Remembering René Padilla: “A Theologian from the Center of the Way”

By: Dr. Rubén Fernández

Dr. C. René Padilla, theologian, pastor, and renowned author, died on April 27, 2021 at the age of 88. Padilla is the “father of integral mission”, and in the next posts we will be publishing some memories of him by Nazarene leaders. The following was written by the Rector of the Nazarene Seminary of the Americas and Regional Coordinator of Theological Education in Mesoamerica, Dr. Rubén Fernández.

It was 1990 when I had my first personal meeting with Dr. C. René Padilla in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was invited by the student association of the Southern Cone Nazarene Theological Seminary, in which I served at that time as academic vice-rector.

More than 30 years passed, but I remember some of the words that he shared with us as if it were yesterday. Don’t forget that these were the days of a strong emphasis on the concept of “church growth” by McGavran and Wagner, and René’s reaction was to be expected. He told us that, as parents of a young child, you do not set growth goals for him: a specific number of centimeters monthly or yearly, for example. You are not measuring her every so often to see if she meets expectations. You only care that your child is healthy, well-fed, and nourished. With that, you will not have to do much else; naturally she will grow. His point was that we need healthy churches that fulfill their mission in a comprehensive way.

That day I was greatly impacted by his learning but even more so by his simplicity and humility. In fact, that is the common denominator in all the great Latin American theologians whom I have had the privilege of meeting and conversing with, such as Samuel Escobar, Juan Stam, Harold Segura, and others. Later I would be able to reunite with them in several international meetings. René Padilla has definitely been a theologian of “the center of the way” and a reference for all of us who minister on this continent.

I hold in high esteem some of his oldest books such as “Christian Faith and Latin America Today” from 1974 and “The Kingdom of God and Latin America” ​​from 1975. They still have much to say to the present generation.

For René, “The mission only does justice to the biblical teaching and to the concrete situation when it is integral. In other words, when it is a border crossing (not only geographical but cultural, racial, economic, social, political, etc.) with the purpose of transforming human life in all its dimensions, according to God’s purpose, and of empowering men and women to enjoy the full life that God has made possible through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit ”(2006. Padilla R. and Yamamori T. The Project of God and Human Needs. Buenos Aires. Ediciones Kairós. p. 20).

It is interesting to note that Padilla recognized Juan Wesley in different writings as a forerunner of the current theology of Integral Mission. In the same book that I have just quoted he stated, “The case of the evangelical sociopolitical contribution in England is a good illustration of this point. According to various historians, the revivals of the 18th century under Wesley and Whitefield had such an impact on social structures that it may well be argued that they were the main factor of change that made a bloody revolution such as that which occurred in France towards the end of that century unnecessary” (p.14).

The Methodist genius not only recovered the doctrine of holiness “of heart and life” of the early church, but also prepared an army of leaders – men and women – who not only revived the Anglican Church, but produced a national transformation. That’s something that René Padilla reminded us of and of which, without any doubt, all the current heirs of the Wesleyan legacy should take note.

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