These words were written by Simón Bolívar, the Liberator of Latin America, a month before he died at the age of 47. At the time he was writing this letter he had sent several crates with his belongings to Europe in preparation to emigrate. His plans were thwarted by his final battle with tuberculosis. One of the most successful revolutionaries of the world, the only man in history who had two nations named after him even while he was still living, died embittered against his own people, and declared his political and military successes “plowing the sea.” Bolívar started his career of a revolutionary having the political ideal of the newly founded United States. He was himself an admirer of Thomas Jefferson. However, later in life Bolívar declared that the Jeffersonian ideals cannot work in Latin America. The reason, he said, was that Hispanic America is subject to the “triple yoke of ignorance, tyranny, and vice.” Seldom do we see modern politicians so honest about the true state of their own constituents.
Two generations later, the Mexican President Porfirio Díaz, after succeeding in turning Mexico into a modern nation at par with the United States and the European nations, uttered his famous words: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” Díaz was not a moral politician by any stretch of imagination; but his frankness in expressing his true opinion about Mexico’s problem deserves admiration.
Both men, Bolívar and Díaz, knew the real problem of Latin America – its fundamental worldview. Díaz understood that “far from God” made Mexico “poor.” Bolívar knew that his country was under the yoke of ignorance and vice. They understood very well that Latin America had a worldview problem, and therefore it had a moral problem, and therefore it had political, economic, and social problems. They were not fooled even by their own liberal ideologies. Neither of them expected Hispanic America to see better times until that worldview changed.
And neither of them did anything about it.
Both Bolívar and Díaz preferred political, military, and administrative means to achieve their goals. Neither invested time or efforts in changing the basic worldview of their peoples; both preferred to treat the symptoms instead of cure the sickness. While both produced outstanding institutional changes in their respective nations, the basic worldview of the population remained the same, and therefore the political legacy and ideals of both perished, to be replaced by ideologies and practices hostile to that legacy.
And they are not alone. Since its liberation in the 1820s, Latin America has seen numbers of attempts at social reforms that only sought institutional change. The region has seen bloody revolutions, coups, political rivalries, and attempts at economic reforms. School systems were established, infrastructure was built. New slogans were adopted, or old slogans were warmed up for a new use. Experts were invited from the United States and Europe, to teach new methods of administration and implement legal structures. Nothing worked. In the final analysis, Latin America remained in the grip of widespread poverty and corruption. Simón Bolívar’s dream to see his countrymen build a society like British or Americans never came true.
And there is a reason for it. The reason is that Britain and America were not built on the actions of politicians and revolutionaries but on the writings of thinkers. Thomas Jefferson didn’t create the liberty in America; John Calvin did. The military victories of George Washington didn’t establish the United States; the sermons of John Witherspoon did. In both Britain and America, it was the underlying comprehensive worldview of Reformed Christianity that created and sustained the culture. Without it, both the United States and Britain would have been only another Mexico. If Reformed and Puritan writers didn’t do their job in changing the very worldview of the English-speaking world, if they didn’t lay the intellectual foundation for the Christian civilization with liberty and justice for all, there would be no Washington, no Jefferson, and no America. The failure of the Hispanic world to produce a just and prosperous society can be traced to the fact that it lacked Reformers – and I mean the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, and their intellectual and spiritual heirs today. Without their intellectual foundation, nothing can ever be changed in Latin America – no matter how many bloody coups and revolutions and administrative measures.
Unfortunately, the Protestant churches in Latin America have been following the example of politicians. Most of the evangelical activity has been only institutional effort – planting churches, with very little worldview teaching. In fact, most of the missionaries to the region have had no idea of a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Their efforts have been short-term oriented, and their message has been truncated only to the salvation of the individual. As an article in Christianity Today noted a while ago: “If short-term mission trips produced long-term results, Mexico would be the most Christianized country in the world.” The new methods of “business evangelism or “community evangelism” may produce a few short-term fruits; but in essence, they are just another exercise in institutional change without real worldview change. As long as Latin America remains captive to the alliance of paganism – for the masses – and secular humanism – for the educated elites – there will be little hope for any real and lasting change. And the church isn’t doing much to challenge that worldview dominance of paganism and secular humanism. Again, without a comprehensive change in the worldview of the people, there is little hope for any lasting change in any other area of life.
But there is a better way. Like every better way it is the longer way. It may take generations. It certainly took several centuries in Europe before the Reformation could produce societies with liberty and justice for all. A culture that is “far from God” needs generations to come back to him, as a culture. But it won’t happen by political reforms, nor by planting more churches; and it won’t happen by more short-term evangelistic trips. A culture is “far from God” only because it has a worldview that is hostile to God. And unless that worldview is challenged and destroyed, and replaced with a worldview based on the Bible, nothing else is going to change.
But where can the peoples of Latin America find an alternative worldview?
