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An ‘underdeveloped Christ’ burdens Latin Americans, Argentine says

MELBOURNE, Australia (BP)–Latin America suffers from an “underdeveloped” Christ, a Baptist leader and educator said in a theological education focus group during the 18th Baptist World Congress in Melbourne, Australia.

Daniel Carro, executive director of the Union of Baptists in Latin America and professor of philosophy and hermeneutics at the Baptist seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, noted five incomplete faces, or images, of Christ found in Latin America.

First, “the suffering Christ.”

This is the face of Christ seen as “eternally on the cross,” said Carro, who also is pastor of Ramos Mejia Baptist Church, Buenos Aires. Brought to Latin America by the Spanish, the image of a tragic victim needs to be corrected by “a risen Christ, a Christ victorious, a Christ that is alive and well,” Carro said.

Second, “the American Christ.”

This is the face of Christ imparted by American missionaries who mixed “the message of Christ with the American way of life,” Carro said. It is “the image of an American imperialist … a Christ that is alive in the McDonalds and multinational [corporations] of this world.”

Third, “the pious Christ.”

This image of Christ was left by pietist missionaries “only interested in saving souls” and in going to heaven, but not “in politics or the social aspects of reality,” Carro said, advocating a corrective image of Christ as “interested in the whole person.”

Fourth, “the magical Christ.”

Indigenous to Latin America and spread through the Pentecostal movement, yet one that is drawing Baptists as well, this image of Christ focuses more on healing and on liberation from the demonic than on personal salvation, Carro said, describing it as an emphasis largely on the human body.

Fifth, “the ethnical Christ.”

Stemming from the many faces of Christ brought by the millions of Europeans who immigrated to Latin America, it is a face of Christ claimed by a particular ethnic group and limited to their culture and churches, Carro said.

It will be a painful process, Carro said, for Latin Americans to begin seeing “the real face of Christ” to be found behind the various underdeveloped images now clouding their faith.

Also during the session Jan. 6, Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, recounted that the Jesus Seminar, in which a group of scholars have been voting on the veracity of the various New Testament writings, has pushed the modern understanding of Jesus “into the arena of public opinion.”

The group’s view of Jesus, however, “is a far cry from the Jesus of evangelical Christianity,” and the New Testament remains “the most credible portrait” of Jesus, a view held by the broad sweep of evangelical theologians, Hemphill said.

At the heart of the issue, Hemphill said, is the uniqueness of Jesus as the only way to God, which will become “an increasingly unpopular declaration” in the face of the modern world’s rush toward pluralism — a declaration that will be “as scandalous” as it was in the first century.

Without a grasp of Jesus’ uniqueness, Christians have “nothing more to offer the world” than a New Age guru or a Buddhist monk, Hemphill said.

Avery Willis, senior vice president for overseas operations of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, meanwhile, said universalism — the theological doctrine that all people will eventually be saved — is undercutting many Christians, in comments to a missions and evangelism focus group Jan. 6.

Speaking to several hundred people on the theme, “Unfinished Business: Christ’s concern for people,” Willis said Christians must be vigilant to assure the universal gospel in a time “when universalism is eating away at the hearts of many Christians.”

It seems “everybody has their own religion,” Willis said in cautioning the group to be vigilant in upholding the “exclusiveness” of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Relating to Colossians 2:16-23 which he said makes Christ central to reality and reflects the truth that counteracts false teachings, Willis said there is a growing “relativism” as well in the world. Willis said God’s truth calls believers to be “intolerant of tolerance that claims there are no absolutes.” Many today would say there is “no real truth in this modern age,” Willis said. But for believers, Christ is the source, the guide and the goal, he said.

Also in his message, Willis said Colossians teaches that Christ is central to the gospel and the growth of his people, central to all creation and the church, central to the revelation of God and the reconciliation of man and central to the missionary message and methodology.

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