Latin America & World Mission Today – Book Review

Latin America & World Mission Today
Author:  Samuel Escobar
Publisher:  Orbis Books (Distributed in Europe by Alban Books)
ISBN:  1 57075 414 4

Book Review by Julio, a Redcliffe student (full name withheld).

Samuel Escobar is well known as one of the founders of the Latin American Theological Fraternity.  He was its president for almost fifteen years, and is currently Professor of Missiology at the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wynnewood.  In his book Changing Tides, Escobar reflects on what it currently means to do mission to and from Latin America,  mission which, he insists, is not done in a classroom or in a vacuum but by a day-to-day witness of the Christian faith in a concrete context.  He shows how through history the Christian church in Latin America has been developing different styles of mission, from its origins with the colonisation of the continent by the Spanish conquistadores in the sixteenth century to our current times.

In his opening section, Escobar describes the nature of the Christian mission in a globalised world.  Special attention is paid to the significant role that the church from the Third World – and more specifically from Latin America – is playing in cross cultural mission nowadays.  In describing the different missiological strategies, he pays special attention to the dialogue that has taken place between theology and the social sciences, with both the value and limitations of this interaction.  The appearance of Liberation Theology is the most obvious example.  This adoption of Marxism as the best social science that could explain the Latin American context was welcomed by some, but others were more cautious, questioning any adoption of a social science when made a priori.

The second part of Changing Tides reflects on the history of the evangelisation of Latin America.  Escobar presents here the reasons why Latin America should still be considered a land for mission, despite the fact that the vast majority of the population consider themselves to be Christians.  Latin America is a continent full of contrasts: social, cultural and also religious.  For instance many will be surprised at how this continent can have massive manifestations of popular Christian religiosity and also be the place where so many injustices are committed with such brutality.  Escobar not only shows these contrasts but also explains the relevance and need of a sound Christian testimony that derives from these circumstances.

In part three, Escobar looks at the historic conditions that made the Latin American evangelical church as we know it now, bold and vibrant.  He recounts the different events and organisations that he considers to be the milestones for this development, and presents the holistic mission model that has resulted from this experience, a theology that tries to be both biblical and relevant.  There are many organisations in Latin America that are developing programmes and strategies around this model, where the fundamental principle is that God is interested in touching the totality of the human condition: the spiritual, the emotional and the physical.

The final part of Changing Tides shows how the Latin American church is trying to be faithful to the missionary call and is crossing borders and boundaries in order to take the gospel outside its frontiers.  In particular Escobar presents some of the challenges that the Latin American and the Western churches have when trying to work in partnership in this enterprise.

Changing Tides is a book that presents Samuel Escobar’s passion for mission, a mission that can only be fulfilled faithfully, according to Escobar, when we incarnate the entire biblical message in our entire lives.  This holistic model will be of particular interest for someone willing to do mission in context of poverty and injustice.  Then there is also Escobar’s exhaustive and balanced analysis of the history of the Latin American church, invaluable for people with an interest in doing mission in Latin America or with Latin Americans.  Those interested in finding the essence behind the rapid church growth in Latin America will also find this book particularly useful, as will those who are looking for a platform for dialogue between the Catholic and the Evangelical churches.  Here Escobar suggests that it is possible for each church to learn from the experiences of the other without having to loose its own identity in the process.

Finally, a minor quibble: some people may be surprised at Escobar’s relatively negative analysis of the Western church, and the European church in particular.  As a Peruvian that emigrated to Europe more than a decade ago I sympathise with his comments as they reflect my own initial impressions.  However, the closer look at the church that I have been able to make through the years has made me appreciate their efforts to respond as a minority group to their secular context.  In any case Escobar’s arguments can be used as a useful platform for the discussion of a potential combined missiological enterprise between the “Third World” and the Western churches.

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