Book Summary
by Bob Young

Nida, Eugene. Understanding Latin Americans: With Special Reference to Religious Values and Movements. South Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1974.

Understanding Latin Americans, although published over 30 years ago, remains a helpful guide for those wishing to understand the Latin American way of thinking and life as the foundation to more effective Christian missions and outreach. The author, Eugene Nida, was especially interested in how the characteristics of Latin Americans influence and inform the communication of the good news of Jesus. While much of the material is drawn from the situation in Mexico, the insights and observations have broader application.

In the first section, the book addresses similarities and contrasts in Latin American values and social structures. Three chapters contrast authoritarianism vs. individualism, idealism vs. realism, and machismo vs. hembrismo. The unique Latin American understanding of these polarities in the social structure influences understandings of religion, politics, aesthetics, society at large, and the family. A helpful summary reminds that the general Latin American culture differs from the indigenous Indian societies.

The second section of the book asks how such social structures influence evangelism (or how evangelism can best be done given such contrasts). A chapter on the tendency toward syncretism in a "Christo-Paganism" and a chapter on Mariology in Latin America provide helpful insights. The final chapter overviews some of the successes in the indigenous churches in Latin America, successes which were already occurring a third of a century ago, and have only accelerated in recent years. The chapter is helpful in understanding why certain groups have had success, and also provides some awareness of the dangers such indigenous groups face.

With less than 150 pages of text, the book is an easy read and a helpful beginning point for one who wishes to understand some of the broad outlines of Latin America. Remember, however, that the book is now dated and that much additional information has become available in more recent works.

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Last updated March 19, 2008