In studying the theological writings of Baptists in Latin America, we should both keep in mind the diversity of Baptist history and view these writings in the socioreligious context of the whole continent

Baptists in Latin America and their theological contributions at the end of the twentieth century: in studying the theological writings of Baptists in Latin America, we should both keep in mind the diversity of Baptist history and view these writings in the socioreligious context of the whole continent

Pablo P. Moreno

Julio de Santa Ana, a Uruguayan theologian, has pointed out that the social development of the countries south of the Rio Grande is characterized by

… a heterogeneity of the various groups that constitute Latin American

society. This is something that needs to be emphasized given the tendency

of outsiders to view the Latin America as if it were completely

homogeneous. (1)

One should keep this in mind because the analysis of any reality demands that one look beyond appearances to avoid false generalizations.

Having said this, we should note that the history of Baptists in Latin America is directly related to the history of Evangelicalism in general. The connection between the two can be seen in three ways: their common history as religious minorities in a continent predominantly Catholic; the close connection each has had with the churches, denominations, or sending bodies of their founders–were they missionaries sent by mission boards or missionaries who came to Latin America independently; and the process of “latinamericanization” of Baptists and other evangelical churches during the last four decades of the twentieth century.

Evangelicals and Baptists as Religious Minorities

Latin America was not only conquered and colonized by Spain. It was conquered and colonized by a Catholic Spain that was driven or motivated by their passion to expel from their land the Muslims who had occupied the Iberian peninsula for more than seven hundred years. Columbus had more than an economic and political interest when he came to the Americas. He was motivated also by an evangelistic desire. According to Tzvetan Todorov (2) in his book on the conquest of the Americas, this spirit of evangelistic conquest characterized the colonization of Latin America by the Spanish and Portuguese. To be Spanish or Portuguese meant to be Catholic.

The development of evangelical churches in Latin America from their beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century had to overcome the intolerance of Catholic conservatives and the intransigence of some political leaders, plus the mentality of missionaries who could not easily contextualize the gospel in lands that were not pagan, but rather Catholic.

The anti-Catholic tone of much of the missionary rhetoric was a response to the intransigence of the Latin American rejection of political liberalism, Communism, Protestantism, and Masonry–all of which were regarded as enemies of the religious and cultural unity of Latin America. This conflict resulted in the development of a conservative evangelicalism, which during the first half of the twentieth century regarded evangelism as more important than formal theological education, and in some cases, saw the two (evangelism and theological education) as mutually exclusive.

The immediate result of this attitude was that little attention was given to theological issues or the writing of theology, for these were not necessary to evangelize a “pagan” continent. All that was needed was the translation–from English into Spanish and Portuguese–of a few systematic theologies, manuals, Bible commentaries, and helps in pastoral care

Curiously, the situation began to change in Latin American Catholicism as a result of the impact of Vatican II through Enrique Dussel. During the 1960s, a growing social awareness and theological reflection among certain Catholic theologians developed regarding the backwardness and lack of social and economic development that had persisted in Latin America for 500 years. This awakening among liberation theologians also made an impact on certain sectors of Latin American Protestantism as a result of the influence and work of a movement called “Church and Society in Latin America” (ISAL), (3) which helped to concienticize evangelicals to the persistent, endemic social problems of the continent. ISAL was also a means of opening and beginning relations between certain Catholic and evangelical theologians.

The Close Relationship with the Founders of Evangelical Churches

Although ISAL was a recognized organization in Latin American ecumenical circles (Protestant), it represented a small minority. The vast majority of Latin American evangelical leaders viewed ecumenism with suspicion and did not participate in or support the world ecumenical movement. Their concern continued to be evangelism and the salvation of souls, and they gave little attention to the social and economic problems of their lands.

The failure of Latin American Baptists to be a part of ISAL resulted in part from the relationship of dependence that the founders had created by not insisting on the principles of self-support, self-government, and self-propagation. The majority of the evangelical churches in Latin America–and this was true of Baptists as well–followed the thinking, theologizing, educational philosophy, and theological institutions, and even their church architecture on the patterns their North American missionary founders brought with them.

The North American way of thinking and doing things was reflected not only in the missionaries, but it was also characteristic of the earliest national leaders who were followed by the second generation in most of the countries in the 1960s.

The way of thinking that emerged during this time could hardly be other than the duplication of the theological thinking of the missionaries. Their understanding of the Latin American problem and their mission did not facilitate a rapid contextualization of the second generation of evangelical leaders that was forming.

For this reason, the complaint most often heard in various seminaries during the decade of the 1970s was in regard to the scarcity of real theological reflection on the part of Latin American evangelical theologians, the lack of abundance of translations, the trans-culturalization of evangelical models, and the theological inability of the leadership to reflect on the problems of the continent from a truly Latin American perspective.

The Process of the Latinoamericanization of Protestantism

David Stoll in his book, Is Latin American Becoming Protestant? (4) described the explosive growth of evangelical churches in various countries. He concluded that a slow but sure process of the protestantization of the continent is taking place. Jean Pierre Batian, however, noted that most of this growth is taking place among pentecostals and that they represent a rupture of classical Protestantism, and that we should be talking not about the “protestantization” of Latin America, but rather the Latinoamericanization of Protestantism. (5)

It is also important to note that this Latinoamericanization can be understood as the awakening to what it means to be Latin American by evangelicals, including Baptists. Given the social awareness of post-Vatican II Catholicism, as seen in the Latin American Bishops’ Conferences in Medellin in 1968 (CELAM II), Protestants also became aware not only of the social context, but also of the theological importance of their existence in Latin America.

At the end of the 1960s, specifically in 1969, the first meeting of CLADE (Latin American Conference of Evangelicals) took place in Bogota. The Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL) was organized as an evangelical response not only to the ISAL movement, but also as a response to the dominant North American evangelical conservatism that was uninterested in social questions.

