In his thesis on Global Missions, Samuel Escobar, a Latin American theologian, argues that Christian theology is contextual. Escobar sees mission as a legitimate and fundamental perspective of the church, and all other functions of the church are given focus and direction based on that mission (Escobar, 2003). His thesis borrows from the view that the church is entering a new era in which the foundations of the Christian world has moved from the West to the South (Escobar, 2003).
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This essay analyzes Escobar’s thesis with regard to the various components through which he builds his thesis. It critiques the idea that Christian theology is contextual and discusses the theology of Escobar both from an American setting and from a global perspective.
Development of Escobars Thesis
Born in Peru, Samuel Escobar is a leading Latin American theologian who is passionately committed to the concept of mission and the desire to share the good news with al, crossing the borders with the gospel. Like his parents, he was in the Christian faith and worked as a missionary in New Zealand (Patrick, 2005). Escobar has written books and a thesis on Christian mission and has presented biblical missionary papers. His work takes into account the new realities and challenges of globalization in the post-Christian and postmodern world (Philly, 2011, & Escobar, 2003).
In building his thesis, Escobar utilized the Trinitarian theology in an attempt to construct a holistic and more relevant theology of mission that could inform, inspire, and to address contemporary evangelical issues (Patrick, 2005).
Among the evangelical theologians, one can usually win friends by speaking or writing about missions. Escobar quoted Walter Bühlman arguing the third millennium will be established under the leadership of the third Church, from which the most important inspirations for the future church will come. Escobar also spent some looking at the history of the mission, which, according to him, formed the basis of the future church (Patrick, 2005, & Escobar, 2003).
To what extent is Christian theology Contextual?
Before addressing the contextual paradigm of Christian theology, it is necessary to have a clear conscience on the definition of contextualization. An internationally recommendable definition of the term is yet to be arrived at. However, there is consensus on some of the key elements of contextualization. Escobar (2003) notes that contextualization of the Christian theology rest upon the emphasis one places on either the scriptural or cultural setting. David Clark postulates contextualization is the emphasis given on culture over the scriptural mainstream. Evangelical contextualization only takes place when the scripture is prioritized (Escobar, 2003). Scott Hildreth, Director at the Center for Great Commission Studies, posited that “contextualization is a delicate enterprise…” (Patrick, 2005).
Christian Theology from the American Perspective
As Edward Smither points out, it is necessary to show the element of establishment in the evangelical missions to America, especially during the pioneering stages of an evangelical revival. This was the case in North America in the 19th century (Grenz, & Olson, 1992). There was a significant paradigm shift in mission thinking taking place during this point in time. North American evangelists began considering the Roman Catholic countries in Latin America as mission fields. The influence of 19th-century revival evangelicalism in Brazil and Latin America could be best observed in the Brazilian evangelical identity emerging later in the 20th century. This, in turn, ushered the Brazilian evangelical church into an involvement with the global missions (Patrick, 2005).
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Escobar believes there is no other place on earth apart from South America, which he conceded to have a religion with no moral conditions. Europe and North America only needed a religious reformation to get to the same level of religious immorality observed in South America (Escobar 2003). Additionally, at times those who were interested in the Christian service in South America were also religious buccaneers devoting their lives to ecclesiastical piracy. The many men to whom people turned to for religious guidance had no single religious morality. Religion and morality had been divorced throughout the history of religion in South America (Escobar 2003).
In 1916, Brazilian Presbyterian Pastor, Erasmo Braga, auspicated evangelical revival, would mark the end of paganism in the Latin American Catholic context (Patrick, 2005). Evangelism in Brazil and Latin America continued to favor the idea of evangelizing Catholics. This notion had its foundation in North American. The views of Erasmo Braga were the same as those of Edinburgh consultation on world evangelization (Patrick, 2005). There was also intensifying regard for the scriptures, involving reading and studying the bible.
Emphasis on the biblical scriptures was fundamental in the protestant reformation and pietistic revivals, leading to translation and distribution of the bible by the Brazilian evangelical pioneers (Hordern, 1955). Escobar (2003) notes this was a pillar of Protestant mission, which considered Bible translation and distribution as the beginning of missionary activity that could allow for communication of the faith and development of indigenous churches.
Christian Theology from the Global Perspective
Samuel Escobar explores the new realities of a globalized world and the essence of contextualization of a changing mission field that is simultaneously secular and syncretistic (Escobar, 2003). He also set forth a rigorous biblical theology of mission, considering how God is at work around the world, and with guidance on how Christians are supposed to go about the task of global mission (Escobar, 2003).
Escobar emphasizes the importance of contextualization and translation, thus presenting the gospel message to a specific culture and how it transforms the culture exposed to the message, the word of God as it is in the scripture (Escobar, 2003). The gospel message is, however, accompanied by unscripted elements. He looks at the role played by the bible in transforming cultures, in particular, from the perspective of the new Christians in those cultures. The importance of service and proclamation of missions everywhere to everyone are emphasized (Escobar, 2003).
The impact of missionary activities across the globe is no longer reflected in the Western World. As a matter of fact, Escobar alludes to the western church is in recess, while the third world or the southern church is in progress (Escobar, 2003). The global mission thesis has clearly assessed the political, social, religious, and cultural realities in the contemporary Christian missions. Escobar’s thesis on the New Global Mission has analyzed global missionary activities from different perspectives.
Escobar, S. (2003). The new global mission: The gospel from everywhere to everyone. Downers Grove (IL). Inter-Varsity Press. ISBN-13: 9780830833016.
Hordern, W. (1955). A layman’s guide to Protestant theology: Revised Edition. Wipf & Stock Publishers. ISBN-13: 1-57910-925-X.
Grenz, S., & Olson, R. (1992). The 20th century theology: God and the world in a transitional Age. Downers Grove (IL). Inter-varsity Press. ISBN-13: 0-8308-1525.
Patrick, C. (2005). “A call to Global Perspective.” Falcon Heights: MN USA.
Philly, B. (2006). “The New Global Mission Review”. Web.