This is the go-to book for those who want to know what the range of thinking is surrounding insider movements. It is a treasure trove of reflections by over 50 scholars and seasoned practitioners. As with any edited book, no one will agree with every perspective presented. Nonetheless, there are many valuable gems in each section. I highly endorse this book.
For the first time in history, large numbers of people from the world’s major non-Christian religions are following Jesus as Lord. Surprisingly for many Western Christians, they are choosing to do so within the religious communities of their birth and outside of institutional Christianity. How does this work, and how should we respond to these movements?
This long-awaited anthology brings together some of the best writings on the topic of insider movements. Diverse voices explore this phenomenon from the perspectives of Scripture, history, theology, missiology, and the experience and identity of insider believers. Those who are unfamiliar with the subject will find this book a crucial guide to a complex conversation. Students and instructors of mission will find it useful as a reader and reference volume. Field workers and agencies will discover in these chapters welcome starting points for dialogue and clearer communication.
The first book to provide a comprehensive survey of the topic of insider movements, Understanding Insider Movements is an indispensable companion for those who want to glimpse the creative, unexpected, boundary-crossing ways God is at work among the peoples of the world in their diverse religious communities.
- ISBN: 9780878080410
- Pages: 719
- Binding: Paperback
- Published: 2015
- Publisher: William Carey Library
Following Jesus is not a matter of one culture or nomenclature. This enlightening book presents a range of approaches and perspectives concerning indigenous Jesus movements around the world. Ultimately this crucial work encourages us to critically embrace what God is doing beyond our historic boundaries, just as God helped his people to do in Acts.
The Cape Town Commitment has this to say about the phenomenon known as insider movements:
This is a complex phenomenon and there is much disagreement over how to respond to it. Some commend such movements. Others warn of the danger of syncretism. Syncretism, how- ever, is a danger found among Christians everywhere as we express our faith within our own cultures. We should avoid the tendency, when we see God at work in unexpected or unfamiliar ways, either (i) hastily to classify it and promote it as a new mission strategy, or (ii) hastily to condemn it without sensitive contextual listening.
In the spirit of Barnabas who, on arrival in Antioch, “saw the evidence of the grace of God” and “was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord,” we would appeal to all those who are concerned with this issue to: (1) Take as their primary guiding principle the apostolic decision and practice: “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turn- ing to God.” (2) Exercise humility, patience and graciousness in recognizing the diversity of viewpoints, and conduct conversations without stridency and mutual condemnation. (IIC.4)
This amazing and unprecedented anthology reflects that opening statement about complexity, and al- lows us to hear multiple voices, from those who commend and those who warn. It is a treasure chest of biblical and theological reflection and critique, along with diverse lived experience from many cultural and religious backgrounds. We hear facts through objective description and subjective testimony, and both are immensely valuable.
But what encourages me most about this volume is that its editors and contributors embody the spirit of Barnabas referred to in the second paragraph from that Cape Town Commitment section. The book as a whole and in its parts is a magnificent model of the “humility, patience and graciousness” that does its work “without stridency and mutual condemnation.” For that reason, and because it fills a major gap in missiological reflection, it is to be warmly welcomed and commended.
Today hundreds of thousands of Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim people claim that they have been born again through faith in Jesus and follow the Bible as authoritative. Yet they still consider themselves members of their original religious communities. While their beliefs and spiritual experiences have changed radically, they remain loyal to their ancestral heritages. These identities are cultural more than religious, they feel. Certainly, as the Holy Spirit works in ways that we would not imagine, and human beings from all kinds of backgrounds are drawn to Jesus, their journeys transcend our categories. This volume explores that movement.
God is doing a new thing in our days, as he did in the “insider movement” in the early gatherings of believers (church) within the synagogues and Jewish society at large. Given the present widespread un- derstanding of “church planting” and reproducing stereotypical “churches,” this compilation of articles makes the reader rethink our methodology for effective ways of influencing communities from within. I am very pleased that these articles have been written by friends who have actually experienced and worked with insider movements for years and who do not just rely on theories. I have known a few of them personally for many years, becoming familiar with their work, and interacted with many of them at different times over the years.
These bold experiments and results are a breath of fresh air in the midst of replanting denomina- tional churches. Mission leaders tend to reproduce the forms and practices of the churches they have come from, such as priestly cassocks, styles, songs, hymns, and liturgies, which make no sense to many peoples of the countries where they earnestly labor.
