A Gospel for the Poor: Global Social Christianity and the Latin American Evangelical Left

A Gospel for the Poor: Global Social Christianity and the Latin American Evangelical Left

by David C. Kirkpatrick


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In 1974, the International Congress on World Evangelization met in Lausanne, Switzerland. Gathering together nearly 2,500 Protestant evangelical leaders from more than 150 countries and 135 denominations, it rivaled Vatican II in terms of its influence. But as David C. Kirkpatrick argues in A Gospel for the Poor, the Lausanne Congress was most influential because, for the first time, theologians from the Global South gained a place at the table of the world's evangelical leadership—bringing their nascent brand of social Christianity with them.

Leading up to this momentous occasion, after World War II, there emerged in various parts of the world an embryonic yet discernible progressive coalition of thinkers who were embedded in global evangelical organizations and educational institutions such as the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians. Within these groups, Latin Americans had an especially strong voice, for they had honed their theology as a religious minority, having defined it against two perceived ideological excesses: Marxist-inflected Catholic liberation theology and the conservative political loyalties of the U.S. Religious Right.

In this context, transnational conversations provoked the rise of progressive evangelical politics, the explosion of Christian mission and relief organizations, and the infusion of social justice into the very mission of evangelicals around the world and across a broad spectrum of denominations. Drawing upon bilingual interviews and archives and personal papers from three continents, Kirkpatrick adopts a transnational perspective to tell the story of how a Cold War generation of progressive Latin Americans, including seminal figures such as Ecuadorian René Padilla and Peruvian Samuel Escobar, developed, named, and exported their version of social Christianity to an evolving coalition of global evangelicals.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812250947
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Publication date: 07/12/2019
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

David C. Kirkpatrick teaches the history of religion at James Madison University.

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Introduction Toward a Gospel for the Poor

"Young people [ask] questions regarding the Christian attitude towards a Marxist regime, while the pastors [discuss] the length of the skirts that girls are wearing in church. A social ethic—we have none." In August 1972, Ecuadorian evangelical René Padilla wrote a personal letter to one of the key architects of postwar evangelicalism in the United States, theologian Carl F. H. Henry. For Padilla, the social retreat of evangelicals was "much more dangerous" than tobacco, alcohol, and dance—traditional taboos of fundamentalist missionaries from the United States and many Latin American evangelical pastors. At the time, many Protestant evangelical pastors in Latin America preached naked moralism and saving individual souls from a damned world while overlooking their pressing sociopolitical context. Latin American Protestant evangelicalism is an unlikely location for social Christianity and has been widely overlooked by observers precisely because it often mirrored fundamentalism in the United States.

Carl Henry likewise decried the social retreat of fundamentalists from the ails of a postwar American culture in his brief but influential study, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947). Henry presented U.S. culture as morally vacuous and beckoned fundamentalists to fill the void with evangelical theological and political materials. Uneasy Conscience became a blueprint for rebranding fundamentalism as "neoevangelicalism" and a rallying cry for postwar evangelical activism in the United States. At the time of Padilla's letter, however, Henry was planning a forty-day trip to eight Latin American countries under the auspices of the Latin American Theological Fraternity (Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana or FTL). Given Henry's reputation as a leading evangelical expert in social ethics, one might expect Latin American evangelicals to request Henry's assistance in developing a new brand of evangelical social Christianity. Instead, in the same letter, Padilla sharply warned Henry to avoid the topic completely precisely because he was an American. Much had changed in the preceding decades, and leaders from the Global South were rising to take their place at the table of theological and political discourse. In fact, a nascent Evangelical Left in Latin America was already developing a brand of social Christianity, flavored by the political and social ferment of the global Cold War.

