A Collection of Key Writings by Ralph D. Winter, with Abstracts and URLs
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
Mission and evangelism can be seen as a means of recruiting and renewing humans in a struggle which is not basically between God and man but between God-plus-redeemed-man against the kingdom of Satan and his works—Ralph Winter in “The Embarrassingly Delayed Education of Ralph D. Winter.”
This article was originally published in 1995 in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research. Winter begins his autobiographical overview with the words, “I am deeply ashamed about the disastrous breakdown of morality in my country.” He goes on to explain the factors in his life that led to his counter-cultural perspectives: His education; 10 years in Guatemala; helping start a movement of Theological Education by Extension (TEE); serving on the original faculty of the Fuller School of World Mission with Donald McGavran and Alan Tippitt; founding the American Society of Missiology and editing its journal; insights into serious limitations in contemporary mission strategy; Lausanne ’74; and the “final plunge” to found the US Center for World Mission, following the advice of Dawson Trotman, “Never do what others can do or will do, if there are things God wants done that others either can’t do or won’t do.”
He concludes with insights due in part to Lesslie Newbign regarding de-contextualization. “This is a case where we must (here at home) depend on the insights of our own cross-cultural workers, and yes, brothers and sisters from the other, ‘mission lands.’ Frankly, I see the world church as being not just the result of missionary outreach but by now an essential element in the survival of the West itself.”
Why do people turn away from faith? This article was compiled from multiple writings by Ralph Winter on this topic. He wanted the mission world to be aware that newly reached peoples will eventually follow the pattern of post-Christian Europe if we don’t stop exporting a gospel that contains the seeds of its own destruction. He recognized that communities of believers who do not do the hard work of answering hard questions can expect their children and future generations to abandon their faith in God, as was the case in 19th and early 20th century England.
Winter saw that intellectual insight into God’s Word, God’s world, and who God is, needs to accompany emotional and experiential awareness of God. Otherwise, as Winter observed, people turn away from faith once they start asking hard questions about the rampant evil in this world, thinking this is God’s will and not realizing there is a Satan behind it. And if they are unaware of what the Bible really says and means on key issues, if they perceive the Bible to have feet of clay, thinking people are unlikely to be interested in following the Jesus of the Bible.
Winter wanted mission and church practitioners to recognize that they need to lead the way in restoring God’s reputation and glory in the eyes of the on-looking world. Believers need to help potential followers of Jesus see that suffering, violence, and evil are not God’s will and are not from him. Rather, societies and all creation experience the consequences of human and angelic choices, both good and bad, and God does not overrule the free will he has granted his creatures. Winter pointed to the importance of seeing the historical big picture—that God is in an ongoing battle with a spiritual adversary, starting even before Genesis 1. Salvation is thus not just a “ticket to heaven.” Rather, God is asking humans to choose to join him in the battle to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and demonstrate God’s will for shalom for human societies and all creation.
In this compilation of excerpts, Winter begins, “All my life I have assumed that the big tension is between human beings and God. Since Adam fell out with God, his entire lineage has been estranged and needs reconciliation through the blood of Christ. But the larger picture is that the biggest tension is not between humans and God but between vicious, hideous plotting evil and God. Humans were then created to be on God’s side in that conflict with evil. ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil’ (1 John 3:8).
He concludes, “The Kingdom of God began striking back when God gave the Great Commission to Abraham in Genesis 12:3. As Abraham’s children, we have inherited the family responsibility of God’s concerns and purposes, which are to become our concerns and purposes. It is not to seek high pay or perks, but the war that must be won! Our lives and careers need to yield to this warfare reality.”
PART ONE: UNREACHED PEOPLES
Unreached Peoples: A people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to evangelize this people group—Ralph Winter in “Unreached Peoples: The Development of the Concept."
In 2004, Winter described the “explosive” idea he and others had had 30 years previously: the idea was that thousands of remaining, forgotten, linguistically or culturally isolated groups should be considered additional mission fields, that is, “Unreached Peoples.” He described the barriers to understanding that this idea faced. “However, the very idea of expecting ethnic minorities … to have their own forms of worship and even theology and to remain ‘segregated’ within their own ‘homogeneous units’ was … ‘racism’ to some. Biblical sensitivity for cultural diversity died hard before the earlier (and understandable) American drive for a ‘melting pot’ society.”
But the ultimate result of this explosive idea is still true today: “With different voices now speaking of ethno-cultural frontiers instead of countries, languages or individuals, a huge, significant strategic shift had taken place all across the mission world.”
