I thought I would add my response to the following blog post submitted at the Roberta Winter Institute, a ministry whose goal is to mobilize Christians to work together to eradicate diseases that fatally kill thousands and likewise debilitates millions of people in each day.
In his book, Frontiers in Mission: Discovering and Surmounting Barriers to the Missio Dei [Mission of God], on page 179 Ralph Winter writes,
Our current theological literature, to my knowledge, does not seriously consider disease pathogens from a theological point of view—that is, are they the work of God or Satan? Much less does this literature ask the question, Does God mandate us to eliminate pathogens? [link to source]
This blog post generated quite a bit of criticism within its comments and I thought I would add my own two-cents. Here is what I wrote.
I found this blog post and comments so intriguing. I am mostly new to this topic, but Dr. Winter’s Warfare Missiology has been a tremendous blessing to my own personal biblical worldview. I agree with Dr. Millikan above above that more students need to be going into the field and research for the eradication of disease. I think this can only occur if we as the Church can search the Scriptures and develop a theology that at least addresses the issue at hand: ‘Who is behind natural disasters/disease?” It is a sad reality when the credibility of God is taken away because the contemporary theology of many lay-peoples and barely-churched individual is bound by theological reflections penned out in the 16th century prior to the scientific understandings of disease pathogens. I personally am made sorrowful when I hear people attribute the death of a loved one to cancer as “God’s timing,” implying God had a role in their unfortunate death.
I also agree with Ms. Snodderly’s and Ms. Lewis’ posts. I really enjoyed Ms. Lewis’ very instructive statements that we can find biblical precedence for Satan behind diseases.
For me personally in my own study of the Scripture I have found great encouragement in observing God’s pursuit of humanity and ministering to them with terms and activities that met them at the level they would primarily understand. I think of the covenant that God made with Abraham in Gen 15, which was a common method covenants were made between peoples. Animal sacrifice was observed as a means for appeasing gods by many of the surrounding Canaanite religions and God redirected this form of worship to Himself, ultimately pointing to the sacrifice that He Himself would make through Jesus.
Jacob Loewen’s book “The Bible In Cross-Cultural Perspective” really got me thinking about beyond this concept. It appears that theological truths were introduced to Israel over time as they interacted with various cultures. Theological concepts such as souls, spirits, sheol, hell, heaven, etc all come from Israel’s various interactions with neighboring cultures. The fullness of the revelation of God we have is of course demonstrated in Jesus. He is our walking understanding of what God looks like. Consistent with the God in the Old Testament even He spoke in terms that were understandable to the people He was ministering among, while at the same time introducing new concepts to them. The Kingdom of God was a concept that had developed within Second-Temple Judaism and came along with it the longing for a Messianic figure. We know how He utilized this. Likewise, even calling it the “Gospel” of the Kingdom was a sort of revolutionary term that Jesus co-opted from the Roman Imperial Cult. To me it seemed to imply that even in proclaiming the Kingdom of God to the Jews using the term “Gospel” seemed to imply that it wasn’t just for the Jews but to the Romans as well, which seemed to be picked up on when the Roman centurion in Mark says “He really is the Son of God” was using the term “Son of God” in a way that would have fit within the eschatological aspirations of the Roman Imperial Cult.
Of course, we all know that following Jesus’ ascension our understandings of Atonement, the Church, Scripture, etc all developed over the centuries as it interacted within various cultures. Then we get to the 16th century and there is yet again a reworking of our theological understandings, most specifically when it came to the attaining of relationship with God, and even more so God’s relationship to humanity. But as Dr. Winter implied at this time, it was impossible for God to communicate to theologians of that day a theology that would have involved the origins of disease through demonic forces.
Beginning with the Scientific Revolution and the discovery of germs and the origins of diseases should give Christians the similar impulse that the 2nd and 3rd century Christians had when terrible plagues were killing off large swaths of their population. To go outside of what was culturally normal (i.e. flee for the hills) and instead run into the danger with water, food and care to see these people brought to life. Ultimately New Creation Life, but life none the less.
A long post to state that I feel Dr. Winter was arguing that the time is ripe for Christians to get outside of the theological boxes that have been given to them in the previous centuries and instead reexamine the revelation of God and His purposes within Scripture and develop a message to the contemporary culture based upon this revelation that will place God back into the position of a Warrior of Love as opposed to a Messenger of Death. This would mean more students studying the Scripture and history to this end, more curriculum development and mobilization of Christians in sunday school class or other forums to instruct in the war-time mandate Scripture incites, and more mobilization efforts directed at Christian medical students and professionals to pursue research for the eradication of diseases and wealthy Christian business people to fund such research. Of course I am not intending to imply that previous theological traditions and secular/church history is invalid. It is helpful as far as it is used as a means to interpret how God was revealing His character through the Church on what Dr. Winter eventually called “Kingdom Mission.” Bringing everything under the rule and reign of the King in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. My post may be sophomoric when compared to the great thinkers who commented above mine, but I thought it would be fun to throw in my thoughts on this post.