Named after the Christopher Columbus, the Republic of Colombia is world renowned for its smooth coffee and supply of emeralds. Colombia borders five other nations, has a coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and boasts various celebrities ranging from author and Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Marquez to actress Sofía Vergara.
Like elsewhere in Latin America, Roman Catholicism has steadily declined in Colombia over the last 40 years. According to a recent Pew Forum study, nearly three-quarters of current Protestants in Colombia were raised Roman Catholic, and 84 percent say they were baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. In this same study the two dominant reasons given for the change were a desire for a “personal connection” with God and a new worship style.
The threat of kidnappings, even of American missionaries, remain a perennial concern in Colombia, even if fears have somewhat lessened. (As of this writing there are ongoing talks between the Colombian government and the leftist “Farc” rebels meeting in Havana, Cuba.) The U.S. embassy, for example, routinely issues advisories that American citizens could be targeted by guerilla groups. In the midst of these unique challenges, however, the evangelical church in Colombia has grown. Stories abound like that of Russ Stendal, who has ministered in some of the remotest and most dangerous areas of Colombia even after being held hostage by narco-terrorist groups; or of pastor Jesús Goez, who has endured life-threatening persecution but can say “the proof of God's mercy is that I am alive to tell this story.”
As we continue our series on the gospel in Latin America, I corresponded with David Adams, director of Poiema Publicaciones, a Spanish evangelical publishing house in Medellín, Colombia. In this interview we hear about the Colombian church, the reception of Reformed theology in Latin America, some exciting book titles in Spanish, and more.
How would you describe the church in Colombia?
As recently as 30 years ago, evangelicals numbered less than 1 percent and were often ostracized by society. In the past 20 years evangelical groups have grown to approximately 10 percent of the population, with the primary growth in Pentecostal and charismatic denominations. Many converts are originally attracted by contemporary music (which many Catholic churches are now emulating), and some are drawn by the “faith promises” they receive in most churches.
What most encourages you about the evangelical church in your country?
I'm excited by the effect the gospel is having in Colombia—reaching Roman Catholics who have never heard the gospel of grace (rather than good works) and are now discovering the joy of a direct relationship with God (without intermediary priests or patron saints). The gospel is also powerfully affecting many evangelical churches whose leaders are discovering the depth and richness of expository preaching and gospel-centered ministry, and are steering their churches back to the Word of God after many years of man-centered “Christianity.” In recent years the “Young, Restless, Reformed” wave has reached our shores, and the current interest in gospel-centered resources is thrilling!
What are the biggest challenges facing the evangelical church in Colombia?
The primary challenge is a “gospel” that is no gospel at all. So many who claim to be Christians are actually devoted to a moralistic, personal, prosperity-based religion that reduces Christianity to a transactional relationship with God where if I obey, he will give me what I want. Many churches teach that God wants all believers to be wealthy—that if they have enough faith to give much of their income, he will give them back ten times that much money. In a region as impoverished as Latin America, this is a most tantalizing and dangerous trap.
Some pastors are shameless charlatans, while others are sincere but have never been taught differently. Most churches teach the power of “positive declaration”: whatever you claim in faith becomes reality. All of these false promises lead quickly to frustration and disappointment. Nominalism is a growing and alarming problem. Many who call themselves Christians don’t realize they have accepted a caricature; they’ve never understood the true gospel!
You serve at Poiema Publicaciones, a publishing house for solid resources in Spanish. Would you share more about Poiema and some of your current projects?
Poiema is a not-for-profit publisher whose whole purpose is to take “The Gospel to Every Corner of Life” through great Reformed books. We are based in Medellín, Colombia, but our ministry extends to all of the Spanish-speaking world. We publish books that are attractive and accessible to anyone stepping into a bookstore, but what they find inside often surprises (and even transforms) them.
God has opened doors to get our books into Christian bookstores in most Latin American countries and has also “moved mountains” to get them into many secular and even airport bookstores. Our books drive the reader into the Scriptures and show how the transforming grace of the gospel can be applied to their everyday lives.
Some of the titles we’ve already published [note: these titles are in Spanish]:
- Galatians for You, Tim Keller
- Shepherding a Child’s Heart and Instructing a Child’s Heart, Tedd and Margy Tripp
- Idols of the Heart, Elyse Fitzpatrick
- When Sinners Say, 'I Do', Dave Harvey
- The Unfolding Mystery, Edmund Clowney
Titles in editing or awaiting funding to send off to print:
- Five Points, John Piper
- Romans for You, Tim Keller
- War of Words, Paul Tripp
- Extravagant Grace, Barbara Duguid
From your point of view, what has been the reception of Reformed theology in the Latino world?
The arrival of a Reformed movement in many parts of Latin America has been refreshing. One of the most encouraging things for me is to see changes (although usually gradual) in established denominations returning to the Scriptures. It is also exciting to see new evangelism-minded, gospel-centered church plants springing up.
How can we pray for the church in Colombia?
Please pray that God’s Holy Spirit would do an amazing work of true revival in Colombia—drawing unbelievers to himself and giving existing believers a hunger and thirst for him and his Word like never before. Pray that he would raise up Reformed leaders who will wisely and lovingly work to unite churches around the gospel. Pray that the church will be a body that affects society in all areas of life, addressing issues of poverty, broken families, violence, and corruption. Colombia needs a bigger gospel than one of personal prosperity. It needs the Good News of a sovereign God who “was pleased to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20).
Recent articles in the the Gospel in Latin America series:
Editors’ note: The Gospel Coalition National Conference returns this year to Orlando, Florida, from April 12 to 15. We're delighted to partner with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for a special pre-conference for Spanish speakers on April 12 and 13. TGC Council members Sugel Michelén, Miguel Núñez, Don Carson, and Albert Mohler will deliver keynote addresses, while Juan Sánchez and Felix Cabrera will join them on panels about gospel partnerships, church planting, and evangelism methods in the 21st century. Spanish speakers who stay for the full National Conference receive a 30 percent discount on the subsequent event, which features workshops and simultaneous Spanish translation.