Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ralph Winter: Apostle of holistic Christianity.

Dr. Greg Parsons, Executive Director of the US Center for World Missions, contributed a fascinating biographical sketch of Ralph Winter to our new book, Faith Seeking Understanding: Essays in Memory of Paul Brand and Ralph D. Winter.  I especially appreciated what Parsons said about Dr. Winter's love of learning, his passionate quest for deeper and holistic understanding of the patterns of life from a Christian perspective, a quality in Dr. Winter that I had the chance to observe, as well.  The following exerpt explains how that quality led to the creation of the Perspectives course, in which I and a few other contributors to Faith Seeking Understanding sometimes teach. 

As a student Winter observed that Christians seemed to avoid the sciences, and scientists avoided issues of faith . . . He had learned at Caltech about the academic achievements of great scientists such as Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, William Thompson (Lord Kelvin), James Clerk Maxwell and Sir Humphrey Davy.  But Caltech did not mention that each of them were also men of faith. He discovered to his surprise that  Newton had spent twenty years studying the life of the apostle Paul. Faraday was an ordained preacher who taught from the Bible every Sunday . . .

Why, he wondered, was this separation so pervasive?  Even when science was taught at Christian colleges, there was no clear connection with the faith of those involved.

Ralph wondered, “What would a regular ‘secular’ history course look like if also studied from ‘God’s’ perspective?” He had surmised that fifteen out of seventeen Evangelical students were in secular schools. He decided to prepare history lessons from a Christian perspective and meet with a handful of willing students at USC each week.  Winter learned a great deal from this experiment, and this led to an ongoing, as yet unfulfilled, vision to meld together faith and “secular” disciplines. Later he wrote:

God has given us two “books.” 1) the Bible which is a Book of Revelation, and 2) nature, which is His Book of Creation. He does not want us to slight either one. Yet the sad situation is that, in general, one major human tradition (the scientific community) is studying the second and despising the first, and another human tradition (the church community) is studying the first and ignoring the second. Yet, both are essential in understanding God and His will . . . The Bible itself affirms the second, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament displays His handiwork (and) there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.’
In many ways, this holistic view of Christian thought was an outworking of  Winter’s own expanding studies.  He attended seven different schools (including Cal Tech, Columbia, Cornell, and Princeton Seminary), and earned degrees in Civil Engineering, Teaching English as a Second Language, Linguistics, Anthropology, Mathematical Statistics, and finally Theology . . .
One of Winter’s best-known legacies, one that expresses the holistic passion by which Winter saw life, is the study course (and book) called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.  Each week a different instructor exposes students to a broad range of experiences, ideas and insights, building off material in that week's reading.  Some students are still in high school, while others are senior citizens, businessmen or women, or people in full-time ministry.  In 2011, almost ten thousand students took the course at over 200 locations.

Winter believed in lifelong learning.  A little box from , sometimes not so little, would show up at his home every other day or so. The box would contain books on science, history, and other subjects.  Over one three month period, when Winter was 83, he acquired sixty new books this way!  The rate was about a book every other day for many years.

Postscript: Faith Seeking Understanding is a unique new book featuring insights from such Christian thinkers as Phillip Yancey, the eminent sociologist Rodney Stark, the great philospher Alvin Plantinga, Oxford historian of science Allan Chapman, anthropologist Miriam Adeney, eminent quantum physicist Don Page, and many other thoughtful people.  It's a lovely book, a great Christmas gift for all kinds of people, including pastors, students, missionaries, and non-Christians who want an intellectually-rewarding yet low-key, noncombatative approach to Christianity.  You can order the book either from William Carey Library, or from us. 

If you order from us, the price is $13, plus $3 shipping.  We are also offering a special deal this Christmas: just add $10 and no extra shipping, for any of my other books, or a total of $58 + $3 shipping, for all six.  This is a great package for students, pastors, or church libraries, maybe a bit much for a single non-Christian. 

Our mailing address is Kuai Mu Press / PO BOX 403 / Fall City, WA 98024

[1] Ralph D. Winter, “Ten Frontiers of Perspective”, a morning seminar, August 20, 1999, revised January 21, 2003, 8. (W1042.14

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