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To describe the worldview of the Roberta Winter Institute (RWI) is to describe not only the lens through which we as an organization view and interpret reality, but also the foundation upon which all of our ideas, projects and partnerships are built.

The most important aspect of our worldview is our perception of God. While scripture portrays many aspects of God’s character, our understanding of his true essence and the clearest picture of his nature are found in Jesus. For Jesus “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3).

With the above in mind, the following is a summary that reflects some of our current beliefs about God and the universe in which we live. While these are the bedrock of our work, we readily admit “our understanding of truth is progressive and we must always remain in pursuit of greater understanding of God, with a willingness to change our minds based on prayerfully considering new evidence and the conviction of the Holy Spirit on the heart.” [1]

Statement of Faith

The staff members of the Roberta Winter Institute are united by a belief in ecumenical Christian orthodoxy, as defined by the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and a commitment to glorifying God and destroying the works of the devil (1John 3:8). Like our parent organization, the Frontier Ventures, we adhere to the statement of faith of Missio Nexus. However, we have a certain nuance that defines our general approach. Ironically, the simplest way to illustrate that nuance is by exploring a very complicated problem.

The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with that of a God of unlimited power, knowledge and love. The co-existence of evil and such a God seems logically impossible. We in the Roberta Winter Institute are interested in explanations to the contrary.

Most Christians are familiar with the explanation that God allows evil to exist for a greater good. One greater good that has been proposed is that of free will, famously explained by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga in his free will defense. [2] In this defense, Plantinga addresses two types of evil: moral evil such as murder, corruption or slavery, and natural evil such as violence in nature, natural disasters or virulent diseases. The first part of this defense explains that moral evil exists because of free human action. The second part argues for the possibility of a supernatural being such as Satan who also has free will and uses it to carry out natural evils. Platinga goes so far as to say that many of the things that appear to be natural evil could in fact­­ be moral evil committed by fallen angels.

Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga

We find Plantiga’s premise to be biblically compelling and logically valid. The question becomes, how can we apply it practically? Or, how does this premise, if true, affect our day-to-day lives as followers of Jesus?

The Warfare Worldview

One of the purposes of the Roberta Winter Institute is further exploration and advocacy of what has become known as the “Warfare Worldview,” coined by pastor and theologian Gregory Boyd in his book God at War. [3] The Warfare Worldview adds to the aforementioned free will defense by Alvin Platinga. In Boyd’s words, it refers to the angels “who refuse to submit to God’s rule as a rebel kingdom (Matt. 12:26; Col. 1:13; Rev. 11:15), and identifies the head of this rebellion as a profoundly sinister, non-human being named Satan. It is clear that God shall someday vanquish this rebel kingdom, but it is equally clear that in the meantime, he genuinely wars against it.” [4]  

If we apply this worldview, it can help us make sense of the constant tragedies we encounter and it can help us fully trust that God is love (1 John 4:8) and in him there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). In this view, casualties and accidents are expected and very likely. In a war, suffering is not an intellectual puzzle to solve, needing books and devotionals to parse out its meaning. As Ralph Winter once wrote:

Once Satan is in the picture––if we believe he is––no amount or kind of harsh or heartless evil should be unexpected. When we reinstate his existence as an evil intelligence loose in God’s creation, only then do a lot of things become clear and reasonable. Suffering, in a perverse way, starts to make sense. [5]  

However, for much of Christian history there has been a sweeping obliviousness to our battlefield situation—one in which we are not deliberately at war, but mostly unaware of it. We have more often fixated on church attendance, good manners and “getting man right with God” to ensure safe passage to heaven. This plays out when we experience the effects of the war—suffering, death, disease—and we attribute them to God. We piously endure these hardships assuming our acceptance brings God greater glory. This resignation, while noble, distracts us from turning bravely and resolutely against Satan, and working to overcome the effects of his depravity. Winter hammered away at this point, “It is not God that is inflicting the casualties, but the enemy. Let’s not be confused about that and inactive in that war!” [6] In other words, God is not just seeking to list us in a Book of Life, but to re-enlist us in this conflict, to participate all-out in an offensive counter attack against the pestilent powers of the fallen angels.

It is not God that is inflicting the casualties, but the enemy. Let’s not be confused about that and inactive in that war!
~Ralph D. Winter

Editor's Note: to see our take on how exactly we are to fight a war against supernatural evil, see the section titled “How Can we Destroy the Works of the Devil,” in the essay entitled, “Our Purpose.”