There emerged in these movements of ISAL and the FTL a number of Latin American Baptist leaders such as Renfi Padilla, Samuel Escobar, Rolando Gutierrez, Orlando Costas, Oscar Pereira, Pablo Deiros, Jorge Pixley, and Samuel Silva Gotay who did not limit their activity to the Baptist arena, but were involved also in the broader evangelical and ecumenical circles. Among them were biblical scholars, theologians, pastors, student leaders, and university professors who were recognized as orthodox Baptists in Latin America.

At the same time, they were true in the Baptist production of bibliography from a Latin American perspective–even though all of them were not Latin Americans by birth. Also, they may rightly be regarded as the first generation of Baptists who reflected on Latin American issues from their faith-heritage even though what they were saying was not echoed in their respective Baptist churches but rather in the broader evangelical and ecumenical context.

The remainder of this study will concentrate on examining the fields of study and the bibliographical contributions made by the Baptist leaders already mentioned but also by others as welt. To avoid making this article unduly lengthy, I have limited my comments to Spanish-speaking Baptists and do not include Brazilian Baptist thinkers or those from the Caribbean. I could not do them justice within the scope of this article. The approach I will make in discussing and analyzing the bibliographical production of Baptists in Latin America will be thematic. Some writers, of course, rightly belong in several categories.

Reading the Bible from a Latin American Perspective

Although Baptists have produced a limited number of works in this field, what they have written is significant. The first name that deserves to be mentioned, because of his extensive work in Latin America, is Jorge Pixley, missionary and professor of Bible in Puerto Rico (1963-75), Mexico (1975-85) and Nicaragua (1986-). Pixley’s major emphasis is in Old Testament and in biblical theology in general. His most important works are El Reino de Dios [The Kingdom of God], 1977, a commentary on the book of Exodus (1983); another work entitled La Opci6n por los Pobres [Option for the Poor] (1986); and a small but important textbook on La Historia de Israel [The History of Israel] (1989). (6)

Pixley is the best-known Baptist theologian of liberation. His ecumenical participation has been outstanding. Besides his books, he began a theological journal dedicated to biblical study from the perspective of the poor, Revista de Interpretacion Biblica Latinoamericana [The Journal of Latin American Biblical Interpretation] or RIBLA, published both in Spanish and in Portuguese. Pixley has also been involved in the production

of a Nicaraguan theological journal, XILOTL (a Nahuati word that signifies tender or fresh “corn”). The journal proposes to be a contribution to the theology of liberation from the Nicaraguan perspective, and it is jointly published by the Seminario Teologico Bautista and the Centro Intereclesial de Estudios Teologicos y Sociales. During his time in Mexico as a member of the Comunidad Teologica [Theological Community in Mexico City], Pixley participated in the creation of the journal Taller de Teologia [Workshop in Theology] in which he published a number of articles on biblical studies.

Pixley’s bibliographical output has not resulted in a conflict with his Baptist heritage. On the contrary, he has encouraged meetings in which the Latin American Baptist tradition could be evaluated. (7) Moreover, he has published several works on the history of Baptists in Nicaragua that reflect his interest in the Baptist heritage from an ecumenical perspective. (8)

Another contributor to the field of biblical studies has been Mervin Breneman, whose background and roots are Mennonite, but who has worked for the past several years with the Baptists. Breneman did his doctoral studies in Old Testament and has resided in Latin America for forty years and has served as a Baptist pastor and professor in the International Baptist Seminary in Buenos Aires. He has also served as a member of the board of the Center of Interdisciplinary Theological Studies (CETI) and writer for the magazine Iglesia y Mision for several years.

Breneman’s works can best be understood from the perspective of his active involvement in the Latin American Theological Fraternity. He has attempted to respond to what he perceives are the questions and problems generated by the various tendencies in liberation theology. His contribution was a series of papers given in conferences on liberation theology from a biblical perspective sponsored by the FTS in 1973. (9) In this work, Breneman analyzed the exodus, the implications this theology has for understanding the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and the interpretation of the Old Testament today in the Latin American context.

In a recent work, Breneman has attempted to deal with certain ethical issues in the Old Testament (10) beginning with an exegetical study of the Ten Commandments and a pastoral application; that is, what relation does the Decalogue have to our understanding of God’s will today? Besides his contributions to the magazine Iglesia y Mision, with articles on the Old Testament, Breneman has encouraged theological reflection on the danger of spiritualizing Old Testament passages and themes.

Oscar Pereira, Baptist pastor, was a founding member of the FTL and a member of the team that did the revision of the Spanish version of the Bible, the Reina Valera Actualizada, (11) as well as the revision of the 1995 edition of the Reina Valera produced/edited by the United Bible Society. Pereira also was one of the translators of the New International Bible. He is a professor in the Baptist Seminary in Santiago, Chile.

Pereira has not published extensively, but his biblical exegetical study entitled “The soter in the Prophets” (12) deserves mention. He utilizes the Greek concept of soter in a surprising or novel way in discussing the theme in the Hebrew prophets. In this study, Pereira offers an interpretation of salvation as the guiding thread in the Bible, which, he contends, affects all the dimensions of human life, and that evidences his interest in offering an exegesis that is both solidly biblical and Latin American.

Another field of study to which Oscar Pereira has contributed has been pastoral. Unfortunately, the scope of his work in this area has been limited to the Chilean context (13) in which, without neglecting exegesis, he concentrates on pastoral, ecclesial, and ethical-moral issues arising from the changes dominated by postmodernity.

