Posts filed under First 30

Acts of God

By Brian Lowther

You’re familiar with the term “Acts of God.” This is a phrase used in legal and insurance circles to describe natural disasters such as tornadoes and floods. A few years ago an American politician refused to sign a bill because it included this term. The politician, also a Baptist minister, explained, ''I feel that I have indeed witnessed many 'acts of God,' but I see His actions in the miraculous sparing of life, the sacrifice and selfless spirit in which so many responded to the pain of others.''

Though this politician met with a bit of scorn, or at the very least, sarcastic amusement, I quite admire him for wanting to save God’s reputation.

Was he thinking about Job 1:19 which describes a mighty wind sweeping in from the desert and causing a house to collapse killing Job’s seven sons and three daughters? Given what we know from the previous verses in Job, this was an act of Satan. What are the chances the state senate would change the wording to “Acts of Satan?” 

Some believers may think this theology is lacking. Truth be told, the Bible does portray God as the one who conceded certain powers to Satan in the first place (Job 1:12), just as He does to humans.

I don’t have a problem believing that God is the Prime Mover. It makes perfect sense to me that in a universe made up of good men and bad men, good angels and bad ones, tragedies happen and when they do God always uses them for good. But does that mean God initiates the tragedies? Personally, I don’t think so.

Posted on May 25, 2012 and filed under Blog, First 30.

Hunting Microbes for the Glory of God

By Brian Lowther

H1N1 Influenza Virus Particles -  Flickr / NIAID

H1N1 Influenza Virus Particles - Flickr/NIAID

One thing I wanted to highlight but didn’t have enough room for in my last entry was a list of questions Ralph Winter posed at the end of his editorial. You’ll recall that his editorial suggested the basic idea of destructive intelligent design and proved to be rather controversial.

Here are his questions:

  • Are Evangelicals today too “spiritual” to fight this kind of evil [harmful microbes] at this level? Who knows? Probably quite a few individuals here and there are actually involved. But I don’t read about them.
  • Are pastors recruiting young people for this kind of a mission?
  • Does the National Association of Evangelicals include a division that helps coordinate Evangelical efforts in this sphere?
  • Do our Christian colleges and seminaries fight malevolent microbes?
  • Is there room for a Christian organization that will galvanize efforts to fight evil at tiny levels?
  • Please tell me if there is anyone reading this who knows of an association of microbe hunters or cell-level researchers who, under God, are at those levels straining to beat back the ingenious evil of the Evil One. I will gladly highlight such activity in these pages and try to reinforce those efforts. In fact, to highlight the crucial need for that kind of mission may be one reason my wife, specifically, has a very resistant form of cancer.

Compare these questions to a statement he made just two years later, two years of diligent, tireless searching:

There is absolutely no evidence I know of in all the world of any theologically driven interest in combating disease at its origins. I have not found any work of theology, any chapter, any paragraph, nor to my knowledge any sermon urging us—whether in the pew or in professional missions—to go to battle against the many disease pathogens we now know to be eradicable. Jimmy Carter, our former president, is the only Christian leader I know of who has set out (in his phrase) “to wipe Guinea worm from the face of the earth.” Note that his insight did not come from a seminary experience but, perhaps, from being a Sunday school teacher.

Even until his death in 2009 Winter kept searching for this evidence. Though he found a handful of very admirable non-Christian examples such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he did not find even one substantial endeavor that was initiated for the glory of God. This is the niche the RWI hopes believers will populate and the motivation behind our mission.

Do you know of any significant work being done in the area of disease eradication for the glory of God? Please contact us.

Posted on May 11, 2012 and filed under First 30.

Destructive Intelligent Design

By Brian Lowther

Below I share with you a very controversial portion of an editorial column Ralph D. Winter wrote for Mission Frontiers magazine in July 1997. In addition to being controversial, this may have been the very first time he publicly elucidated his growing concern about disease and who deserved the blame for it.

He started by recognizing the validity of intelligent design, citing Michael Behe’s courage in writing Darwin’s Black Box, which was published only a year earlier.  