This abridged version of Winter’s full article (that can be found in Reaching the Unreached: The Old-New Challenge, edited by Harvie M. Conn) appeared in 1984 in the second issue of the International Journal of Frontier Missions. The editor observes: “After pointing out that almost from the beginning of the Bible God shows his concern for peoples as sociological and cultural units (see the table of the nations in Genesis 10), Winter delves into concepts and labels. He discusses the term peoples (sociological units) versus people (individuals) and insists that clear to the end of time in the book of Revelation it is peoples that surround the throne, not merely individuals.”
The article gives detailed historical background from the three eras of Protestant missions, from a series of world-level missionary conferences, and numerous groups and individuals who wrestled with the concept of unreached peoples. What are unreached peoples? What it would mean to be reached? What about sub-divisions of people groups within larger people groups? Winter concluded that the missionary target should be the “unimax” level: “the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of acceptance or understanding.”
Winter concludes, “We ought to try to do what is plain in scripture, … in terms of the blessings we have received.” He spoke prophetically to the situation we face in America today in 2018: “I don’t believe there is any hope for this country if we cannot get beyond the syndrome of accepting and trying to preserve and protect our own blessings with MX missiles and horses and chariots and not realize that our only real safety is to give the blessings that God has given to us to those for whom he intended them.”
Contrary to the suspicions of some of Ralph Winter’s colleagues in the last years of his life, he did not abandon the “unreached peoples” concept for which he is best known. In this article he attempted to tie his earlier and later thinking together.
“If we think of the remaining unreached peoples as enemy occupied territories, rather than merely unenlightened areas, ‘reaching’ them with ‘a viable, evangelizing, indigenous church movement’ could seem to assume the possibility that the problem of unreached peoples is merely the absence of good news.
“I continue to believe that ‘reaching unreached peoples’ with a viable, evangelizing, indigenous church movement is a most worthy and important thing to do. However, it may involve unexpected, perplexing opposition and danger. In that case is it fair to prospective missionaries to talk as though it is merely a communication problem? And, is it fair to the people within the group we are trying to reach, for them to think that we see no use for the significant knowledge we in fact possess that could enable many of them not to be become victims of disease?”
PART TWO: HISTORY IN MISSIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
The “blessing” of God is in effect conditioned upon its being shared with other nations, since those who yield to and receive God’s blessing are, like Abraham, those of faith who subject themselves to God’s will, become part of His Kingdom, and represent the extension of His rule, His power, His authority within all other peoples—Ralph Winter in “The Kingdom Strikes Back.”
In this seminal article, Ralph Winter gives an overview of history from a missiological perspective—a short version of the themes that underpin the World Christian Foundations degree program and the much shorter course, Foundations of the World Christian Movement.
The first half of the story encompasses the Old Testament era, highlighting the first five of “Ten Epochs of Redemptive History.” “The first eleven chapters of Genesis constitute a scary ‘introduction’ to the entire problem [of evil], indeed, to the plot of the entire Bible. Those few pages describe three things: 1) a glorious and ‘good’ original creator; 2) the entrance of a rebellious and destructive evil—superhuman, demonic person—resulting in 3) a humanity caught up in that rebellion and brought under the power of that evil person.
“The Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of ‘the Kingdom strikes back.’”
The second 2,000-year period “is one in which God, on the basis of the intervention of His Son, makes sure that the other nations are both blessed and similarly called ‘to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.’”
“This paper attempts to defend the trustworthiness of the Bible in the eyes of the average well-educated secular person by showing how the Bible does not necessarily conflict with the idea that the universe started with a bang and is immensely old, and that the Earth itself is very old and displays a steady progression of increasingly complex life forms.
“A larger interpretation of mission goes like this: we have been recruiting people all over the world into God’s eternal family, which is an activity as basic and as significant as you can get. But while our new ‘recruits’ are now all dressed up in their new-life-in-Christ uniforms they do not realize these are military uniforms. Evangelicals may seem more often hoping to flee evil rather than fight it. Personal righteousness, both ‘attributed’ and actual, would seem to be very thin if it does not turn around and fight evil.”