Of late, a new generation has arisen of younger biblical scholars who have brought forth more and more of their labors in various conferences. They show much promise for the future. For example, Rebeca Montemayor, professor in the Baptist Theological Seminary of Mexico, is working in the field of theology of gender, (14) and recently was ordained to the pastoral ministry. Also noteworthy is the Ecuadorian, Juan Carlos Cevallos, who was rector of the Baptist Seminary in Quito and is now editor in the Casa Bautisa de Publicaciones (CBP). Cevallos has published a number of biblical commentaries (15) as well as articles in the journal Dialogo Teologico. (16)

The Baptist publications in the field of biblical studies have not been extensive, but a change in this regard appears to be imminent. First, in terms of biblical theology, little has been produced by individuals. We cannot even talk about the beginning of a school of Baptist investigators in this field, nor can we cite any extensive bibliography which would allow us to evaluate equitably the results.

In the field of collective works, such as biblical commentaries, however, the situation is different. We can point to various examples of collections and projects in which one can see the efforts made to relate the exegesis to the Latin American theological context.

The increasing participation in such projects by Latin American Baptist writers is evident, for example, in El Comentario Biblico Mundo Hispanico published by the Casa Bautista de Publicaciones in El Paso, Texas, several volumes of which are already available.

Scholars such as Pablo Deiros, Oscar, Pereira, Damian Vivas, Samuel Escobar, Jorge Diaz, Floreal Ureta, H6ctor Llanes, Pablo Moreno, and Juan Carlos Cevallos are only a few of the specialists whose biblical studies evidence a commitment to a more contextualized biblical exegesis.

A similar project is called the Iberoamerican Biblical Commentary (El Comentario Biblico Iberoamericano) produced by Ediciones Kairos, which continues in a way the Comentario Biblico Hispanoamericano that was initiated by Editorial Caribe. Some Baptists have participated in this new project, as did others in the earlier effort, such as Stan Slade with his commentary on John and Pablo Deiros’s commentary on the books of James and Jude, and the commentary on the Pastoral Letters by Marco Antonio Ramos.

The collection entitled Basic Biblical Studies published by the Casa Bautista served for many years as resources for the study of individual books of the Bible. It included such works as Hoke Smith’s commentary on Philippians (17) as well as the commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians by Juan Carlos Cevallos. (18)

These writers have in common the desire to read and interpret the Bible from the Latin American perspective. In spite of individual differences in interest, they provide an exegesis that does not ignore but rather takes into consideration their own reality in order to contextualize the message of salvation.

A Theological Reflection from the Road

Among Baptists, the apogee of the theology of liberation produced diverse reactions, from an evasive denial of social responsibility to the embracing of various–although not all–postulates of this theological perspective. An analysis of these reactions can be seen in a recent work by Pablo Moreno and Jorge Pixley. (19)

The most outstanding writings in this area because of their extensive published reflections are Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar. Rene Padilla is one of the most distinguished evangelical authors in Latin America. Baptist by tradition but characterized by the extensiveness of his interdenominational work, Padilla has been secretary of the Comunidad Internacional de Estudiantes Evangelicos para Amdrica Latina. He is a graduate of Wheaton College and of the University of Manchester. He was a founding member of the Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL) and since 1982 has been director and editor of the journal MISION, now called Iglesia y Mision. Padilla gives full time to his work as writer and editor, given his commitment to evangelical publications in Latin America.

He is known for his multiple works of theological reflection on the crucial issues that should be faced theologically in the Latin American context. In a joint work, (20) Padilla stresses the necessity for theological reflection and of a hermeneutic in a context where to affirm the authority of the Bible has resulted in a literalistic interpretation and the automatic reproduction of conservative Anglo-Saxon theology. In a recapitulation of articles published in 1975, (21) Padilla reflected on the relationship of the gospel and social responsibility, redefining the concept of evangelization and exploring the possibility of cooperation with the Catholics.

During the upsurge of Liberation Theology, Padilla devoted various reflections on =-dialogue with this theological current in Latin America. (22) In synthesis, he resisted the ideological reduction of the gospel that some liberation theologians had done to develop a political plan of action.

In response to this way of thinking and as a means of recovering what he considers the essential message of Jesus, Padilla developed the concept of Mision Integral that had repercussions in various venues of the evangelical community. What could be considered “liberation thinking” little by little was accepted by some of the most conservative evangelicals during the 1970s.

The work in which Padilla summarizes his perspective, Mision Integral, (23) is a recapitulation of various articles published earlier, but here we see much more cohesion. During this time, he began to see the mission of the church as being sensitive to the Latin American context without ignoring the authority of the Bible.

Peruvian Baptist Samuel Escobar from the time of his university days has been a leader. After becoming a member of the Comunidad Internacional de Estudiantes Evangelicos, Escobar developed a ministry that shaped his theological itinerary. He served as editor of various theological journals such as Certeza and Pensamiento Cristiano, the first directed to the university community, and the second to an analysis of what was taking place in biblical studies, theology, and history in North America and Europe, with the purpose of encouraging Latin American evangelical scholars to publish more of their own thoughts.

Escobar’s contribution in CLADE I in Bogota (November 1969) was a paper, “La Responsabilidad Social de la Iglesia” [The Social Responsibility of the Church]. This paper manifested a cutting edge of theological reflection that made a significant impact during the following decades. Escobar was able to synthesize the thinking of a significant group of evangelicals, namely: “the conviction that one could be profoundly evangelical doctrinally as well as relevant and committed socially.” (24)

Escobar was an active participant in the formation of the Latin American Theological Fraternity which emerged from CLADE I, and he served as president of that organization for fourteen years. Today, he is the honorary president. In the FTL conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Escobar presented a paper entitled, “An Evangelical Theology for Latin America” (25) in which he gave a critique of Anglo-Saxon theology.

In the second FTL conference, Escobar, in his paper entitled “The Kingdom of God, Eschatology, and Social and Political Ethics in Latin America,” (26) discussed the relationship of the social dimension of the Anabaptist tradition and the situation of the evangelical community in Latin America. He demonstrated the need for Latin Americans to recover their Anabaptist roots while at the same time being critical of millennialist eschatology that was as popular among conservative evangelicals as was orthodox Marxism among certain ecumenical Protestants.

