Late last week, on my day off, I decided to head down the street to Wheaton College to take in a few sessions of their annual Wheaton Theology Conference. The conference, cosponsored by Wheaton’s Department of Biblical and Theological Studies and InterVarsity Press, was focused this year on “Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective.”
I wish that’d I’d have been able to be present for the entire conference, but there were several points brought out by the speakers in the few sessions that I was present for that I think relate to the topic of immigration that we cover on g92.org.
First was a helpful reminder from Wheaton professor Dr. Gene Green that, while this conference focused on theological perspective from Global South contexts such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America, really all theology is contextual theology. That is to say: we all theologize from a place, and we all speak with an accent. We may not hear our own accent—it’s just normal to us—but the theology that I have inherited is European-American theology, even if I label it as “systematic” theology. One of the blessings of belonging to a global Church, with many parts, each one indispensible (1 Cor. 12:12-26) is that my sisters and brothers who read and believe the Bible in other contexts can help me to read and believe in new ways. Immigration—which moves believers from one context to another—has the side benefit of bringing me into contact with perspectives that I might never have been able to conceptualize on my own, given my culture’s blind spots.
One such reminder last week came from Ruth Padilla DeBorst, who was born in Colombia, raised in Argentina, and now lives in Costa Rica, where she serves as the General Secretary of the Latin American Theological Fellowship and, she noted, lives amongst undocumented Nicaraguan neighbors. She referenced the theme of immigration several times as she challenged us to see theology as hopeful, contextual engagement, reminding us that, though the situation remains dark for many, particularly in her region of the world and for many immigrants in the U.S., Christ’s incarnation means that God is not distant, but close to us, suffering with those who suffer. Together, as citizens of God’s Kingdom, we anticipate that day when we will no longer need hope, for justice and peace will have embraced in the fullness of Christ’s Kingdom.
Sharing that message of hope in Christ is part of the Church’s mission (Matt. 28:19-20). Evangelicals, historically, have been passionate about evangelism, and it is in the context of that mission, I and others have argued, that we should view immigration to the United States as a great opportunity. The opportunity is multi-directional, though, as Juan Martinez of Fuller Theological Seminary reminded us: the many Latinos in the United States are not just objects of mission, but also subjects. The fastest-growing churches in the U.S. are those—certain Pentecostal churches in particular—that apparently “missed the memo,” Martinez joked, that Hispanics were to be objects of mission but not actors in it: more and more Latinos, including many undocumented immigrants, are sharing the gospel with those in their own communities and beyond, and doing so in such a way as to helpfully distinguish the supracultural message of the gospel from North American cultural baggage.
Thursday evening’s program closed with two of the great evangelical theologians of the last fifty years—Samuel Escobar and Rene Padilla—in a reminder that they first brought to the global evangelical community nearly four decades ago at the first International Congress of World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974: God is calling the whole Church (including the immigrants coming to our country) to bring the whole gospel (devoid of any dualistic separation between evangelism and social concern) to the whole world (including within our own communities). Immigration, as Dr. Escobar argued eloquently in a recent Christianity Today article, presents a beautiful, God-given opportunity for the Church—in all parts of the world, for, as Ruth Padilla DeBorst noted, immigration is not a uniquely North American phenomenon—to live its mission. May we be found faithful to that call.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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