Thursday, May 17, 2012

Disease and the Challenge of the Evil One

This blog highlights books from Ralph Winter’s Library and compares excerpts to Winter’s own writings on one or more of the themes from his list of twelve “Frontiers of Perspective.” (See the full list at the end of this blog.)
 (12) The Challenge of the Evil One

Felton, Ralph A. 1955. Hope rises from the land. New York: Friendship Press.

Excerpts from the chapter, “The Devil under a Microscope,” p. 27, could easily have been part of Ralph Winter's thinking in the 1950s, long before he founded the Roberta Winter Institute (
They come from many miles to see the devil. Even African pastors, deacons, and deaconesses come to the laboratory of Alice Strangway to see for themselves real ovilulu (evil spirits).
            Many Africans believe that devils or evil spirits bring their diseases.
            “This one is the bacillus of tuberculosis,” explains Mrs. Strangway. “This disease abounds and is spreading rapidly, due to poor sanitation and faulty nutrition.”
            One pastor looks at it a long time. “If we had only known about it,” he sighs.
            Next they watch the moving microfiliaria that causes so much blindness in Angola. How could there be a worse devil!
            “Here are the red and blue stained parasites of malaria.”           
            “Three of my six babies left us because of these,” one mother sighs. She has the same deep sorrow that mothers have in every land.
            What a collection of devils to be seen through one microscope! Rickets, pellagra, anemias, goiter, scurvy, diarrhea, and many more.
            Africa’s native religion is based upon devils. Witchcraft is a religion of evil spirits. The witch doctor in every village stays in business to cast out just such evil spirits.
            Many leave this laboratory and return to their villages to spread the lessons they have learned. For them belief in witchcraft is gone forever. They learn how to cast out devils—by the food they eat.

This reminds me of several things Ralph Winter used to talk about. Here’s an excerpt from his talk to the Asian Society of Missiology about the “Twelve Mistakes of the West,” in which he turns the use of the microscope around to be used for observing God’s handiwork:
11. The Mistake of Assuming Science Is a Foe Not a Friend
When I was a young person missionaries were showing science films 2,000 times per day in the Non-Western world. The Moody Institute of Science films were shown even more widely in America. Many times in history Christian scholars have recognized that God has revealed Himself in “Two Books,” the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. As Psalm 19 indicates, the Book of Nature does not even need to be translated into the world’s languages. Every missionary must take with him to the mission field both a microscope and a telescope if we are to properly glorify God. Even more important is the need to take to the field a true reverence for the glory of God in Creation. This requires a substantial knowledge of nature. Science is the study of God’s creativity. Art is the study of man’s creativity. We cannot truly expect educated people to accept Christ if our hymns in church reflect no awareness of anything discovered in nature in the last 400 years, or if our young people are being led astray by recent and superficial theories that the world is only 6,000 years old. That is an improper reading of Genesis 1:1, as well as a reckless ignoring of thousands of honest Evangelicals who are outstanding scientists.

In a document of compiled quotes from Ralph Winter, describing the purposes of the Roberta Winter Institute, he acknowledged that not everything in this world is the way God designed it to be. “The Intelligent Design people don’t take into account that they are attributing the creation of evil to God." …
At this point it is time to ask the question why it is that the mounting muscle of the very considerable movement of all those globally who are moved by Jesus Christ has not weighed in either theologically or practically in the area of working to correct distortions of nature and of God’s will by going to the roots of the problem. …
Surprising recent insights show that many diseases are basically caused by outside invaders which we need to fight in the same sense as we fight the crime of visible terrorists. Does nutrition, exercise, banishing anxiety, etc. protect you or cure you of Malaria? Are our immune systems normally capable of defeating Malaria, Tuberculosis, Smallpox, Anthrax, etc.? No, not normally. And, if the latest thinking is correct slow-acting viruses underlie heart disease as well as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Schizophrenia. So, do we go on just praying in addition to making sure we heed these other things (nutrition, exercise, peace of soul and mind, etc.)? It is understandable, of course, that we would not automatically think about going beyond prayer and taking concrete measures to quell the source of these destructive diseases if we did not know that they are caused by attacking pathogens which our immune systems, no matter how healthy, cannot always overcome.
Ralph Winter’s 12 “Frontiers of Perspective” represent major shifts in his thinking that “profoundly modified and molded his perception of the mission task”:
(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

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