Theologies from the Two-Thirds World

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In the 1970s and 1980s theologies have arisen within social, economic, and political situations in the impoverished countries (also called Third World or Two-Thirds World) where there is a scandalous and frightening contrast between the Christian faith and the practice of that faith. People in Africa, Latin America, and Asia have lived and experienced the use of the Christian faith as the ideology of Europe and North America. The repressed peoples have felt manipulated by a theology of dominion that has been used by the dominating countries to exploit, colonize, and impoverish other peoples.

From the early 1960s, various social, economic, and political circumstances favored the development of new ways to interpret the Scriptures and to live out the Christian faith. Christians in exploited and dependent countries began asking how one could best be a Christian in the midst of so much misery, exploitation, and violence. In the wisdom of the Asiatic peoples, the vitality of the African nations, and the poetic aggressiveness of the Latin Americans, cultures are observed which have not lost their religious values. These peoples have been able to integrate in their world of magic their autochthonous values with the values of a Christianity brought to them from Catholic or Protestant centers.

While missionary movements coming from rich countries expanded in the impoverished nations (especially since World War II), a clear sense of dependence, marginality, and increased misery arose, and with this, revolutionary, nationalistic and colonization movements became stronger. National Christians recovered for the church the meaning that history is the place where God works. But it is a history seen through the eyes of the poor and oppressed: not that of the dominating first (democratic-capitalist West) or second (socialist-communist Eastern Bloc) worlds. Thus the kingdom of God not only incorporates the biblical idea of this history, but also gives meaning to the Christian faith as the future of this record in favor of the poor.

Inasmuch as the history of the various rich nations has been lived in cultures and norms that differ from life in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and has been a chronicle of dehumanization, slavery, and all forms of violence, a salvation is needed that is not atomistic and individualistic as modern Western Christian theology teaches. Salvation must be seen not only as salvation from personal sin but must shed light on a historicized concept of sin, that is also part of social and political structures that create poverty and dehumanization. From this perspective, salvation is revealed as an experience of liberation from all injustice.

The church movements in areas of poverty and injustice (which also include social groups and marginalized areas within the wealthy countries) are of such complexity and variety that it is not possible to formulate a global vision of the problem. Only the most characteristic features and emphasis in the historic process of Christians reflecting theologically in situations of injustice are noted here: (a) The theological discourse is oriented toward a critique of the dominant ideology of development, capital, and the values of a rich world conveyed with a Christian covering. (b) Underdevelopment is discovered to be the result of causes emanating from developed countries that seek to keep less developed countries dependent and indebted. Reflection through the Bible makes people aware of these structures. (c) This context of social injustice and biblical interpretation promotes a concern with pastoral practice. (d) The orientation and practice of the believing communities differ from that of the missions which, in a great part, has been mere expansion of the Western, North American, and European world. (e) The universality of the gospel is not expressed in a dominant culture but rather in the peculiarity of each culture. Capitalistic imperialism and international socialism are less universal in character than the gospel. Therefore traditions, autonomous cultures, and a genuine spirituality are elevated above Western secularization. (f) The poor are considered to be the focus of God and all Christian practice is directed toward them. It is among the poor where the faith is lived and theological reflection is organized as an evangelizing announcement as well as a condemnation of all injustice. (g) The fundamental theological topics or emphasis arise from the sociocultural characteristics and the human needs of each area. In Latin America the practice of the historic Jesus and his preference for the poor is emphasized. The African theologies combine the belief in the Great God with respect for ancestors, with the Spirit and with the christological experience of an "Adam-redivivus" (Adam renewed or restored in Christ). In Asia, voluntary renunciation in favor of the poor is taken as a search for God and as a profound spiritual answer against imposed misery and western secularization.

The basic question in the theologies of the impoverished peoples is not a matter of absolute content but it is a way of doing theology. It is a problem of praxis and obedience.

Traditional theology uses philosophy as the instrument for analysis and promotes an interiorization of the faith, then subsequently tries to apply it to the needs of life. That is, first is theology, then putting it into practice.

In the theologies of impoverished peoples, obedient practice is first. This Christian praxis uses the social sciences as an instrument for analysis since the problems of the community have to do with social and economic situations and structures. From the praxis and in dialogue with the biblical text, theological creation and doctrinal discourse come forth as second in importance. In other words, these theologies, rather than offering content, show a new way to interpret, to re-read the biblical text, starting from an unjust reality which is known and in which the Christian faith in suffering love is practiced as the solution. The Bible is interpreted from a concrete situation of suppression, a re-reading that produces a fresh look at the biblical text.

The Mennonite churches in the evangelized nations have inherited the virtues and defects of the theologies brought by the Mennonite missionaries from the power centers. Some brought a clear understanding of the Anabaptist vision of missions while others copied and brought dispensationalist models from North America. Although some Mennonite communities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have inherited non-Mennonite theological content, it has been the contact with reality and a deepening of the faith that has caused them to be creative in their way of living the faith.

Mennonite churches in the impoverished nations owe their theological creation and depth to the efforts of mission agencies; nationalism and social, political and above all, ideological independence from the North American and central European power centers; and to the search for Christian identity in the midst of violent and unjust societies. The role of the missionary has changed so that the direction and theological reflection are in the hands of those who make up the sociocultural context where they live the faith. Each national church convention is autonomous, establishing a fraternal relationship as equals with any church in the rich countries, without inferiority complexes or a colonialist spirit. In these churches Anabaptist content coincides with some of the theological concerns of impoverished countries (kingdom of God, peace and justice, the lordship of Christ, pardon, repentance, reconciliation and suffering as signs of the cross and the testimony of the presence of the Spirit, the Christian community as a sign of the kingdom).

See also Liberation Theologies; Mission


Bonino, José Miguel. Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.

Fehderau, Harold W. "Missions and the Younger Churches," in The Church in Mission, ed. A. J. Klassen. Fresno, CA: Mennonite Brethren Board of Christian Literature, 1967: 266-85.

Hastings, Adrian. "On African Theology." Scottish Journal of Theology 37 (1984): 359-74.

Mennonite Quarterly Review 58: Supplement (August 1984), sp. issue.

Pieris, Aloysius. "L'Asie non sémitique face aux modèles occidentaux d'inculturation." Orientierung 49 (1985): 102-6.

Powles, Cyril H. "Christianity in the Third World: How do We Study History?" Studies in Religion 13 (1984): 131-44.

Rutschman, LaVerne A. "Latin American Liberation Theology and Radical Anabaptism." Journal of Ecumenical Studies 19, no. 1 (1982): 38-56.

Santa Ana, Julio de. Towards a Church of the Poor. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1979.

Santa Ana, Julio de. Separation Without Hope? Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1978.

Shenk, Wilbert B., ed. A Kingdom of Priests: the Church in the New Nations. (Newton, KS and Scottdale, PA, 1967.

Sobrino, Jon. "Teología de la liberación y teología europea progresista." Misión abierta 77 (1984): 395-410.

Author(s) Hugo Zorilla
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Zorilla, Hugo. "Theologies from the Two-Thirds World." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 22 Jan 2022.

APA style

Zorilla, Hugo. (1989). Theologies from the Two-Thirds World. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 January 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 880-881. All rights reserved.

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