I am grateful for the authors from across the world who are talking about the theme of insider movements. These writings should be treated as a manual and taught in the circles of new movements of missionaries from ethne to ethne in our globalized world. These principles must be put into practice, for the sake of both local peoples and the growing diasporas of professionals, refugees, students, and family migrants. The world is at our doorstep, and we need to recognize and initiate insider movements in every region of the world. I highly recommend this book as a rethinking of how we must take the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth.
Regardless of one’s position on insider movements, this volume represents an important contribution to missiological understanding.
Understanding Insider Movements takes the traditional Christian on an illuminating journey through the eye of the needle and into grassroots, Jesus-following, but not Christian, religious movements. This is essential reading for American Christian leaders to comprehend how God is transforming people within their religious culture. Christians should not be watching these developments on the sidelines, but rather actively engaging these Jesus followers to learn from them and share in discipleship. The authors are honest in addressing the controversy and opportunity within insider movements, which are on the growth edge of the global body of Christ. Readers will be delighted with the comprehensive scope of this book.
This book is like a swath of light slicing through the many murky issues surrounding Jesus movements in Muslim countries. It also holds up before us the difficulties posed by our historical moment: a reprise of the Jew-Gentile social crisis of the first century.
In the same way that early Jewish followers were faced with new and strange wineskins emerging from Greek customs and habits of thought, today’s “Christian West” is now being made nervous by a gospel making its way within religious traditions that rival Christianity in social and philosophical depth. The book squarely puts before us the challenge of contextualization within Muslim cultures, framing it within the larger work of God in discipling the “nations.” It goads us to once for all step out of the shadows of the old wineskins of “Christendom” and discern the fresh outbreak of the Spirit within the structures of other human cultures, which at bottom are all religiously based at any rate.
I heartily recommend this book to all who wish to catch the fresh wind of the Spirit that is now at work among their own peoples.
Imagine having about fifty authors from more than ten nations, with cross-cultural experience from every corner of the globe, sharing a conversation about what it takes to be a follower of Christ among various living faiths. Furthermore, allow for a diversity of opinions all the way from strong support to ambivalence to friendly critique, all of them supported by a careful and hospitable biblical-theological and practical argumentation. What kind of book would you have? This is exactly what you are holding in hand right now! And the topic is one of the most burning ones in Christian mission, often titled “insider movements.” Take up and read!
Harley Talman and John Jay Travis’s massive collection of essays on insider movements has been for me a true revelation. It provides a powerful way of understanding the real essence of New Testament faith as the following of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as an equally powerful way of understanding what contextualizing our faith might really mean. Most of all, reading the essays in this collection gave me a glimpse into how the Jerusalem community in Acts 15 might have viewed the Gentile Christian com- munity in Antioch, and how radical was the community’s decision in the same chapter as they and the Holy Spirit decided to impose “no further burden” but the essentials.
God is obviously doing something among people within the major religions that we have not seen before, as thousands are submitting to Jesus Christ. It often gets messy as his new followers pick their way out of the old dominions and into his kingdom of light. The route is so uncharted and perilous that many of us who are watching are skeptical that it can even be done. Consequently, controversy rules at a time when we should, instead, be praising God and interceding for these new family members.
This anthology, Understanding Insider Movements, is an essential read for anyone who is seriously interested in the growth of the gospel in our world. You probably won’t agree with everything you read; some of it might even set you off. But this is a serious work, done by over fifty authors, most of whom have devoted decades of their lives to this enterprise. They have been there and speak out of firsthand experience. But there is something else they have in common that makes this book so valuable: the message they communicate can be summarized in one person, Jesus Christ. And they are unwavering in their commitment to Scripture and in their confidence that the Holy Spirit will do his part.
I am impressed. Talman and Travis have given us not simply a large book, but a veritable library of source material to help grasp the significance and nature of a growing phenomenon that is changing the way ministry is done among adherents to the major world religions. The fundamental premise should not be strange to a Christian—namely, that institutional religious adherence, whether to Christian- ity or another religion, is secondary to grasping the life-changing dynamic of Jesus Christ. The book incorporates the thinking of both Western and non-Western (i.e., Majority World) writers, explaining how they view the reality of Jesus followers who remain within the context of their social, cultural, and religious communities. Can this really happen? Is it really happening? Should this affect the way I minister the good news? This volume goes a long way toward answering these questions. It should be a part of missionary preparation in general, contextualization courses, and specific preparation for particular religious settings.