A word about the term “Warfare Worldview”

In a sense “warfare worldview” is an unfortunate term, as this view has almost nothing to do with our normal associations with warfare. We as an organization worry about people being needlessly put off by this phrase because without context, it has connotations of ruthless and greedy governments indifferent to the suffering and anguish their wars cause, not least the inevitable and endless cycles of vengeance. Others will associate the term spiritually with supernatural horror films like The Exorcist, or with the controversies over Christian groups who have used the concept of spiritual warfare as a justification to persecute others.

In short, the warfare worldview has very little to do with any of these associations and instead refers to Christ overcoming evil with good through self-sacrificial love. God fights and wins this war by non-violently sacrificing himself, loving his enemies and doing good to those who hate him. 

Martin Luther King Jr. at the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota on October 16, 1959

Martin Luther King Jr. at the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota on October 16, 1959

As Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said:

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. [7]

As followers of Jesus, in this war our “weapons” are not nationalism, coercive domination, military force, or religiously fueled discrimination. On the contrary, our “weapons” are love, non-violence, self-sacrifice and a collective goal of bringing shalom to this broken, diseased, war-torn world as a foretaste of God's kingdom coming in its fullness.

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But when and how did this war begin?

Some of Ralph Winter’s most fascinating reflections on the Warfare Worldview are contained in a narrative format he frequently used that he borrowed from John Eldridge’s book Epic. In Epic, Eldredge uses the familiar concept of acts in a play to tell the overall story of our universe and this war. [8] Winter utilized a similar narrative sequence, which I’ll summarize below. Credit is also due to Greg Boyd’s bold essay, “Evolution as Cosmic Warfare,” [9] which strengthens and adds to Winter’s argument in many ways.

This “story” is not so much to be believed as it is presented as a hypothesis, a possible way things may have unfolded that can help us understand our place in the universe. As you’ll see, it is a pragmatic approach, not just ivory tower conjecture.

Act One: The Creation of The Universe

Quoting Eldredge:

‘In the Beginning’ is used twice in the Scriptures. There is the well-known passage from Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (1:1). And an important passage it is, to be sure. But to grasp this Epic, you cannot start there. That is way into the Story. That is Act Three. It is a beginning, but it is the beginning of the human story, the story of life here on earth… And before this? There are events that have preceded this chapter, events that we must know.

If you want to look back into the once upon a time before all time, well, then you have to start with another passage, from the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (1:1-3) [10]

Act Two: The Fall of Satan

What is crucial to understand in this story is that at some point between John 1:1, and Gen. 1:1 a colossal, disastrous tragedy occurred. In Christian circles, we commonly speak of “the fall” when discussing the original sin of Adam and Eve. But, prior to man’s fall, there was the fall of one of God’s angels, Lucifer, who mounted a rebellion against God and attracted a third of the angels to his side.                      

Guido Reni's Archangel Michael Trampling Satan, 1636.

Guido Reni's Archangel Michael Trampling Satan, 1636.

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Rev. 12:7-9) NIV.

A Long Crime Record

Winter’s speculative mind couldn’t help but presume that when Satan appeared in the Garden, he already had a lengthy crime record. His hunch was that Satan’s temptation of Eve wasn’t his first infiltration of the material world. He suggested that during the intermission between the two falls Satan occupied himself then as he does now, stealing, killing and destroying (John 10:10). But what did he steal, who did he kill and how did he destroy?

Helpfully, there is a key Hebrew idiom that whispers an answer. We are by now very familiar with the phrase “formless and void” in Gen. 1:2. However, in her book Chaos is Not God’s Will, Beth Snodderly explains that this English translation is widely understood to be a poor translation of “tohu wabohu,” which more specifically means destroyed and desolate, as a battlefield after a great war. [11] This term reflects a creation not as God originally designed it, but one that has been scorched, scarred, and stripped of life. Or, as Erich Sauer puts it in The King of the Earth, “a world that had through a previous conflict become formless, futile, empty and engulfed by chaos...” [12]

This term [tohu wabohu] reflects a creation not as God originally designed it, but one that has been scorched, scarred, and stripped of life.

Winter said it this way:

Genesis 1:1-2 actually permits this interpretation, namely ‘When God began his work of rehabilitation, when God began to put things back together, to reclaim the heavens and the Earth, he had to deal with a battered, formless and darkened earth...’[13]

Act Three: A New Beginning and the Fall of Man

This battlefield is the warfare context in which humans were created. This is where Genesis may begin its story: the redevelopment and replenishing of things. In this ravaged world, God launched a new initiative, a beachhead. In wartime, a beachhead is very serious business. It's a small piece of ground one force attempts to take as a first step in taking all the ground that their enemy holds.

