Posts filed under Blog

Can the world count on a theologically motivated endeavor to eradicate any disease?

By Brian Lowther

Editor's Note: Today we share with you another provocative essay, this time by our director, Brian Lowther. This essay is Brian's attempt to tell the story of how Ralph Winter came to see disease eradication as such a crucial new task for the body of Christ. Brian summarizes some of the current eradication efforts, along with suggesting ways the Body of Christ can play a strategic role. Then, he explores why Christians have never considered a coordinated disease eradication effort within the range of our responsibility. This essay is optimistic and idealistic in tone, but also provides a big picture view of the difficulties of disease eradication and how and why the body of Christ is so well positioned to help. Enjoy

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Posted on November 17, 2016 and filed under Blog, Fourth 30.

Links for Today (November 7, 2016)

By Beth Snodderly

Breaking the fever: The End Is in Sight for One of Humanity’s Deadliest Plagues

The Economist reported in October 10, 2015: “Since 2000, malaria deaths around the world have fallen by nearly half. The steepest drop has come in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90% of fatalities occur. Malaria still kills around 450,000 people each year—most of them children in Africa. But the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that better control prevented the deaths of 3.9m African children between 2001 and 2013. … Previous efforts to rid the world of malaria failed because the political will and funds dried up before the disease was conquered. This time it is vital that efforts to stamp out malaria do not become victims of their own success.”

Church Involvement in Fighting World Problems

Ralph D. Winter wrote in 2008: “We have greater opportunities and greater obligations than ever in history. Yet the chasm between our unemployed resources and an effective challenge to big world problems is very great. It is apparent that organized believers are largely missing in the conduct of the Kingdom of God, in bringing His will into the dark and suffering places in our world. … Getting people reconciled to God AND to His Kingdom business must go together. Otherwise our absence at the front lines of major global problems means we are misrepresenting God’s will and misusing the wisdom and resources He has given us to act out and speak out His love and glorify His Name among all peoples.”

A Positive Exception to Ralph Winter’s Concern about the Absence of the Church in World Problems

In 2008 billionaire Ted Turner announced he was partnering with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the United Methodist Church to raise funds to stop deaths from global malaria.

In January, 2016, the ELCA announced it had reached its $15 million goal of funds raised to combat malaria through its relief and development arm. “Thank you for naming suffering as contrary to God’s will and working to correct injustice,” an ECLA blog stated in announcing the successful conclusion of the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

Posted on November 7, 2016 and filed under Links, Blog.

Involved or Evolved?

By Ralph D. Winter

Editor's Note: In this very provocative essay originally published in May of 2004, Ralph D. Winter explains why he disliked the term "evolution," but grants that with a certain nuance, it can be helpful. He then proposes that Satanic destruction of God’s good creation is so pervasive that it may extend to what are often called “genetic defects.” Then he recounts a troubling anecdote of a pastor friend of his who instructed him to thank God for the cancer that killed Roberta and the same cancer that was killing him. He also includes an analogy about why eating right and exercising is good but not enough, and a disgusting story about rats. This essay is chock full of some of his most interesting ideas about prehistory and the Creation story in Genesis, including the question, "What would Jesus have said to his hearers if they had known what we know about germs?" We think it represents Dr. Winter at his best. Enjoy

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Posted on November 2, 2016 and filed under Blog, Fourth 30.

Links for Today (September 28, 2016)

By Beth Snodderly

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $3 billion effort aims to rid world of major diseases by end of century

The founder of Facebook and his wife, among the 10 wealthiest couples in the world, announced they are funding an effort to get scientists to collaborate on eliminating major diseases. They are emphasizing the power of collaboration and openness.This is the type of initiative Ralph Winter wanted to see believers get behind to demonstrate that disease is not God's will. Maybe some will!

Jesus’ Demonstrations of God’s Will

“Jesus demonstrated the nature of the life of God, the shalom spoken of by the Old Testament prophets, by overcoming evil with good in his acts of ministry. The appearing of the Son of God resulted in characteristics that are the opposite of those associated with the darkness and hatred of the devil. The ultimate purpose of Jesus’ appearing was to glorify God by bringing life to the children of God, replacing death that is a work of the devil in the present age. The author of the Gospel of John selected six ‘signs’ that represent the ways in which Jesus demonstrated God’s will for the world.”

