God’s Plan for the Fullness of Time: Overhauling Ralph Winter’s “Ten Epochs” and “Three Eras” Models (Part I)
AbstractOver the past half-century, Dr. Ralph Winter (1924-2009) shaped the framework, goals, and strategies of evangelical missions more than any other single missiologist. Winter’s monumental presentation at the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, entitled “The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism,” steered the focus of evangelical missions away from converting individuals and their countries to reaching people groups. Winter argued persuasively that distances missionaries needed to traverse were cultural more than geographical. The concept of two ongoing structures he termed sodalities and modalities, along with his identification of modern missions’ “closure” trait, are only two of many other seminal insights that reinforced Winter’s expansive influence. / Related were Winter’s two historical models that have influenced evangelical missiology. His “Three Eras of the Modern Missions Movement” has especially shaped Evangelicals’ historical sensibilities; Winter’s broader “Ten Epochs of Redemptive History” links with and supports the “Three Eras” model. Both of these models substantiate Evangelicals’ expectation that today is both the final missions era and the age of Jesus’s return. As such, Winter’s “Three Eras” has provided evangelical missiologists and missions mobilizers a useful historical framework for inspiring fellow Christians to become involved in today’s missions movement. / These “Eras” and “Epochs” models have undoubtedly galvanized evangelical missions with easily understandable historical metanarratives necessary to sustain any movement. They convey a passion and spirit to be cultivated and treasured. Even so, the models seemingly de-emphasize important biblical-theological themes. Moreover, due to contextual changes the models appear to have inadequate capacity for current historical sensibilities as well as the kind of theocentric and worldwide-collaborative character required for future mission movements. / Divided into three parts, this study conducts an overhaul of the two models to see what repairs and enhancements might be needed. Part I introduces the models, including their general context and basic components. Important influences on the models’ formations are noted in Part II, leading into an analysis of the models’ contextual moorings, traits, and limitations for wider use. Part III then considers viable courses of action, including commending features of more adequate historical models for Evangelicals to consider for moving forward. Recognition of the inherent limitations of all human constructs for explaining God’s “plan for the fullness of time” (Ephesians 1:10) concludes the study.