Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Contextual Theology for Latin America: Liberation Themes in Evangelical Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Contextual Theology for Latin America: Liberation Themes in Evangelical Perspective

Article excerpt

Contextual Theology for Latin America: Liberation Themes in Evangelical Perspective. By Sharon E. Heaney, Paternoster Theological Monographs. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008, xx + 292 pp., $39.00 paper.

Sharon Heaney is convinced the main reason for the many misconceptions about Latin American evangelical theology is that it is relatively unknown in the West. But after Heaney's work, in which she "sets out to systematise the thought of key Latin American evangelical theologians, making it accessible to an English-speaking authence" (p. 1), there is no longer any excuse to plead ignorance. She achieves this by presenting the thoughts of five of the most representative evangelical scholars from Latin America: C. René Padilla from Ecuador, Samuel Escobar from Peru, Emilio Antonio Núñez from El Salvador, Orlando Costas from Puerto Rico, and J. Andrew Kirk from England, but who worked and lived in Latin America during the 1970s, the time period Heaney studies. Heaney uses two main criteria for her selection of these five people: they were founding members of the Latin American Theological Fraternity, and they were engaged directly with liberation themes. Her portrayal of evangelical theology from Latin America as "vibrant, biblical, coherent, wholeheartedly evangelical, and sensitively contextual" (p. 250) leaves the reader with a longing to learn more about the subject matter.

Heaney weaves history, cultural analysis, and theological prowess to present an impressive picture of what has happened south of the Rio Grande in the Christian community, both Roman Catholic and evangelical. In a creative way, Heaney compares the parallel developments of liberation theologies and evangelical theology, showing the common context but at the same time the important differences between the two. In my own research, I found that those whom Heaney calls "evangelical" are considered "liberationists" in many religious circles in the North Atlantic countries. I hope her clear and painstaking explanation removes, once and for all, those unfounded opinions. After a brief historical presentation of both Roman Catholic and evangelical traditions in Latin America, Heaney compares the methods, hermeneutics, Christology, ecclesiology, and missiology of evangelicals with that of liberationists and concludes, "in contrast to the theology of liberation, Latin American evangelical theology considers Scripture to be the point of departure for all theological discussion" (p. 124). Later she affirms that on such fundamental doctrines like humanity, sin, liberation, salvation, conversion, and the kingdom of God, "there are distinctions that cannot be overcome" (p. 155). Heaney also finds that "Latin American evangelical theologians provide a via media for Latin American Christology" (p. 181).

However, Heaney not only describes but also presents some important observations on the subject matter. First, she points out the need for an improved and wider dissemination of Latin American evangelical thought both inside Latin America and internationally. She calls for a translation program of many of the key works that are available only in Spanish, something I whole-heartedly support. This would be a major global contribution. Second, Heaney finds appalling the fact that the theologians she presents "underestimate the significance of their contribution in the past and therefore fail to systematise their work" (p. 253). The void is noticeable because Heaney's is the only "systematic theology" available on the topic. Third, Heaney presents a challenge to the new generations of Latin Americans to continue theologizing because society's changes bring new issues to consider and engage. She mentions, for example, the need for a theological reflection on subjects like the role of women within the family and the church, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, globalization, and sexuality and sexual ethics. Quite an agenda for the younger theologians! Finally, Heaney recognizes the danger that evangelical nominalism poses to theology in Latin America. …

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