Pressing conversation regarding the relationship between social action and the Christian faith was neither new nor unexpected. An entire generation of Latin American theologians insisted that the church should center on the poor—in Pope Francis's words, to build "a Church which is poor and for the poor." Their response was profoundly shaped by their Cold War context. The intense ideological struggle of the global Cold War—the undeclared war between the United States and the Soviet Union that dominated international affairs roughly between 1945 and 1991—was an extension of European colonialism and the proving ground of ideologies forged in Moscow and Washington. Both sides attempted to determine the destiny of the Developing World often through means of economic coercion, political assassinations, and propping up repressive military regimes. From within this sociopolitical ferment, a generation of religious elites—both Catholic and Protestant—sought to mold new theologies to fit the Latin American reality.

The Cold War was the seedbed of social Christianity. While Latin America has been widely credited with inspiring Catholic social teaching, especially theologies of liberation, this same context has been widely overlooked in the story of Protestant evangelicalism. Latin American evangelicals shared the sociopolitical context while negotiating a unique path as a religious minority community in an overwhelmingly Catholic continent. They drew from personal biographies filled with anti-Protestant acts of violence, oppression, and discrimination, in addition to pervasive inequality and repressive military governments. This was, according to Padilla, "part and parcel of life for non-Roman Catholic Christians and others in pre-Second Vatican Council days" in Latin America. On this divergent road, an embryonic progressive coalition of evangelicals began to develop a social Christianity that would challenge evangelical political and theological loyalties around the world.

These developments in Latin America coincided with a brief political moment for an Evangelical Left in the United States. Newsweek magazine christened 1976 "The Year of the Evangelical" as the American public elected its first "born-again president." Yet, this evangelical was not a conservative but a progressive and not a Republican but a southern Baptist Democrat—Jimmy Carter. For American evangelicalism, this was largely political prologue, the first act in a drama dominated by the Republican Party and the so-called Religious Right. Around the globe, however, an increasingly diverse cast of characters began to revise the evangelical script. To put it succinctly: the political and theological moment of the Evangelical Left was neither brief nor driven primarily by American actors. In particular, an emerging Latin American Evangelical Left was busy marketing social Christianity to a younger, emerging generation of global evangelical activists—including many in the United States. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this Latin American negotiation of power, politics, and theologies presented the most formidable challenge to American management of expansive sectors of global Christianity. As Latin Americans shifted, they pulled many globally conscious evangelicals with them. Latin American leadership here was far from accidental; they drew unique inspiration from their story as a religious minority community.

Protestantism in Latin America

The identity of Latin American Protestantism was forged at the intersection of Catholic hegemony, systemic violence, and American missionary oversight. Indeed, their story is one marked by migration, missions, and negotiation. Prior to World War I, Protestant communities were mainly the product of early nineteenth-century immigration. As the nineteenth century progressed, two realities converged in the fields of politics and religion: the independence of Latin American nations from the colonial powers of Spain and Portugal and the legacy of the Second Great Awakening in the United States, a Protestant revival movement that flourished from the 1790s to the 1830s. Those factors inspired new missionary initiatives from the North and an influx of Protestant missionaries from the United States into Latin America.

After Ecuadorian independence in 1822, for example, the liberal reforms of President José Eloy Alfaro Delgado opened the door to a wider foreign missionary presence. At the end of the nineteenth century and into the first part of the twentieth century, every Protestant missionary in Ecuador was from the United States. During the first Alfaro presidency (1895-1901), the Gospel Mission Union was established in 1896 and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1897—Protestant denominations from the United States that compose 40 percent of Ecuadorian Protestants today. In 1906 (during Alfaro's second presidency), the Ecuadorian government established a new constitution, which, at least on paper, separated church and state and placed wider restrictions on Catholic clerical influence in areas such as education. It is no coincidence that the years 1900-1912 saw the establishment of influential missions such as those described above and also the American Bible Society (la Sociedad Bíblica Americana) and Evangelical Mission Union (Unión Misionera Evangélica). Yet none of these missions could boast an indigenous church membership roll of more than 100 by 1910.

