Around the same time that Martin Luther was penning his theses, Henry VIII was working his way through eight wives, and John Calvin was publishing his Institutes, Queen Isabella was conquering Latin America for Spain and the pope.
She suppressed “anything not Catholic, through coercive methods like Spanish Inquisition,” Juan Sánchez, founding Council member of Coalición por el Evangelio, told The Gospel Coalition. “The indigenous peoples and tribes were forced to embrace Catholicism or die or be enslaved. . . . As a result, there was no Reformation in the Spanish-speaking world.”
Loyalty to the Vatican remained strong for several hundred years. As late as the 1960s, more than 90 percent of Latin Americans were Catholic.
And then, as Protestantism began slipping in the United States, it found new footing in Latin America. That wasn’t always great—Pentecostal prosperity theology is so popular that most Latin American Protestants agree that “God will grant wealth and good health to believers who have enough faith.”
But there’s also a smaller, gospel-centered reformation afoot.
Coalición—the Spanish language version of TGC—began in 2013 with four articles a month. Today it posts 15 articles a week. The site gets more than 445,000 users and an average of 1.3 million page views a month.
Conferences and books teaching Reformed theology are growing in number. This year, the Charles Simeon Trust (CST) will run 39 in-person workshops in Spanish on expository preaching, and “the petitions are for at least double that,” said Jeremy Meeks, who led CST’s Spanish-language program until 2018. “It is insane.”
If the Reformation is finally reaching Latin America, its catalyst is easy to find.
“I’d say Santo Domingo, led by Miguel Núñez, has been our Geneva,” Sanchez said.
“Along with Sugel Michelén, Miguel Núñez is one of the godfathers of the Reformed theology awakening in Latin America,” Meeks confirmed. “They are like Calvin and Luther—not the same, but of significant stature in the minds of many pastors in the Reformed camp who are between 30 and 50 years old.”
“Núñez’s passionate preaching, in-depth and relevant study of the Scriptures, influence in the public square, and commitment to unity and healthy church growth will leave a lasting mark on the Latin American church,” Coalición executive director Fabio Rossi said.
It’s a remarkable description of a man who 40 years ago was a doctor in New Jersey who didn’t even go to a Protestant church.
Núñez was the youngest of seven, trailing so far behind his siblings that “[he] almost didn’t happen.” He’s only six months older than his oldest niece.
Like almost everyone else in the Dominican Republic, Núñez grew up culturally Catholic. His father—the only real believer in the family—showed Núñez how to read the Bible, sent him to a Christian school, and told him that if the church ever disagreed with Scripture, to go with Scripture. While Núñez absorbed his father’s lessons, the faith of his youth was so undeveloped that he isn’t sure it was there at all.
Núñez’s dad worked for the department of education and was able to send his kids to good schools. He was well-connected—he knew then-president Joaquín Balaguer and turned down several offers of top government positions. He earned a middle-class income but was sensitive to the needs around him—so much so that when visiting a poor family, he’d take off his gold watch (a retirement gift) rather than offend them. When given an expensive pair of shoes, he sold them, bought two with the money, and gave one pair away.
“I’m still learning from his example,” Núñez says now.
When Núñez was 12 years old, his father was diagnosed with colon cancer. His outlook was good—he was only 60 years old and the cancer hadn’t spread. The surgery should’ve been a simple one. But Núñez’s father contracted peritonitis followed by septicemia and died.
“I’d say it was malpractice,” Núñez said. He’s in a good position to make that call. About 10 years after his father’s death, Núñez graduated from the School of Medicine at the Santo Domingo Institute of Technology.
His graduation plans were clear—move to the United States, specialize in infectious diseases, become an American, and never come back to live in the Dominican Republic.
Núñez invited a girl to his medical school graduation—a student named Catherine Scheraldi. She was from Queens, New York, and was in Santo Domingo because American medical schools prefer a chemistry or biology undergrad degree, which she didn’t have. A friend told her about the Santo Domingo program.
Scheraldi was beautiful, smart, and an atheist. As they began dating, Núñez prayed and prayed for her conversion, which he now finds bizarre. “I was probably an unbeliever, praying for her to become a believer,” he said.
