say, therefore, that Protestantism will continue to grow in Latin America, but what will grow is not classical Protestantism as we have known it.

Second, Latin American Protestantism faces a serious pastoral challenge. People are coming to the churches, so the numbers are increasing, but they have very basic pastoral needs. Like in Catholicism, some of these Protestant churches may fail if they don’t develop a pastoral strategy that comes out of a reflective theological approach.

What should be the top priority?
Education in the faith. In Peru, for example, a charismatic pastor recently got 500,000 votes in national elections. That’s real political clout, but it’s not coupled to any deep theological understanding of relations between church and state, between religion and public life, which could under gird this political action. It has to go deeper.


What will the rise of the south mean for global Christianity?
The real significance of what it means to be global, plural, and ‘catholic,’ will have to be understood in a new way. The Catholic Church in particular has had a way of existing in which elements of uniformity have had the upper hand. It has even had a single language, Latin. There’s a unity which comes from a center that defines things. But the church of the first century was not like that. The Protestant scholar Justo Gonzalez has written on why there are four gospels rather than one. He says the point was ‘catholicity,’ meaning the capacity to respond to different contexts. Today, there’s a need for Christians to have their own way of being Africans, Asians, Americans, and still be part of the church. In other words, this is testing catholicity. It will have to be understood in a new way. Protestantism faces the same challenge, and perhaps the mega-churches may be a new shape of Protestantism that eventually finds theological expression.

What are the characteristics of southern Christianity?
Expression in worship is very different. Feeling is more important than thinking, and the emotional is more important than the rational. There’s a stronger sense of the church as a body, that we belong to one another here in the church, that we are brothers and sisters. This is of course also said in North America, but it may be truer in theory than in practice.

We can get some glimpse of all this in the United States through the experience of African-American Christianity. If you go to these long services, often three hours or more, it’s totally different from white Christianity. I’ve spent a lot of time in Philadelphia, and there’s been a slow process of mutual discovery there. This will happen on a global scale.

For some, this change in perspective is difficult. Some believe that anyone who’s not like us is not really a Christian. But it’s futile, because there’s already a process of change underway. In Protestantism, for example, we see this in recent evolution in music and worship expressions, which reflect the encounter with the rest of the world.

How will the typical white Christian in, say, Kansas City feel the impact?
For one thing, they may find the global church in their own backyard. Given the realities of global migration, today we find African, Asian and Latin American Christians everywhere. The question becomes, how will the traditional congregations in Middle America have fellowship with that strange church down the street? They’re very different, but they still have something in common. Can we recognize that these people with a very different way of practicing their faith are still Christians, and we may have something to learn from them? It’s a humbling experience to realize that this other way of being Christian is also legitimate, also a valid expression of the faith.

It’s all there in Paul’s letter to the Romans -- the multiplicity of cultures, the oneness and richness of a new global reality.


read the complete interview here

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