We would prefer our life to consist of easy answers of right and wrong, as in the digital world. But al-ready at the interfaces between the digital and the real world it becomes very clear that an application is quite difficult. In intercultural cooperation, especially, we become aware pretty fast that thinking in those categories prevents any progress. Life is much more complicated and diverse. Our perception is tainted by our culture of origin; everything we see and perceive we assess through our cultural lenses, which influence our understanding. Every reader of this book reads it in the light of his or her previous experiences and automatically applies this to his or her understanding of insider movements.
Our situation in Europe clearly shows the difficulties of developing a common understanding for Europe. Languages and cultures are quite different, and individual European nations have already been marked by cultural diversity through migration. Similarly, among Christians there are quite different views on mission and contextualization, so it was to be expected that the topic of insider movements would raise further issues.
After many discussions about insider movements and the question of what it is all about anyway, you now hold in your hands a book that finally shows their diversity and different forms. I highly rec- ommend making the effort and getting involved in the broadening of your horizon. Only a few will have the opportunity to get in contact with insider movements, but we should have confidence in those who engage themselves that they will make every effort to contextualize the gospel in a good way.
Culture is not static but needs to be seen as a changing process, and so every insider movement is changing and different. God as God the Creator is still changing us and this world. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17).
One of the biggest obstacles to the gospel in non-Christian religious communities has been the idea that they must leave family and society to come to Christ. Insider movements open a way for them to remain. This is probably the best book to date to help understand this methodology and theology.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and always will be—the good news of Jesus Christ is being re- ceived into the lives of people in worshiping communities around the world in transformative ways. In testimony after testimony, this wise and careful anthology leads the inquiring reader into the lives of people who find in Jesus Christ the love and hope for which they hunger and thirst. What happens to their worshiping lives when people receive the transforming grace of Jesus Christ? This volume tells us. Seekers, life-long Christians, new followers of Jesus Christ, Muslims, Hindus, Daoists, comparative historians, and more will find in this volume deep insight into the manifesting of God’s kingdom now, here in this world, in ways that carry us beyond the modern stumbling block of “religions” into new vistas of understanding God’s intentions for healing and transformation.
The God of the universe lived among us as a contextualized, parochial human being. We who by the Spirit’s guidance follow that risen Galilean do so in a vast array of ever-changing parochial socioreli- gious contexts. In order to be faithful and prophetic witnesses in our contexts, to be in the world but not of it, we all need the friendship and input of others who are contextually different. These carefully compiled essays, through their attention to “insider movements,” give biblical, historical, missiological, and practical insights for all of Jesus’ followers to live faithfully and prophetically—whether our socio- religious contexts have been partially shaped by one of the many Christian traditions or by one of the many other religious traditions. In the shifting, kaleidoscopic religious landscape of the early twenty- first century, including a North American landscape marked by the unraveling for many of an assumed and settled Christian way of life, these essays provide a welcome stimulus to hear afresh through the Scriptures and through others how God works in people’s lives, as well as how people in turn seek to follow their Savior and Master, Jesus of Nazareth.
The global expansion and maturation of the church have proved to be fertile soil for renewing our the- ology and practice, if we’re willing to listen to one another. Establishing gospel presence and witness in new contexts forces us to more nuanced hermeneutics and theologizing than some are comfortable with. And that’s good. Both the push to innovate and the pull to conserve are valuable forces in the church. This book gives voice and an opportunity to view from many perspectives what many consider the most intriguing challenge of contextualization that the church has faced in recent years. What a blessing for us all.
Understanding Insider Movements is a must-read for those concerned with the progress of God’s king- dom in today’s world. However, it is not a volume to be digested in a single evening. Understanding Insider Movements is a monumental work—a collection of sixty articles by fifty contributors—some six hundred pages. Harley Talman and John Jay Travis, as both editors and contributors, have produced a truly historic publication. Articles are well written and carefully reasoned, inviting reflection and thoughtful discussion, while challenging a number of traditional understandings of God’s actions in history. In the process Understanding Insider Movements accomplishes its purposes with a spirit of grace, humility, and openness. A magnificent work.
