The faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission (SWM) were quite a community together when Dr. Ralph Winter was there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They respected each other for the knowledge each one had and their common goal was to educate students in order that they would participate in the Great Commission after graduation in whatever capacity God called them. These professors’ offices were in a building that was originally a house, and there was a common room in the middle of the offices so that they were bound to see one another in this common room when they were going to and from their offices. They all got together for a meeting at least once a week to discuss SWM matters, and they enjoyed interacting with their students inside and outside of the classroom.
On September 25, 1972, Dr. Winter wrote a note to the SWM faculty about topics that he believed needed to be discussed on Friday, four days later. He mentions a problem he has talked about preliminarily with Arthur Glasser and Alan Tippett and it is that there are numerous books like Tippett’s Bibliography for Cross Cultural Workers, Donald McGavran’s Crucial Issues and Peter Wagner’s Church/Mission Tensions Today which conceivably no class will use extensively because the professor does not require the students to read these texts. Winter says, “If I…knew that the students had these books, I would assign certain chapters as required readings which at the present I am unable to do.” The Evangelical Missions Quarterly bound volumes are another favorite of his. He asks should missiologists not own books with chapters which SWM’s faculty have written? The Church Growth Bulletins promoted by McGavran would also be useful in the classroom. He assures his colleagues he is not only referring to books published by the publishing company Winter started known as William Carey Library. He just thinks the SWM students ought to leave equipped with a basic missiological library and it is the faculty’s jobs to make sure various books do not slip between the courses.
Dr. Winter also believes the SWM needs a weekly all-school bulletin. He writes, “If…any one of us announces anything in any of our classes that is intended for the whole school[’]s consumption, some of the students and most of the faculty will inevitably miss out, even if it is announced verbally at a convocation of the SWM.” Winter thinks the all-school bulletin would be the solution to any lack of communication within SWM. It does not have to be long—just a one-sided page would suffice most of the time. What does he mean to go in this bulletin? Examples he offers are wives’ meetings, a slide-making camera copying set-up being available, general instructions on term paper formats that apply to all classes, convocation speakers, and joys and concerns for prayer.
On December 17, 2002, Dr. Ralph Winter wrote a short article which he entitled “The Instrumentalities of God,” in which he explores the concept of credit for things that happen in life going always to God when it should actually go to human and angelic beings who are acting on His behalf. He says that the Holy Spirit enables persons to do things we ordinarily would not do on our own not because God needs us but because He has called us and “apparently has chosen to create finite beings who can think, choose, learn, uphold or betray His goals.” What amazes Winter is the fact that these free will agents all live on one planet orbiting the sun that is a tiny spectacle in the vast Milky Way galaxy.
Dr. Winter observes that people often attribute to a dictator in a suffering country all of the horrible occurrences that victimize so many when in reality the leader is not always personally involved but employs others to carry out his plans for him. On rare occasions, a dictator will do something publicly himself to make a point, but his will being in operation does not usually mean he is to be credited personally for whatever happens to damage lives. The same applies to the President of the United States. Many times he is given the credit for actions that his Secretary of State, for example, actually takes.
Dr. Winter asks, “Does God work this way? When an Evangelical is elected to high office we may say ‘God put an Evangelical in the White House,’…even though in fact the Holy Spirit may have moved the hearts of thousands of voters to elect that person.” Winter believes that angels as God’s messengers may do far more than only deliver messages, yet their activities are attributed to God. How about the acts of Satan? Even his doings might be attributed to God, which concerns Winter. Toward the end of his article, he writes “The reason I am pursuing this…is because I am concerned that we not expect God to do things which either angels or men are supposed to do. It would be tragic if we are confused about what He will get done through His unseen instrumentalities and what He expects human beings to do.”
There is an article in the newspaper Today’s Christian from February of 1974 that is entitled “May We Have Your Opinion, Ralph Winter?” The question is regarding whether or not the number of Christians in the world is keeping up with the growth in the world population at this time. Dr. Winter is consulted on the matter because he is known as “one of the nation’s foremost historians of Christian missions.” He disagrees with the notion that there will be fewer Christians as the world population increases. In fact, he observes that the percentage of Christians in the cultures of the world is not lower than it was seventy-two years before. Winter states, “For seventy-two years ago, Christians in Africa were three per cent of the population, and are thirty per cent today. This is not going backwards, is it?”
Dr. Winter does point out that as the world population explodes, so do the number of non-Christians. He writes that the prediction that there will be three billion non-Western people groups that are not Christian does not discourage him because of his confidence that the number of Christians will continue to rise in the non-Western world. He notes that devout, church-going Christians are not the only evidence of the impact Jesus Christ has had on a culture in the non-Western world. Winter mentions, “Asia is still inscrutably oriental and all that, but if you step back and look at it, both Africa and Asia are fairly riddled with attitudes, morals, and values which have come from Christianity.” Missionaries in Japan have not figured out what a truly Japanese Christian church is like. Although few Japanese belong to a church, when asked by a government census who the greatest religious leader in history is, seventy-eight per cent respond Jesus Christ and not Gautama Buddha. This does not provide an accurate count of Christians, but it is one measure of Jesus Christ’s influence in this culture.
Because Dr. Winter was a man of statistics in his knowledge base, he indicates that more than twice as many of the world’s people this year claim to be Christian than any other religion. “With 5,000 independent new denominations in Africa, (and practically a new one each day), one would not likely predict the demise of Christianity,” Winter says. He rejoices that the Christian movement is clearly out of control, and that the white man no longer controls it. It is the only world religion that is both international and non-national at the same time.
Dr. Winter is identified as a professor of the historical development of Christian mission at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission and Institute of Church Growth, as it was originally known. His mission field was Guatemala for ten years. The quotation of his for this article was taken from his book The Twenty-Five Unbelievable Years 1945-1969, published by the publishing company Winter founded, William Carey Library, one year after it started.