[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
#14 Ralph Winter. Missiologist. 1925-2009
The missionary task has changed dramatically in the last half century because of the accomplishments of missionaries past, the dramatic closing of nations and regions and the opening of others, and the changing perception of effective methods of recruiting and assigning missionaries and impacting “the field.”
At the center of this world of change was Ralph D. Winter, a 10-year Presbyterian missionary to Guatemala who founded the U.S. Center for World Mission and William Carey International University. He is widely regarded as one of the key factors behind the major shift of perspective in the mission movement — from going to countries and individuals to penetrating “unreached peoples,” or those who have been bypassed by traditional mission strategies. Winter introduced this new approach in what many consider a watershed moment for modern mission—his presentation the 1974 Congress for World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland,an event organized by Billy Graham.
Winter argued that instead of targeting countries, mission agencies needed to target the thousands of people groups worldwide, over half of which have not been reached with the gospel message.
Graham said: “Ralph Winter has not only helped promote evangelism among many mission boards around the world, but by his research, training and publishing he has accelerated world evangelization.”
Golden Gate Seminary professor Ray Tallman, shortly after Winter’s death in 2009, described him as “perhaps the most influential person in missions of the last 50 years.”
Winter was a highly educated leader who received degrees at Caltech (B.S.), Columbia University (M.A.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.Div), and Cornell (Ph.D). He also studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he would later teach.
After the 1974 Lausanne Congress, Winter and his wife Roberta felt there needed to be a place to tackle cultural and linguistic barriers hindering the sharing of the Gospel with all people. In 1976, he left his secure, tenured position at Fuller to focus on calling attention to the unreached peoples, founding the U.S. Center for World Missions.
Ralph Winter was the most influential missiologist in the last half century, with his work and thought creating a shift in Christian missions strategies in a changing modern world.