Samuel Escobar is a missions minded individual. All of his theological framework is bound up in the global missions project he has dedicated his life to. To separate his theology from his missiology would leave very little of value. Escobar was born in 1936 in Arequipa in Peru (Escobar, 2012). This gives him the perspective of coming from an evangelized country and really allows him to speak authoritatively to what global missions projects should look like. Escobar sees all of Christianity bound up in the global mission process and that view seems to drive his definition of Christology, Pneumatology, and Ecclesiological practice. The Christology Escobar used centered on Jesus’ words “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21, ESV). Escobar goes as far as to see Jesus as the first missionary that left his home to “… seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV). Even though Escobar does not, in this book, speak to the identity of God as Trinitarian he does most definitely separate the work of Christ from that of the Holy Spirit. His Pneumatology consists of five points where the guidance and power of the Spirit is: the reality of the church as demonstrated in Christ’s mission, the power for the church as taught by Christ, and linked to all growth in the Church (Escobar, 2003). Escobar finally connects all the pieces together in the brotherhood of missions or the Ecclesiological practice. He pointed out that Paul and Peter were very different in many aspects of ministry, personality and calling but they did both have in common a missionary focus that made them brothers.
What Escobar did in his vision of the missionary Jesus was establish a balance between transcendence and immanence. In this vision God exists separate from the world but comes as a missionary to the world in both the forms of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. His example is that of missionary service and his desire is for all the Church to emulate.
Escobar and Barth
The theological theme of God, the nature, person, and work, is central to the theological approach of both Karl Barth and Samuel Escobar. Both Escobar and Barth see God in three active persons and active in revealing himself in the world today. Barth called this revealing the Word of God and set it even above Biblical revelation while Escobar called it an encounter with Jesus (Grenz, Olson, 1992; Escobar, 2003). No matter the phraseology, Barth and Escobar are talking about the same experience that a person has in salvation. While the experience may be the same for Barth and Escobar the scope is quite different. Escobar outlines an outgoing, ongoing source for going to the ends of the Earth. Escobar’s description of this revelation is transformative. Barth on the other hand is reserved in the scope of this revelation. The difference is probably due to two primary factors, one is that Barth, as portrayed by Grenz and Olson, does not have the same active Pneumatology as Escobar does where the guidance and power of the church comes from the Spirit. The other factor is time and place, the streets of Arequipa Peru in the 1940s are far different from the 1880’s streets of Basel Switzerland.
Escobar’s theology of God is a completion of Barth’s in that it expands on the idea of revelation. Barth fell short of making the connection between the transcendent God and the immanent one; however, Escobar’s missionary Jesus and active Holy Spirit fill in this gap. Barth was onto something in the nature of God’s revelation personally to each human being but he focused too much on God as revealed in man. Escobar balances this out with God revealed by a God empowered agent, man following the example of Christ. The question, what is the heart of Christ for the world, or just who is the missionary God is the theological glue that brings Barth’s theology to life.
Escobar and Henry
Carl Henry was not a systematic theologian, however, he saw “… God as the linchpin of theology” (Grenz, Olson, 1992, p. 294). Escobar and Henry shared the vision of Jesus as the divine self-revelation. What Escobar termed the missionary Jesus who was the example for the church, Henry called, Logos the agent of divine self-revelation. In short, Henry’s Jesus, the Logos, was the link between transcendent and Immanent God; one in the same being self-revealed in the Logos. When dealing with the theology of God the nature of revelation is a central theme. Henry and Escobar seem to agree on this point of revelation as well. Henry terms this propositional revelation, or revelation fully understandable to man. Escobar does not need to make the statement because it is interwoven into the presupposition of missions. If man cannot understand and share God’s revelation, there would be no point in missionary endeavors. The Escobarian vision of Christ as a missionary presupposes that man can understand and transmit the revelation Christ was sharing. Where Escobar and Henry might separate a little bit is the area of theology in social reform. Escobar does not shy away from the missionary work of building schools and bringing clean water, however, he does seem to delineate between cultural improvement and cultural change. This is explained in the context of Henry’s and Escobar’s mission. Henry was working within and for the change of theological culture in the west, while Escobar was working and focused on cross cultural missions. The change in mission field is more than enough reason for the change in focus.
Overall, Carl Henry and Samuel Escobar are on the same page with much of their theology of God. This is because they are working from within the same evangelical theological frame work. The differences in approach are explained by differences in mission. Henry and Escobar compliment and expanded on each other because Henry gives focus on intra cultural change and evangelism while Escobar focuses on extra cultural exchange with Christ’s heart for the world.
Culturally Diverse Ministry
What is Christ’s heart for the world? These theologians have made this clear: Christ desires that men should share with other men the fully understandable and transmittable revelation of transcendent God that Christ made immanent in His person with the power of the Holy Spirit. Three key takeaways are, it is about the Gospel, the example is Christ himself, and cultural change comes from conformity to God’s Word. When Jesus said “Go … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” he was not talking about a language or hygiene habits or medical supplies (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV). What Jesus was talking about was the Gospel and the commandments of scripture. Escobar would call this the personal experience of Jesus. The missionary should have the same claim Paul did: boasting in the cross alone. The Gospel cares about murder but it is indifferent to whether or not someone speaks English. The Gospel calls for faith and not more streets or schools. The missionary needs to focus on bringing the Gospel in a genuine manner and letting the Gospel change the culture. There needs be no improvements to the culture, rather there should be an open Bible and a willingness to say this is what God said. Any cultural change that comes from man’s improvements is artificial and in the end will be worse than no improvements. Looking at the history of South America will confirm that. But changes that happen when people turn to faith in Jesus Christ and learn to follow the commandments in scripture are lasting. This is Christ’s heart for the world “… that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, NIV).
Escobar, S. (2003). The new global mission: The Gospel from everywhere to everyone. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Escobar, S. (2012). My pilgrimage in mission. International Bulletin Of Missionary Research, 36(4), 206-211.
Grenz, S. J., & Olson, R. E. (1992). 20th-century theology: God and the world in a transitional age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.