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As described in Our Story, Ralph D. Winter founded the Roberta Winter Institute (RWI) in honor of his wife Roberta, following her death in 2001. Yet not long after establishing the RWI, ironically and tragically Winter was diagnosed with the same type of cancer that took Roberta’s life: multiple myeloma. During the eight years between Roberta’s death in 2001 and his own in 2009—and thanks in large part to his second wife, Barbara—Winter laid the groundwork for all that he hoped the Roberta Winter Institute would accomplish. He worked tirelessly over those years by speaking, writing, researching, and recruiting at every opportunity, even as his health continually declined. What he left behind was a collection of some of the most interesting and far-sighted ideas of his career.

The Explosive Idea

If you dig into the background of Winter's most substantial projects—such as the U.S. Center for World Mission, the Perspectives Study Program or William Carey International University—you will realize that each one was built on an explosive idea. Yet in the early days of the Roberta Winter Institute, he couldn’t say what that explosive idea was, but he knew it was there. Then one day, he arrived at it—in 1 John 3:8. “Destroying the works of the Devil.” Rather than being a proof text, it was a hermeneutic key. It revealed something to Winter about God’s nature—who he was and what he was doing. He took this discovery and traced it through scripture and arrived at a fuller story than he could by tracing the Great Commission alone. What he found, was a kingdom mission [1] mandate from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 which recognizes confronting evil as an integral theme in the Biblical story. 

What are the Works of the Devil?

If destroying the works of the devil is such an essential motif, the next logical question is, what are the works of the devil? Many people would naturally assume that there is just one work of the devil: tempting human beings to sin. Though one of Satan’s chief activities is indeed temptation, a brief study of scripture reveals a picture of just how far Satan’s claws extend.

 
 

How Can we Destroy the Works of the Devil?

Following our last question, the next concern becomes, how can we destroy the works of the devil? We can approach an answer via the “Warfare Worldview.”

The Warfare Worldview posits that our entire cosmos is engulfed in an all-out war between God and the powers of darkness. In this cosmic conflict, God desires for human beings to work with him throughout history for his purposes of overcoming evil. Our “weapons” in this war—and this can’t be emphasized enough—are not artillery and nationalism, but non-violence and self-sacrificial love. With this premise as our backdrop, we can explore how humanity can contribute to the war effort.

The majority of believers will mainly think of two types of effort against evil: evangelism and discipleship. But, these efforts—crucial as they are—will not end the war. You can’t win a war simply by recruiting and training soldiers.

In a real war, there are at least seven kinds of essential effort:

  1. Recruiting—you can’t fight a war without troops.
  2. Training—soldiers must know how to shoot, think and communicate under fire. This includes endlessly rehearsed routines for building bases, loading weapons, falling asleep in a warzone, maintaining focus amid the chaos of battle, and making decisions while exhausted and overwhelmed.
  3. Military Supply Chain—soldiers can’t fight without field rations, weapons, ammunition, combat uniforms, etc.
  4. Medical Corps—every military must have trained medics attending to the wounds and diseases of soldiers, not to mention the civilians in the midst of war zone.
  5. Intelligence—the military leaders need to know the enemy’s composition and capabilities before any battle.
  6. Strategy—the how, when and where of troop deployment and a plan of action to ensure victory.
  7. Battle—execution of strategies and plans.

This list provides a potential pattern to follow in the war against evil. Here are some rough equivalents:

  1. Recruiting—Evangelism. Not simply reconciling estranged human beings to God and giving them a ticket into heaven, but recruiting them into an active war in which their participation is critical.
  2. Training—Discipleship. Acquiring knowledge, skills and competencies to repel Satan’s flaming arrows—e.g., temptation, sickness, fear—obey the voice of the “general,” maintain morale, and oppose the enemy.
  3. Medical Corps—Caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of each member of the body, i.e., medical practitioners, pastoral counselors, healing ministries, spiritual directors, member care, etc.
  4. Military Supply Chain—domestic ministry workers and cross-cultural workers alike need theological encouragement, practical support and prayer.
  5. Intelligence —to quote Winter, “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.”
  6. Strategy—Devising plans on how, when and where to carry out our “great campaign of sabotage” as C.S. Lewis called it, against the prince of this world with the end goal of God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.
  7. Battle—Focusing our resources and collective will to carry out these plans: tackling the roots of the great world problems of our day by strategically (i.e., in a culturally sensitive manner) planting new churches, new relief and development projects, new educational ventures, new anti-corruption programs, and new medical research and public health initiatives aimed at eradicating or neutralizing the diseases that affect humanity.

As you look at this list you will rightly see that the body of Christ is already substantially active in items one through four. Where Winter felt believers could make new inroads was in items five through seven.

