Para la versión en español, oprima aquí.
Editorial note: This post was originally titled “17 Puerto Rican Theologians You Should Know About.” In a desire to be more precise, I have updated the title. Also, this list is constantly being updated as I learn about more Puerto Rican theologians and biblical scholars.
“When you come to Puerto Rico remember…
that we live on a small island between the Caribbean and the Atlantic
where the advances of a modern United States
are taking root and growing under a tropical sky;
that Puerto Rican culture offers a place for two ways of life to meet
–Spanish and North American…;
that we have been American citizens since 1917;
that long before the Pilgrims knelt to thank God for their safe arrival,
we were praying in churches almost a century old…”
–Extracts from a publicity pamphlet given to visitors
Puerto Rico, or as our natives used to call it, Boriquén, is an archipiélago with a long history of conquista and colonialism. In 1493, the Spanish man set foot on our land, bringing with him the cross and the sword. Our Taínos were enslaved. Our Taínas were raped. Then genocide came, followed by the Atlantic slave trade. In 1898, after 400 years under the Spanish rule, and as a result of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico came under the U.S. government’s hegemony; and with a new political order also came a religious one: U. S. “missionary Protestantism.” The purpose of this missionary movement was two-fold: spiritual regeneration and socio-cultural assimilation. On one hand, it is through the expansion of “missionary Protestantism” that schools, orphanages, and hospitals were established, significantly improving the quality of life for Puerto Ricans. On the other hand, it is through these same institutions that the Empire would also attempt to divest the boricua from their language, religion, traditions, and even fertility. It no longer was the cross and the sword but the cross and Americanization.
The history of Protestant theological education in Puerto Rico emerges in the context of the US invasion. As early as in 1899, we find figures like Rev. Abelardo M. Díaz Morales of La Iglesia Bautista de Caguas reclaiming a theological education which fostered a “high degree of individualism.” That is, a theological education that did not encourage native pastors to imitate American missionaries’ mannerisms. It is worth mentioning that although it was not the general posture of all missionaries, some, especially within the conservative sector, “were opposed to native pastors getting an equal training to that of the missionaries and claimed it was unnecessary because of the condition of the island.” And although our country has produced bright stars like Orlando Costas, Monseñor Antulio Parrilla Bonilla, and Domingo Marrero Navarro, formal theological education is not at the foundation of church life in Puerto Rico. However, in most recent years, there has been a renewed interest in theological studies. Some of us have gone to the North with the hope of studying under some of the most respected scholars in the field. Others have stayed home, learning to theologize and serve in a current disaster zone. My hope is that, as some of us pursue graduate studies in theology, we honor the theologies of our abuelas and of those who came before us, our Puerto Rican trailblazers. For this reason, I have decided to feature 17 Puerto Rican Protestant theologians and biblical scholars you should know about.
Domingo Marrero Navarro
Rev. Prof. Domingo Marrero Navarro was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on January 11, 1909. At the age of 20, he received his Diploma in Theology from the Seminario Evangélico, and a year after, he started his pastoral ministry, serving the faith community at the Iglesia Metodista de Garrochales in Arecibo. In 1932, he decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Education at the University of Puerto Rico, and after completing the program, he moved to the Dominican Republic to serve as a missionary from 1935 to 1938. By 1938, he returned to his beloved island, and in 1943, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Theology from the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico. But the academic pursuit of Rev. Marrero Navarro was not over. After serving for almost a decade as Professor of Biblical Literature, Philosophy, and Theology at the Seminario Evangélico, he moved to New York to pursue graduate studies in Philosophy at Columbia University. He also pursued graduate studies in Hebrew literature and theology, and philosophy of religion at Drew University, and studied under Paul Tillich during his time at Union Theological Seminary. Today, the name of Rev. Domingo Marrero Navarro is known by all students of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, where a building is named after him in honor of his legacy. Rev. Prof. Marrero died on August 20, 1960, at the age of 51. Among his most important publications are El Centauro: Persona y pensamiento de Ortega y Gasset (1951) and Meditaciones de la pasión (1950).
José David Rodríguez
José David Rodríguez was born in Orocovis, Puerto Rico in 1924. He studied at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico. In 1993, the Departamento Ecuménico de Investigaciones in San José, Costa Rica, in partnership with the Seminario Bautista de Managua, Nicaragua, published Dr. Rodríguez’s book Introducción a la teología. Dr. Rodríguez did not only serve as a theologian but he also devoted himself to pastoral ministry. He died on October 24, 2012, at the age of 88.