At the turn of the twentieth century, wider trends in migration began to reshape the internal structure of Latin American life. In 1960, one political scientist observed the tail end of these migration patterns, saying, "There is no Latin American country in which there has been a trend away from urbanization; everywhere the impressive fact has been the movement toward the city, the swelling of urban populations." In the 1930 Mexican census, for example, Mexico City, the capital, contained nearly 961,000 inhabitants. By the next census a decade later, the city had nearly doubled in population to almost 1.5 million inhabitants. After World War II, Protestantism began to gain a foothold in Latin America as urbanization provided a new social context for religious life. Protestant churches found acceptance at the margins of this new urban environment, growing in places that traditional Roman Catholic structures largely struggled to reach—due in part to pervasive priest shortages in the region.

The growth of Protestant churches also coincided with the increasing involvement of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America during the Cold War era. In some cases, Latin American military dictatorships were friendlier to Protestants than to Catholics, as the Catholic hierarchy held power and influence while increasingly siding with the poor. By implication, many Latin American Protestants were seen as foreigners in their own land, labeled "gringos" and Yankees. Many Roman Catholic priests and authorities also viewed Protestant evangelistic efforts toward so-called nominal Roman Catholics as imposing on their religious turf. Priests and religious leaders sometimes played into these fears by stoking up mobs for violence against Protestants.

Until the 1960s, nearly 90 percent of Latin Americans self-identified as Catholic. Today, nearly 20 percent of Latin Americans self-identify as Protestant. Put another way, only one in ten Latin Americans alive today was raised Protestant, while nearly one in five now self-identifies as such. The visibility and influence that Protestants experience today were a distant thought during the first half of the twentieth century. As a marginalized religious minority community, the Protestant path into the present day was one marked by discrimination and violence.

For much of their history, Latin American Protestant evangelical communities were often dependent on North American money, personnel, and theological methods. The intersection of imported political and theological influence from the North and sociopolitical tumult in the South created a third path for the emergence of new, holistic Christianities. Young Latin American evangelicals, notably Ecuadorian René Padilla, Peruvian Samuel Escobar, Peruvian Pedro Arana, and Puerto Rican Orlando Costas, began to search for theological materials with which they could address a revolutionary situation. Rather than rejecting the evangelical theology they received from North Americans, they sought to strip it of its white, middle-class American packaging—to formulate a "gospel for the poor," the marginalized, and the suffering.

The repudiation of forms of Christian theology fashioned in the United States was more than a theological statement—it was a reflection of broad Latin American antipathy toward U.S. foreign policy in the region and of Latin American Protestant evangelical sensitivity to being associated with certain colleagues in the North. Like many members of the Evangelical Left in the United States, Latin American evangelical elites became increasingly discontent with the conservative political loyalties of evangelicals and the perceived excesses of the political left. Indeed, they found critical continuity with so-called radical evangelicals in the United States such as Jim Wallis and his Post-American (later Sojourners ) magazine, Anabaptist ethicists Ron Sider and John Howard Yoder, professor-activist Tony Campolo, and Brian McLaren and the Emerging Church Movement, all of whom protested U.S. imperialism and the captivity of American Christianity to free-market capitalism. Progressive Latin Americans also converted conservative powerbrokers to their brand of social Christianity. Important here is the travel diary of Anglican evangelical statesman John Stott found in Lambeth Palace Library in London, which chronicles the friendship and influence of an embryonic Latin American Evangelical Left. After his public conversion to social Christianity (described below), Stott provided a stamp of approval and strategic bridge to a wider global evangelical community. The New York Times put this clearly in 2011: "If evangelicals could elect a pope, [John] Stott is the person they would likely choose."

The renaissance of evangelical social Christianity ushered in a brief moment of progressive political activism and a lasting era of global evangelical relief organizations that command billion-dollar budgets. These organizations became a constant presence in evangelical churches and homes, for example, through pictures of "sponsored children" stuck to refrigerator doors. Indeed, today, a sizable portion of global evangelicalism embraces the pursuit of justice alongside the evangelical offer of salvation. This coincided with an emerging "evangelical internationalism" that has deeply influenced foreign policy in the United States. In this way, our story cuts across conservative and liberal divides—both in terms of Christian forms and political allegiances. The intellectual scaffolding was built not in the American public square but in an unlikely and overlooked context of Latin America. The framework and language developed by a germinal Latin American Evangelical Left has been adopted and borrowed around the world, shifting mission priorities and political loyalties. This represents a surprising and stark reversal within the evangelical world—from widespread fears over the "Social Gospel" to a wide embrace of social Christianity.