Destructive Intelligent Design

By Ralph D.Winter

July 1, 1997

Okay, there’s now no problem in recognizing “intelligent design,” What about the evidence of “destructive” intelligent design? That is, both “intelligent love” and “intelligent hate”? And what should we do about it? Does this have anything to do with missions?

Thanks to Michael Behe and his marvelous book, Darwin’s Black Box (he took his career in his hands to write it), believers now can dare to say that our immune cells are intelligently designed for good. Okay. Isn’t it equally possible, then, that we can observe that, say, the tuberculosis bacillus is intelligently EVIL?

The August 22 Los Angeles Times reported that researchers...finally discovered how the tuberculosis bacterium and its cousin leprosy invade cells...The bacteria hijack one component of the immune system and use it like a Trojan horse to sneak into immune cells...which they then destroy.

Hmm. Intelligent! Hmm. How dangerous is TB? The article mentions that tuberculosis infects an estimated one-third of the world’s population. Who would design something like that? Not God!

Funny, isn’t it, how reluctant “politically correct” thinking is to recognize inherent evil in nature. An example: Science (August 1, p. 635ff.) tells of modern explorations of earlier man, and how difficult it has been for scientists to accept the fact that cannibalism has been found in virtually all cases—and not just in the case of ancient man. This story includes the Aztecs and the recent ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians. A 1970 paper was greeted with “total disbelief ” at a time when supposedly earlier “Indians... were all peaceful and happy.” But now “30 years and 15,000 skeletons later,” the evidence is overwhelming. Why is EVIL so pervasive?

Take smallpox: one of the most horrible diseases in the history of life on earth. For the millions and millions who died agonizing deaths it was too late to penetrate its mysteries. But a tiny handful of far-seeing souls did seek a way to work intelligently against the incredible EVIL of this (intelligent) scourge.

As we suggested in an earlier issue: consider the theology of Jonathan Edwards, that godly, brilliant genius of a man, that earnest colonial revivalist, that valiant Calvinist. He did not blame all this agony on God’s will somehow, and then simply go around preaching repentance. Edwards died young, trying out on himself an experimental vaccine against the evil of smallpox.

Are Evangelicals today too “spiritual” to fight this kind of evil at this level? Who knows? Probably quite a few individuals here and there are actually involved. But I don’t read about them. Are pastors recruiting young people for this kind of a mission? Does the National Association of Evangelicals include a division that helps coordinate Evangelical efforts in this sphere?

What ARE Evangelicals busy doing? We believe, well— here is our principal article of faith—that all we need to do is to call individuals to “a personal decision for Christ.” And, God will do the rest?

Do our Christian colleges and seminaries fight malevolent microbes? Is there room for a Christian organization that will galvanize efforts to fight evil at tiny levels? Note that a former missionary to Africa co-directed the team discovering the gene that produces cystic fibrosis!

Please tell me if there is anyone reading this who knows of an association of microbe hunters or cell-level researchers who, under God, are at those levels straining to beat back the ingenious evil of the Evil One. I will gladly highlight such activity in these pages and try to reinforce those efforts. In fact, to highlight the crucial need for that kind of mission may be one reason my wife, specifically, has a very resistant form of cancer.


This material immediately aroused the concern of many readers. One prominent pastor, a close and longtime friend of Winter, wrote him in a state of shock, wondering how Winter could lean towards such a simplistic and profoundly unbiblical solution to the problem of evil.

This same pastor sent Winter a list of scripture passages that opposed Winter’s conjectures. In questioning Winter’s inference that God did not design destructive microbes he offered Mt 10:29, “Not one bird falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father.”

He countered Winter’s conclusion that God could not be the one behind a third of the world having tuberculosis with Rev 9:15, which describes four angels who are kept ready for a specific moment when they will kill a third of mankind.

His most compelling opposition to Winter’s line of thinking was built on Rom. 8:20, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope...” He explained that our world with all of its suffering and natural disasters has been subjected to futility not of its own will, not of Satan’s will, but on account of the one who subjected it IN HOPE. “This,” he explains, “can only be God.”