I have heard so many things said about insider movements that were not true. We need to find the right way to deal with this issue in light of the Bible. This book should assist us toward
The scope and scholarship of this book are impressive in that it seeks to answer questions not only about insider movements among Muslims but also about those among Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jews. The material by some fifty contributing authors covers biblical, theological, and historical material, plus case studies from around the globe. Given the significant number of polemical works on such move- ments in recent years and the ongoing controversy, this was waiting to be written, and every one of the sixty-four chapters is worth reading. Because of the risk of syncretism and concern for the purity of the gospel, not all questions are answered, but there is little doubt that God is doing a new thing among the major religions of the world.
Understanding Insider Movements moves beyond being just a collection of previous articles to include fresh contributions to the subject. What results is a valuable collection of articles from over forty practitioners and writers covering the major issues regarding insider movements. Regardless of one’s particular understanding of these movements to Jesus in diverse cultures and faith traditions, this volume serves as a valuable reference tool to clarify misunderstandings and wrestle with theological, missiological, cultural, and ethical issues raised. While other works have brought to wider attention the reality of the movement of God’s Spirit across the Muslim world, this work will serve those wishing to delve deeper into understanding the various ways God’s mission is being “leaven in the lump” across various religious communities. Therefore, it is a must-have reference for anyone seriously concerned with God’s mission in today’s divided world. It serves as a benchmark in the discussion of mission. I would hope that it will encourage an increasing flow of research, direct accounts, and testimonies from within insider movements so that both etic and emic practitioners will be enabled to cooperate with God’s purposes for all peoples.
That the insider movement phenomenon has in the last few decades attracted a lot of attention and debate within missiological circles is a given fact. Some of the conversations and debates have been very productive and enlightening. Unfortunately, others have been acrimonious and divisive. Part of the confusion, though, is due to the fact that the phenomenon—or rather the ways it has hitherto been articulated—appeared new, fluid, and controversial to many. The range of chapters in this volume, mostly written by scholar-missionaries with firsthand experience of insider movements, and by Muslim believers in Jesus, sheds fresh light and helpful insights that will move the conversation forward. This volume will certainly not satisfactorily answer all the critics. Nevertheless, the spirit and scholarship contained here are highly commendable to those who are genuinely seeking to understand and engage with what God may be doing in the Muslim world in our generation.
Beating the same drum the same way only produces the same sound. People long for the sound of the orchestra, a harmony of notes that satisfies the soul. The blending of the sound of instruments tells a story that fulfills longing. Insider is the sound of a symphony waiting to be played. Insider is the message of grace from a God of grace who conducts the orchestra. The orchestra, composed of a wide range of instruments and mutually dependent musicians, delivers the redemptive song through a new sound. Understanding Insider Movements is worth the listen.
Foreword: Toward Mutual Understanding, Edification, and Cooperation
J. Dudley Woodberry
Read This First!
Part 1: Setting the Stage
Introduction to Part 1
1. Insider Movements: Coming to Terms with Terms
John Jay Travis
2. Historical Development of the Insider Paradigm
3. Muslim Followers of Jesus?
4. When God’s Kingdom Grows like Yeast: Frequently Asked Questions about Jesus Movements within Muslim Communities
John Jay Travis and J. Dudley Woodberry
5. Myths and Misunderstandings about Insider Movements
Kevin Higgins, Richard Jameson, and Harley Talman
6. Seeing Inside Insider Missiology: Exploring Our Theological Lenses and Presuppositions
Leonard N. Bartlotti
Part 1 Study Questions
Part 2: Examples, Testimonies, and Analysis
Introduction to Part 2
Section 1: Examples and Testimonies
7. Jesus Movements: Discovering Biblical Faith in the Most Unexpected Places
8. When “Christian” Does Not Translate
9. Living and Discipling in the Hindu World
10. “Why I Am Not a Christian”: A Personal Statement
O. Kandaswami Chetti
11. The New Buddhists: How Buddhists Can Follow Christ
12. Comments on the Insider Movement
13. My Enemy . . . My Brother: A Palestinian Christian Meets His Muslim Brothers