Evangelicals and Social Christianity

Adherents of social Christianity, while representing a diverse and eclectic tradition, shared a broad conviction. As historian Heath Carter clarified, for adherents, the concept of sin "infects not only individuals but also systems and structures; that salvation is not only personal but also societal." This widened definition of "sin" and "salvation" then presented clear implications for Christian mission: the struggle for justice is essential, rather than optional. Social Christianity is perhaps most well known in the Social Gospel Movement that arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. Members of the Latin American Evangelical Left shared varying, disparate, and complex affinities with progressive theological movements like the Social Gospel Movement.

The expression "social gospel" was first articulated in both Britain and the United States in the late 1880s. B. F. Westcott, bishop of Durham and former Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, utilized the term in his work Social Aspects of Christianity, which derived from a series of sermons preached at Westminster Abbey in 1886. The General Baptist minister John Clifford also used the term two years later at his Baptist Union presidential address. Prior to the twentieth century, a dynamic partnership between evangelism and social action was widely accepted and even assumed within evangelical Protestant discourse, though the theological rationale for action on social questions was often of an undeveloped or instrumental kind. As the century turned, the nineteenth-century evangelical consensus on social action split into two identifiable communities. One side became twentieth-century fundamentalists, who reacted against "modernizing" tendencies—what has been widely regarded as the "great reversal" of social theological emphases. The other side progressively broadened their Christianity by developing a theology of social transformation based on the theological motif of the kingdom of God. The so-called Social Gospel became increasingly contested as the rise of modernism challenged evangelical leaders, especially in North America, regarding approaches to the study of the Bible and the authority of science. Fundamentalists, in reacting against these perceived excesses, swung toward a greater focus on evangelization rather than social action in an attempt to stop the drift.

Many have followed this narrative. This "great reversal," however, is largely a theoretical construct that has been read back into the historical narrative by those who see it as a retrograde development. Although the concept has its validity and a degree of explanatory power, it does not fit the full range of evangelical experience at any period and therefore is shorthand for careful, nuanced investigation. The spectrum has always been broader and more complex than a monochrome reversal as previous tradition would imply. For example, the narrative of a "great reversal" often overlooks the fact that many African American Christian leaders continued to maintain a robust understanding of social action in Christian mission right through the twentieth century. African American pastors such as the Baptist Gardner Taylor often spoke of the social dimensions of the gospel, as did Taylor during his forty-two-year tenure as pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ (CBCC) in New York City, which began in 1948. This "great reversal" narrative also fails to account for the tendency of American women missionaries to develop more holistic understandings of Christian mission during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well.

Nevertheless, the relationship between evangelism and social action in Christian mission has been an interpretive crux for Protestant evangelicals in the twentieth century. The controversial nature of social Christianity within evangelical circles can only be understood against the background of the theological landscape of the postwar period. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, evangelical social action was largely justified theologically, either through the removal of "obstacles to the progress of the gospel" or through the elimination of social sins that contravened divine commands. In terms of theological methodology, this fitted squarely within a "two-mandate approach," which predominated in evangelical theological circles prior to the 1970s. This method bifurcated Christian mission into a primary, spiritual mandate and a subordinate social mandate. This did not mean, however, that evangelicals were averse to social action. On the contrary, missionaries around the world created hospitals and schools, and they lobbied for the rights of the poor—particularly children and women. The language or theology that justified these actions, however, was largely removing barriers to personal, spiritual conversion.