Escobar’s analysis of the Theology of Liberation can be seen in his book, La Fe evangelica y las teologias de la liberacion. (27) In this work Escobar analyzes the various theologies of liberation in light of evangelical Christian faith, and he makes it clear that one cannot simply reject Liberation Theology a priori to justify evangelical social apathy.

Recently, Escobar’s theological reflection has resulted in a necessary synthesis between the mission of the church and missionary practice. In a sense, he has reunited the effort to think theologically from the Latin American perspective while being faithful to the evangelical tradition. His most recent works reflect this mode of thinking in which he includes for special mention the development of Catholic missiology and the future of mission from Latin America, (28) which points one inevitably to the road of Christological reflection for the practice of mission.

A contribution more closely related to Liberation Theology was that of Professor Alan Neely, who was a missionary in Colombia from 1964 to 1976 and was professor of philosophy of religion and missiology in Cali, Colombia. His bibliographical work as a Baptist was characterized by ecumenism, initially with the Theology of Liberation. Besides doing various translations from Spanish to English of Latin American authors such as Enrique Dussel and Rafael Avila, Neely’s principal contribution was his doctoral dissertation entitled “Protestant Antecedents to the Theology of Liberation” (1977). (29)

A synthesis of Neely’s dissertation can be found in an article (30) published in 1978 in which he traced the roots of Liberation Theology and analyzed the secular, Catholic, and Protestant antecedents while examining the question of how truly autochthonous this theology really was.

Although Neely’s writings were little known among Latin American Baptists, they were known by Catholic and Protestant theologians of liberation. The case of Professor Neely is atypical from the position of the majority of Baptist missionaries affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. A response more typical of Southern Baptists was that of Bob Compton, a missionary and, for a brief period, a professor in the Baptist Theological Seminary in Cali, in his little book (31) on the theology of liberation.

Because few attempt to do theology systematically from the Latin American context, I will mention two authors. First, is Floreal Ureta, professor of theology at the International Baptist Seminary in Buenos Aires. He is one of the few among Latin American Baptists who has written anything in systematic theology.

For this reason we must mention his Elementos de Teologia, (32) an introduction to systematic theology, which is hardly distinct from the theologies utilized in the Baptist seminaries during the last forty years. Ureta also has published Teologia Contemporanea, (33) which is an attempt to understand the theologies of the most important contemporaries such as Bultmann, Tillich, and Bonhoeffer in relationship with the questions and problems raised by modern culture. Ureta includes also Gustavo Gutierrez as an example of the Latin American response to these issues.

Nancy Bedford did her studies in Germany under Jurgen Moltmann and currently is professor of theology at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Buenos Aires and in the Instituto Superior Evangelico de Estudios Teologicos. Her published writings are only beginning although she has done some work in translating various books by Moltmann. (34)

The Latin American list of publications in theology cannot be compared or evaluated with the enormous theological production of Europeans characterized by their speculation or the North Americans characterized by their pragmatism.

In Latin America, theological reflection can only be described as “on the way” or taking its first steps. The first effort has been to do critical reflection and engage in dialogue with other theological reflections in a context debased by extreme poverty and an awakening spiritual hunger.

A Reformulation or Rethinking of the Mission of the Church

Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar serve Baptists and the wider evangelical community in Latin America as the pioneers in contextualized missiological reflection. Their theological reflections have continually been accompanied by their missiological concern, and they have dealt with themes stressing that an integral mission constitutes the inevitable apex of theological work in Latin America.

In a collection of essays on the kingdom and the church, published under the title of Mision Integral, (35) Rene Padilla rejects the reduction of the mission of the church to one or another of its traditional endeavors. On the contrary, he insists on a wholistic approach to mission which includes salvation, church growth, the spiritual life, and the kingdom of God.

Samuel Escobar, meanwhile, evaluates the numerical growth of the pentecostals in relation to the historical denominations such as the Baptists and finds here a missiological direction offering a great deal of hope for the twenty-first century. He believes that Latin America and the so-called Third World will be the launching pad for mission to the First World, that is, from the periphery toward the center. (36) Although Escobar and others give attention to the sociological explanations for pentecostal growth, which for the moment reflect the optimism that characterizes this movement, they largely ignore certain critical aspects such as the constant reproduction of authoritarian models which contrast with developments and leadership styles in Latin American democracies.

Orlando Costas was born in Puerto Rico in 1942 and died in Boston in 1987. Costas came from a family of Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. After several years of working with various evangelical groups and churches, Costas became a Puerto Rican Baptist.

Later, he returned to the U.S. to do post-graduate study in theology, and he participated actively in an organization of Hispanics struggling for civil rights in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Costas is perhaps the most systematic in his reflection, and he made a major impact among English-speaking evangelicals as well.

From the beginning, his reflection was articulated in the context of pastoral work and evangelization. His first book was an attempt to develop the theme of integral evangelism, (37) although even here he began the outline of his missiological agenda. In his master’s thesis, he studied Baptist confessions of faith in the seventeenth century and analyzed the development of the Baptist identity in that century.

Costas returned to Latin America under the auspices of the Latin American Mission to teach in the Latin American Biblical Seminary in San Jose, and as a part of an effort called Evangelism in Depth. After 1972, his theological reflection was articulated strictly along the lines of the FTL. He produced several significant works such as Hacia una Teologia de la Evangelizacion (38) [Toward a Theology of Evangelization] in which he and several other authors analyzed the biblical, historical, and theological bases for evangelization.

More important, perhaps, was his book La Iglesia y su Mision (39) [The Church and Her Mission] because in this work he attempted to dialogue with the international missionary community. In the work, he criticized a number of missiological currents that lack an integral vision of mission, among them the church growth movement and the socio-political direction of the World Council of Churches.

