Staff study together at COMPA Mexico’s National Staff Conference in 2015.

The Bible, communism, and totalitarianism in 1960’s Latin America

Samuel Escobar

One of the joys of being a former IFES staff is to meet people that you came to know when they were university students and are today, some decades later, graduates active in the service of Christ. I had that kind of experience a few weeks ago as I read the list of contributors to the Latin American Bible Commentary that my former IFES colleague René Padilla is editing. Some of the names of authors reminded me of the time they were university students in the 1960s and discovered the joy of studying Scripture using the inductive Bible study approach, and also developed appreciation for good Bible exposition in the classic IFES tradition.

It was in the 1960s that as IFES staff we came to learn the truth that the Bible has to be understood always in context.* By this I mean that the questions we asked from God’s Word were the questions that came from students of that generation to which we ministered. In the 1960s the Latin American culture with which we were confronted was influenced in different degrees by the Western thinkers that Jacques Ellul has described as “the masters of suspicion”, namely Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. But due to the impact of the Cuban revolution that triumphed in 1959 the most influential was Marx. So evangelism in the universities had to respond to questions that came from Marxism. There was in the intellectual atmosphere a strong sense of the meaning of history and it was marked by the utopian expectations about socialism as a way of life that was the aim towards which the social revolution had to point out. That was the source of the questions to which we evangelists among students had to respond in those days. That was the context in which we had to read and expound our text.

Issues such as oppression, poverty, liberation, revolution, social classes, and land reform, were what university students debated those days. We were forced to go to Scripture to find questions not only to respond in Bible study groups but also to counsel students about their life and career expectations. The Bible commentaries we had in Spanish were translations from British or American authors for whom Marxism and those questions were not an issue. I found with surprise that the only Bible Dictionary that existed in Spanish, translated from an 1890 American edition, did not include words such as “poverty”, or “oppression”. And the Bible has so much to say about these issues! But I also rejoiced when E A Judge’s book The Social Pattern of Christian Groups in the First Century was published by InterVarsity Press in 1960. And with René Padilla we were thankful when the same publisher included our Latin American contextual reading of Scripture in the book Is Revolution Change? edited by Brian Griffiths in 1972. René’s chapter was “Revolution and Revelation” and mine was “The Social Impact of the Gospel.”

The fruit of our contextual reading of the Bible was included in books we published for university students. Pedro Arana from Peru had been an active student leader, and when he graduated as a chemical engineer he became an IFES traveling secretary in Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia. He went to study theology at the Free College in Edinburgh where he had a chance to revise the text of evangelistic lectures he had presented to university students in those countries during the 1960s. Spanish editor José Grau published them in Barcelona in 1971, under the title Progreso, técnica y hombre (Progress, Technique, and Man).* Before that, in 1967 Pedro had published a collection of my own evangelistic lectures under the title Diálogo entre Cristo y Marx (A dialogue between Christ and Marx).* This book was used as an evangelistic tool in universities during the Evangelism in Depth program in Peru (1967), and ten thousand copies were sold during that year. When authoritarian regimes were established after military coups in Argentina and Chile this little book had to be hidden or destroyed. After his doctoral studies in Manchester under F F Bruce, our IFES colleague René Padilla contributed two chapters to the book ¿Quién es Cristo hoy? (Who is Christ today?), another evangelistic book which had to be reprinted.*

René Padilla and I started to develop a Christological outline that would allow us to build a basic Christian social ethics using incarnation, the cross, and resurrection as a theological frame for our contextual theological effort. While I was doing my doctoral work in Spain, I was invited to present a short paper at the World Congress on Evangelism in 1966 convened by Billy Graham in Berlin. My paper was one among several others in the section on “Obstacles to Evangelism”, and my specific subject was on totalitarianism as an obstacle. While my three colleagues from other parts of the world identified totalitarianism with communism, in my own paper I pointed out that in Latin America it was the totalitarianism of the military and the extreme political right which constituted an obstacle. From John Stott’s expositions about the Great Commission in the gospels, I was specially touched by his exposition of John 20:19–23, with its emphasis that in this short version of the commission we have not only a command but also a model for mission. Coming from a different context, I could find there some of the points with which René and I had been working in Latin America. Encouraged by that and my conversations with Stott, when I was asked to present a paper in the Bogotá Congress on Evangelism in 1969 that was a follow up to Berlin, my paper summarized the work we had been doing with René during that decade.* Referring to the acceptance it received, René Padilla has said that it “threw into relief the fact that a significant sector of the evangelical leadership in Latin America was fertile soil for social concerns from a biblical perspective.” *

By the 1970s things had started to change. I still remember my surprise when in the Autonomous University of México I presented an evangelistic lecture in 1973, and at the question time one of the students said: “My generation is not interested anymore in changing the world following Marxist formulas. What we want is to realize the incredible potential we humans have in ourselves. What has Christ to offer in relation to that?” As I started to answer him he quoted Carlos Castañeda, who was at that point a best-seller. This Peruvian-American anthropologist was popularizing the teachings of “Don Juan”, a native American magician who offered a mystical religious experience that many young people were exploring in California and also in Latin America. So we had to go back to Christ’s words in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”, and to read contextually the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets, so critical about a religious experience without true faith and the kind of new life that faith in Christ brings.