She didn’t, but he was smitten, and the two were married in the fall of 1981. Seven months later, they left together for America.
“That was the year everything turned around,” he said.
At 11:45 a.m. on March 18, 1983, the pilot of a small plane radioed the airport in North Adams, Massachusetts. He wasn’t familiar with the area, and the weather was bad for flying—lots of strong winds and thick, low clouds.
The pilot was Núñez’s brother, and less than 10 minutes later, his plane crashed into the side of a mountain he couldn’t see. He and the passenger were killed; rescue workers had to work their way through waist-high snow to reach the downed craft.
“That was an emotional shock to the entire family,” Núñez said. His brother was 42 years old and had converted to evangelical Christianity the year before. Like his father, he’d died as the only believer in the family.
Distraught, Miguel decided to investigate his brother’s faith.
“I wanted to get acquainted with evangelicals—of whom I knew nothing—and the different movements that came after the Protestant Reformation,” he said. “So I did. I bought a two-volume history of Christianity by Kenneth Latourette.”
Still curious, he found a Christian bookstore. He chose his books based on their length—“I wanted details”—and had Cathy read them too. Eventually, he asked the bookstore employee where she went to church, which turned out to be the nondenominational, Bible-preaching church that ran the bookstore.
“So we went,” Núñez said. They kept going and kept reading. Believing in Jesus wasn’t too hard—that made sense to them, and they were baptized together. But they had a tougher time with doctrines such as predestination.
“Can it be that man has no participation in this?” Núñez thought, reading verses like Ephesians 1:4–5 and Romans 8:28–30. One Sunday, he felt the Spirit lay out his choices: Either you can accept what you read in the Bible and believe it, or you can become a hypocrite and deny it.
Núñez repented and believed, then tried to convince Cathy.
“We were arguing all the time,” he said. The two would bump into each other in hallways or elevators in the hospital where they both worked, argue for a while about theology, and then continue on their way.
For the next 10 years, they both grew spiritually and in medical proficiency. Núñez became a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and joined the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA). One year, R. C. Sproul was the speaker at a CMDA weekend.
“I read his book and listened to his six-part series on the holiness of God on audio cassette tapes,” Núñez said. “That series did it.”
Núñez was hooked. He started following Ligonier conferences, buying tapes of the talks. He was blown away by the doctrines of grace.
“To be part of a plan that God had in his mind from all eternity, to play a role within his history—what could be better?” he said. “I could not come up with anything.”
To be part of a plan that God had in his mind from all eternity, to play a role within his history—what could be better?
I think I want to do this with my life, he thought. He decided to float the idea past Cathy. “Lord, if you want me to do this, show me through her reaction,” he prayed.
He mentioned the idea of seminary to her.
“She was totally against it,” he said.
“Why would you want to do anything differently?” she asked him. “Clearly, the Lord has given you gifts in medicine that you are using. And you are also able to do ministry. Keep doing the good work you are already doing!”
She reminded him of the board of a Christian youth mission organization he was serving on, and the Bible study he’d started for his AIDS patients on Thursday nights.
“I didn’t argue with her,” he remembers. “I didn’t even ask her to pray about it. I told the Lord, ‘The answer is obviously no. But maybe it’s just no for now.’”
From No to Go Home
Two years passed. One Sunday, the youth pastor at church gave Núñez some Christian materials in Spanish that he could pass on to his family in the Dominican Republic. He was skimming over them at home when Cathy walked by.
“Maybe you should check that out,” she told him.
“Check what out?” he asked.
“Going into ministry,” she said.
Núñez was surprised, but he’s quick on the uptake.
“There’s one problem,” he told her. “Two years ago, when I talked to you about ministry, I meant to stay in the United States. But over the last two years, we’ve been back to Santo Domingo four times. I’ve seen a lot of educated people who are just as lost as anyone. Most of the mission work in the third world has been done with noneducated people. I actually want to go back to Santo Domingo and start a church for people with a college level of education and then teach them about our responsibility to reach those with less means.”
Cathy is just as quick as Núñez.
“That’s what I meant we should do,” she said.
In the end, Núñez needed those two years as much as Cathy did. “I didn’t want to go back to the Caribbean,” he said. “I became an American citizen because I was never going back there. But in those two years, God changed her heart and mine.”