Adapting a concept from John Eldrege’s book, Epic, of looking at history as a series of four acts, Winter describes his interpretation of history in detail:
Act I: The Creation of the Universe
Act II: The Fall of Satan
Act III: A New Beginning and the Fall of Man
Act IV: Wartime
He concludes: “I would hope existing mission agencies could lead the way in the discovery and the defeat of both 1) Satanic indirectly-inspired human evil such as war, and such as the corruption that guts almost every secular type of humanitarian aid, and 2) direct Satanic evil such as genetic distortions of man and animal, the creation of disease germs and diabolical delusions. This means seeing mission in very much larger terms. It also gives a much larger role to laymen than check-book missions or “after hours Christianity” centering on work in and for the church.”
This is the unpublished version of an article Winter wanted to include in the 1999 editions of the Perspectives Reader, supplementing the three eras of missions with a fourth, “Kingdom Era.” However, others talked him out of including this version, instead using a version of the article titled, “Four Men, Three Eras, Two Transitions: Modern Missions.”
“Each of the four Eras is based on a certain kind of new, deeper awareness without subtracting anything from any earlier era.”
The First Era: William Carey and Coastland church planting
The Second Era: Hudson Taylor and the Inland Era
The Third Era: Cameron Townsend and Donald McGavran and the Unreached Peoples Era (notice that Winter humbly omitted his own name from this era)
The Fourth Era: Carl F.H. Henry, Timothy L. Smith, and David O. Moberg each wrote influential books describing an Evangelical assault of the evils of this world. Winter wrote: “The Gospel of the Kingdom means beyond getting to the door of every Unreached People, knowing how to enter, what to do."
"The Fourth, Kingdom Era, means, for example, that fighting all corruption, injustice, poverty or human trafficking must be seen as mainstream portrayals of God’s love and righteousness in the unfolding of His will on earth. … We know roughly how many groups need to be reached—how many doors we need to knock on. Now, we need to be much clearer about what to do to go through those doors. Best of all, nothing can obscure the fact that the Unreached Peoples Era and the Kingdom Era could well be the final eras. No serious believer today dare overlook the fact that God has not asked us to assist in the expansion of the Kingdom of God into every nation, tribe, and tongue without intending it to be done. No generation has less excuse than ours if we do not go all out to do what is clearly His will.”
In this article, Winter addresses what he sees as “the largest new factor in 21st-century missions.” In past history there have been other major factors in mission strategy. "Unfortunately, in most of those cases, we did not see them clearly until it was already too late to maximize our strategies in their light.” He gives some examples from the past “so that we can be more alert to new factors in the present.”
“Churchless Christianity” is the focus of this article—the largest new factor in 21st century missions. “Very few understand it. … To some it may come as a huge, disturbing surprise. To others it may constitute the final evidence of the power of the Bible over all other strategies of mission. In any case, it radically changes our understanding of the kingdom of God and the work of God on earth in regard to the role of what we call Christianity."
“Churchless Christianity is the title of a book compiled by a Bible-believing Missouri-Synod Lutheran missionary and theology professor. … It gives the evidence that masses of Hindus have a high regard for Jesus Christ, and about 25% of that city of millions of people have given up their idols and are daily Bible-reading followers of Christ. The surprise is that the majority of these followers of Christ study the Bible and worship at the home level, continue to associate within the Hindu social sphere, and do not routinely associate with the somewhat ‘Western’ Christian churches. That is why the book is entitled Churchless Christianity. In my perspective it would be more accurate to speak of ‘Christianity-less churches.’ … What we are talking about goes beyond ordinary ‘contextualization.’ Some have called it ‘radical contextualization.’”
PART THREE: KINGDOM ERA: RESTORING GOD’S REPUTATION BY DESTROYING THE WORKS OF THE DEVIL
This is a battle to restore in people’s minds the glory of God by helping people to see that not only human but angelic evil is to be identified with Satanic initiative and not God’s initiative —Ralph Winter in “The Embarrassingly Delayed Education of Ralph D. Winter."
The urgent emphasis of this paper would predict the need for a fourth era of new and radically wider awareness. This new awareness might be called the Kingdom Era, when far more serious attention is paid to the transformation of both society and nature, recognizing that the demonstration of God’s concerns is an achievement which will both vitally support, and as well as depend upon, the need for transformation on a personal level. In that event there is no doubt in my mind that the future of the Evangelical movement and its mission will be very bright indeed. As Adoniram Judson said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” We must not forget that God is the one who asked us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Winter wrote this chronological explanation of his developing understanding in 2007 and included it in his self-compiled book of writings, Frontiers in Mission: Discovering and Surmounting Barriers to the Missio Dei, 344-50.