My context today in Spain is different again. The culture presents signs of the decline of the established Roman Catholic Christendom. For instance, among young people between 18 and 29, the percentage of those that call themselves practicing Catholics has gone down from 15.2% in 2007 to 10.4% in 2009. On the other hand, 70% of these young people say that they pray at one or other point in their lives. Postmodernity marks the intellectual atmosphere. Within this context, GBU, the student movement related to IFES, decided to use a special illustrated edition of the book of Ecclesiastes as an evangelistic tool. They consider that they succeeded in attracting students to Bible studies based on it, and some came to a living faith in Christ through that portion of Scripture. Yes, this text has become especially relevant in today’s context.

Published under a Creative Commons (Attributions — No Derivatives) licence.


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Discussion questions

The Bible and ideology


Samuel Escobar relates his experiences of proclaiming the good news of Jesus in Latin America, where in the 1960s communism and right-wing totalitarianism were dominant ideologies. 

  1. What ideologies are common in your country? 
  2. What ideologies are common in your university? 
  3. Are the ideologies of today different from the ideologies common fifty years ago? 
  4. What opportunities does your ideological context provide for proclaiming the good news? 
  5. What challenges does your ideological context raise for proclaiming the good news? 

Hearing the Bible read aloud
• Have one person read a Bible passage while the others listen without looking at a Bible.

Through much of the history of the church – and in much of the world today – the Bible is heard more often than it is read. The public reading of the Bible in church was and often is the main way that the Bible is received.

1. How does hearing this passage read aloud change the way that you receive it?

Have the passage read aloud at least once again.

2. What do you notice as you hear the passage repeated?

Hearing the Bible through audio and new media
• Listen to a Bible passage on an audio recording or through another technology.

Hearing the Bible is not just an experience from the past. It is growing today through audio recordings and other technologies in what some call a return to orality.

1. Which do you do more often, hear the Bible or read the Bible?
2. When you hear this passage on audio or through another technology, how does this change the way that you hear God’s word?

Listen to the passage at least once more.

3. What do you notice as you hear the passage repeated?

Further reading

Works on reading the Bible in context include the following. The authors in this issue of Word & World suggested most of these titles. The works come from a range of Christian traditions.


AdeyemoTokunboh, ed. Africa Bible Commentary. Nairobi, Kenya: WordAlive Publishers; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006. 

Brueggemann, Walter. “Futures in Old Testament Theology: Dialogic Engagement.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 37, no. 1 (2015): 32–49. 

Coffey, John. Exodus and Liberation: Deliverance Politics from John Calvin to Martin Luther King Jr. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. 

Davis, Ellen F. Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 

Dykstra, Laurel. Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002. 

Ekblad, Bob. Reading the Bible with the Damned. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. 

Escobar, Samuel. A Time for Mission: The Challenge for Global Christianity. New ed. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2011. 

———. “Doing Theology on Christ’s Road.” In Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective: Exploring the Contextual Nature of Theology and Mission, edited by Jeffrey P Greenman and Gene L Green. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2012. 

———. The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2003. 

———. “The Social Impact of the Gospel.” In Is Revolution Change?, edited by Brian Griffiths. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1972. 

Green, Gene L, Stephen T Pardue, and K K Yeo, eds. Jesus without Borders: Christology in the Majority World. Majority World Theology Series 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Langham Global Library, 2015. 

———, eds. The Trinity among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World. Majority World Theology Series 2. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans; Carlisle, Cumbria: Langham Global Library, 2015. 

Greenman, Jeffrey P, and Gene L Green, eds. Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective: Exploring the Contextual Nature of Theology and Mission. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2012. 

Griffiths, Brian, ed. Is Revolution Change? London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1972. 

Judge, E A. The Social Pattern of the Christian Groups in the First Century: Some Prolegomena to the Study of New Testament Ideas of Social Obligation. London: Tyndale Press, 1960. 