Alcohol Addiction and Deaths

EXCERPT from a 2014 WHO report: “The net effect of harmful use of alcohol is approximately 3.3 million deaths each year*. … Harmful use of alcohol accounts for 5.9% of all deaths worldwide. … Harmful use of alcohol can also have serious social and economic consequences for individuals other than the drinker and for society at large. Despite the large health, social, and economic burden associated with harmful use of alcohol, it has remained a relatively low priority in public policy, including in public health policy.”

            * In comparison, malaria deaths are under .5 million/year.

Beth Snodderly is the RWI's Theologian in Residence and Chair of the Board.

Posted on September 28, 2016 and filed under Blog, Links.

How to Live a Positive, Helpful, Fulfilling Life

By Brian Lowther

I’ve been reflecting lately on the different perspectives I’ve held throughout my adult life about the world and my place in it. Like everyone I’ve been seeking a happy life. Seeking such a thing naturally involves developing a strategy on how to attain it.

Chasing Wealth

In my early twenties I thought wealth was the answer. My philosophy was: They say that money doesn’t buy happiness, but I’d like to find out for myself.

It’s almost too obvious to point out why this perspective wasn’t the best approach. After all, our culture is saturated with stories about the pitfalls of greed. The only thing worth mentioning is that I discovered how misguided I was one fine fall day as I sat under an elm tree reading The Master, a novel-like retelling of the life of Jesus by John C. Pollack. As the elm leaves fluttered around me, I read Pollack’s treatment of the famous Matthew 6 passage, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...” This passage was so compelling that I immediately starting looking for ways to “store up treasures in heaven.”  

An Eternal Element

By my mid-twenties this experience had evolved into a full-fledged distaste for the indulgent pretense of consumerism and a cynical disillusionment with the American dream. There are certain advantages to this perspective, namely you don’t feel the constant need to keep up with the Joneses. You have a graceful excuse to avoid what many people call life: “work[ing] long, hard hours at jobs they hate, to earn money to buy things they don't need, to impress people they don't like.” — Nigel Marsh

My wife and I prayed non-stop during this time for a grand idea, something we could devote our full-time energy to that would utilize our skills and serve the kingdom of God. I had firmly resolved to work in ministry because I couldn’t bear to use the best days and years of my life succeeding at something that didn’t matter. Whatever we did needed to contain an eternal element.

Eventually we found ourselves serving at the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, CA (now known as Frontier Ventures - the RWI's parent ministry). It was a good match. We believed in the U.S. Center’s vision—still do—and they needed people with our skills to work behind the scenes. We certainly weren’t going to get rich working in missions, but living up to our highest ideals was far better.

My new philosophy became: Be content with what you have. Bloom where you’re planted. Find a need and fill it.

Chase Significance

However, there were side effects. I didn’t notice them for the first few years; but gradually they became unbearable. Working behind the scenes far away from the frontlines made it difficult to escape nagging feelings of meaninglessness. I was often able to counteract this restless angst by reminding myself that for every soldier on the frontlines, seven people are necessary back home to pack rations, build ships, heal wounds, etc. But a relentless malaise and a pestering desire to fill a more prominent role lurked just below the surface. Not that I wanted to leave the U.S. Center, I just knew I needed to do something more, or more difficult, something that echoed a little louder in eternity.

I realized this for certain in my early 30’s while standing amidst rows and rows of tombstones after a memorial service. (Why do our most profound epiphanies always occur at funerals? I guess it’s obvious.) Some tombstones are ornate or impressive in size, but most are quite modest. No matter the size or the grandiosity, each passed life always seems so utterly insignificant, lost in the endless rows of tombstones. All of a person’s hopes, fears, relationships, talents, accomplishments, idiosyncrasies and pet peeves are summed up with just a few words on a humble slab of stone in a vast and lonely cemetery.

While I no longer had any interest in amassing a large fortune, becoming a famous celebrity, or inventing the next Facebook, I very much wanted to— excuse the clichés—make a difference, change the world, leave my mark. I was willing to sacrificially serve others, but I wanted to see and feel how my deeds positively influenced their lives.