Reverse Engineering

Direct your attention for a moment, if you will at Number 5— Intelligence. On the surface, recognizing and pondering the kind and degree of harm Satan is able to cause may sound like an impossible task. While there are several passages that credit Satan for suffering, such as Job 2:7, Luke 13:16, and Acts 10:38 which attribute to him sickness and infirmities, how does he do that exactly? Did he somehow devise virulent germs by perverting the very structure of life at the DNA level? Is it preposterous to wonder if Satan is able to tamper with the DNA molecule at least as skillfully as our contemporary scientists? We can theorize, but how can we ever be certain?

Perhaps certainty is unneeded. Perhaps the only necessity is to postulate that an intelligent evil will, opposed to God, is behind the suffering in our world. If this intellectual leap is made, reverse engineering becomes an option. In military espionage, reverse engineering refers to capturing an enemy’s prototype, and dismantling it, often resulting in development of better countermeasures.

Or, to use another analogy, perhaps we can approach a given problem like a detective solving a murder mystery. To quote Harold Fickett in The Ralph D. Winter Story:

"What if a scientist asked himself: I wonder if pathogens are the result of intelligent, evil design? How would I, if I were a demonic agent, take an otherwise benign life form and engineer it to cause destruction? Perhaps cancer is not a fluke of nature but an elaborate and highly complex crime to be solved?"
~Harold Fickett

What kind of reverse engineering could be achieved regarding our most rampant world problems if we presumed that Satan damages and distorts creation from the microbiological level on up to the systemic causation of natural disasters?

Our Purpose

While destroying the works of the devil will naturally include the urgent necessity of involvement on the physical level of combatting major human problems like apathy, corruption, racism, exploitation and violence, the particular niche we feel called, empowered and commissioned by God to fill is in the area of disease, specifically the eradication or neutralization of disease pathogens. For this reason, we aim to champion the cause of disease eradication for the glory of God. Our mission is to ignite a theological shift in the body of Christ about disease and its eradication. With this goal in view, we will drive new thinking, sponsor events, and foster new research and initiatives aimed at conquering the roots of disease.

Ultimately, the Roberta Winter Institute envisions a vibrant and sustained movement of believers who are committed to the eradication of specific diseases through careful strategies, generous funding, fervent prayer, and deliberate action, in demonstration of God’s will and for God’s glory.

Toward These Ends

Though its founder passed away in 2009, the work of the Roberta Winter Institute continues with fresh conviction and vision. After Winter's death, a small group of his colleagues formed to keep his dream alive. In May 2010, I was given the unique privilege of leading the Roberta Winter Institute as its director. Since then––and thanks to the excellent help of my executive team—Barb Winter, Beth Snodderly and Daniel Durrance—we have pursued many different avenues, casting around, trying various ideas, seeing what fit and shutting down what didn’t, evaluating, studying and growing slowly. Among our more significant endeavors: 

  • The aforementioned 192-page book, The Ralph D. Winter Story. According to the William Carey Library Publishers, more copies of The Ralph D. Winter Story were sold or distributed in the first six months than any other book, save for their best seller, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.
  • The 2013 Ralph D. Winter Lectureship. The keynote speaker was pastor and theologian Greg Boyd and the theme was the warfare worldview. 164 people attended the event and thousands more have viewed the videos online.
  • A 200-day blog experiment in which I published 46 blog entries. In that time over 1,200 people visited the RWI website and almost 9,000 pages were viewed.
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But the real fruit of these activities has been the marvelous individuals that God has assembled around me to carry the Roberta Winter Institute forward, including a board of reference consisting of respected and prominent individuals in the Christian community who were willing to lend the credibility of their good name to the RWI. Thanks to the support of these individuals we have launched an array of new initiatives, including:

  • A popular-level book building on the work of two theologians and one geneticist that explores evil in nature in view of Satan’s active involvement in our world.
  • postgraduate-level scientific research institute focused on the study of the origins of disease.  

The True Character Of God

The Lord has very graciously provided both the people and a way forward. The future is bright. We in the Roberta Winter Institute see this as a crucial niche to fill, to be one of many catalysts in this mounting offensive counter-attack against the sources of evil. As Winter said:

“While we cannot predict or count on human success in quelling all evil or disease, at minimum there is a need for a clear and public alignment of human effort with God’s purposes to defeat all evil. This kind of alignment will more fully portray to an unbelieving world the true character of God."
~Ralph D. Winter

Endnote

[1]    Kingdom Mission – One way to understand kingdom mission is to distinguish it from “Church Mission.” Church mission is “winning people into the Church wherever in the world, and thus extending the membership of the [global] church.” Kingdom Mission focuses on “the work of the church beyond itself, going beyond Church Mission to see that his will is done on earth outside the Church.” Here’s the point: “Church Mission is basic and essential but must not become merely a goal in itself. It must be seen also as a means of relentlessly pressing for God’s will to be done on earth, thus to declare his glory among all peoples.”

Taken from Ralph Winter’s article “Three Mission Eras and the Loss and Recovery of Kingdom Mission, 1800–2000


Title Photo Credit: Electron microscope image of smallpox virus (Poxvirus). Used in accordance with Creative Commons. Sourced via Flickr.