14. And the Spirit Fell upon Them: Testimonies of the Holy Spirit’s Activity in One Insider Movement
Section 2: Case Study Analysis
15. Jesus Movement: A Case Study from Eastern Africa
16. Insider Movements among Muslims: A Focus on Asia
John Jay Travis
17. Pandita Ramabai and the Meanings of Conversion
H. L. Richard
18. Christ Followers in India Flourishing—but Outside the Church: A Review of Herbert E. Hoefer’s Churchless Christianity
H. L. Richard
19. Ecclesial Identities of Socioreligious “Insiders”: A Case Study of Fellowship among Hindu and Sikh Communities
Part 2 Study Questions
Part 3: Biblical and Theological Perspectives
Introduction to Part 3
20. The Kingdom of God: A Biblical Paradigm for Mission
21. The Old Testament and Insider Movements
22. Conversion in the New Testament
Michael Roberts and Richard Jameson
23. Jesus Living and Discipling among the Lost
24. Jesus in Samaria: A Paradigm for Church Planting among Muslims
25. The Key to Insider Movements: The “Devoteds” of Acts
26. The Incarnational Model of Jesus, Paul, and the Jerusalem Council
J. Dudley Woodberry
27. Acts 15: An Inside Look
28. The Integrity of the Gospel and Insider Movements
29. The Supremacy of Scripture: The Transcultural and Timeless Authority for Local Theology in Global Conversation
30. Church in Context
31. All Things Are Yours
H. L. Richard
Part 3 Study Questions
Part 4: Contextualization, Religion, and Syncretism
Introduction to Part 4
Section 1: Contextualization
32. Liberating Christ from Christians, Christianity, and the Church
Archbishop Gregoire Haddad
33. The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture
34. A Necessarily Wary Enterprise?: North American Evangelicals and Contextualization
35. A Third Reformation? Movements of the Holy Spirit beyond Christendom
Ralph D. Winter
36. The Incarnation, Communication, and Insider Movements
Charles H. Kraft
Section 2: Religion and Syncretism
37. Reflections on Religion
38. (De)Franchising Missions
39. Considering Religion(s): What Does the Word Really Mean?
Kurt Anders Richardson
40. Religious Syncretism as a Syncretistic Concept: The Inadequacy of the “World Religions” Paradigm in Cross-cultural Encounter
H. L. Richard
41. Contextualization, Syncretism, and the Demonic in Indigenous Movements
42. Avoiding Syncretism: The Testimony of a Jesus-following Buddhist
Part 4 Study Questions
Part 5: Approaches in Witness
Introduction to Part 5
43. Shall We Try Unbeaten Paths in Working for Moslems?
Henry H. Riggs
44. An Approach to Witness
45. Contextualization among Muslims: Reusing Common Pillars
J. Dudley Woodberry
46. Christian Attitudes toward Islam and Muslims: A Kerygmatic Approach
47. Roles of “Alongsiders” in Insider Movements: Contemporary Examples and Biblical Reflections
John and Anna Travis
48. Become Like, Remain Like (Take Two)
49. Evangelizing Whole Families
Alex G. Smith
50. Planting Churches: Learning the Hard Way
Tim and Rebecca Lewis
Part 5 Study Questions
Part 6: Concerns and Misunderstandings
Introduction to Part 6
51. The C1–C6 Spectrum after Fifteen Years: Misunderstandings, Limitations, and Recommendations
John Jay Travis
52. Responding to Christian Concerns
Interview with Brother Yusuf
53. Muslim Followers of Jesus and the Muslim Confession of Faith
54. “Is Allah God?”: Five Reasons I Am Convinced
Jesse S. Wheeler
55. In the World but Not of It: Insider Movements and Freedom from the Demonic
56. Possible Pitfalls of Jesus Movements: Lessons from History
57. Where We Agree . . . and Don’t?
Part 6 Study Questions
Part 7: Identity
Introduction to Part 7
58. Insider Movements: Honoring God-given Identity and Community
59. Dual Identity and the Church in the Book of Acts
60. Consuming Peanuts in the USA and India: Reflecting on the Controversy over Insider Movements
61. Heart Allegiance and Negotiated Identity
62. Searching for Models of Individual Identity
63. Societal Factors Impacting Socioreligious Identities of Muslims Who Follow Jesus
John and Anna Travis
64. God’s Creativity in Drawing Muslims to Jesus
Part 7 Study Questions
A Look to the Future
Appendix 1: The Samaritan Religion
Appendix 2: World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Evangelical Relationships Commitment
Appendix 3: Review of A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives by Doug Coleman
Toward Mutual Understanding, Edification, and Cooperation
Recently I sat at a table with colleagues who were involved with new movements of followers of Jesus from Muslim families. We had different perspectives on insider movements (IMs), but we had common concerns: we all wanted to see these new followers of Jesus grow in their faith and witness through Bible study and fellowship with other believers and develop a second generation of mature followers of Christ. This led us first to seek to understand each other, correct our misunderstandings where necessary, and then cooperate to the extent possible.