Another important aspect of Costas’s missiological thinking was his publication of his doctoral dissertation at the Free University of Amsterdam. (40) In this work, he defined the missiological concept as a theology “at the crossroads,” that is, a critical reflection on Christian faith as it crosses cultural, ideological, religious, and social frontiers or borders. He insisted that theology has to be interdisciplinary.

Because of his continual pastoral preoccupation, Costas founded the Centro Evangelico de Estudios Pastorales [The Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies]. Soon there emerged from the center the journal Pastoralia in which appeared various articles related to pastoral work and the mission of the church in Latin America. Another work that must be mentioned because of its wide distribution in various centers of Baptist theological formation is Costas’s book on communication by means of preaching. (41)

Theological reflection in the field of missiology has been the richest and most prolific in Latin America during the last forty years. These works have been appreciated by pastors and laypersons alike, but not among missionaries influenced by theological conservatism and who associated any allusion to a social responsibility or commitment with communism.

Missionaries by and large have not seen the necessity for a missiological reflection, because the missionary agenda appears to have everything already. The Baptist conferences, therefore, have been more informative than advisory in nature. Latin Americans have been recipients of North American information and advice.

The diffusion of missiological writings, nevertheless, is not finished, and the radical changes Latin American Protestantism has experienced provides a new opening for missiological reflection. For this reason, the work of such Baptists as Padilla, Escobar, and Costas is acquiring greater importance every day.

In Search of an Identity

In the field of historical studies, the efforts made in Latin America may be characterized by the effort to understand our ecclesial origins, to interpret our theological heritage, and reflect on the demands we currently face or confront. We have not published any great volumes of church history. On the contrary, what has been written is fragmentary, and it requires interpretative syntheses that few appear eager to attempt. I will, however, mention some writers who exemplify this style of writing history.

Samuel Silva Gotay, a Puerto Rican Baptist leader during his student days in the 1970s, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Puerto Rico. He received his theological degree at Yale Divinity School and completed his Ph.D. in the Universidad Nacional de Mexico (UNAM). Following the completion of his studies, he returned to Puerto Rico to teach in the School of Social Sciences at his alma mater.

In 1981, Silva Gotay published a book on revolutionary Christian thought in Latin America and converted it into one of the most distinguished presentations of the theology of liberation in the 1980s. (42) One of his most recent publications has been a historical study of Protestantism in Puerto Rico. (43) This is a well-documented analysis of the development of Protestantism in a context of continual tension as the Protestant churches struggle for their autonomy from the mission-sending boards.

Samuel Silva has been the Caribbean coordinator for the Commission of Historical Studies of the Church in Latin America (CEHILA). In this role, he has dedicated himself to the study of history more than to theology as such.

Pablo Deiros, Argentine professor of history and pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Buenos Aires, did his theological studies at the International Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Evangelical Institute of Superior Studies in Buenos Aires. He is an active participant in the FTL. His publications are abundant and diverse, and one sees in them a concern not only for history and theology, but also for pastoral work. His most significant book has been a history of Christianity in Latin America (44) which is being used in numerous theological schools throughout the continent.

One must say that Deiros’s history does not exhibit a great deal of originality. Nevertheless, it is important because of his ability to synthesize and bring together the findings of various authors as well as make a didactic presentation. Another important aspect of his work is the attempt to relate history to Latin America or include Latin America in the course of world history

Although he continues to be a part of the theological faculty of the Baptist Seminary of Buenos Aires, he also serves as visiting professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and he is pastor of the largest Baptist church in Buenos Aires. His pastoral work is reflected in his most recent works. For example, his El protestantismo en Ameica Latina (45) is a study of Protestant development from the nineteenth century to the present. Looking to the future, he predicted that Protestantism will be indissolubly linked to the “movement of the Spirit” of postmodern times.

In a three-volume projected work, Deiros looks at history from his latest pastoral experience. The first volume appeared in 1998, The Work of the Spirit in the History of the Church. (46) This book is a historical account of the Christian witness that attempts to follow the focus of the Acts of the Apostles. In this “history,” Deiros emphasized the importance of spiritual gifts such as prophecy and signs and wonders, besides devoting major attention to the nonorthodox movements and an emphasis on the work of the Spirit throughout history.

Justice Anderson, a Baptist missionary who served for several decades as professor of the history of Christianity and missions in the International Baptist Seminary of Buenos Aires, has published a collection of three volumes on a history of Baptists. The most important feature of this work is found in the third volume in which he traces the beginnings and the development of Baptist churches in the Third World. (47) His, however, is a history written from a missionary’s perspective, which at times appears to be triumphalistic. Anderson does not attempt to cover up the problems that have resulted in the process of the formation of Latin American Baptist work. These volumes have been widely used in Baptist educational centers by those interested in the historical and theological roots of Baptists.

Arnoldo Canclini, Argentine Baptist leader, is greatly respected not only in his own country but throughout Latin America. His work as a historian has ranged over a wide field of diverse themes, given the fact that he has been a newspaper person, a novelist, a poet, and a biographer. In his historical works, he has devoted himself primarily to biographies and to accounts of the various aspects of the Baptist and evangelical missionary work in general. Canclini has been a member of the Argentine Academy of History. One of the more fascinating books Canclini has written is a novel entitled Onesimo, which was awarded a continental prize in literature. Deserving of mention also is his biography of Diego Thomson, (48) which is required reading for anyone interested in independence in Latin America in the nineteenth century and a history of the beginnings of Protestantism in the continent.

Tomas Gutierrez, a Peruvian, has been a Baptist pastor and currently is professor of history in the Universidad de San Marcos in Lima. His historiographical work is related to CEHILA in which he has served as coordinator of the Protestant efforts in the 1990s. His work has centered primarily on the relationship of Protestantism to politics, which is the emphasis of his historical essays on Protestantism in Peru and of his small book on Victor Raul Haya de La Torre and Protestantism.

