“We all understand that people in the Hispanic world know about Jesus Christ […] but they don’t know Christ. They don’t know the gospel of grace. And they don’t know the full revelation of Scripture.” This is what John MacArthur said in a video to the audience of Por su causa (For his cause), a mega conference in the Dominican Republic that seeks to emphasize the centrality of the gospel for the church.
MacArthur felt free to make adventurous comments about the Christian faith in traditions that are foreign to his own. In this occasion, characterizing people in Latin America, a region with one of the largest Christian demographics in the world. He claimed that one of the reasons why he wanted to keep contributing to the conference is because Latin-Americans, even though they “know about Jesus” due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, they really “don’t know Christ”. Therefore, the forum of Por su causa is the beacon of light that finally came to illuminate the “gospel of grace”!
The issue is not Por su causa per se. Any space that promotes biblical and theological formation and the centrality of the gospel is necessary and we applaud it. This conference is a great platform.
Instead, the issue is the audacity in making claims that are historically and contextually uninformed. How do you determine if continental masses of people know or do not know the gospel? What are the criteria and who establishes them? That they become part of your theological tradition, adopt your idiosyncrasies or have your communications platform?
To some extent, these kinds of judgments are the result of ignorance of the history of Protestantism in Latin America and of the international evangelical movement. Unfortunately, it mirrors another duplication of a paternalistic and missionary colonialist attitude.
The perception that the Christian faith in Latin America is weaker, less biblical and less theological than in the North, reflects a generalized view amongst many white evangelicals in the USA. Because they don’t know the history of the evangelical movement in the Americas and don’t read Spanish, they think that if it is not read in English it doesn’t exist. Or, if it is not a translation in Spanish from the English it is not worth it (e.g., the “theological famine” according to The Gospel Coalition).
Let me provide an example. In order to see the history of evangelical Protestantism in Latin American we can look at the 70’s and the founding of the Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana (Latin American Theological Fellowship, FTL henceforth). The FTL was the result of an interdenominational and international effort to attend to the missional needs of the church in light of the proclamation of the gospel. The evangélicos are heirs of the Protestant Reformation with the theological distinctive of the 5 solas (sola fidei, sola gratia, solus christus, sola scriptura, soli deo gloria), sharing an emphasis on personal piety, conversion, and a strong inclination towards the social dimension of the gospel in the Methodist and Anabaptist traditions.
As a result, evangelicals since the 70’s, and still today, produce theological reflection in order to confront critical contextual concerns: marginalization of the masses, wars, impoverishment and corruption, secularism, and many more. What they don’t share with their brothers and sisters in the North is the political and cultural conservatism. In fact, one of the FTL’s contributions to international evangelicalism is the programmatic commitment to work towards more just societies as a necessary implication of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus. The suggested nomenclature was called “misión integral” (integral mission) or holistic mission. This missional concept was developed by various thinkers like René Padilla, Samuel Escobar, and others -in its beginnings in dialogue with scholars from other latitudes like John R.W. Stott, Carl F. H. Henry y Leon Morris.
Today, the concept of “misión integral” (holistic mission) is a type of lingua franca in international Protestant missiology literature.
The voice of the church through the FTL has made significant contributions to Lausanne (I, II, III) World Congress of Evangelism. We can also mention the doctrinal and missional declarations of the various CLADEs I, II, III, IV, V (Latin American Congress of Evangelism) that reflect important interdenominational consensus, as well as, other interdenominational organizations like the century old CLAI (Latin-American Council of Churches).
The Christian church in the Majority World (Latin America, Asia, and Africa) needs the collaboration and partnership of the church in the Minority World (USA and western Europe). The church in the USA needs to learn from the testimony and theology of the Latin American church, and vice versa.
The “vice versa” is important. It needs it.
As long as Christian leaders in the North, and some in Latin America, keep perpetuating discursive paradigms that date back to an implicit missional and theological colonialism, the fracture in the Christian communion will continue.
Christians in Latin America do not know Christ fully.
Christians in the USA do not know Christ fully.
They need each other in order to know with greater fullness the beauty and depths of Jesus, so that they are able to communicate the gospel in a believable and livable way in Latin America.
Note: The title has been modified to reflect precision of the citation. From MacArthur: “Hispanics do not know Christ.” to MacArthur: Hispanics “do not know Christ.”.