Ralph Winter: A Prophet in the Old Testament Tradition
In an Editorial Reflection in the Winter 2007 issue of the International Journal of Frontier Missiology (IJFM), Ralph Winter compared Eugene Peterson's introduction in to the Old Testament prophets (in The Message) with the definition of mission frontiers found in each issue of IJFM. But those who knew and worked with Ralph Winter might see this also as description of him in many ways. I've highlighted a few of the phrases that I think are particularly apt. —Beth Snodderly, editor
Eugene Peterson: We don’t need to read many pages into the Prophets before realizing that there was nothing easygoing about them. Prophets were not popular figures. They never achieved celebrity status. They were decidedly uncongenial to the temperaments and dispositions of the people with whom they lived. And the centuries have not mellowed them. It’s understandable that we should have a difficult time coming to terms with them. They aren’t particularly sensitive to our feelings. They have very modest “relationship skills,” as we would say. We like leaders, especially religious leaders, with a touch of glamour, leaders who look good on posters and on television.
The hard rock reality is that prophets don’t fit into our way of life.
For a people who are accustomed to “fitting God” into their lives, or, as we like to say, “making room for God,” the prophets are hard to take and easy to dismiss. The God of whom the prophets speak is far too large to fit into our lives. If we want anything to do with God, we have to fit into Him.
The prophets are not “reasonable.” Accommodating themselves to what makes sense to us. They are not diplomatic, tactfully negotiating an agreement that allows us a “say” in the outcome. What they do is haul us unceremoniously into a reality far too large to be accounted for by our explanations and expectations. They plunge us into mystery, immense and staggering.
Their words and visions penetrate the illusions with which we cocoon ourselves from reality. We humans have an enormous capacity for denial and for self-deceit. We incapacitate ourselves from dealing with the consequences of sin, for facing judgment, for embracing truth. Then the prophets step in and help us to first recognize and then enter the new life God has for us, the life that hope in God opens up.
Winter wanted his readers to compare that quotation to the IJFM statement about the frontiers of mission that we are trying to cross today:
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 may 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 area 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).”