Ralph D. Winter: Early Life and Core Missiology

by Greg H. Parsons

WCIU Press, 1539 E. Howard St. Pasadena CA, 91104 441 pages, 2012, $19.99.

Reviewed by David Dougherty, mission mobilization and leader development, OMF International.

Dr. Ralph D. Winter was responsible for the most significant change in how mission agencies and churches understand the task of world evangelization since World War II. He initiated and nurtured world-class movements that transformed (1) how pastors are prepared for ministry (Theological Education by Extension), (2) how we understand and evaluate missional organizational structures (modality and sodality), and (3) how we prioritize the task of world evangelization (unreached peoples and frontier missions). Winter’s contribution to missions led to his selection as one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in 2005.

Winter’s long-time colleague, Greg Parsons, has now produced a definitive biography of Winter’s roots and formative experiences, as well as the cultural, theological, and missiological milieu in which he grew, flourished, and contributed. Because of the detail needed to provide a thorough understanding of the early influences on Winter’s life, the book closes with the preparation for and aftermath of his presentation on unreached peoples at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, which many regard as his crowning achievement, though he lived until 2009.

As a long-time associate of Winter, Parsons had unprecedented access to the voluminous papers, files, and correspondence, which he has carefully mined to uncover and trace the relationships and thinking processes behind the strategic breakthroughs that revolutionized the way we understand and practice missions. For those who have been curious about how a world-class innovator’s mind works, Parsons details the development of each of Winter’s three ground-breaking contributions to missiology.

He clearly demonstrates that Winter’s genius lay not only in his ability to produce paradigm-shifting insights, but in how he focused on the promotion of those insights and did the grinding work of building global coalitions that would spread, and ultimately implement, each of them.

For each of the three major areas, Parsons highlights both the innovators and early adopters who supported Winter, as well as the critics and would-be detractors whose questions and opposition pushed him to further refinement and clarification. Although his own background and work was thoroughly evangelical, Winter eagerly sought to interact with, benefit from, and influence those in conciliar circles. His own missionary identity with the Presbyterian Foreign Mission Board contributed to his credibility outside evangelical circles.

Parsons also shows how Winter’s fertile mind has been responsible for contributions and innovations across a wide range of subjects from mission agency bookkeeping and accounting to publishing. Countless thousands of readers of mission literature have benefited from his founding of the William Carey Library publishing house, which has used micro-publishing and cutting-edge technology to make mission-related books available quickly to targeted audiences.

Winter uniquely combined a scholar’s quest for knowledge, an inventor’s passion to solve problems, an engineer’s understanding of structures, and a disciple’s obedience to disciple panta ta ethne (all the nations). Greg Parsons has given us unparalleled access to the process God used to bless all the peoples through the life of this dedicated servant.



EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 377-378. Copyright  © 2013 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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