He finished his letter with warm regard for Ralph and Roberta, but appealed to God’s complexity in commanding Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the people go while simultaneously hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

I recently found a short reply written by Winter. Rather than respond to his friend’s theological concerns, he thanked his friend for the thoughtful letter and said, “I think what I am saying does not really disagree with the force of your emphasis.” Winter agreed that God is ultimately in control and the only true God. But added, “the demons in the New Testament throwing children into the fire (Mk 9:22) are not puppets where God holds the strings. Satan does. Isn’t that right?”

He ended his response by saying that he would write a decent respectful letter but would wait until his pastor friend could read his next editorial which carried the same argument further.

Posted on May 10, 2012 and filed under First 30.

Six Basic Activities in our War Against Satan

By Brian Lowther

Ralph Winter once wrote about three kinds of essential effort in a real war:

Defensive:

1. Treat the wounded
2. Avoid bullets, bombs

Offensive:

3. Defeat the enemy

He used this analogy to explain the difference between healing (treat the wounded), prevention (dodging bullets) and eradication (defeating the enemy). “All of these are important,” he explained, “but the third is the most urgent and crucial. You can fumble the ball in treating the wounded and dodging bullets, but you can’t win the war without the offensive.”

Not long ago I realized that these three activities are the essential efforts in winning a battle, not a war. In a war, the list of necessary efforts expands to at least six.

Six Basic Activities in War

1. Recruiting—can’t fight a war without troops
2. Training

  • How to survive in battle (dodge bombs and bullets)
  • How to maintain order and morale in the midst of battle
  • How to do battle (shoot and bomb the enemy)

3. Medical Corps—every military must have trained medics attending to the needs of soldiers

4. Reconnaissance—the military leaders need to know the enemy’s composition and capabilities before any battle

5. Strategy—how, when and where to deploy the troops

6. Battle

While Winter’s initial list provides a helpful analogy to describe our battle against disease, I think this list provides a pattern to follow in our war against evil. I’ll flesh out the rough equivalents:

1. Recruiting—Evangelism

  • Not simply reconciling estranged human beings to God, but recruiting them into a war against the powers of evil and darkness; a war in which they can expect suffering, hardship and death

2. Training—Discipleship

  • How to dodge Satan’s flaming arrows (temptation, sickness, fear, etc)
  • How to maintain devotion to God and morale in the body of Christ in the midst of battle
  • How to fight the enemy, i.e., rather than teaching believers to passively resign themselves to the enemy’s attacks, this perspective would instill a posture of offensive resistance within every follower of Jesus

3. Medical Corps—care for the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of each member of the body, i.e., medical practitioners, pastoral counselors, healing ministries, member care, and the like

4. Reconnaissance—to quote Winter again, “We need to recognize and ponder more seriously the kind and degree of harm Satan is able to cause. We need to unmask the works of Satan.” This could be the result of the combined and cross-disciplinary efforts of theologians, missiologists, and scientific researchers

5. Strategy—how, when and where to plant new churches, new relief and development projects, or new public health initiatives

6. Battle—destroy the works of the devil 1Jn 3:8, i.e., address and attack the roots of the biggest human problems in the world: spiritual darkness, poverty, disease, illiteracy and political corruption.

The Kingdom is at war and is not merely recruiting in peacetime. In this perspective the distinction between evangelism and social action is highly artificial. But both evangelism and social concerns are misconceived if they are seen as a humanistic campaign for the betterment of the human race. They are essential features of a Kingdom at war where the very glory of God is at stake.
~Ralph D. Winter
Posted on May 4, 2012 and filed under First 30.

Needed: A Network of Christian Disease Eradication Workers

By Brian Lowther

A recent lecture at the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA.

A recent lecture at the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA.

I’ve given a handful of lectures over the past two years. Most have been fine. Some have been great. One in particular was quite difficult on account of some unexpected cynicism from a few members of the audience. I think the thing that aroused their skepticism was when I said something to the effect of, “in all the world there is no coordinated, theologically motivated endeavor to eradicate disease.” 

Three or four people in the audience spoke up with the same concern, “There are already plenty of Christians who do eradication work.”

I agreed with them. And mentioned that there are likely scores of individual believers who are at work in the World Health Organization, the Carter Center or other public health entities. “Their contributions are to be applauded,” I said, “and emulated.” But one of the great developments in Christianity over the past two centuries has been the fruitfulness of the mission agency: a concerted organization of trained people who are theologically compelled to accomplish a specific purpose. There is no equivalent to the mission agency in the world of disease eradication. Establishing such organizations could be essential to the success of eradication efforts currently underway.

