C. Rene Padilla: integral mission and the reshaping of global evangelicalism
Kirkpatrick, David Cook
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As Latin American evangelical theologians awoke to dependency on the North in the post-war period, they set the trajectory for a new contextual brand of evangelical Christianity. Ecuadorian Protestant theologian C. René Padilla (b. 1932) coined the term misión integral (integral mission), which first appeared on a public stage in Lausanne at the influential International Congress on World Evangelization of 1974—signalling both the rise of leadership from the Global South and a wider turn toward holistic mission within the global Protestant evangelical community. The concept of misión integral is an understanding of Christian mission that synthesizes the pursuit of justice with the offer of salvation. Padilla utilized the kingdom of God as the central theological motif in this synthesis. The thesis explores the dynamic interplay between Padilla and the global evangelical networks that formed, developed, and diffused misión integral. This first critical study of Padilla is structured thematically in order to provide a more detailed focus on each stage of this process. Earlier studies have largely framed misión integral as responding to Catholic theologies of liberation, beginning in the late 1960s or early 1970s. In contrast, I demonstrate that the origins of misión integral are found within a cluster of political and social forces reshaping post-war Latin America: rural-urban migration flows, the resulting complications of urbanization, and the rapid expansion of the universities, where Marxist ideas of revolutionary change presented a growing appeal to students. When Padilla became convinced of the inadequacy of his received North American evangelical theology of mission to meet such challenges, he began a search for theological materials with which he could address the Latin American context. In doing so, he sought to widen the parameters of an evangelical understanding of Christian mission. Padilla’s response was not purely Latin American nor driven by exclusively Latin American concerns. However, Padilla’s theology developed through a multidirectional and international conversation with a wide variety of interlocutors. Padilla became a metaphorical sponge—appropriating new theological perspectives from his undergraduate and graduate studies at Wheaton College in Illinois, his doctoral work in New Testament at the University of Manchester, the Presbyterian missionary-statesman, John A. Mackay, and the holistic tradition of American women missionaries through his closest colleague and wife Catharine Feser Padilla. This thesis explores these multidirectional conversations that shaped the concept of integral mission, and in doing so provides a corrective to current historiography. The process of developing the contours of integral mission would continue over the next two decades in a further series of transnational theological conversations. Particularly important were those Padilla conducted with the Peruvian Baptist Samuel Escobar and the Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana (Latin American Theological Fraternity), the British Anglican John R. W. Stott and the global evangelical movement, and the Argentine Methodist José Míguez Bonino and the ecumenical movement. Padilla’s theological networks cut both ways— influencing him and diffusing his influence to a wider Christian constituency. In focusing on these interlocutors, this thesis provides an assessment of the nature of Padilla’s influence upon the growing acceptance of integral mission within global evangelicalism. Today, the language of integral mission is being increasingly adopted by evangelical mission and relief organizations, evangelical political activists, official congress declarations, and Protestant ecclesial movements around the world.