Addressing the Congress of Angostura in 1819, Simón Bolívar admonished the delegates to “establish this Areopagus to watch over the education of the children, to supervise national education, to purify whatever may be corrupt in the republic, to denounce ingratitude, coldness in the country’s service, egotism, sloth, idleness, and to pass judgment upon the first signs of corruption and pernicious example.” His call was earnest but he could point to no standard to tell them what is “corrupt” and what is pure, what is “pernicious example,” and he had no way to explain why “egotism, sloth, and idleness” were necessarily evil. Simón Bolívar himself learned from British and American authors. They weren’t available in Spanish. The whole body of literature that permeated the English-speaking world wasn’t available to his countrymen. There was no intellectual foundation.
There still isn’t.
And herein lies the opportunity for a Christian missionary. He can supply that intellectual foundation that will challenge the reign of paganism and secular humanism, and teach Latin America what is corrupt and what is pure. He can supply the worldview that will bring the region near to God. He can confront the ignorance, tyranny and vice with the ideas of knowledge, liberty, and righteousness.
He must start translating to Spanish books explaining the comprehensive Biblical worldview, for every area of life. Make them available in a language that is native to over 400 million people. And use the Internet to transcend the national borders. The political fragmentation of Latin America is a blessing from God – it restraints tyrants. (Imagine a Hugo Chavez over all Latin America.) The unity of language is a blessing too – ideas can travel as far the Internet servers go. A book translated in Spanish and posted online will possibly reach tens of millions of people – more than any missionary can do, at the portion of the cost. It can’t be banned, it can’t be stopped by any dictator. It can teach people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks in a year, for hundreds of years. A book is a full-time missionary – better than a human missionary.
There are such books available: from Chalcedon Foundation, American Vision, and other organizations that in the last decades have worked to create such intellectual foundation in America. The Hispanic world doesn’t need to re-invent the wheel. It only needs to take what has been created and apply it to its own conditions.
Such a project will take long time. It may be a project for a whole generation of Christians – to build the “book base” of Christianity. It will take the slow and painstaking process of translating one word after another, one sentence after another, one page after another, thousands of pages. It will take commitment that Spanish America is not used to. The solutions that have been tried so far have been quick, short-term – and unsuccessful. If a Christian missionary is to challenge the world system, he must look beyond his own generation, and he must refuse to succumb to the temptation to look for quick results. Biblical worldview books translated in Spanish must be his goal, even if he sees no other results than just having them on a website. The books translated must cover every area of life from a Christian perspective – personal life, family, church, education, government, economics, science, international relations, business ethics, taxation, money and banking, etc. Nothing should be outside of the scope of the Christian civilization. Every solution must be presented according to the Law of God, as laid down in the Bible.
When such a foundation is created, there will be no other place to which the peoples and the leaders of Latin America could look for answers. When a problem arises, there will be only one place that will have logical solutions within a consistent framework. No other religion or philosophy has such a consistent framework. Anyone who rejects the Biblical solutions will be left with nothing to offer. Christianity will triumph by default – for the sheer inability of its enemies to offer anything of value.
There are some beginnings. Five titles of American Vision are translated in Spanish. They have already born fruit in many places.
There is a man who started translating several years ago. His name is Donald Herrera Terán, and he is the Pastor of a Reformed church in Costa Rica. He has a web-site with several books and many articles translated: http://www.contra-mundum.org/. He is the fruit of the Spanish translation of Gary North’s Unconditional Surrender. His translations will produce more fruit.
I want to conclude with a call to the Hispanic Christians who read American Vision: You have a unique opportunity to change a whole hemisphere and bring it to Christ. Make a commitment to translate a few hours a week. Take a few articles at the beginning. Learn to type fast and translate fast. Learn the patience of sitting in front of that screen and type the letters one by one. Every letter you type will stay there for decades, long after you are gone, and will instruct people in the faith that you will probably never meet. You have the chance to make history.
Contact Donald Herrera Terán at [email protected] – he is far ahead in the job – and ask him what must be translated. Coordinate with him, and commit to contribute to his web-site. You have at least 100,000 pages of Biblical worldview books that must be translated. One man cannot do it in his life-time but 10 committed men can. One hundred committed men can achieve the goal within two or three years without any major commitment. When you have it all online, you will be surprised at the results.
And my call is to American Christians: The time of expensive, short-term oriented, saving-souls-only missions is over. God will not honor such efforts anymore, no matter how much money we pour into them. Europe in the last decades has shown the failure of that truncated, limited approach. The time has come when the mission field is becoming a battlefield of worldviews more than it is a fight for a few souls. If you care for Latin America, make wise decisions as to what you support. Invest in foundations for the future – and what better foundation than having books in Spanish with real Biblical solutions to real world problems?
Simón Bolívar was wrong. Emigration is not the only thing to do in Spanish America.