When Ralph Winter was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, someone pointed out that the chapel was 200 years old. “Oh, well,” he replied, “in California when a building is 20 years old we tear it down and build a better one.” His remark went all over the seminary campus as an example of what to expect from Californians with no respect for culture or tradition.
Thirty years later Winter, now a balding, respected expert on missions, still scandalizes with his penchant for irreverence. Practically everyone, pro or con, concedes that he is a genius whose original thinking has stirred up the world of missions. But he draws strong reactions. Some revere him as a visionary, three steps ahead of the church. Others see him as an impractical agitator. One prominent Christian leader observes, “Ideas come out of his mind a mile a minute. Ninety-nine out of 100 will not work. One is a good one. But that place [the U.S. Center for World Mission] is a mess. There’s no sense of order.”
Yet Peter Wagner of the Fuller School of World Mission thinks history will record Winter as one of the half-dozen men who did most to affect world evangelism in this century. And Jack Frizen, executive director of the Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association (IFMA), believes we are seeing a turning point in world missions, the greatest move since the period after World War II: “The Lord is using Ralph to stir up a new generation.”
James Reapsome, editor of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly, cites two major mission revolutions since the sixties, both of which are more closely identified with Ralph Winter than with any other individual. “What might be called the ‘unreached people groups’ strategy,” writes Reapsome, “has shaken the missions community ...1
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