In this ravaged world, God launched a new initiative, a beachhead.

In the midst of a planet seized by coldness and chaos, darkness and hopeless evil, God launched a beachhead in the form of a garden. And in this garden God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:26). That is, in the image of a relational God of abundant love. Humans were created to live eternally and experience the fullness of love and freedom and fellowship with God as his children. But we were also created to join a war that was already taking place, to partner with God to defend and extend the boundaries of Eden until all of creation reflected his goodness and love. As Greg Boyd points out, this may be why we find warfare language in the commands to Adam to subdue (kabas) the earth (Gen. 1:28), which has connotations of military victory in other passages, and to guard (samar) the garden (Gen. 2:15). [14]

The Fall of Man

This plan, however, was contingent upon our first parents’ obedience. The moment Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, the beachhead was lost, Eden was surrendered and mankind became prisoners of war. Instead of gradually enlarging the boundaries of Eden, Adam and Eve succumbed to the very causes of tohu wabohu they were supposed to subdue and guard against.

Act Four – From Adam’s Fall to Now

The unfolding story of the expansion of human beings into the entire planet turned out to be an account of unmitigated and violent evil. By Noah’s time not only were human beings prisoners of war but they had also joined Satan in active rebellion against God.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5).

In other words, tohu wabohu characterized all of human society. In his seminal essay, “The Kingdom Strikes Back,” [15] Ralph Winter summarized a series of new beginnings throughout human history, new beachheads following chaos or destruction. First was Noah’s family, who formed a new lineage on the earth following the desolation of the flood. Then the Exodus occurred, following the despair of slavery in Egypt. Then a partial remnant returned to Israel after the hopeless exile in Babylon. And finally, 400 years after the last of the inspired prophets spoke, 400 years of Persian then Roman domination of Israel, “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son…" (Gal. 4:4). God established the ultimate beachhead in Galilee-of-the-Gentiles—Nazareth, of all places—through the incarnation, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This new Christ-empowered beachhead quickly expanded from its Jewish roots to the Roman Empire and beyond into East Africa and South Asia. Within a few centuries enduring beachheads began to pop up in the realms of the Armenians, the Celts, the Franks, the Angles, the Saxons, the Germans, and the Vikings. Then, following the Black Plague and the tragic debacle known as the Crusades, the Reformation was another new beginning. From the 1500’s up through the mid 20th century Colonialism planted beachheads—albeit with highly mixed spiritual and commercial motives—out to the very ends of the earth. In seemingly every case, new beginnings were formed out of a great deal of strife, brutality and chaos. God took the evil that Satan intended and turned it into good.

With a wide-angled lens you can see the gradual expansion of the Kingdom of Shalom through the centuries. The gospel has spread throughout the world and new frontiers continue to be won for Christ. Hospitals and universities have been established in every corner of the globe. Slavery has been opposed. Racial and gender equality have begun to rise. Certain parts of the world have become more humane and civilized. But, as we all know, there is more to do. The war is still raging. There are literally thousands of people groups yet to be reached with the gospel. The roots of much disease have yet to be significantly understood or addressed. Poverty, illiteracy and corruption are rampant. As Beth Snodderly explains, “The success of the devil’s pervasive influence is seen by the fact that the whole world is said to be under the influence of the evil one (1John 5:19)…” [16] Thus, God is still battling the state of tohu wabohu by overcoming evil and chaos with love and shalom, and he has called us, empowered us, and commissioned us to join him.

Act Five - Return of Christ and Paradise

The glorious truth of this entire story is that one day, it will end. The enemy of God and all of creation will be vanquished and a new heaven and a new earth will be ushered in.

[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev. 21:4)

These splendid, hopeful words reaffirm the fact that humanity wasn’t created merely as a consequence of Lucifer's sin. We weren’t intended only to fight a war. While the warfare theme permeates the Bible, so do other themes such as of love, joy, rest, relationship and righteousness. After all, what would be our role in the “next” life, when sin and evil are no more, if we are merely infantry for this one? The ultimate plan was and is for us to dwell with God and his holy angels in harmony for an eternal future.

Act Five is the real beginning, “which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” C.S. Lewis

Acts One through Four will serve as only the cover and the title page of the Great Story. Act Five is the real beginning, “which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle


Endnotes


Photo credits: Used in accordance with Creative Commons. Sourced via Flickr.