On Tuesday of this week, Latin American theologian C. René Padilla passed into the presence of the Lord. He was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the world. He was known as the ¨Father of Integral Mission¨ in which the purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel in word as well as in deeds, especially serving the poor.
Born in Ecuador in 1932 to humble parents, he obtained three degrees from Wheaton College (a B.A. in philosophy and Greek in 1957, an M.A. in theology in 1960, and an honorary Doctorate in 1992). He met his future wife and partner Catherine Feser at Wheaton. He also earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Manchester under the mentoring of F.F. Bruce in 1965. I met René through the ministry of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES / known as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the United States). He served in this ministry in Latin America for 25 years in which he articulated Christian responses to the burning questions of the day on how followers of Jesus should respond to rampant poverty, illiteracy, oppressive dictatorships, war, and environmental degradation.
Although he had a gentle demeanor and a mischievous grin, René was known for speaking clearly the “difficult” truths of the gospel to friends and foes alike. He became internationally famous for his plenary “speech that shook the world” at the 1974 Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization. He pointed out that most Christians have experienced a truncated gospel, either emphasizing a verbal proclamation or a social gospel. René urged that God’s plan was to bring together these two dimensions in an “integral” or “holistic” mission.
René promoted this holistic understanding of the gospel through public speaking events, a multitude of books and articles, and the founding of numerous organizations that implemented this vision. René and I co-authored the book “Terrorism and the War in Iraq: a Christian Word from Latin America” in which we argued how and why most Latin American Christians opposed the war in Iraq because it did not meet the moral criteria of a “Just War”. History has demonstrated that those followers of Jesus had the correct moral conscience years ago.
Those who want to honor the legacy of this theological giant can do so by demonstrating faithfully the love and truth of Jesus in all areas of our lives.