International Baptist Church
The first church the Núñezes visited in Santo Domingo was called International Baptist Church (IBI). From the pulpit, the missionary pastor reminded the congregation he’d be leaving in three weeks and they should keep praying for his replacement.
Cathy looked at Núñez.
“No,” he told her. “We’ve only been in the country a couple of months. And we’ve never been here before. These people don’t know us.”
And anyway, this church spoke English, and Núñez wanted a Spanish-speaking congregation. But he kept attending IBI as he started a Spanish-speaking Bible study in his home. He began teaching Sunday school there, then took the church up on their offer of space for his church plant.
When no replacement pastor was found, the English-speaking congregation asked Núñez if he’d be their pastor as well. In January 1998, he started, preaching first in English and then half an hour later in Spanish.
Immediately, Núñez was a draw. He was the only American medical doctor preaching in Santo Domingo. His congregation included many professionals—doctors and lawyers—who were influential, especially on an island where just 10 percent of people go to college.
“And from day one, Miguel was teaching good theology,” said Luis Mendez, who was a Reformed Baptist pastor in the Dominican Republic before moving to the United States. Núñez’s style is thoughtful and logical, “like Pastor Keller but with a Latin flavor,” Mendez said.
Those who heard him came back—and brought their family and friends.
IBI’s Spanish congregation exploded with growth. Within six years, they needed to move to a larger space. When the 550 chairs filled up the first Sunday, Núñez figured it was because people were excited about the grand opening.
But the space was just as full the next week, and the week after. Within a few years, he was preaching three Spanish services on Sunday morning and an English one at night. He was on the hunt for a new space, and in 2013, IBI moved into a space that could fit more than 2,000.
Once there, IBI’s attendance stabilized. “It has been around 2,200—divided in two services—for several years now,” Núñez said. “We haven’t grown anymore because the parking lot will not take any more cars.”
Another thing that drew people to IBI was Núñez’s media ministries. In 2004, his church started Wisdom and Integrity Ministries, which was meant to steward IBI’s influence by spreading both the gospel and gospel training for leaders.
Under this umbrella, Núñez created a television program called Answers: Absolute Truth for a Relative World. For eight seasons, he answered questions: Is the Bible absolute truth? Did the Reformation split the true church? Spiritual warfare: fact or fiction? How can I save my marriage? How can I fight my resistance to change?
“That was a Sproul level of clarity, but with the medical background,” said Dominican pastor Jairo Namnún. “It was well-produced and well-researched, on a level that was unprecedented for a Christian program in Latin America. I didn’t even go to IBI at the time, but I would not miss an episode.”
He wasn’t the only one who loved it. In Santo Domingo, the show was aired at prime time. And when Núñez’s DVD got into the hands of a satellite ministry in Costa Rica, they broadcast the entire series all over Latin America.
“That just put us on the map,” Núñez said. It opened the door for the gospel to spread in ways he’d been longing for since his New York days.
Núñez didn’t hesitate. He knocked on, opened, pushed against, and walked through every opening he could find. He began writing articles, then books. He started a podcast in the style of John Piper’s Ask Pastor John, where he answered listener questions from a biblical worldview. He founded the Wisdom and Integrity Institute to teach church leaders.
In 2010, he held a conference. That was a critical move—not because of the teaching, although that was great. But the bigger significance was the gathering itself.
This was the test. In a region dominated by cultural Catholicism and Pentecostalism, were there any other Latin American pastors with a Reformed worldview? And were they willing to travel to Santo Domingo to be together?
Por Su Causa
“Basically, Miguel was dreaming about a conference with John Piper that had 7,000 people at it,” Mendez said. “That’s when I said, ‘This guy is crazy.’”
It was a crazy idea. Piper had never been to the Dominican Republic before, where the only thing drawing a crowd that big was baseball. Large conferences like TGC and T4G presumably only worked in the United States, where there were plenty of Reformed people, conference centers, and church budgets to pay for travel costs.
But Núñez knew Mendez, who was a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church at the time. Through him, Piper was invited—and he accepted.
The next challenge was the space—the only thing large enough was basically a big empty room. Núñez would need to rent chairs, screens, a sound system, lighting, and 100 extra tons of air conditioning. He’d also have to build a platform. If he charged each person $40 or $50, that would probably cover it. But nobody would be able to afford to come.