In a recent work, then President Fujimori described the process of political participation by the evangelicals and the movement Cambio 90 of President Fujimori. Besides discussing successes and mistakes of the evangelicals, he offered a critical analysis of this experience or this period.

Marco Antonio Ramos, a Cuban by birth, has lived in the U.S. since the 1960s and is a pastor and historian. He has been professor of the History of the Church and Latin American Studies at the South Florida Center for Theological Studies in Miami. He is also a columnist for El Nuevo Herald in Miami. Ramos has written in several fields, such as the question of divorce in the history of the church as well as on the history of religions, and he was a contributor to the Comentario Biblico Hispanoamericano. His major contribution has been in the writing of a history of Protestantism in Cuba. (49)

In this work he presented a descriptive and analytical panorama of the development of Prostantism in Cuba. He has skillfully related the history of the church with the history of Cuba, pointing out the unavoidable intersections of both without losing sight of the particularity of the history of the church.

Ramos’s history is a good example of a history of the church in a country. It is well documented and is written with the kind of critical analysis that should characterize any good historian.

Pablo Moreno of Colombia has served as a pastor for several years, has contributed to the Comentario Biblico Mundo Hispano, and is a historian and professor in the Baptist Seminary in Cali. He has been a member of CEHILA for several years and currently is coordinator of the Protestant area.

His writings have been published in various journals, principally in Spanish. (50) The central theme of Moreno’s work is a history of Protestantism in Colombia with special attention given to the history of Baptists.

In the field of historiography, Baptist publications evidence a growing interest in understanding their Baptist identity from the beginning with the rediscovery of their spiritual roots in history. Basically they manifest a desire to recount history from another perspective–that dictated by the problems Baptists and other evangelicals face in a context of continual unrest. Moreover, historiographical production reflects the way Latin American Baptists have assimilated missionary evangelization, and their critical awakening to their heritage and their desire to move beyond the repetition of a history that has already ended.

A Contextualized Pastoral Experience

The pastoral experience has been one of the richest areas for Baptist reflection in Latin America. It is sufficient to note that the majority of the authors thus far mentioned have been characterized by their close connection with the local church and with their pastoral ministries. We must also mention, nevertheless, those who have given special attention to the themes of pastoral ministries to families, young people, and children, and in general to the problems that confront the church in Latin America.

Rolando Gutierrez, a Nicaraguan, did his theological studies in Los Angeles and later in the Protestant Faculty of Theology in Strasbourg, France. He was a pastor for years in Nicaragua and Mexico, where he served until his death.

His writings have been brief because they were written in a context of urgency, especially in his pastoral work with students. The themes he dealt with were ethics, pornography, ideology and faith, and political theology. Also, he wrote a book in which Baptist principles were interpreted from a Latin American perspective. In the meeting of CLADE II in Lima (1979), Gutierrez presented a paper on “The Spirit and the Word” in which he discussed the role the Bible has played in evangelization by Protestant churches and the role of the Spirit in the Pentecostal congregations.

One can find a number of his articles in the journal Boletin Teologico of the FTL, for example, on hermeneutics and Christology. (51) One of his most useful homiletical contributions came out of his pastoral activity, namely his three volumes on El Mensaje de los Salmos [The Message of the Psalms]. (52) It consists of homilies written during his pastoral ministry with the desire to contextualize his message and not simply dwell on the individual without giving attention to the social aspects of the Christian life.

Carmen Perez de Camargo, a Mexican, has made contributions in the field of the family studies with frequent articles appearing in the magazine Iglesia y Mision. She and her husband (Jesus Camargo Lopez y Javier Ulloa Castellanos) published a book (53) that discusses an adequate pastoral approach in regard to families.

Samuel Libert, an Argentine pastor, international evangelist, and Bible teacher, currently serves as pastor of a Baptist church in Rosario, Argentina. His most notable writings have appeared in the magazine Apuntes Pastorales, dealing with various themes, but usually consisting of reflections to inspire particularly pastors.

Liebert has also dealt with themes such as conflict in the church, (54) lessons leaders learn “the hard way,” (55) or the technical decalogue of the called. His work led quickly to a revision and questioning of pastoral work so immersed in daily activity that one is unable to give any attention to the possibility of change or renovation.

Daniel Tinao, also of Argentina, has been a pastor, rector of the Baptist Seminary, medical doctor, and psychiatrist. He was a member of the editorial board of the journal Psicologia Pastoral, published by El Caribe. Several of his publications have appeared in this journal on the problems of adolescence. (56) Tinao has also been editor of other publications in this same field. (57)

Harold Segura of Colombia is a pastor and professor of practical theology in the Baptist Seminary in Cali, Colombia. In addition to serving as rector of the seminary, he has continued to teach homiletics. He also has contributed to several publications of the Casa Bautista in El Paso. His articles on the pastoral ministry have been published in the journal Apuntes Pastorales and are characterized by his simplicity, directness, and relevance. He writes to the church with a facility and sincerity without sacrificing the profundity or analysis necessary for pastoral renewal. He believes there is an urgent necessity to introduce to pastors more theology, (58) and this idea is reflected in virtually all his writings.


Samuel Escobar, evaluating Latin American theological reflection of the FTL, warned, “The themes and style [of our reflections] are closely related to the way in which we practice our faith in our daily ministry more than to the demands of the academic debate in Europe or North America.” (59) The same can be said in regard to Latin American Baptist theological reflection in the last decades of the twentieth century. Moreover, these reflections have been published with the objective to make them available to the church rather than depositing them on library bookshelves where they will be infrequently utilized.

The description I have given of Baptist publications reflects not only a way of thinking but also a way of being Baptist. This way of being Baptist can be synthesized in three final reflections.

