Thursday 26 July 2007

A little Spanish theology, anyone?

I’ve been talking lately with José Luis Avendaño, a Lutheran theologian from Chile who is currently working with Latino immigrants in the United States. As a resource for Hispanic theological education, José is writing a small book (in Spanish) on Christian doctrine – and he’s interested in getting some feedback on the work. So if you read Spanish, and if you’d like to see a sample chapter of this book, please email me so that I can put you in touch with José.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from an English-language talk which José recently gave on the mission of the church:

The church has generally presented two perspectives on the Christian mission: on the one hand, there is a presentation of the gospel which only encompasses the spiritual dimension of the people; and on the other hand, a presentation with an almost exclusive focus on the social dimension. In the first perspective, it is thought that the church’s only mission is to save the individual souls of people and to make them useful for the internal work of the church. However, in this way the mission of the church excludes attention to the urgent tasks and responsibilities of society, as though the only thing of interest was the “spiritual life” of the people, and not their lives as flesh and blood people living in concrete society.

On the other hand, in the opposite understanding of the church’s mission, there is commitment only to the social liberation of people from structures of political, economic and cultural oppression. Certainly, the church cannot be absent from these struggles and from the denunciation of these forms of oppression, especially when dealing with sectors of society that are more vulnerable to abuse. However, history has shown, specifically in Latin America, that these struggles often run the risk of forgetting the specifically Christian discourse, with an almost exclusive focus on the instruments of mediation. Here, it is forgotten that the transformation of the human being can only happen from inside out – and this cannot be realized by any political or sociological theory, but only by the power of the gospel.

The way I see it, Christian discipleship has to do with concentric circles. First is the personal decision to follow Jesus, then this decision is expressed in communal life, and finally the community takes on its social responsibilities.


Anonymous said...

I don't read Spanish, so I can't review his entire book, but the English summary indicates that he is onto something that I've been thinking about myself. I grew up charismatic/evangelical and have been steadily pushed toward the more societal and political implications of Christian faith, but not wanting to abandon the rich heritage of spirituality I have grown up with.

So in that vein, I really like his both/and emphasis. Too often we create false dichotomies, I think.

Ben Myers said...

Many thanks to all those who have emailed me about this. José was very pleased to have so many interested readers.

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