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What does the problem of evil have to do with missions? Part II 

By Bruce Koch
Originally written in the U.S. Center for World Mission Prayer Log on Thursday, June 30, 2005

Editorial Note: Below is a note written by Bruce Koch to Dr. Winter in response to many of the general concepts and questions undergirding the Roberta Winter Institute. Bruce is a long time member of the U.S. Center for World Mission, serving as a Perspectives coordinator, speaker, and as the associate editor of the Perspectives Reader. He has traveled widely as a mission mobilizer. Currently he serves as the International Facilitator for the Perspectives Global Network helping launch Perspectives study programs in strategic settings and languages worldwide.

Dr. Winter,
I took some time during my prayer shift to respond to your entry from this past Sunday. I just thought I should email it to you rather than making you wait until your next [prayer] shift.

Some of the Perspectives students (and others in the frontier mission movement) have asked me questions trying to understand Dr. Winter’s current focus on fighting evil at the microbiological level. This is in part a synopsis of how I answer that question and in part a response to Dr. Winter’s appeal for feedback to his entry on June 26th.

Bruce KochHas the U.S. Center lost its focus on unreached peoples? Almost all questions basically boil down to this. The issue is also often couched in the discussion of what we are mandated by the Bible to do for God’s glory.

It is very helpful to distinguish between the finishable dimension of the mandate and the wider dimensions of the mandate that contribute to that finishing. Ever since its founding, the U.S. Center for World Mission has promoted a missiology of closure, that there would be a following for Christ within every distinct bounded segment of humanity. Co-laboring with Jesus to see the fulfillment of this purpose defines the basic framework of God’s agenda for history and should be our highest priority, personally and corporately.

Now the question is this, is Dr. Winter’s current emphasis helping to bring about “closure” of the every ethne strategic goal or detracting from it? This is the essence of the debate. To be honest there have been times when I have felt the new emphasis was a distraction and a loss of focus. But that response is more or less a reaction to a new unorthodox opportunity to grow in our understanding as a community right along with Dr. Winter and I appreciate his persistence because these are weighty questions that are getting at the root of our mission as the people of God.

If we are to see a movement of Christ followers within every people, we have to address the basic question of “what keeps them from accepting and following God?” The struggle for the revelation of the glory of God to the nations involves a lot of things. We want people to know his power, his creativity, his wisdom, his compassion, his mercy, his justice, etc. But for many, no matter how much we extol the excellences of our God, the question remains, “If God is sovereign and loving, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” Bottom line – people will not give their allegiance to God unless they are convinced he is good. He is not evil, he is not the source of evil and suffering, he does not condone evil, he does not cause people to suffer unjustly. (Of course people suffer when being disciplined or judged by God, but that is his measured and just response to our choices, not a malicious choice to see us suffer because it somehow pleases him.)

My father-in-law was a biology professor his whole career. We had many discussions about the validity of evolution versus creation. Finally after many years he told me, “I don’t believe that science rules out the existence of God. The Bible and science are not incompatible. My problem is a problem with the prevalence of evil in the world.” In other words, if God is good how can there be so much evil in the world?

Malcolm HunterWhile most of the world is not as concerned with linear philosophical arguments as we are in the West, every worldview addresses the problem of good and evil. Malcolm Hunter spun story after story for the Perspectives students yesterday to convince them that the key to reaching nomads is teaching and demonstrating that God is able and willing to free them from the tyranny of fear and abuse that Satan has inflicted upon them in every dimension of their lives.

So my answer is simply this: If we are serious about closure (finishing is not finishing the task within every people, but getting something started within every people) then we have to tackle the fundamental question of evil. I am convinced that Dr. Winter’s musing are contributing a great deal more than any of us realize to the completion of the Great Commission discipling mandate and the wider mandate to engage in the battle against Satan and his minions in order to reveal God's glory to all peoples.

You may or may not be tired of hearing about this issue in our gatherings, but realize this, that unless a few people make a BIG fuss about these things, forcing others to wrestle with them, the rest of the body will go on operating in ignorance. Dr. Winter has always been a prophetic voice and I am convinced that the Lord wants the world (not just the Church) to hear what he has to say.

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