First, early Baptist theological formation was more negative and offered few positive responses to the complex social, political, and economic challenges in Latin America. In the same manner, the earliest reflections on the Theology of Liberation were largely polemical, in part because of its association with Catholicism and ecumenism. These themes of ecumenism and Catholicism were not a part of the initial Baptist theological formation. Rather, the formation was characterized by an anti-Catholicism and an antiecumenism. But likewise, the Theology of Liberation provoked a reactive theological reflection, given its affinity to Marxist interpretation of history and thinking.

This reactive theological reflection limited the ability of evangelicals to think theologically. They appeared to be satisfied to respond without proposing anything or without questioning a Christian social practice that was not committed to the Latin American reality.

The initial attitude, however, changed quickly, and the first steps were taken toward a more purposive theological reflection, which included going outside the Baptist community. As we begin the twenty-first century, we can note the increase in the quantity and also in the quality of Baptist theological reflection which has begun seriously to assume responsibility for this unavoidable work of the church.

Second, it is symptomatic that purposeful Baptist theological reflection has emerged outside the Baptist orbit. This may be attributed to the reactionary attitude that characterized this reflection in the early years, but also, it is due to the fact that Baptists are more proactive in their reflection and are now more ecumenical and open to other ecclesial experiences.

Several of the authors mentioned in this paper are recognized in special ways in other Christian organizations and denominations, even more than among Baptists from whom some of them have had to distance themselves for the time being.

This brings me to my third conclusion. The distribution of Baptist theological reflection and publications in Latin America has been limited. The evangelical community in general and Baptists in particular have not been characterized by their serious theological study. This fact provides a theme for further investigation, that is, the importance of measuring the diffusion, the impact, and the assimilation by Latin American Baptists of this theological reflection. To analyze this development is difficult, especially given the fact that many Baptist churches use only materials published by Baptist publishing houses.

Another aspect related to the circulation of serious theological reflection is the limited reach of theological publications–limited geographically, academically, or denominationally. Few authors are read widely in Latin America or internationally. Therefore, my evaluation of Baptist writings in Latin America during the final decades of the twentieth century must be seen in the broader context of Latin American history.

(1.) Julio de Santa Ana, Cristianismo sin Religion (Montevideo: Alfa, 1969), 11.

(2.) Tzvetan Todorov, La Conquista de America el problema del oro (Mexico: Siglo XXI, 1990).

(3.) The movement, Church and Society (ISAL) was organized in the Southern Cone in 1961 by certain Protestant theologians such as Ruban Aires, Julio de Santa Ana, Emilio Castro, et al. Baptists did not participate. The movement eventually dissolved following the overthrow of the governments in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, and the subsequent repression of all “leftist movements” in these countries.

(4.) David Stoll, ?America Latina se vuelve protestante? (Cayambe: Abya-Yala, 1991)

(5.) Jean Pierre Bastian, Protestantismos y modernidad latinoamericana (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1994), 288ff.

(6.) Jorge Pixley, Reino de Dios (Buenos Aires: La Aurora, 1977). Exodo: Un comentario evangelico y popular (Mexico: GUPSA, 1983). Opcion por los pobres (Buenos Aires: Paulinas, 1986). Historia Sagrada, Historia Popular (San Jose: DEI, 1989). These works have been translated into English, Portuguese, and recently into German.

(7.) Jorge Pixley, ed., La mujer en la construccion de la iglesia (San Jose: DEI, 1966) and Hacia una teologia evangelica latinoamericanista (San Jose: DEI, 1988).

(8) Jorge Pixley, La cantera de donde fuimos sacados (Managua, 1988), Con fe viva (Managua, 1992), and Por una iglesia laica: Una historia de las comjunidades bautistas de Nicaragua (Forthcoming).

(9.) J. Mervin Breneman, ed., Liberacion, Exodo y Biblia (Miami: Caribe, 1975), 11-52.

(10.) J. Mervin Breneman, La Voluntad de Dios para la vida diaria, los diez mandamientos en el mundo actual (Buenos Aires: Kairos, 1996), 128.

(11.) Biblia Reina Valera Actualizada (El Paso: Gaza Bautista, 1989).

(12.) Oscar Pereira, El sorer en los profetas in Libcracion, Exodo y Biblia (Miami: Caribe, 1975), 53-85.

(13.) Oscar Pereira, Moral Cristiana Evangelica y en Contexto (Concepcion: Primera Iglesia Bautista, 1997).

(14.) Rebeca Montemayor, De si la Biblia es masculina o femenina Hermeneutica, genero y pedagogia in Jose Duqe, ed., Por una sociedad donde quepan todos (San Jose: DEI, 1996) 203-14.

(15.) Juan Carlos Cevallos, Comentario Biblico Mundo Hispano, Colosenes tomo 21 (El Paso: Casa Bautista, 1995).

(16.) Juan Carlos Cevallos, Fundamentos Biblicos de una relacion Iglesia. Estado, Exegesis de Romanos 13:1-7 in Dialogo Teologico (El Paso: Casa Bautista, No. 33 1989).

(17.) Hoke Smith, Filipenses, gozo en Cristo (El Paso: Casa Bautista, 1971).

(18.) Juan Carlos Cevallos, Tesalonicenses: El Senor que Viene (El Paso: Casa Bautista, 1990).

(19.) Pablo Moreno, “Baptists and Liberation Theology in South American” and Jorge Pixley, “Baptists and Liberation Theology: Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean,” Baptist History and Heritage 35, no. 1 (2000).

(20.) Rene Padilla, La Autoridad de la Biblia en la Teologia Latinoamertcana in El Debate Contemporaneo sobre la Biblia (Barcelona: Ediciones Evangelicas Europeas, 1972), 121-54.

(21.) Rene Padilla, El Evangelio boy (Buenos Aires: Certeza, 1975).

(22.) Rene Padilla, Una Nueva manera de hacer Teologia, MISION (Buenos Aires: 1, no. 1, 1982).

(23.) Rene Padilla, Mision Integral (Buenos Aires: Nueva Creacion. 1986).