I was haunted by the Horace Mann quote, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” My philosophy became, don’t chase wealth, success or status. Chase significance.

Being a Nobody

Around this time is when I began to seriously grapple with what we in the Roberta Winter Institute call the “Warfare Worldview.” I can sum up this concept with this statement: God is at work reestablishing shalom in a corrupted creation and defeating the enemy who is responsible for that corruption, and he has called us, commissioned us, and empowered us to participate with him in this process. This concept helped me understand history and the problem of evil with bright, new clarity, and fortuitously it gave me a tremendous new awareness about my place in the world.

Unfortunately, I got these very important ideas mixed up with my ego. I felt like I had Biblical permission to pursue my delusions of grandeur and egotistical idealism. Not only was I going to change the world, but I was going to help God defeat evil. While this new way of looking at the world gave me a deeper sense of how to make my mark, one day I wondered, what if after ten, or twenty, or thirty years of sacrifice and hard work I realize that I haven’t made a difference, that I haven’t changed the world? Then what?

That’s when I came across this J.D. Salinger quote:

“All I know is I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. It’s disgusting! …We’re all so conditioned to accept everybody else’s values. Just because it feels good to be applauded and to have people to rave about you, doesn’t make it right. I’m ashamed of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody...”[1]

That last phrase really troubled me. I couldn't figure out why he would write that it takes courage to be a nobody. It doesn’t take courage to be a nobody, it takes nothing to be a nobody, right?

Then, just recently it dawned on me. It takes courage to be a nobody, because being a nobody—being lost amidst the tombstones, insignificant and forgotten—is extremely terrifying.

I realized that even if I do change the world, what if that’s still not enough? Name the last three people to win either the Nobel Prize or the Pulitzer Prize. These are rare and gifted people, and yet, they are mostly unknown. On the flip side, most of us can name three teachers who helped us realize our potential in school, or three friends who helped us through a rough patch.

So then what's the right perspective?

I’m sorry to say, I don’t exactly know. I’ve been wrestling with these perspectives for the better part of the past two decades, swinging with the pendulum from one extreme to the other, hoping that a new perspective will suddenly present itself and trump all the others with its elegance. But as of this moment, I only have a hunch.

And that hunch is this: the right perspective is to do something difficult and perhaps scary, something that requires our full attention and great sacrifice, some crucial cog in God’s global machinery of reestablishing shalom and defeating his enemy, BUT—and here’s the really hard part—we probably won’t get any credit for it at all, especially if it succeeds. Such is the life of those who are called to take up their cross daily and follow Jesus. 

Which reminds me of something my mentor, Ralph D. Winter used to say, a quote he got from either Ronald Reagan or Harry Truman, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit.”


[1] J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey (Little, Brown, 1961)

Photo Credit: Lev Glick/Flickr

Brian Lowther is the Director of
the Roberta Winter Institute

Links for Today (September 20, 2016)

By Beth Snodderly

Malaria and Genetic Engineering

“New gene-editing technology gives scientists the ability to wipe out the carriers of malaria and the Zika virus. But should they use it?” Ralph Winter used to talk about gene splicing and changing tigers to be non-carnivorous, but I don't think he thought through the implications of genetic engineering the way this article does.

The New Testament and the Warfare Worldview

Greg Boyd talks about the theme of “God striving to establish his sovereign will (his Kingdom) on earth over and against forces that oppose him. … Contrary to any view that suggests disease somehow serves a divine purpose, Jesus never treated such phenomenon as anything other than the work of the enemy.”

Cruelty in the Name of Jesus?

Roger Olson reports on a new book, Is Modern Unbelief Rooted in Christianity? that claims “modern unbelief was brought about not by modern science or irreligious philosophy [‘the Enlightenment’] but by the cruel depictions of God, and resulting cruel treatments of sincere people who simply disagreed with them, by Luther, Calvin, and other magisterial reformers and their followers. And it was brought about, at least in its beginnings, by Christian shaped (or at least Jesus-shaped) consciences reacting against those cruelties.” Read more about the crucial difference it makes to faithfully or unfaithfully represent God’s character to the world.

Beth Snodderly is the RWI's Theologian in Residence and Chair of the Board.

Posted on September 20, 2016 and filed under Links, Blog.