This didn't prove very persuasive. Later after my talk, the handful of folks who remained dubious met me in the back of the room to discuss a bit more. “Do you know how much money it takes to eradicate a disease?” One of them said.

I agreed with him and brought up the Rotarians. A little known fact is that Rotarians have been a big part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since it began in 1988. Rotary clubs have contributed huge amounts of money and volunteer hours to immunize children around the world against polio and to raise public awareness about the disease. In that time the number of polio cases worldwide has decreased by more than 99%. In spite of this remarkable progress, tackling the last 1% of polio cases has proven to be very difficult. The greatest threat to this program’s success: funding. 

A few years ago Rotary International challenged its clubs to raise $200 million in three years. Amazingly, after only two years, Rotarians had raised 87% of that amount.

If each of these congregations followed the Rotarian pattern, over $2 billion would be generated in three years.

The Rotary Foundation raised this impressive sum by challenging each of their 34,000 clubs to raise $2,000 per year, for three years. For comparison’s sake, there are about the same number of Methodist churches in the United States and three times as many Baptist churches. The Hartford Institute for Religious Research estimates that there are roughly 335,000 religious congregations (Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox) in the United States. If each of these congregations followed the Rotarian pattern, over $2 billion would be generated in three years.

Bringing up these facts only served to emphasize how unlikely it is to get every church in America to donate money to the same cause.

We continued to discuss the topic and eventually someone suggested a reasonable first step that the whole group seemed to like: form an organization whose main goal is to connect all of the believers who already work in eradication. These eradication workers could build each other up and inspire one another to pursue the challenging questions about the roots of disease. This new organization could provide the theological motivation to this group, and help them integrate their work with their faith. 

There is a similar kind of organization that does this sort of thing for doctors and dentists called the Christian Medical and Dental Association. The CMDA mainly coordinates a network of 16,000 Christian doctors and dentists for fellowship and professional growth. But it also conducts overseas medical evangelism projects, sponsors student ministries in medical and dental schools, and many other good things.

What, or more importantly, who would it take to start an organization like this? What would be appropriate goals for membership, i.e., how many believers are out there who currently work in disease eradication? If that number is relatively small, is this idea not feasible? What kind of low-risk action could we take to develop and test this idea? 

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Do you? Feel free to leave any thoughts you have in the comments below.

Posted on May 1, 2012 and filed under First 30.

Bob Blincoe Joins the RWI Board of Reference

By Brian Lowther

One of the Roberta Winter Institute's most strategic goals is to establish a board of reference of respected individuals in the Christian community who knew Ralph Winter and his heart for the unreached peoples of the world as well as those who have an understanding of his last major initiative, that of founding the RWI.

Recently we met with Bob Blincoe, U.S. Director of Frontiers, and I'm very happy to announce that he agreed to join our Board of Reference.

Prior to leading Frontiers, Bob led his family and a Frontiers' team to the Middle East following the Gulf War (1991). Before that, he and his wife taught English in Thailand. Bob earned a PhD in History of International Development from William Carey International University. He also earned Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. Bob is an ordained Presbyterian Minister. He is the author of Ethnic Realities and the Church: Lessons from Kurdistan. He also publishes a blog.

I'm personally quite excited about this development because God has used Bob to influence many people to go to the hard, unreached places.  Besides that, I just like the guy. In the brief interactions I've had with him, he seems wise, kind-hearted and humorous.

Plus it is clear that Bob loved Winter. He gave a heartfelt address at Winter's memorial service in May 2009. In his address Bob admired Winter's prowess as a student of the Bible and a teacher of Christian history. But he was most affected by Winter's problem solving nature. He told a story of attending a lecture once where Winter began by explaining that he had some remarks prepared, but said, "If any of you have a burning question, I would like to hear it. I may not be able to help, but I do like to try and solve problems." Apparently Bob wrote this down on a card that he carries with him.

Rejoice with me over Bob's willingness to lend the credibility of his good name to our cause.

Posted on April 27, 2012 and filed under First 30.