Orlando Enrique Costas is probably one of the most important luminaries of Puerto Rico –if not the luminary- when it comes to missiology. He was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on June 15, 1942 to Ventura E. Costas and Rosalina Rivera, people of faith actively serving in the Methodist church. He then migrated to the U.S. mainland with his father, where he experienced a very difficult youth. A year after his conversion at a Billy Graham New York Crusade, Costas found himself studying at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. About his time there he shares both good as well as heart-shattering experiences. About the latter, he says, “I came face to face with Anglo-Saxon culture in its worst form… the puritanical value system… the shameless defense and justification of racism… and the triumphalistic belief in the divine (manifest) destiny of the United States.” He also indicates that it was during his time at Bob Jones that he was awakened to his Latin American identity. He became a pastor, an evangelist, and a musician. After attending Bob Jones, he also attended Nyack Missionary College and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. It was his time as a pastor and student in Puerto Rico that led him to reflect on the church, identity, and the role of the U.S. in a different way. He writes, “These studies led me to rediscover my Puerto Rican identity, to affirm my Latin American cultural heritage, to begin to question the political hegemony of the United States in Latin America and to consciously break with its culture.” After his time in Puerto Rico, Orlando and his family moved back to the U.S. mainland, specifically to Illinois. There, he studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Woot-woot!), and later at Garrett Theological Seminary. Eventually, Costas moved to Amsterdam to pursue doctoral studies under the Dutch missiologist Johannes Verkuyl.
The life and work of Orlando are too extensive to discuss every aspect of it, even if just in broad strokes. From 1980-84, he served as the Thornley B. Wood Professor of Missiology and director of Hispanic Studies and Ministries at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. And ultimately, he became dean of the Andover Newton Theological School. Orlando left us at the age of 45 –too young- due to stomach cancer.
Rev. Dr. Orlando Costas wrote about 13 books, including Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom (1982), Comunicación por medio de la predicación: Manual de Homilética (1991), Liberating News: A Theology of Contextual Evangelization (1989), Theology of the Crossroads in Contemporary Latin America: Missiology in Mainline Protestantism, 1969-1974 (1976).
Rev. Dr. Samuel Solivan, a self-identified Pentecostal-Arminian, was Western Theological Seminary 2017 Distinguished Alum. Samuel undeniably has an extraordinary life story. After he completed his BA at Central Bible College in Springfield, MO, he became a pastor at the Pentecostal church he was raised at and a community organizer in East Harlem. He was recruited to study at Western, where he earned his master, and was later admitted to Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he completed a Master of Sacred Theology and a Ph.D. Rev. Dr. Solivan served as Vice President of Religious Affairs at the Interamerican University, as professor at the Theological Seminary of Puerto Rico (affiliated to Nyack), and helped to found the Eurasian Theological Seminary in Moscow. Samuel has an incredible curriculum, having also served as Professor of Christian Theology at Newton Theological School in Massachusetts, and as an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Medicine, Mind Body Institute.
His publications include The Spirit, Pathos, and Liberation: Toward a Hispanic Pentecostal Theology (1998).
Loida Martell Otero
Rev. Dr. Loida I. Martell-Otero, former Professor of Constructive Theology at Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University in Pennsylvania, serves now as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Lexington Theological Seminary. A bicoastal Puerto Rican, she does theology between the island and the mainland. Dr. Martell-Otero holds several degrees, including a B.S. from the University of Puerto Rico, an M.Div. from Andover Newton Theological School, and an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Theology from Fordham University. She is an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches/USA and has taught in various institutions of higher education in the USA mainland and Puerto Rico. Some of her research focuses on Taíno spiritualities and their relation to theological anthropology, eschatology, and globalization.
Dr. Martell-Otero’s publications include Teología en Conjunto: A Collaborative Hispanic Protestant Theology (1997), and Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins (2013).
Luis N. Rivera Pagán
Dr. Luis N. Rivera Pagán is the Henry Winters Luce Professor of Ecumenics and Mission Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. For decades, he has been one of the leading Puerto Rican voices in theology. Dr. Pagán holds an MDiv from the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico and an S.T.M. and M.A. from Yale University. Furthermore, it was at that very institution that he earned his Ph.D. under the mentorship of Jaroslav Pelikan.
