Latin America is presently experiencing the largest growth of Christianity ever. This growth is taking place in many regions and among many different Christian groups. But none is growing faster than Latin American evangelicalism. This success in growth does bring difficulties. This is pointed out wonderfully in the John Stott Ministries spring 2007 newsletter, which says this development is "not without its growing pains."
A John Stott Ministries-Langham Scholar, Dr. Daniel Salinas, studied Latin American theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and then returned to Latin America. He concluded that a full gamut of cultural trends, linked with diverse theological perspectives, has produced some serious problems in the church of Latin America. He cites two in the recent Stott newsletter: The prosperity gospel and the misdirection of church leadership.
The Midas Touch
Latin American Christians are all too often looking for increased income and a higher quality lifestyle. Who isn’t, especially when you’ve known generations of real poverty? Salinas recently concluded, "They have become like a redeemed Midas who can convert anything they touch into gold." Daniel argues that Latin American churches are becoming too comfortable in society and thus they are becoming indifferent to the real social needs of their region. He suggests that people are being offered "happiness" rather than "persecution." The gospel of prosperity trumps the message of the Good Samaritan. Daniel believes the influence of this prosperity message has been particularly high in the cities. The result: "Some of these churches are not accountable to anyone. They don’t care what outside movements think; they are a closed circuit, and they don’t have interest to return to the Bible." This underscores one of the significant weaknesses of evangelicalism.
Daniel recently moved back to Latin America, to Paraguay. He notes in his report that there are significant complexities in the culture and church there. Because of Paraguay’s diverse history, linguistics and mixed worldviews, Paraguayans are often receptive to new ideas, but not to changing old ones. This makes for a real challenge to serious missional practice.
How does Daniel go about seeking change? He encourages analytical thought, teaches people how to embrace change, and most important of all, he teaches them Scripture in order to shape their lives and to strengthen the work of God’s Kingdom in their midst. He is training, with the help of the Langham Preaching resources that he was given by John Stott Ministries, a new generation of preachers who can give strong, biblically-based messages that will shape the future of evangelicalism in the Global South. Daniel adds, "If we can convince the preaching circuit to make a change, it will happen. If we can change the pastors, that will be a big, big improvement. The Bible is powerful—if we turn to the Bible, we will make a difference."
Daniel hopes that "deviant theologies" will soon fail. After people come to realize that they are personally empty his hope is that they will seriously return to the Bible. His hope for the future of the region is simple: power. He names three: The power of the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer and the power of the Bible. These are precisely the real contributions that solid evangelicals can and should make in Latin America and elsewhere.
I thank God for the ministry of John Stott and the incredible difference this work has made in bringing biblical renewal to the church around the world. Long after John has gone, and he is still alive in a state of semi-retirement in his 80s, this important work will prosper because it has been built on solid principles without concern for John Stott being at the center of the work. I support this important ministry prayerfully and financially. Check it all out at: www.johnstott.org
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I listened to an interview of David Wells, author and seminary professor at Gordon-Conwell. Dr. Wells tells the story of how he, as an unbelieving college student in the 1950s, walked out of a John Stott seminar in Cape Town. Wells became a Christian shortly thereafter. His parents reacted with shock and anger at his conversion and could never reconcile themselves to their son’s newfound faith.
After graduation Wells went to England with $50 in his pocket, knowing no one. But he remembered John Stott so he went to see him. Stott asked Wells where he was staying. Wells offered that he had no place to stay. Stott welcomed Wells to stay with him.
Wells lived with Stott for six years.
John, this story, now complimented by your post, makes me want to get to better know John Stott and the God he serves.
Catholics are Christians. It’s very sad that the pentecostal community rejects the early understandings of Christianity to attack Catholics in Latin America.
It is also sadly ironic, that on one hand, protestant Americans dislike Mexicans, but on the other hand, want to convert them.
YES, I HAVE TO AGREE WITH PETE ATOMIC. CATHOLIC CHRISTIANS ARE ALREADY CHRISTIAN. TO TRY AND CONVERT THEM IS INSULTING TO CATHOLICS AND CREATES DEEP DIVISIONS IN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. PERHAPS IT IS TIME TO END ANTI-CATHOLICISM AMONG EVANGELICALS AND FOCUS ON ECUMENICALISM.