McLean, Bradley H. Biblical Interpretation and Philosophical Hermeneutics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 

Neville, Robert C, Amos Yong, and Peter Heltzel, eds. Theology in Global Context: Essays in Honour of Robert Cummings Neville. London: T&T Clark, 2004. 

Oden, Thomas C. A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2014. 

———, ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998-. 

———. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2007. 

Ott, Craig. “Globalization and Contextualization: Reframing the Task of Contextualization in the Twenty-First Century.” Missiology 43, no. 1 (2015): 43–58. 

Padilla, C René. “My Theological Pilgrimage.” Journal of Latin American Theology 2 (2009). 

———. “Revolution and Revelation.” In Is Revolution Change?, edited by Brian Griffiths. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1972. 

Parratt, John, ed. An Introduction to Third World Theologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 

Patte, Daniel, ed. Global Bible Commentary. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004. 

Richards, E Randolph, and Brandon J O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2012. 

Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society. 8th ed. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2015. 

Schmid, Konrad. “What Is the Difference Between Historical and Theological Exegesis?” Translated by Peter Altmann, 2011. 

Selby, Gary S. Martin Luther King and the Rhetoric of Freedom: The Exodus Narrative in America’s Struggle for Civil Rights. Studies in Rhetoric and Religion 5. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2008. 

Stott, John. “Culture and the Bible.” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship: International Student Ministry, December 16, 2013. 

Sweeney, Marvin A. Tanak: A Theological and Critical Introduction to the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012. 

Tennent, Timothy C. Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2007. 

Tiénou, Tite, and John Jusu, eds. Africa Study Bible. Wheaton, Ill.: Oasis International, 2017. 

Volf, Miroslav. Captive to the Word of God: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010. 

Walzer, Michael. Exodus and Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 1984. 

Warrior, Robert. “Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians: Deliverance, Conquest, and Liberation Theology Today.” Christianity & Crisis 49, no. 12 (September 11, 1989): 261–65. 

Wintle, Brian C, ed. South Asia Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2015. 

Yeo, K K. “Chinese Christologies: Images of Christ and Chinese Cultures.” In The Oxford Handbook of Christology, edited by Francesca Aran Murphy, 393–407. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 

———. “Culture and Intersubjectivity as Criteria of Negotiating Meanings in Cross-Cultural Interpretations.” In The Meanings We Choose: Hermeneutical Ethics, Indeterminacy and the Conflict of Interpretations, edited by Charles H Cosgrove, 81–100. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement Series 411. London: T&T Clark, 2004. 

———. “Introduction: Trinity 101: Kaleidoscopic Views of God in the Majority World.” In The Trinity among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World, edited by Gene L Green, Stephen T Pardue, and K K Yeo, 1–17. Majority World Theology Series 2. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans; Carlisle, Cumbria: Langham Global Library, 2015. 

———. Musing with Confucius and Paul: Toward a Chinese Christian Theology. Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2008. 

———. What Has Jerusalem to Do with Beijing? Biblical Interpretation from a Chinese Perspective. Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 1998. 


Adeyemo, Tokunboh, and Solomon Andria, eds. Commentaire biblique contemporain. Marne-la-Vallée : Éd. Farel, 2008. 

Angers, Dominique. La méditation biblique à l’ère numérique. Marne-la-Vallée : Farel éd., 2012. 

Berthoud, Pierre, and Paul Wells, eds. Texte et historicité: récit biblique et histoire. Cléon-d’Andran: Éd. Excelsis, 2006. 

Blandenier, Patrick. Les pauvres avec nous: la lutte contre la pauvreté selon la Bible et dans lhistoire de lEglise. Valence : Ligue pour la lecture de la Bible, 2006. 

Blocher, Henri. La Bible au microscope. Vol. 2. Vaux-sur-Seine : Édifac, 2010. 

———. La Bible au microscopeexég̀ese et théologie biblique. Vaux-sur-Seine : Editions Édifac, 2006. 

Brisebois, Mireille. Des méthodes pour mieux lire la Bible: lexégèse historico-critique. Montréal : Société catholique de la Bible, 1983. 

Courthial, Pierre, and Paul Wells, eds. Dieu parle! études sur la Bible et son interprétation en hommage à Pierre Courthial. Aix-en-Provence : Éd. Kerygma, 1984. 

Escobar, Samuel. La mission. Marne-la-vallée : Farel, 2006. 

Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas K. Stuart. Un nouveau regard sur la Bible. Deerfield, Fla. : Editions Vida, 1990. 

Hoggarth, Pauline. La graine et le sol: une parole qui libère. Champs-sur-Marne (Seine-et-Marne) : Farel, 2012. 

Imbert, Yannick. “L’instrumentalisation Des Ecritures Par Les Idéologies.” La Revue Réformée 268, no. 44 (2013). 