His publications include A Violent Evangelism: The Political and Religious Conquest of the Americas (1992), Ensayos teológicos desde el Caribe (2013), Essays from the Margins (2014), and Evocaciones literarias y sociales (2018). He is also a regular contributor to 80grados, one of the most serious and well-informed platforms in Puerto Rico, constituted by scholars, journalists, artists, critics, activists, and students.
Elizabeth Conde-Frazier was not born in Puerto Rico but in Brooklyn, New York. However, when asked about how she identifies herself, she replied, “I identify as Newyorican. I am second generation. But I function as a 1.5 since I lived part of my life as a child in Puerto Rico as well.” Being a Puerto Rican is to live between two realities, U.S. citizenship, and our puertorriqueñidad. We inhabit liminal spaces. We build bridges between cultures. This is the kind of complexity that Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier embodies. Before being appointed Dean of Esperanza College, Dr. Conde-Frazier served as professor of religious education at the Claremont School of Theology. Moreover, Dr. Conde-Frazier founded the Orlando E. Costas Hispanic and Latin American Ministries Program at Andover Newton Theological School. She holds a Ph.D. from Boston College and an M.Div. from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is also the recipient of an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Palmer Theological Seminary (2010).
Dr. Conde-Frazier’s publications include Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins (2013), Listen to the Children: Conversations with Immigrant Families (Bilingual edition, 2011), Hispanic Bible Institutes: A Community of Theological Construction (2005), and A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation (2004).
Dr. Samuel Pagán is not formally a theologian but a biblical scholar. However, his outstanding work makes it almost a crime not to include him on this list. Samuel is a prolific writer, having published more than 50 books on exegetical, pastoral, and theological topics. He is an ordained minister of la Iglesia Cristiana Discípulos de Cristo and has served as a pastor not only in Puerto Rico but also in the U.S. mainland. Dr. Pagán has a rich pedagogical career, having taught in Puerto Rico, the United States mainland, Latin American, Europe, and the Middle East. He also served as president of the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico and Director of Hispanic Travel-Studies for the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies.
His publications include Jesús de Nazaret: Vida, enseñanza y significado (2012), Introducción a la Biblia Hebrea (2013), and Isaías (2007). You can learn more about Dr. Pagán and his work on his website.
Agustina Luvis Núñez
Dr. Agustina Luvis Núñez is a Puerto Rican theologian living and doing theology on the island. A life-long learner, she holds several degrees, including an M.Div. from the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, a Master in Theology and a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. Agustina currently serves as Assistant Professor and Director of the D.Min. program at the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico.
Dr. Núñez’s areas of interest include Pentecostal and feminist theologies. She has contributed to multiple publications, including the book El sexo en la Iglesia (2015); which was edited by renown scholars Samuel Silva Gotay and Luis N. Rivera Pagán. Her book Creada a su imagen: Una pastoral integral para la mujer was published in 2012 by Abingdon Press.
Jules A. Martínez Olivieri
Jules A. Martínez is a systematic theologian, professor, and minister. He holds a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, and an M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, where he also completed a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology under the mentorship of Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Dr. Martínez also has rich and diverse teaching experience, having taught at seminaries in Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Guatemala, Perú, and the United States. Likewise, his ministerial experience has been diverse, serving churches in the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico.
To my knowledge, his first book A Visible Witness: Christology, Liberation, and Participation, published by Fortress Press in 2016, is the most recent Christological treatment by a Latin American theologian. He is also the author of the book chapters “Liberation Theology,” in the T&T Clark Companion to Atonement (2017), and “¿Quién Vive? ¡Cristo! Christology in Latin American Perspectives, in Jesus without Borders: Christology in the Majority World (2014). You can follow his blog Theodrama.
Mayra Rivera Rivera
Mayra Rivera is Professor of Religion and Latina/o Studies at Harvard University and Faculty Chair of the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights. Dr. Rivera was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she attended college. She earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus, where she won various awards, including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (1986). In 2001, she graduated with a Master in Theological Studies from Drew University, where she also completed a Ph.D. in Theological and Religious Studies in 2005. Mayra received the 2004 John R. Mulder Prize for Excellence, awarded for writing the Drew Graduate School’s best comprehensive examinations in the past year. And in 2008 she was awarded the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Feminist/Mujerista Professorship, awarded by the Hispanic Summer Program for excellence in teaching feminist/mujerista theology.