By the 1940s, many fundamentalist leaders in the United States became increasingly restless with the state of fundamentalism and its perceived lack of influence on and engagement with postwar American culture. Thus, even while many Protestant evangelicals began to speak in more explicitly social theological terms, the conversation often concerned "implications of the gospel" rather than the content of the message itself (as Padilla, Costas, and others would later suggest). As Christianity grew in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the issue became increasingly controversial in the late 1960s and early 1970s; mission leaders from these traditional "mission fields" spoke back to "sending countries" in what has often been called a global reflex. This took place both at public gatherings and in personal correspondence. Until the 1960s, little momentum was made in developing a more satisfactory conservative Protestant discourse on social Christianity. However, beginning in 1966, a series of congresses dramatically accelerated the conversation on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Berlin Congress on World Evangelization in 1966 (Berlin 1966) can trace its origins to a taxi conversation between Billy Graham and Carl F. H. Henry. Their goal, found in the official conference papers, echoed the epochal missionary conferences in New York in 1900 and Edinburgh in 1910: "Our goal is nothing short of the evangelization of the human race in this generation." The map for carrying out this worldwide evangelization project, however, was written by the exclusively white, American, male planning and executive committee. Evangelical leaders at Berlin were also emphatic about the dimensions of evangelization: "Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ." The congress then outlined the "task" of Christian missionaries through four verbs: to proclaim, to invite to discipleship, to baptize, and to teach. Evangelical Anglican clergyman John Stott's plenary address also set out to "re-examine our marching orders." Stott argued, "The commission of the Church . . . is not to reform society, but to preach the Gospel . . . the primary task of the members of Christ's Church is to be Gospel heralds, not social reformers." As if to not be misunderstood, Stott emphatically repeated, "Again, the commission of the Church is not to heal the sick, but to preach the Gospel." Peruvian Samuel Escobar attended Berlin 1966 and later extolled Stott's teaching there.

The congress had been unambiguous with regard to the mission of the church, affirming the primacy and urgency of evangelization. When Graham began to plan for a follow-up to Berlin 1966, there was little indication that the next congress on evangelization would challenge this widely held assumption of the primacy of evangelism. Yet, across the Atlantic, a group of young evangelical Anglicans in Britain was beginning to press for an increased emphasis on social concern in Christian mission.

The National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Keele in 1967 has been called "the chief landmark in a post-war evangelical renaissance." The congress was a gathering of several generations of evangelical Anglican leaders, with the younger leaders pushing for greater emphasis on social action and sensitivity to issues arising from local contexts. At Keele, John Stott played an instrumental role in reconciling the older and younger generations—foreshadowing his later role at the Lausanne Congress of 1974. After disagreement and debate, the result of the congress was a significant statement on the role of social action in Christian mission. Particularly notable was a section titled "The Scope of Mission": "Evangelism and compassionate service belong together in the mission of God." Stott in particular was prescient in recognizing the social conscience of a new generation of evangelical leadership and the need to create room for their thinking. He was also beginning to reexamine his own understanding of the relationship between evangelism and social action.

Yet, Stott's experience at the Keele Congress cannot fully explain his later "conversion" to holistic Christian mission. In the years that followed the Keele Congress, Stott was increasingly influenced by a wider conversation within global evangelical Protestantism, one driven by concerns from leadership in the developing world and on university campuses around the world. The sensitivity of Stott and many leaders of the Evangelical Left to a younger generation of evangelical thinkers (who were increasingly nonwhite and non-Western) meant they were especially impacted by these trends from the Global South. These waves of change crested at an expansive global gathering of evangelical leaders called the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland—or simply Lausanne 1974.

A growing body of literature has also begun to note the importance of the Lausanne Congress in 1974. A recent academic biography of Billy Graham called the congress "extraordinarily influential." One historian chose two events as "turnings points" in the history of Christianity in the second half of the twentieth century: the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church and Lausanne 1974. Careful attention to unstudied personal papers, bilingual interviews, and archival materials from five countries reveals there is much more to this story than has been told.

