Our Mission

What's New

Ethnic Church List

Who Lives in Your State?

People Group Info

Creative Ministry Ideas

Links and Resources

Contact Us

Search Our Site

Evangelization Across Cultures in the United States:
What to Do With the World Come to Us?

by David F. D'Amico


The status of cross-cultural evangelization efforts by evangelicals in the United States provides some hints for an analysis of theological currents affecting the present and future of ethnic congregations. Most ethnic congregations in the United States are in an incipient stage of theological reflection. Their agenda has been restricted to personal, church, and mass media evangelization. As a result many pastoral leaders are beginning to seek adequate means of discipleship to nurture the new converts. In this respect devotional objectives of learning, pious concerns of the Christian life, and a "two kingdom" theology predominate in the content of theological reflection among evangelicals. In addition, the theological persuasion of the denomination with which congregations associate guides and sometimes controls the content of their theological views.

It is therefore appropriate to surface significant issues. "Should the evangelizer of foreign nationals in the United States be responsible to instruct the nascent congregations with a `ready-made' theology? Is it proper to present the core of gospel truth and allow congregations to be led into theological reflection displaying their pilgrimage in a new cultural context? What role do theological institutions have in assisting pastoral leaders of ethnic congregations to beget indigenous theologies for persons in exile, living in the United States and ministering in a complex setting?"

During the last three decades African-American thinkers, most of them related to mainline denominational groups, have been very creative, vocal, and militant in the development of African-American theology which is relevant to the needs and concerns of what has been called "the black church." The impact of African-American theological currents has been made real in American Christianity and can provide a model for other ethnic cultural and ecclesiological enclaves.

Theological reflection among Asians and Hispanics has been limited. Church growth has been rapid, but theological reflection has not accompanied it for various reasons. For one thing, as has been discussed above, the level of theological education among Asian and Hispanics is rising but not with enough force to develop a significant core of theologians. Asian theology is still Asian. Journals and studies are published and theological reflection takes place in and for Asian churches. Little if any has been "exported" for the nurture of congregations ministering to Asians in the United States."29

Theological reflection among Hispanics in the United States displays significant variety. Roman Catholic writers have been prolific in their attempts to incorporate liberation theology motifs in to an incipient "Chicano theology" for their church life in the United States.30

Theologians representing mainline denominations have been active in theological reflection. The foremost writer in the field is Justo Gonzalez.31 Among evangelicals there is a dearth of theological reflection. As has already been hinted, the agenda and preparation of Hispanic leaders work against productive theological reflection. Their priorities in ministry include proclamation and ministry evangelism. Moreover, the number of Hispanics who have achieved a high level of theological training is scarce.

Not enough ethnic leaders are being enlisted, prepared, sensitized, and given responsibility to approach with an evangelical perspective the world of the twenty first century. Statistics from the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada revealed that in the fall of 1990, the 1,904 Hispanic Americans enrolled in the ATS membership constituted only 3.2 percent of total enrollment. This group still remains sorely under-represented in member schools. "The 2,439 Pacific/Asian students enrolled in the ATS membership in the fall of 1990 constituted 4.1 percent of total enrollment . . . The determination of this group to provide for itself an educated ministry is obvious in these statistics."32 Changes in this area will be slow and perhaps will handicap adequate cross-cultural evangelization efforts.

As one attempts to envision the theological scene for the dawn of the twenty first century, some predictions are in order. First world theological patterns of thinking and doing theology will continue to dominate the scene by 2010. Present conditions in theological circles demonstrate that changes are slow to take place. Anyone examining the rosters of the most influential theological institutions in the United States will find few Asian and Hispanics. If there are any, most of them are teaching in the "practical theology" areas of the curriculum. Within one generation there can be no significant changes. It is clear that the "holy precincts of theological reflection," seminaries and academic places in the First World, will be managed and led by First World theologians until the second decade of the twenty first century. Thinkers from Asian, African, and Latin American background with adequate theological training will become more influential in the twenty first century. To make an impact on theological reflection relevant to ethnic congregations will take a full generation. The period of paternalism in theology for cross-cultural evangelization will be extended longer than one wishes. The results, when and if they occur and the dream becomes a reality, may be a "hyphenated theology" representing Korean-Americans, Chinese-American, and Hispanic-American. Hopefully these currents will be beneficial to the life and ministry of congregations involved in cross-cultural evangelization to assist them to fulfill their vision and mission.

The impact of indigenous theologies developed by Asian and Latin American thinkers upon the life and ministry of ethnic congregations in the United States is another aspect worthy of consideration. There are significant regional theological enclaves in Asia and Latin America that periodically meet in congresses and convocations. Some of these are "spin-offs" of the Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization and their regional committees. Others are developed as young churches begin to become independent from denominational mission boards from the First World. In these forums, significant thinkers will read papers, make proposals, preach sermons, sensitize the audience, and later will have their views published in a compendium.33 The impact of these theological reflections upon the ethnic congregations ministering in the United States is questionable. Enlightened pastors of these congregations in the U. S. and Canada who have professional theological training may read and be guided by these insights. The "average" Christian leader, however, interested in evangelizing, planting churches, meeting the needs of his or her parishioners in ministry, may use some of the theological content for sermon preparation and Bible study. The theological reflections originating in Asia and Latin American will not shape considerably the theological needs of ethnic churches in the United States. One reason for this lack of impact is that theologians of the Third World, "copying" their mentors of the First World, are in need of missiological and ecclesiological content--more pragmatic and praxis-centered.

During the "Houston '85" convocation (referred to above) and during the Lausanne II Congress in Manila (1989) there were examples of the ambiguities of cross-cultural theologizing affecting the participants. In the former, most of the content of the seminars was related to practical (missiological) aspects of evangelization. Participants assumed an evangelical theology from the presenters that had led them to be effective evangelists to various ethnic groups. In the latter there were significant addresses presented by Third World theologians. Several of these were presented seemingly to demonstrate to First World hearers that Third World theologians had done their "homework" and that they could produce high quality theological reflection commensurate with First World standards, written and spoken in English. By so doing they emasculated the heart and soul of their concepts because they communicated to the receptors Western categories of theology rather than their indigenous views hammered out by interaction with Third World contexts.

I. Evangelization Across Cultures in the United States

II. Understanding the Context

III. Selected Data of Cross-Cultural Evangelization

IV. Analysis of Selected Cultural/Ecclesiological Enclaves

V. Envisioning the Future: Theological Issues

VI. Envisioning the Future: Missiological Issues

VII. Envisioning the Future: Ecclesiological Issues


29. Bong-Ring Ro, "Urban Cities and the Gospel in Asia," Urban Mission, 6: 5 (May, 1989), p. 21. See also Bong-Ring Ro, ed., Urban Ministry in Asia (Taiwan: Asia Theological Association, 1989), p. 125.

30. See Virgil Elizondo, The Galilean Journey (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987); and Moses Sandoval, On the Move: A History of the Hispanic Church in the U. S. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989).

31. Justo Gonzalez, Maņana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990).

32. ATS Factbook, 1990, p. 36.

33. Bruce Nicholls, ed. In Word and Deed: Evangelism and Social Responsibility (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1985) and Samuel Vinay and Albrecht Hauser, eds., Proclaiming Christ in Christ's Way: Studies in Integral Evangelism (Oxford: Regnum Press, 1989)

(c)Review and Expositor, 90 (Winter, 1993): 83-99; Used with permission.

Please send comments, questions, responses to the author at: 103063.3542@Compuserve.com

Copyright © 1999-2015 Ethnic Harvest. All rights reserved.

Back to Ethnic Harvest site map