Internationally renowned evangelist Luis Palau, whose global missionary efforts earned him the nickname “the Billy Graham of Latin America” and “the Apostle Paul to the Spanish-speaking world,” passed away from lung cancer on Thursday morning at age of 86. In addition to preaching to more than 30 million people in 75 countries during a ministry that lasted more than five decades, the Argentine-born revivalist became a committed friend of the Acton Institute – and a forthright critic of liberation theology. He is survived by his wife, Pat, and their four children.
Palau was born 30 miles outside Buenos Aires in the town of Ingeniero Maschwitz. His father, a prominent real estate developer and businessman named Luis Palau Sr., passed away when his son was 10. The family fell on such hard times that they had to divide one streak eight ways. The younger Luis Palau found hope as a 12-year-old boy at camp, where he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior on February 12, 1947.
He was working at a bank in 1952 when he heard Rev. Billy Graham’s stirring sermons on the radio and dedicated his life to preaching the Gospel. Eight years later, Palau moved to the United States to attend Multnomah School of the Bible and met his wife, Patricia Scofield. They had four children and a mutual love of international missions. Palau worked as a translator for Billy Graham’s ministry before striking out on his own – first via radio broadcast to the Southern hemisphere in the 1970s and then through sweeping, citywide crusades modeled after those of his mentor. He estimated that, in 57 years together, the couple spent 15 years apart due to his barnstorming ministry. In the 1990s, he shifted from hosting “crusades” in city halls to “festivals” in city parks that featured lively music and a celebratory atmosphere.
Palau used his evangelistic work to bridge divides between Christians. He frequently invited Roman Catholic and Pentecostal Christians to participate on equal terms in his Latin American events. When he toured Eastern Europe and Egypt, he offered the same generous terms to Eastern Orthodox Christians. Along the way, he made friends with presidents, politicians, and business leaders around the globe.
When Palau, the author of more than 50 books, heard of the misión integral theology propounded by Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar – liberation theology which afflicted evangelicals – he immediately perceived it as a threat to the purity of the Gospel. While he did never got drawn into political arguments, he defended the inherent goodness of work and the wealth-creating powers of a free-market economy.
The realization that socialism threatens the preaching of the Gospel led Luis Palau to become a friend of and frequent visitor to the Acton Institute. Palau graciously sat for an interview in the January-February 1997 issue of Religion & Liberty. His words proved so inspiring that Religion & Liberty gave them pride of place in a compilation of interviews in the Summer/Fall 2010 issue – ahead of such luminaries as Margaret Thatcher, William F. Buckley Jr., Chuck Colson, Richard John Neuhaus, Walter Williams, Os Guinness, and Sir John Marks Templeton – not out of any sleight to those Christian statesmen, but because Palau’s comments so perfectly encapsulated the heart of the Acton Institute’s mission and ethos.
We share here six quotations from Luis Palau, mostly taken from his interview with Religion & Liberty, to give the flavor of his thought and the depths of his lifelong mission to reach the world with the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1. Luis Palau defines his view of evangelism:
My view is this: Evangelism, proclamation of the Gospel, is social action. It is social action because it changes the core of the problem, which is, the individual out of control from God. Conversion brings the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, and His life into the picture and changes people who, in turn, become salt and light by living their lives without necessarily acting politically or in terms of “social action.” So, I put Gospel proclamation first, because you have nothing to work with unless you have people who have been converted.
2. Luis Palau on Liberation Theology:
Liberation theology is neither theology nor liberating. It uses the Bible to promote atheistic and Marxist praxis. On three counts, in particular, it just isn’t biblical theology: the Fall, redemption, and regeneration. First, liberation theologians said that itis the structures and institutions of society that make man do evil things. Second, they insist redemption therefore requires destroying the old structures and institutions and building new ones that will make man behave gloriously. Third, regeneration happens when the new man emerges from those new structures and institutions. … Liberation theology turns out to be very unbiblical theology.
3. Achieving excellence fulfills our divine potential:
Success is God’s purpose. The alternatives are either mediocrity or failure – really no alternatives at all. Success is God’s will, within the limits that it be for His glory and to exercise loving charity.
4. Wealth creation is a moral good:
The only other option to prosperity is poverty. … This idea that earning money is somehow “dirty business” has to be cleared up.
5. On perseverance:
When you face the perils of weariness, carelessness, and confusion, don’t pray for an easier life. Pray instead to be a stronger man or woman of God.
6. On what matters most in conversion:
You don’t have to have a jaw-dropping story of how you received Jesus. It just must be yours. Some have the light falling from heaven, the Damascus road experience that takes them from the ‘chief of sinners’ into the arms of Jesus. Some of us are kids just starting to learn what sin means, and the light from heaven looks like a shaky flashlight beam on the page of a Bible as chilly rain falls around. All that is important in our conversion is the reality of it.
Luis Palau, requiescat in pace. May his memory be eternal.