TC Verbum No 12 July 2008

By Rob Haskell

Peru’s theology-in-practice

When most people think about Latin American theology they probably think Liberation Theology. With its social and political orientation and Marxist emphasis on praxis, this thinking has deep roots in Peru, especially because Peruvian Catholic Gustavo Gutierrez’s influential book Theology of Liberation set the theological agenda for the movement in the seventies. The specific Marxist insight that guides Liberation Theology is the idea that philosophy is not for describing the world but for changing it. One can see how, when applied to theology, this would lead to a heightened interest in practice.

This emphasis on practice and transformation is actually prior to Gutierrez’s ideas and can be seen in, for example, in the work of Juan Mackay, an influential Scottish missionary to Peru in the middle of the 20th century. In later times there have also been several other prominent evangelical theologians from Peru who have contributed significantly to the life and work of the church. In a recent trip to Peru I had the opportunity to speak with some evangelical leaders there and noted that the emphasis on a theology of practice is also important in Protestant circles. For example, I asked Pedro Arana, president of the Peruvian Bible Society and former TC member, what was the hot theological topic in Peru; he responded immediately that it was creation care and global warming. Arana gave me the latest copy of the journal he helps edit, Textos para la Acción (Texts for action)—the latest issue is dedicated to the oppression and liberation of women. In another publication on evangelism he presents the gospel as necessary for the social, political, economic and cultural renewal of Peru. The reality of future, eternal salvation is implied in the work as well but the greater emphasis falls on the gospel’s power to transform the present.