Communities of believers who do not do the hard work of answering the hard questions can expect their children and future generations to abandon their faith.
By Beth Snodderly
Editor’s Note: Last week, here on the RWI blog we published an introduction to Ralph Winter’s Four Seeds of Destruction. Today, Beth Snodderly begins a four-part series exploring these topics in more depth. Enjoy.
Ralph Winter often talked and wrote about why people turn away from faith. 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 my next installment, I’ll explore Ralph Winter’s thoughts on why Christianity has succeeded among rural populations all over the world but is facing increasing opposition from the educated world.
Beth Snodderly is the RWI's Theologian in Residence and Chair of the Board.