He notes two significant barriers to Christian belief: the rampant evil in this world if there is no Satan behind it, and a Bible with the feet of clay beginning with Genesis 1:1.
Both of these obstacles to belief can be dealt with in an unusual way. He describes a conjectural scenario to interpret Genesis “in such a way as not to conflict with the very latest scientific views. It may be helpful in dealing with either non-Christians or Christians about to lose their faith, people who believe current science is mainly correct in regard to 1) how old the earth is, and, 2) how long ago humans first appeared, but for whom these two things are difficult to square with the Bible.”
“It is intended to be helpful to anyone who is confused about why and how radical evil appeared in our world. This scenario does differ from the view of many scientists in that it explains the development of life by a means quite different from a Darwinian style random process. Furthermore, it allows for much of both the so-called ‘Young Earth’ and the ‘Old Earth’ perspectives. Most of all, it highlights a strikingly new dimension in the definition of Christian mission. The key stages in this story derive from my own growing up experience.”
This paper was given at the 5th International Forum for Korean Mission Leaders, November 16, 2005, in Ganghwa Sungsan, South Korea. Winter begins by quoting the definition of mission frontiers used by the International Journal of Frontier Missions:
Mission frontiers, like other frontiers, represent boundaries or barriers beyond which we must go yet beyond which we may not be able to see clearly and boundaries which ay even be disputed or denied. Their study involves the discovery and evaluation of the unknown or even the reevaluation of the known. But unlike other frontiers, mission frontiers is a subject specifically concerned to explore and exposit areas and ideas and insights related to the glorification of God in all the nations (peoples) of the world, “to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18).
After giving some historical background, Winter lists his “twelve frontiers of perspective” 1) Unreached Peoples; 2) The Great Commission and Abraham; 3) From the Unfinished Task to the Finishable Task; 4) Failure with the large groups and the off-setting trend to “radical contextualization”; 5) Reverse Contextualization, the Recontextualization of Our Own Tradition; 6) The Reclaiming of the Gospel of the Kingdom; 7) Beyond Christianity; 8) A Different Type of Recruitment; 9) A Trojan Horse?; 10) Needed: A Revolution in Pastoral Training; 11) The Religion of Science; 12) The Challenge of the Evil One.
He goes on to list four “intellectual frontiers” and his own responses to those. His final challenge is that teams of people need to be “working together, mission societies, mission agencies, accepting responsibility for engaging major evils in the Name of Christ.”
This article is a compilation of quotes from Ralph Winter on the topic of the purpose of the Roberta Winter Institute. He included this in his book, Frontiers in Mission. https://www.rdwresearchcenter.org/single-post/2018/11/07/Frontiers-in-Mission-Discovering-and-Surmounting-Barriers-to-the-Missio-Dei
“The Roberta Winter Institute will try to upgrade our desire to bring glory to God by ending our apparently neoplatonist truce with Satan in the realm of all his ingenious and destructive works. Our global mission agencies, which already have to their credit the discovery of the nature of leprosy, will declare war on other sources of disease in addition to being kind helpfully to sick people and preaching resignation amidst suffering. Mobilized Christian response did not come soon enough to materially help my wife, and may not help you or yours. But the least we can do is set something in motion that may rectify our understanding of a God who is not the author of the destructive violence in nature and who has long sought our help in bringing His kingdom and His will on earth.”
In a morning meeting seminar in June 2005, Ralph Winter talked about glorifying God by more than merely becoming aware of God, but by coming alongside of him in the conquest of evil to defend God's character in the eyes of the on-looking world.
He quotes a Letter to the Editor by Bruce McLaughlin, “From Whence Evil,” in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, vol. 56, no. 3 (Sept.) pp. 237-38.
According to Scripture, the universe was originally good and the glory of God is still evident in it (Rom. 1:20). But something else—something frightfully wicked—is evident in it as well. Of their own free will, Satan and other spiritual beings rebelled against God in the primordial past and now abuse their God-given authority over certain aspects of creation. Satan, who holds the power of death (Heb. 2:14), exercises a pervasive, structural, diabolical influence to the point that the entire creation is in bondage to decay. The pain-ridden, bloodthirsty, sinister, and hostile character of nature should be attributed to Satan and his army, not to God. Jesus’ earthly ministry reflected the belief that the world had been seized by a hostile, sinister lord. Jesus came to take it back.
Bibliographies of Winter writings, adapted from his list of 12 Frontiers of Perspective
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