Dr. Mayra Rivera is currently developing a project that explores narratives of catastrophe and/as Genesis in the 20th-century Caribbean writing. Her publications include Poetics of the Flesh (2015) and The Touch of Transcendence: A Postcolonial Theology of God (2007).
Teresa Delgado is a Puerto Rican theologian born in New York to Puerto Rican parents. Talking about her identity, she stated,
“I self-identify as a member of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, which positions me in the crossroads of Latin America and the United States. While I was born in New York of Puerto Ricans parents, I am U.S. Latina AND I am also connected to the Latin American identity of Puerto Rico. In other words, I embody the ambiguity that Puerto Rico embodies as straddling both worlds given our colonial reality. I can’t choose one over the other.”
Dr. Delgado holds a B.A. in Religion and Women’s Studies from Colgate University and a M.A., M. Phil. and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York. She currently serves as Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics Program Director, Peace and Justice Studies at Iona College. She completed her doctoral work under the supervision of womanist theologian Delores S. Williams. Her publications include A Puerto Rican Decolonial Theology: Prophesy Freedom (2017) and Augustine and Social Justice (2015).
Eric D. Barreto
Eric D. Barreto is the Frederick and Margaret L. Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. He holds a B.A. in Religion from Oklahoma Baptist University, an M.Div. from Princeton Seminary, and a Ph.D. in New Testament from Emory University. Before being appointed to his current position, Dr. Barreto served as Associate Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN. Once again, I am aware that Dr. Barreto is not a theologian in the formal sense. He is a biblical scholar. However, I decided to feature him on this list because of his already outstanding work –especially as it regards to race, ethnicity, and the New Testament. He has a promising future ahead. Moreover, he is not just a biblical scholar but a Baptist minister who “has pursued scholarship for the sake of the church.”
Dr. Barreto’s publications include In Tongues of Mortals and Angels: A Deconstructive Theology of God-Talk in Acts and Corinthians (2018), Exploring the Bible (2016), Reading Theologically (2014), and Ethnic Negotiations: The Function of Race and Ethnicity in Acts 16 (2010). You can learn more about him and his work on his website.
Dr. Rafael Rodríguez was born to a Puerto Rican father and a Japanese-Scotch-Irish-American mother. He holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from the University of Sheffield and currently serves as Professor of New Testament at Johnson University in Knoxville, TN. His published works include Jesus Darkly: Remembering Jesus with the New Testament (Abingdon Press, 2018), If You Call Yourself a Jew: Reappraising Paul’s Letter to Romans (Cascade Books, 2014), and Oral Tradition and the New Testament: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2013).
Luis R. Rivera
Dr. Luis R. Rivera is Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Before being appointed to his current position, he served as James G. K. McClure Professor of Theological Education at McCormick Theological Seminary. Dr. Rivera holds a B.A. from the University of Puerto Rico, an M.Div. from the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, and a Th.M. and Th.D. from Harvard Divinity School. His published works include Diccionario de intérpretes de la fe (2004).
José David Rodríguez
Dr. José David Rodríguez is Augustana Heritage Chair of Global Mission and World Christianity and the Director of Advanced Studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He holds a B.A. from the University of Puerto Rico, and an M.Div., Th.M., and Ph.D. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Dr. Rodríguez is also an ordained minister, and he has served congregations in Puerto Rico and Chicago. His teaching experience is also very rich, having taught in Puerto Rico, México, and the USA mainland. Dr. Rodriguez’s areas of expertise include systematic theology, ethics, world Christianity, ministry, Latino/a theology, and post-colonial thought. His published works include Romanos (Fortress Press, 2011), La vocación (Abingdon Press, 2011), and Teología en Conjunto: Christian Theology from a Hispanic/Latina Perspective (Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).
Ediberto López Rodríguez
Dr. Ediberto López Rodríguez serves as professor of New Testament and Greek at the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico. He holds various degrees, including a B.A. from the University of Puerto Rico, an M.Div. from the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, a S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Drew University. His published works include Introducción al griego de la Biblia I and II (Abingdon Press, 2011) and Cómo se formó la Biblia (Augsburg Books, 1984).