The Lausanne Congress was perhaps most influential because, for the first time, leaders from the Global South gained a place at the table of global evangelical leadership—bringing their local, while nascent, brands of social Christianity with them. While Berlin 1966 was planned and run exclusively by Americans, Billy Graham himself demanded that "national representatives of the younger churches" be given a place at the table of Lausanne 1974. As a result, Lausanne amplified the voices of an emerging, increasingly diverse evangelicalism, which often included calls for the inclusion of social Christianity. Lausanne's loudest and most controversial voices came from Latin Americans, whose proximity to the United States and fraught history with aggressive Cold War foreign policy positioned them to challenge an often-paternalistic evangelical context.

In 1974, Time magazine called the Billy Graham-funded Lausanne Congress "a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held" with nearly 2,500 Protestant Evangelical leaders from over 150 countries and 135 denominations. At Lausanne, "America's Pastor" Billy Graham sowed seeds for world evangelization and nearly reaped a civil war instead. In particular, René Padilla and Samuel Escobar channeled the Cold War context in what proved to be the most controversial of plenary speeches at Lausanne. Padilla rejected the equation of Christian orthodoxy with political conservatism and the exportation of the "American Way of Life" to Africa, Asia, and Latin America in his plenary speech at the global evangelical Lausanne Congress. In one instance, he declared, "American culture Christianity integrate[s] racial and class segregation into its strategy for world evangelization." Peruvian Samuel Escobar followed the young Ecuadorian and struck a similar chord. Escobar, for his part, implicated this missionary-exported Christianity in siding with the ruling class and called for evangelicals to avoid the social quietism of their fundamentalist forebears. In John Stott's words, Escobar had "put the cat among the pigeons."

The Language of Evangelical Social Christianity

These debates surrounding social Christianity cut to the heart of the Christian message and mission. Padilla argued for a wider definition: "A comprehensive mission corresponds to a comprehensive view of salvation. Salvation is wholeness. Salvation is total humanization. Salvation is eternal life—the life of the kingdom of God—life that begins here and now . . . and touches all aspects of man's being." When Padilla and Escobar suggested that the gospel had social dimensions, this worried many evangelical leaders (including many from the Global South) who feared that evangelicals were drifting toward emphases characteristic of the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches (WCC), such as those that had marked the WCC Uppsala assembly in 1968. Since Padilla delivered his Lausanne speech in Spanish, what he actually said was not "comprehensive mission" but " misión integral."

What has become known as "integral mission" is an understanding of Christian mission that posits that social action and evangelism are essential and indivisible components of Christian mission—indeed, that both are central aspects within the Christian gospel. Put more clearly, integral mission synthesizes the pursuit of justice with the offer of salvation. Misión integral pushed evangelicals to move beyond implication language to include social action within the gospel message itself. Padilla's use of the term derives from his homemade pan integral, or whole-wheat bread. The Spanish word integral brings connotations of whole wheat, comprehensive, total, and complete, as well as of integrity. It contains nuances of the English word "holistic" yet Spanish contains the word holístico, and thus the phrase "holistic mission" is insufficient. Key members of the Evangelical Left have utilized the English gloss "integral mission," and thus both misión integral and "integral mission" are used here to describe the primary language for the social Christianity within an emerging Latin American Evangelical Left.

Today, the language of integral mission has become a catchall phrase for social Christianity within global evangelicalism. Indeed, prominent members of the American Evangelical Left have utilized this language as their theological framework for social Christianity—including political activist Jim Wallis, Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren, and even conservative establishment figures such as British Anglican John Stott. "Integral mission" is also utilized as the official phrase and model by nearly 600 mission and relief agencies—including World Vision, Compassion International, Food for the Hungry, International Justice Mission, and World Relief. Thus, as we seek to trace the origins, development, and global diffusion of ideas from the Latin American Evangelical Left, this phrase "integral mission" serves as an important marker.