(24.) Samuel Escobar, Heredero de la Reforma Radical in Rene Padilla, Hacia una teologia evangelica latinoamericana (San Jose: Caribe, 1984), 64.

(25.) Rene Padilla, El debate contemporaneo de la Biblia (Barcelona: Ediciones Evangelicas Europeas, 1972), 17-36.

(26.) Rene Padilla, ed., El Reino de Dios y America Latina (El Paso: Casa Bautista de Publicaciones, 1975) 127-56.

(27.) Samuel Escobar, La Fe evangelica y las teologias de la liberacion (El Paso: Casa Bautista, 1987).

(28.) Samuel Escobar, De la Mision a la teologia (Buenos Aires: Kairos, 1998); Tiempo de Mision (Guatemala: Semilla, Clara, 1999).

(29.) Alan Neely, Protestant Antecedents to the Theology of Liberation (Ph.D. diss., American University, 1977).

(30.) Alan Neely, “Liberation Theology in Latin America: Antecedents and Autochthony” in Missiology: An International Review 6, no. 3 (July, 1978). See also his essay, “What is This Theology of Liberation,” Search 16 (Summer 1986): 23-28; and his article, “Liberation Theology and the Poor: A Second Look,” Missiology 17 (October 1989) 387-403, in which he analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the theology of liberation. In October 1992, Neely gave the Carver-Barnes Lectures at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which were subsequently published in the school’s journal. “Conquest as Christian Evangelization,” Faith and Mission 10 (Spring 1993): 62-90. In the first lecture, he discussed the evangelization of Latin America following the arrival of Christopher Columbus, and in the second lecture the “new evangelization” or reevangelization of the continent proposed by Pope John Paul II.

(31.) Bob Compton, La Teologia de la Liberacion (El Paso: Casa Bautista, 1984).

(32.) Floreal Ureta, Elementos de Teologia Cristiana (El Paso: Casa Bautista de Publicaciones, 1989).

(33.) Floreal Ureta, Introduccion a la Teologia Contemporanea (El Paso: Mundo Hispano, 1992).

(34.) Jurgen Moltmann, Cristo para nosotros hoy (Madrid: Trotta, 1997).

(35.) Rene Padilla, Mision Integral (Buenos Aires: Nueva Creacion, 1986).

(36.) Samuel Escobar, De la Mision a la teologia.

(37.) Orlando Costas, La iglesia y su Mision evangelizadora (Buenos Aires: La Aurora, 1971).

(38.) Orlando Costas, ed., Hacia una Teologia de la Evangelizacion (Buenos Aires: Aurora, 1973).

(39.) Orlando Costas, The Church and its Mission: A Shattering Critique from the Third World (Wheaton: Tyndale House and London: Coverdale House, 1974).

(40.) Orlando Costas, Theology of the Crossroads in Contemporary Latin America (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1976).

(41.) Orlando Costas, Comunicacion por medio de la predicacion (Miami: Caribe, 1973).

(42.) Samuel Silva Gotay, El pensamiento cristiano revolucionario en America Latina y el Caribe (Salamanca: Sigueme, 1981).

(43.) Samuel Silva Gotay, Protestantismo y politica en Puerto Rico, 1898-1930 (Rio Piedras: 1997).

(44.) Pablo Deiros, Historia del Cristianismo (El Paso: Casa Bautista, 1980) and Historia del Cristianismo en America Latina (Buenos Aires: FTL, 1992).

(45.) Pablo Deiros, El protestantismo en America Latina (Miami: Caribe, 1997).

(46.) Pablo Deiros, La Accion del Espiritu Santo en la Historia, Las lluvias tempranas anos 100-550 (Miami: Caribe, 1998).

(47.) Justo Anderson, Historia de los bautistas tomo III (El Paso: Casa Bautista, 1990).

(48.) Arnoldo Canclini, Diego Thomson (Buenos Aires: Sociedad Biblica Argentina, 1987).

(49.) Marco Antonio Ramos, Panorama del protestantismo en Cuba (Miami: Caribe, 1986).

(50.) Pablo Moreno, “La educacion protestante durante la modernizacion educativa en Colombia, 1869-1928,” Cristianismo y Sociedad (no. 107, 1991). “Las sociedades biblicas en la posindependencia de Colombia, 1825-1830” in Tomas Gutierrez, Protestantismo, Cultura y Sociedad (Quito: CEHILA, CLAI, 1993).

(51.) Rolando Gutierrez-Cortes, La naturaleza de la iglesia: Mision y accion pastoral in Boletin Teologico no. 9 (1983); and La Biblia, el uso de presupuesto y claves hermeneuticas, in Boletin Teologico no. 10/11 (1983).

(52.) Rolando Gutierrez, El Mensaje de los Salmos en nuestro contexto, Tomo I (El Paso: Casa Bautista, 1978).

(53.) Carmen Perez de Camargo y Cols, Familia Crisis y Esperanza (Mexico: Kyrios, 1995).

(54.) Samuel Libert, “Conflictos en la Iglesia” in Apuntes Pastorales 15, no. 4 (1998).

(55.) Samuel Libert, “10 lecciones sobre liderazgo que aprendi a fuerza de golpes” in Apuntes Pastorales (17, no. 2, 2000).

(56.) Daniel Tinao, “Pautas para la comprension del adolescente, Psicologia Pastoral no. 11 (1982).

(57.) Daniel Tinao, et. al., Mi hogar y Dios (Buenos Aires: Palabra, 1977); Daniel Tinao and David Schipani, Educacion y Comunidad (Buenos Aires: Ateneo, 1975).

(58.) Harold Segura, “Teologos por necesidad,” Apuntes Pastorales 16, no. 4 (1999).

(59.) Samuel Escobar, De la Mision a la Teologia (Buenos Aires: Kairos, 1998), 13.

Pablo P. Moreno is dean, International Baptist Seminary, Cali, Colombia.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Baptist History and Heritage Society

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