Francisco Javier Goitía Padilla
Rev. Dr. Francisco Javier Goitía Padilla is the Program Director for Theological Formation, Seminaries and Lay Schools in the Domestic Mission unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He is an ordained minister of the ELCA rostered in the Caribbean Synod. He holds various degrees, including an M.Div. and S.T.M. in Reformation History from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; and a Th.M. in Lutheran and Latin American Hermeneutics and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology with a component in Homiletics from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. For over a decade, he served as Professor of Theology and Homiletics at the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, where he also worked as its Dean from 2012 to 2017. Dr. Goitía is the author of El sermón como creación artesanal: Manual para la práctica de la predicación (Publicaciones Palabra Viva, 2017) and Gálatas y Efesios (Augsburg Fortress, 1987).
Guillermo Ramírez Muñoz
Dr. Guillermo Ramírez Muñoz is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico. He holds a B.A. from the University of Puerto Rico, an M.Div. from the Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico, an M.T.S. from Candler School of Theology, and a Ph.D. from Emory University. He is the author of De Génesis a Deuteronomio (Augsburg Fortress, 1992) and Introducción al Antiguo Testamento (Abingdon Press, 2003).
Dr. Alvin Padilla currently serves as the Academic Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Western Theological Seminary. Before being appointed to that position, he worked as Dean of the Hispanic Ministries program and professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Padilla holds a B.S. from Villanova University, an M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in New Testament and Early Christian Literature from Drew University. He is also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). His published works include Juan (Augsburg Fortress, 2011), Hispanic Christian Thought at the Dawn of the 21st Century (Abingdon Press, 2005), and Lucas (Augsburg Fortress, 1992).
Featured photo by Tatiana Rodríguez on Unsplash
 Wilfred Scopes, editor, The Christian Ministry in Latin America and the Caribbean (New York, NY: Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, 1962), 60. I am aware that the extract does not acknowledge the presence and ways of life of our African foremothers and fathers, who were brought to the island against their will during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
 Samuel Silva Gotay, Protestantismo y política en Puerto Rico, 1898-1930: Hacia una historia del protestantismo evangélico en Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition (San Juan, Puerto Rico: La Editorial Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1998), 5.
 Samuel Silva Gotay writes about the imperialist theology of some of the Protestant U.S. leaders during the late 1800s, the prime example being Dr. Josiah Strong. See Samuel Silva Gotay, Protestantismo y política en Puerto Rico, 1898-1930: Hacia una historia del protestantismo evangélico en Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition (San Juan, Puerto Rico: La Editorial Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1998), 55-75, and Josiah Strong’s Our Country, Its Possible Future and its Present Crisis (1885), which is available online.
 There was an allegiance between “missionary Protestantism” and the empire. For instance, the U.S. official overseeing education, M. T. Harris, wrote a letter to Protestant minister Dr. Victor Clark, dated March 7, 1900, in which he states, “An education which contemplates a change of the native language implies a change of religion and a complete change in the body of a people’s tradition.” See Silva Gotay, Protestantismo y política en Puerto Rico, 111. Gotay also mentions that all missionary societies will articulate their mission objectives along the lines of the Missionary Society of the United Brethren in Christ, which states, “To inaugurate a work that assures the Americanization of the island, as well as its entrance to the joys and privileges of Christian discipleship…” See p. 197. Also see Brooks, Charles Alvin. Christian Americanization: A Task for the Churches. Council of Women for Home Missions and Missionary Education Movement of the United States and Canada, 1919.
 Samuel Silva Gotay, Protestantismo y política en Puerto Rico, 1898-1930: Hacia una historia del protestantismo evangélico en Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition (San Juan, Puerto Rico: La Editorial Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1998), 219, 250.
 See Leopoldo Cervantes-Ortíz, “Una nueva edición de introducción a la teología, de José David Rodríguez,” May 31st, 2002. https://www.academia.edu/15612192/Una_nueva_edici%C3%B3n_de_Introducci%C3%B3n_a_la_teolog%C3%ADa_de_Jos%C3%A9_David_Rodr%C3%ADguez_2002_
 Carmelo Álvarez, “José David Rodríguez Rivera: Perfil de una pastoral multifacética,” in Lupa Protestante, July 11, 2012. http://www.lupaprotestante.com/blog/jose-david-rodriguez-rivera-perfil-de-una-pastoral-multifacetica/
 Costas quoted by Samuel Escobar in “The Legacy of Orlando Costas,” International Bulletin of Mission Research, Vol. 25, Issue 2, April 1, 2001: 50.
 Email communication on August 3, 2017.