Kuen, Alfred. Comment étudier la BibleMarpent : Éditions BLF, 2001. 

———. Comment interpréter la Bible. Saint-Légier, Suisse : Emmäus, 1991. 

———. Comment lire la BibleVennes sur Lausanne : Ligue pour la lecture de la Bible, 1978. 

Marguerat, Daniel, Yvan Bourquin, Marcel Durrer, and Florence Clerc. Pour lire les récits bibliques: initiation à lanalyse narrative. Paris : Les Éd. du Cerf; Genève : Labor et fides, 2009. 

Nisus, Alain, edL’amour de la sagesse: Hommage à Henri Blocher. Vaux-sur-Seine : Édifac, 2012. 

Padilla, C. René. “L’interprétation de la Parole.” In L’Évangile et le monde urbanisé, 5e édition. Montréal : Direction Chrétienne, 2009. 

Padilla, René, Samuel Escobar, and Hans Ferdinand BürkiÉvangile, culture et idéologies. Lausanne : Presses bibliques universitaires, 1977. 

Romerowski, Sylvain. Les sciences du langage et l’étude de la BibleCharols : Excelsis, 2011. 

Smith, Glenn. “La mission de Dieu et la vocation évolutive de l’Église au Québec.” In L’Évangile et le monde urbanisé, 5e édition. Montréal : Direction Chrétienne, 2009. 

Smith, Sandra, and Glenn Smith. La méthode inductive d’étude biblique. Montréal : Direction Chrétienne, 2014. 

Wiher, Hannes, edBible et mission. Vol. 2. Charols : Excelsis, 2012. 

———, edBible et mission: vers une théologie évangélique de la missionCharols : Excelsis, 2012. 

———, edLa mission de l’Église au XXIe siècle les nouveaux défisCharols : Excelsis, 2010. 

Wright, Christopher Joseph Herbert. La mission de Dieu: fil conducteur du récit bibliqueCharols : Excelsis, 2012. 


Arana Quiroz, Pedro. Progreso, técnica y hombre: algunas reflexiones histórico-bíblicas pronunciadas en diversas universidades latinoamericanas. Barcelona: Ediciones Evangélicas Europeas, 1973. 

———. Providencia y revolución. Lima, Perú: El Estandarte de la Verdad, 1970. 

Atiencia, Jorge, Samuel Escobar, and John Stott. Así leo la Biblia: cómo se forman maestros de la Palabra. Barcelona; Buenos Aires: Certeza Unida, 1999. 

Escobar, Samuel. Cómo comprender la misión. Barcelona: Certeza Unida, 2008. 

———. Diálogo entre Cristo y Marx y otros ensayos. Ed. rev. Lima: AGEUP, 1969. 

Escobar, Samuel, C René Padilla, and Edwin Yamauchi¿Quién es Cristo hoy? Buenos Aires: Ediciones Certeza, 1971. 

Padilla, C René. Misión integral: ensayos sobre el Reino de Dios y la iglesia. Barcelona: Ediciones Kairós, 2015. 

Salinas, Daniel. Nuestra fe: Integrando la Palabra en la vida cotidiana. Certeza México, 2013. 

Wright, Christopher J H, and Jonathan Lamb. La versatilidad de la BibliaLima, Perú: Ediciones Puma, 2015. 

Other languages 

Schmid, Konrad. “Sind die Historisch-Kritischen kritischer geworden? Überlegungen zu Stellung und Potential der Bibelwissenschaften.” Jahrbuch für biblische Theologie, Schmid 25 (2011): 63–78. 

杨克勤 = K K Yeo. 庄子与雅各隐喻生命遨游天恩 = Zhuangzi and James上海市 = Shanghai: 华东师范大学出版社, 2012. 


[1] I deal more extensively with this issue in my article “Doing Theology on Christ’s Road,” in Jeffrey P. Greenman and Gene L. Green, eds., Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective (IVP Academic: Downers Grove, Ill., 2012), 66-85.

[2] Pedro Arana, Progreso, técnica y hombre (Barcelona: Ediciones Evangélicas Europeas, 1971 and 1973).

[3] Samuel Escobar, Diálogo entre Cristo y Marx (Lima: AGEUP, 1967; revised ed. 1969).

[4] René Padilla, Samuel Escobar, and Edwin Yamauchi, Quién es Cristo hoy? (Buenos Aires, 1970 and 1973).

[5] I have summarized the process from Berlin 1966 to Lausanne 1974 in The New Global Mission (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 24-27.

[6] René Padilla, “My Theological Pilgrimage,” Journal of Latin American Theology 2 (2009), 103.

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