Latin America has been the object of evangelical missionary work for around the last 150 years, though the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh left the region out of its agenda, considering it “Christian” because of the strong presence of the Roman Catholic Church. But sadly, abuse, atrocities and the lack of a Christ-centered Gospel has marked the RCC’s extensive history in this part of the world.
The witness of the evangelical movement in Latin America has not been the best either. By the 1960’s the spread of evangelical churches became noticeable. People know important truths about sin, new birth, Christ’s sinless life, resurrection and second coming. Yet the Gospel has not been broadly, boldly or soundly proclaimed.
Some Latin American pastors are surprised to hear North American friends mention “great things” that have happened in the Caribbean and in Central and South America, and the numbers of evangelical churches planted in the last decades. But those friends in the North are shocked in return to hear that Latin America has been inundated with the apostolic movement and the teachings of Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen and similar types of preachers. In most evangelical churches, teachings on prosperity, subjectivism and theological moralism prevail.
Many Latin American pastors are not self-conscious enough about what they do and teach. They tend to take things for granted, sometimes embracing what they learn through popular mega-preachers on television. Most Latin American or Hispanic pastors are not theological liberals, but their understanding is unsound.
Yet there are plenty of reasons to be encouraged. In the last decade there’s been an awakening of sound teaching. Young people show great desire to teach and preach the whole counsel of God; older and mature men engage and guide the younger men.
God-exalting and church-edifying
In Puerto Rico, in early 2014, two ministries, Reforma2 and Red1:8 (with the support of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Misión Virtual) hosted a 9Marks Conference, which teaches church leaders the marks of a healthy church. Pastors listened to five teaching sessions and attended various Q&A sessions that addressed both practical and doctrinal issues.
Conferences like 9Marks are a blessing for congregations and leaders. Pastors are challenged with biblical truths and enjoy communion and interaction with one another, which helps them to better consider the quality of their ministry and teaching. The conferences are used by the Spirit of God to awaken many from theological lethargy.
Discovering Christ-centered theology
Historically, the evangelical movement in Latin America has been characterized by some animosity toward doctrine and scholarship. Therefore, many Christian leaders are ill-equipped to write for the church. As a result, a lack of sound evangelical literature in Spanish is another issue. Most available resources are anthropocentric, self-help and moralistic types.
This is a constant challenge to those of us who serve in seminaries as we think about a class and syllabus. However, in recent years there has been a substantial increase in translation of good content through ministries such as Desiring God, 9 Marks and others. This is cause for thanks and praise to God.
Another blessing to the Spanish-speaking world is the effort of The Gospel Coalition-International Outreach (TGC-IO), working to fund translation and printing projects to provide sound, practical theological materials for church leaders in needy areas of the globe.
During our weekend in Puerto Rico, more than 300 pastors and leaders received TGC-IO resources, which included copies of John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage and Vaughan Roberts’ God’s Big Picture. Piper’s book helps readers to think better about God’s gift of marriage and the joy of purity. Roberts’ book offers clarity regarding the unity, cohesiveness and beauty of God’s word. This was the first time most pastors at the conference heard about biblical theology. The books were received like balm for wounded soldiers.
The opportunity to teach and transform pastors—and therefore the churches—in Latin America is huge! There has never been a time like this. We are thankful for what the Lord is already doing. We must keep praying and giving, so that we might see hundreds of thousands of churches with a strong theological foundation, centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for a Latin America that is not just a mission field, but a mission force.