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Ralph D. Winter, Missiologist (1924-2009)

31 July 2009

It is sometimes said that the media just don’t don’t “get religion”. I’ve said so myself on occasion. All too often religion reporting in the secular news media is biased, tendentious, inaccurate and uninformative. But today I discovered a refreshing exception — a brief announcement of the death of Ralph D. Winter, the missiologist, in a secular local newspaper thousands of miles from where Winter lived and worked. Religion News: Norwich, CT – Norwich Bulletin:

Ralph D. Winter (Dec. 8, 1924 – May 20, 2009) was a Presbyterian missionary who founded the U.S. Center for World Mission, William Carey International University, and the International Society for Frontier Missiology.As a missiologist, a Christian focused on the world-changing activities of Christian churches and organizations, Winter shifted global mission strategy from a focus on political boundaries to a focus on distinct groups of people, which he called “unreached peoples.”

Winter argued that instead of targeting countries, mission agencies needed to target groups who faced cultural and linguistic barriers and had not heard the gospel.

He also developed the first Theological Education by Extension program, a type of theological distance education program that made it easier for church leaders anywhere in the world to learn and be ordained as ministers.

This is one of the best summaries of Winter’s career that I’ve seen. It is clear and concise, and jargon is explained for the non-specialist reader.

Even the religious press doesn’t manage to do as well as this. All too often religious publications, when publishing obituaries of people like Ralph Winter, assume that everyone knows who they were. They are sometimes critical of what the person stood for, but do not explain what the person did stand for. With over 30000 different Christian denominations in the world, not everyone knows everyone else, especially someone in another denomination and in another country. As it is, I did know who Ralph Winter was. His pioneering work in Theological Education (TEE) was how I first got to know of him, and for me his name is linked with that of Ross Kinsler, another pioneer in that field. But not everyone knows this, and the obituary explains it with exemplary clarity. If you didn’t know before what a missiologist is or does, or what theological education by extension is, you should have some idea by the time you have finished the article, and you should have a clear picture of what Ralph Winter will be remembered for.

So kudos to the Norwich Bulletin.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 August 2009 4:22 pm

    Do you know whether Winter was ever a minister in Cape Town?

    • 3 August 2009 3:17 am

      Not to my knowledge. I think he was in Guatemala or somewhere nearby.

  2. 3 August 2009 10:35 pm

    Perhaps I was thinking of Colin Winter? Another interesting Winter, if you haven’t yet come across the name.

  3. Irulan permalink
    16 December 2011 11:26 am

    yes, Winter and his wife served in Guatemala. I recall her arguing for the use of good electric appliances in order to save time for her ministry – was this a missionary taboo?

    Her write-up may have been in the ISFM rag, one of the most exciting missions magazines I read in the early nineties. Was it called “Mission Frontiers”?

    • 16 December 2011 7:53 pm

      I’m not a fundi on everything Winter did. I know him chiefly through:

      1. His fat book on TEE
      2. Two articles he wrote that were reprinted in another fat book called Perspectives on the world Christian movement:

      a) No sints in the middle
      b) Two redemptive structures

      Oh, and a video of him speaking about the message of the Bible.

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