Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Evangelization as Dialogue: A Caribbean Perspective

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Evangelization as Dialogue: A Caribbean Perspective

Article excerpt

The Caribbean region offers an interesting case study of that commitment to mission and evangelism that gave birth to the modern ecumenical movement. It was almost exactly a century ago that the renowned ecumenist John R. Mott called for "the evangelization of the world in this generation," and it was in response to that call that the Student Volunteer Missionary Movement and, later, the Student Christian Movement, was formed. By that time, however, the Caribbean basin had already been evangelized. Christianity had risen to dominance in the region. Most of the communions of western Christendom were represented in varying degrees of strength, and there was scarcely a community in which a church was not planted, or where the name of Christ was not known.

The common definition of evangelism, therefore, cannot be applied easily to the Caribbean. "The millions [who] yet have never heard" are not here. We are neither newcomers to the gospel nor proselytes at the gate. "Younger churches," in the sense of Christian communities that are just beginning to understand for themselves "the faith once for all delivered to the saints," are not us. Here are churches that are about as old as their so-called "parent churches" of Europe. Here are churches that from the early nineteenth century have been sending missionaries to other parts of the world.

The evangelization of the Caribbean began in the last decade not of the nineteenth but of the fifteenth century. It began with the advent of the colonial expansion of Europe into the new world, and the emergence of the church might be counted among the more significant achievements, and certainly the more enduring legacies, of that era -- whether or not that was the intention. Indeed, the very fact that it might not have been the stated intention must make the study all the more instructive. It serves to demonstrate the way in which those historical forces, not normally taken into consideration, in the long run in fact, do impede or favour that mission and affect the way in which the gospel penetrates new areas and is heard by new peoples. The notion of a pure and unadulterated gospel is an ambitious ideal, but impossible. The very act of proclaiming the gospel dramatizes the incarnational reality it proclaims. The word and the flesh may be distinguishable in theory, but in practice they are inseparable. In order to be recognized and understood as good news, the gospel requires a component drawn from the socio-historical and socio-cultural context in which it is delivered and heard. Therefore, in any commitment to evangelization, the method of dialogue cannot be evaded. It is a critical factor -- indeed a conditio sine qua non. It is essentially this that distinguishes Christianity from the other world religions. Incarnation lies at the heart of not only its theology and message, but its very being, just as dialogue holds the key to its doing. The pure word, which takes no account of the flesh, is a delusion, just as monologue as an evangelizing method is apt to be misleading. It is through and with and in the flesh -- the ambiguities, the limitations and the particularities of history, culture and language -- that it has pleased God to reveal the glory of the Word, full of grace and truth.

The advent of Columbus and his significance for us has been evaluated variously, and long established interpretations are now being seriously contested. What remains true, however, is the fact that Columbus and his crew were the first Christians to set foot on these shores. It was an event of some significance for the gospel because Columbus himself was a practising Christian. His sponsor was the devout Isabella, the most Catholic of the European rulers. His voyage was as much a crusade as an exploration. His piety was as strong as his desire for renown, and his greed for gold as consuming as his concern for the conversion of the native Indians. Twelve friars sailed with him on his second voyage in 1493, and so quickly did the new faith become established that by 1504 it was possible for Pope Julius II to constitute the first archdiocese in the new world on the island of Hispaniola. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.