African Theologians in Conversation with René Padilla on Misión Integral

K. Francis Adebayo | November 2021

The death of the Ecuadorian theologian René Padilla on the 27th of April 2021 calls for reflection on the continuing relevance of his missiology today. Though the specific context of Padilla's missiological reflection is Latin America, his contribution to the birth of ‘integral mission’, or ‘misión integral’ in Spanish, has profoundly impacted evangelical theological discourse around the world.

Integral mission is a missional model framed on the coequality of social responsibility and evangelism. In this piece I invite African theologians to engage Padilla in a missiological discussion with a view to developing an African holistic missiology that integrates evangelism and social praxis. I highlight some of the theological underpinnings of integral mission and suggest several ways in which intercultural conversation on Padilla’s missiology could be fruitful.

Integral mission emphasizes three theological imperatives that are highly relevant for African missiology. First, a valid Christian theology is kingdom-oriented. It is a modelled expression of the kingdom of God on earth. Second, Padilla’s approach brings the soteriological foundation of ecclesiology to the fore. He espouses an evangelical ecclesiology that views the church in essence as an organization that responds to human needs. Third, integral mission is holistic in that it aims to speak to all dimensions of human life. It addresses all levels of society and all realms of creation.

Like misión integral, African missiology cannot be just a local affair; its proposals should be shared with a wider audience. Despite the consensus that Padilla is the father of misión integral, Latin American theologians such as Samuel Escobar, Orlando Costas, Jose Bonino Miguez, Federico Pagura, and Emilio Castro developed it as a critically engaged evangelical theology. Moreover, integral mission began its international journey in 1974 at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization and finally made its way into the 2010 Cape Town Commitment to become part of a global evangelical missiology.

An African missiology in conversation with integral mission could help to develop a more global model that counteracts some of the weaknesses of integral mission and reflects the particularities of both contexts. By engaging René Padilla, African theologians, and indeed the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, can respond to African problems just as Padilla did to Latin America's sociohistorical and political problems.

Since the African context differs from Latin America in its holistic spiritual worldview, confrontation with Islam and reluctant acceptance of the political space, African theologians will need to develop a contextually sensitive missiology that fills the gap left by integral mission's neglect of the spiritual dimension.

A contextualized version of misión integral for Africa requires a paradigm shift to an understanding of the church's mission that revolves around the transformation of cultures and cultural institutions without negating the importance of the epistemic value of African worldviews. It will enable the church to address the spiritual and economic needs of persons and their communities through a combination of personal salvation and social responsibility. This paradigm shift will demolish the wall that has been erected between African churches and sociopolitical institutions that promote social injustice and economic corruption.

Finally, an African holistic missiology is necessary to evolve a practice of mission that includes the integration of the spiritual and material views of African cosmology, spirit Christology, and discipleship as a means to transform person, society, and institutions.

K. Francis Adebayo is a doctoral student in Theology at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Photo Credit: Ruth Padilla DeBorst

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