Peter Wagner’s slender book is a polemical, albeit polite, attack on those left-wing Protestant theologians in Latin American who have been preaching social revolution, the need to “transform the structures of society,” and “to take power away from the privileged minorities.” Devoting two or three pages each to such pastors, teachers, and writers as Gonzalo Castillo Cárdenas, José Miguez Bonino, Rubem Alvez, Jorge Lara Braud and Richard Shaull, the author shows how they move from the doctrine of Christian love to the argument that it is impossible to preach the gospel to those who do not enjoy “a decent human life,” and to the defense of a Marxist revolution. Their heroes are such men as Regis Debray, Camilo Torres, and Ché Guevara, and they are enthusiastic about the “promising renewal” among Cuban Protestants that has followed the revolution there.
The author, a missionary in Latin America for thirteen years, and now Associate General Director of the Andes Evangelical Mission, argues that such concern with social issues “may easily lead to serving Mammon rather than serving God.” Protestantism’s true mission, he holds, is “making disciples, winning souls to Christ, saving the lost, baptising new members into the Church,” saving souls instead of saving societies. The left-wingers, whom, he estimates, speak for only 1 to 5 percent of Latin America’s 15 million Protestants, have wrongly turned from “Biblically revealed Christian truth,” ignored the reality of Satan, “a personal devil,” and “the terrifying thought of a human being cast into the lake of fire.” As against these false ministers, Wagner praises such church-building evangelicals as Washington Padilla, José Fajardo, the converted Catholic priest José María Rico, and Fernando Vangioni, “for years (a member) of the Latin American Billy Graham team.”
Latin American specialists who do not share the author’s special interests and narrow theological views will find his book of little interest. Wagner has read widely in well-known and in obscure theological journals, but not much outside them. In his single-minded devotion to “the pure Bible gospel” and in his conviction that “secularism has swept over the world like a vicious sandstorm, attempting to make a spiritual desert of our planet,” he ignores the economic, social, and political realities of today’s Latin America. And his argument that social reform is not necessary or important because “in Bolivia . . . the oppressed peasants have been more receptive to the Gospel than the wealthy landowners,” will not convince anybody except those who already share his old-fashioned Fundamentalist views.