Ralph D. Winter’s Four Seeds of Destruction

Why the Gospel we’re exporting around the world is destined to blossom today, only to fade tomorrow.

By Brian Lowther

Ralph D. Winter established the Roberta Winter Institute to address one major problem. Because of his background as a mission leader and a mission historian, he saw that Evangelical missionaries were exporting a gospel around the world that contained seeds of its own destruction. [1] He recognized that if we do not eliminate these seeds, we could expect people from the hard-won mission fields of today to abandon their faith tomorrow.

Helpfully, he identified four of the most serious “seeds of destruction.”

Ralph D. Winter’s Four Seeds of Destruction

1. The Seed of the Problem of Evil

He predicted that as the people of the newly won mission fields of today become acquainted with the traditional answers to the problem of evil, they will increasingly become skeptical of those answers and their faith in God will gradually collapse. The traditional answer to the problem of evil blames sin on humans, blames temptation on Satan, and blames everything else on God’s mysterious, divine plan. Natural disasters are called “Acts of God.” Deadly diseases prompt questions like, “Why did God take my wife?” In his mind, faith that rests on these approaches to the problem of evil doesn’t stand much of a chance.

His solution was to develop A New Story, a re-framing of the Biblical narrative that answers the problem of evil in a new way, rescues God’s reputation and places the blame for evil at the feet of Satan.

2. The Seed of the Creation Narrative Being Irreconcilable with Modern Science

Secondly, he predicted that as the people of the newly won mission fields of today inevitably become acquainted with the scientific worldview, their faith in God will gradually collapse. Because of his background as an engineer, he knew that the traditional creation narrative does not resonate with a good percentage of scientists or people born in a Westernized, Post-Enlightenment society.

His solution was to develop A New Story, a re-framing of the Biblical narrative that takes what science knows about the history of the universe into account. His story reconciles the Young Earth view with the Old Earth view in a way that he believed would be more plausible to the scientists of today and the believers of tomorrow.

3. The Seed of an Incomplete Mandate

Thirdly, he predicted that as the people of the newly won mission fields of today begin to evangelize and disciple others, they will eventually become disillusioned by the idea that the advance of God’s Kingdom consists primarily (or perhaps merely) of passing out tickets to heaven. He equated this truncated mandate with walking into a desolate, war-torn area and informing the survivors that democracy is all they need to fix their problems. [2] Beyond just saving souls, he saw through history—not just human history, but cosmic history—that God was also about reestablishing shalom in a corrupted creation and defeating the enemy who is responsible for that corruption. Without these larger aspects of God’s redemptive activity being communicated and demonstrated by the people of God, Dr. Winter foresaw a bleak future for the believers of tomorrow.

His solution was to develop A New Story, a re-framing of the Biblical narrative that explores the fuller mandate God has given his children to battle evil and restore shalom to creation.

4. The Seed of Violent Portraits of God

Lastly, on his deathbed he dictated a short essay [3] implying that as the people of the newly won mission fields of today begin to understand the Bible, they will become deeply troubled by the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament (e.g., narratives that depict God violently smiting his enemies, commanding merciless genocide, and causing familial cannibalism). These portraits seem categorically different from Jesus who tells his followers to love their enemies and bless those who curse them. We can extrapolate that some new believers—like so many other Christian communities throughout history—will use these harsh, nationalistic portraits of God to justify their own inclinations toward violence.

As a solution we can utilize resources like Greg Boyd’s forthcoming book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God to build into Dr. Winter’s re-framing of the Biblical narrative a new way to reconcile the violent-tending God of the Old Testament with the self-sacrificial enemy-loving God revealed in Jesus Christ.

A New Activity

In addition to addressing these seeds of destruction through his New Story, Dr. Winter knew that we couldn’t just go out and share a story. That story would have to be backed up and empowered by action. That fuller mandate would have to be obeyed. Therefore, he identified and championed a specific New Activity for the Body of Christ to focus upon: disease eradication.

Why Disease Eradication?

Perhaps the most strategic way to battle evil, restore shalom to creation, and rescue God’s reputation is to address the world problems that are causing the most human suffering. Many of the great human problems such as spiritual darkness, poverty, injustice, and illiteracy have already significantly caught the attention of the Body of Christ. Some of the resulting efforts are focused on addressing the roots of these problems, not just the symptoms. [4] And, while treating the symptoms of disease has always been a hallmark of Christianity, where are the Christian organizations devoted to addressing the social, microbiological, and genetic roots of disease with an eye toward eradicating those diseases, not just healing them?


In the end, we in the Roberta Winter Institute believe that the chief reason the burgeoning mission fields of today will collapse into gospel resistance tomorrow is because these seeds of destruction are unknowingly exported with the gospel like rats on a cargo ship. Where is the wisdom in zealously building a widespread movement to Christ on a foundation of sand? This will continue to be a problem until and unless we eliminate these destructive seeds and obey the fuller mandate God has given us as disciples of his son.

Join us as we explore and expand upon these ideas in the weeks and months ahead here at www.robertawinterinstitute.org.


[1] “When the Church Staggers, Stalls and Sits Down (In the Middle of a War!),” by Ralph D. Winter, Mission Frontiers Magazine, May-June 2008 - http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/when-the-church-staggers-stalls-and-sits-down-in-the-middle-of-a-war
[2] “Beyond Unreached Peoples,” By Ralph D. Winter, November 2004. Published in Frontiers in Mission, pg. 186
[3] “Let’s Be Fair to the Bible,” Unpublished essay by Ralph D. Winter, May 2009
[4] For more on this, see: http://www.robertawinterinstitute.org/blog/2014/7/4/who-is-addressing-root-causes-of-the-biggest-human-problems

Photo Credit: Richard Thomas/Flickr

Brian Lowther is the Director of
the Roberta Winter Institute