“Here’s what happened: I was at church, worshiping,” Núñez said. He was thinking about the conference theme, which was “Back to the Cross.” Was he going to charge people to get back to the cross?
“I started to cry,” he said. Later, he asked his financial committee if IBI could try to cover the cost of the conference. They were unanimously enthusiastic.
“We did it,” he said. All expenses were covered through donations. “And you know what? There was $20,000 left over when we asked people in our own church to donate to the event.”
The final challenge: Would people come?
They did. Seven thousand of them.
“To see that huge conference was incredible,” Mendez said. Thrilled, Núñez hosted the conference again the next year, and the next, and the next.
“The Dominican Republic became the center” of the Reformed movement, Mendez said. “Pastors would fly from Argentina or Bolivia or Colombia to be at the conference because they believed they needed the training and nobody else was providing it. And because you could be part of something bigger than your country.”
Over the past 25 years, Núñez hasn’t stopped moving. In addition to leading a growing IBI, he earned a ThM from the Southern Baptist School for Biblical Studies and a DMin from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote 16 books, edited a Bible study, and spoke all over the world. Along with Juan Sanchez, he started Coalición por el Evangelio, TGC’s Spanish-language site.
The whole time, he never stopped treating patients. “I still see about five or six outpatients a week, and a few inpatients,” he said. “They are complicated cases, or cases that need a second opinion.”
To do that, he isn’t just keeping up with medicine but is studying the latest research. During COVID, he both advised the Dominican government and produced 31 podcast episodes to help people think about the pandemic from a biblical worldview.
Núñez’s family life allows for this—his wife Cathy is also driven, their friends say. She is a full-time endocrinologist, works in women’s ministry, writes books, and hosts a podcast called Women for the Glory of God. While they were open to having children, and are raising a great-nephew, Cathy never became pregnant.
“That gives him time to focus on things other people wouldn’t be able to,” Sanchez said. Even so, Núñez’s productivity is legendary.
One example: “Miguel and I published a book together,” Mendez said. “We were each supposed to write six chapters, and we had five months to do that. In one week, Miguel sent two chapters to me to review. I hadn’t even begun yet!”
If you ask Núñez how he does it, he won’t tell you he gets up early or stays up late—though he does both of those things. He won’t tell you he reads a book a week, although he does. Núñez’s best advice is a lot easier—and harder—than that.
Sometimes people ask Núñez, “Which occupation are you better at—theology or medicine?”
“Neither,” he tells them. His best accomplishment? Waiting.
“I just truly believe that God is sovereign,” he said. “God is in charge. And he doesn’t need any help. He will convince you or anyone else to do whatever it is. So just wait.”
Some of the waiting is good, like anticipating a new church building or a new book release. Other waiting is hard, such as enduring Cathy’s seven-year battle with depression, Núñez’s back pain before his surgery, or online criticism from former friends.
“There is power in waiting on the Lord,” Núñez said. He sees it all over the Bible, from Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness to the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments to 30 years for Jesus to begin his ministry.
“Even now we’re waiting for 2,000 years for him to come,” said Núñez, who would never confuse waiting with inaction. He’s constantly asking questions, making connections, or exploring new avenues of ministry.
“Miguel has created a new level of credibility for the gospel and the church in Latin America,” Mendez said. “Our political leaders have been untrustworthy, and our religious leaders have been even worse. But now this guy is challenging me to go deeper in my Bible, he is explaining the gospel, he is living what he is saying.”
That’s helping to spark a reformation for the first time in Latin America, said Giancarlo Montemayor, director of global publishing at Lifeway Christian Resources. “We’ve sold more than 500,000 copies of his books, and we aren’t his only publisher. More than a million people have probably been reached through his literature, videos, and conferences. . . . To have solid doctrine spread in those numbers in Latin America is a miracle.”
“God is at work,” Núñez said. “If God is not at work, it doesn’t matter what I focus on. . . . Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s workmanship, to do good works that God prepared ahead of time for you. So don’t try to create works that he hasn’t prepared. You’re going to waste your time. Just walk in the works that he prepared ahead of time.”