The Latin American Doctoral Program in Theology

by Charles E. Van Engen

Charles-VanEngen-SIS-Prof-580x700-72dpiDuring the past forty years, Protestant churches in Latin America have experienced unprecedented growth. This growth has created an urgent need for a new generation of leaders who can disciple all the new believers and involve them in transforming their societies and in sending new cross-cultural missionaries worldwide. As several thousand seminaries and Bible schools have been established, a dire shortage of qualified teachers has arisen. In years past, cross-cultural missionaries from Europe and North America served as the Bible school and seminary professors. Because fewer of them are being sent, there is a shortage of those who will shape the next generation of pastoral leaders in Latin America.

Today, over 400 Latin American mission agencies send more than 6,000 cross-cultural missionaries for world evangelization. Many are sent into difficult cross-cultural mission situations with little or no training because there are too few leaders capable of training them. Because of the high cost of doing advanced theological studies in North America and Europe, the need is urgent for leadership development programs to be offered in Latin America, in Spanish and Portuguese. There are few opportunities for Protestant Latin American church leaders to pursue upper-level theological studies in their continent and in their language.

In early 2000, Pablo Deiros (from Argentina) and I (from Mexico)—both Fuller professors at the time—shared our concerns regarding the situation described above. As a result of this initial conversation, and in consultation with other colleagues and through much prayer, my wife, Jean, and I, Pablo Deiros, and Paul Pierson founded the Latin American Christian Ministries, Inc. (LACM) in 2000. Its stated purpose is “to provide teaching and church leadership mentoring skills, programs, and resources for Christian ministries and pastors in Latin America.” This nonprofit organization is the initiator and foundational support for the Latin American Doctoral Program in Theology (LADPT) of which I am president and CEO. I have been on the faculty of Fuller’s School of Intercultural Studies since 1988.

The first step in creating the LADPT was a consultation of Latin American Christian scholars held in Miami, in March of 2001. Thirty-five scholars from twelve Latin American countries, representing twenty-three denominations, mission agencies, and educational institutions met to lay the foundational infrastructure for the program. A ten-member academic council was named to direct the program. Known in Latin America as the “Programa Doctoral en Teología: PRODOLA,” the LADPT is directed by Latin Americans, taught by Latin Americans, and offered to Latin American church, mission, seminary, and Bible school leaders. It is a four-year program leading to an accredited PhD degree in theological studies. Candidates must hold a master’s degree and fulfill strict entrance requirements. A core faculty of sixteen is augmented by over thirty other Latin American scholars who are adjunct professors in the program.

Launched in February, 2004 in Brazil, with twenty-one doctoral candidates, in 2011 there are over eighty women and men studying in the program. They represent nineteen countries and more than thirty different denominations or mission organizations. All are involved in the ministry formation of church and mission leaders in their countries. Each is mentored by a Latin American expert in their area of research. All the women and men of the LADPT (faculty, administrators, and students alike) are also involved in their own personal ministries. This program appears to be one of the first Protestant PhD-level multi-site study programs of its kind to be approved and accredited at a university level by a Latin American government.

Chuck Van Engen is the Arthur F. Glasser Professor Emeritus of Biblical Theology of Mission and Senior Professor of Biblical Theology of Mission. Before coming to Fuller’s School of Intercultural Studies in 1988, he was a missionary in Mexico, working primarily in theological education. Van Engen is the founding President and CEO of Latin American Christian Ministries, Inc. He has mentored over 100 doctoral students who have graduated from Fuller.

This article was published in Theology, News & Notes, Fall 2011, “Where In the World Are We? Reflections on Fuller’s Expanding Global Reach.”