Defining the Latin American Evangelical Left

In the early 1970s, there emerged in various parts of the Protestant world an embryonic but discernible progressive coalition that united around a particular brand of evangelical social Christianity. They often shared in common a suspicion of American imperialism and exportation of theological materials and methods, as well. Key thinkers were often embedded within global evangelical organizations and educational institutions that were sympathetic to their progressive leanings (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and later the Lausanne Movement, for example). While moving primarily within global organizations, Latin Americans also created their own organizations to develop and spread their ideas—particularly the Latin American Theological Fraternity (FTL) and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians (INFEMIT).

Progressive Latin American evangelicals defined themselves primarily against two perceived ideological excesses: Marxist-inflected theologies of liberation and the conservative political loyalties of the Religious Right. Thus, the emerging coalition of the Latin American Evangelical Left refers primarily to a political orientation rather than a theological one—theologically conservative and evangelical while pushing boundaries on socially progressive ideas. This linguistic designation should not be used to mask its diversity, however. The emerging progressive evangelical coalition in Latin America was as diverse as the denominations and organizations that they represented, similar to a wide spectrum between a so-called Religious Right. The glue that held together this emerging coalition of progressive evangelicals was their brand of social Christianity, which they began to call misión integral. At the same time, many of the most vocal critics of social Christianity in the 1970s were conservative Latin American evangelicals. Many indeed rejected misión integral, which underlines the need for historians of Latin American Christianity to use precise language that avoids blanket categories such as "Latin American evangelicals."

A Gospel for the Poor sits at the intersection of an emerging body of literature on the Evangelical Left and meager scholarship on the history of Latin American Christianity. This brief historical survey raises a few crucial questions. Why did many evangelicals in the North greet the Evangelical Left as family rather than foe in contrast to their reaction to the so-called Social Gospel of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Put more clearly, why is the Evangelical Left even considered evangelical? What role did Latin Americans—and the revolutionary ferment of the Cold War—play in constructing the Evangelical Left as a foil to the American Religious Right? Similarly, how did evangelical social Christianity gain widespread acceptance across a broad religious spectrum today? While many have noted the influence of the Evangelical Left and even the Lausanne Movement, the full story and key Latin American background remain untold. Where Latin American influence has been acknowledged, the main players are often presented as a monolith. Instead, we must ask, who was the primary mind behind Latin American evangelical social Christianity (integral mission)? This question has also become increasingly important due to recent important monographs that have highlighted Peruvian Samuel Escobar to a greater extent than Ecuadorian René Padilla or treated progressive Latin American Evangelicals as politically and theologically homogeneous. Similarly, crucial questions include, to what extent was misión integral simply an evangelical Protestant response to Catholic theologies of liberation? Overall, how might paying careful attention to bilingual interviews, unstudied personal papers, and far-flung archival documents refocus the story of the Evangelical Left and provide a revised picture of the movement?

In attempting to answer these questions, this book begins not at the centers of power or with evangelical elites in the United States but with the unlikely and overlooked influence of progressive Latin American evangelicals. This story aims to be both descriptive and prescriptive. The increasing importance of Latinos within evangelicalism is both the reality of the story and the intentional lens of this book. A global perspective is necessary for the study of postwar evangelicalism. Here, transnational conversations provoked the rise of progressive evangelical politics, the explosion of Christian mission and relief organizations, and the infusion of social justice into the very mission of evangelicals around the world, including in foreign policy prescriptions. Evangelicals across a broad spectrum of denominations and affiliations have widened their understanding of the Christian gospel to include social dimensions—a renaissance of evangelical social Christianity. This is the story of how an emerging generation of progressive Latin Americans developed, branded, and exported their version of social Christianity to a changing coalition of global evangelicalism.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

Introduction. Toward a Gospel for the Poor
Chapter 1. A New Style of Evangelicalism from Latin America
Chapter 2. Revolutionary Ferment
Chapter 3. Cold War Christianity
Chapter 4. Deporting American Evangelicalism
Chapter 5. Marketing Social Christianity
Chapter 6. Crossing Boundaries
Chapter 7. The Reshaping of Global Evangelicalism
Conclusion. A Global Reach


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