by Samuel Escobar
Samuel Escobar finds the missionary potential of the region in several developments, including self-generated church growth, conversion-prompted social change, and Catholic adoption of Protestant methods.
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 10545, 2002, 206 pp., $28.00.
—Reviewed by John M. Lilley, New Testament Specialist, Latin America Training Network, San Josè, Costa Rica.
Latin America is destined to be a major player in world mission—Roman Catholic as well as Protestant. Samuel Escobar finds the missionary potential of the region in several developments, including self-generated church growth, conversion-prompted social change, and Catholic adoption of Protestant methods. Changing Tides seeks to interpret these trends.
After an overview of the changing face of world mission, with its dramatic shift toward the South (Part One), Escobar assesses the history of Catholic and Protestant mission in Latin America (Part Two). The Catholic Church today is facing mass desertion. Catholic scholar Franz Damen estimates that every hour in Latin America four hundred Catholics join Protestant sects, which make up 12.5 percent of the region’s population. Escobar suggests that the Catholic goal of establishing a visible, sacramental church, instead of personal conversion, has produced a weak church. He chronicles post-war renewal efforts that show changes in the way that Latin American Catholics understand the Church’s identity, message and pastoral mission. In Escobar’s view, Protestant success in the region has exerted a powerful influence on Catholics, who can observe the difference between “a church that is born out of the people and one that is imposed from above” (74).
Exhibit A is popular Protestantism, or the classical Pentecostal movement in Latin America (Part Three). Extraordinary growth, particularly among the urban poor, is due to Pentecostalism’s spontaneous and participatory worship, egalitarian organization, narrative preaching, lay evangelization, and especially its sense of divine presence. Catholic scholars and pastors have studied the Pentecostal phenomenon to draw pastoral lessons from it.
Escobar also discusses mission from Latin America (Part Four), attributing current endeavors outside the region to past student movements, and offering suggestions for the formation of transcultural missionaries.
The reader might be tempted to call this book Changing Topics. Yet, despite its loose structure, the work offers worthy historical and theological reflections on Roman Catholic and Protestant mission in Latin America. Dodging triumphalism, Escobar does not altogether escape. Witness his wry remark that the Catholic Church made a preferential option for the poor, but the poor opted for Protestantism (134). Given his frank admission of the “warlike and destructive” nature of Catholic-Protestant relations in Latin America (35), one might have hoped for a discussion of paths to a more irenic mission. But that would be to change the topic yet again.
Check these titles:
Barryman, Phillip. 1996.Religion in the Megacity: Catholic and Protestant Portraits from Latin America. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
Boff, Leonardo. 1990. Church, Charism and Power: Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church. New York: Crossroad.
Bonino, Josè Mìguez. 1997. Faces of Latin American Protestantism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
Copyright © 2003 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.