The current volume is intended as a step in this direction. Much has been written on the topic of IMs by those who have never seen one and hence must rely on hearsay and conjecture. The editors of the current collection of essays have had years of experience both with traditional churches and missions and with IMs in Asia and Africa. For example, John Travis and his wife, Anna, after eighteen years of praying and sharing with Muslims in Asia, saw a small IM begin in their own neighborhood while they were temporarily out of the country. This IM began with the witness of a respected middle-aged Muslim woman who had studied the Bible for years and had just recently begun praying with Anna (see chap. 16). Harley Talman, in turn, discipled Muslim tribal sheikhs in a war-torn African country. They were drawn to the stories of the prophets that point to Jesus—who came not to establish a new religion, but to bring the kingdom of God. Dozens of sheikhs decided together to become his followers so that the gospel could transform their communities.
My own exposure to IMs resulted from my being asked to oversee a three-year study of new movements to Christ in Asia and Africa that included an IM in South Asia. Those in the latter group said that they felt closer to God when reading the Gospel than when reading the Qur’an and were studying
the Gospel on a regular basis. When surveyed again five years later, these believers had grown considerably in their understanding of the Bible and in spiritual maturity.
The importance of IMs was found in the most comprehensive recent research on fruitful practices of field workers among Muslims, including both nationals as well as expatriates. The study showed that the more the newly planted fellowships were contextualized to the Muslim community, the more they began to spread spontaneously. A major reason for this was that the IM believers remained within their social networks. While this certainly is not the most important factor, it is significant.
One problem is what to call these movements. This book uses “insider movements,” since this is the most common term; however, I like the contrast of the “attractional model” of the traditional church and the “transformational model” of the IMs. Both are biblical concepts. The traditional churches seek to use the “attractional model” (see Matt 5:14–16), but often cultural, ethnic, and historical factors hinder this approach both from the Muslim and Christian sides. On the other hand, the “transformational model” (see Rom 12:2) of planting the gospel in social networks allows the inquirers to be transformed in their context through group Bible study conducted under the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
The present book is an anthology of articles on IMs. As such it represents a variety of views. As Kevin Higgins observes (chap. 5), everything that you have heard about China is true in some part of China. The same might be said about IMs. Here, however, the emphasis is on what is typically true of
these movements. Therefore he deals with certain misconceptions of IMs, such as that they are primarily the result of pressure from expatriates, or are watering down the gospel, or are attempts to avoid persecution.
Others, such as Tim Green (sidebar, chap. 58), Eric Adams (chap. 61), and Jens Barnett (chap. 62) note that people in transition tend to have dual or even multiple identities—core, social, and collective. Though not focusing on IMs specifically, their findings are helpful to us in understanding them. The core identity of Jesus followers in IMs is their relationship with God through Jesus. Their social identity with their family and coworkers and their collective identity in their society place them within the broader Muslim community of which they are a part. John and Anna Travis (chap. 63) note the factors that influence the identity that Jesus followers choose—such as whether the national church (if any) is culturally and ethnically compatible with the Muslim community, or is welcoming or defensive. IMs are seen as valid to bring the gospel to communities that in many cases the traditional church can barely reach at all. Their identities evolve as the new Jesus followers study God’s word in fellowship together.
God is working across the spectrum of Jesus followers as never before. If we from different perspectives can sit around a table as a group of us did recently, we can seek to understand each other, change our perspectives if needed, and cooperate where we can. If we do, that table can be a foretaste of the table that Jesus is preparing for all his followers in his kingdom (Mark 14:25).
J. Dudley Woodberry
dean emeritus and senior professor of Islamic studies
School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary
READ THIS FIRST !
God is doing a new thing . . . again! Large numbers of people from the world’s major religious traditions are choosing to follow Jesus of Nazareth. In following Christ, some of these are joining traditional Christian churches and leaving the religious communities of their birth. Others, however, are following
Jesus in different ways. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary calculates, as of 2010 approximately 5.9 million non-Christians were following Christ from within the context of their own religious and cultural traditions. These include insider movements as well as hidden and secret believers. The Center’s estimate for the year 2000 for these types of believers was 4.6 million, which means that they grew at 2.5% per year from 2000–2010 or twice as fast as Christianity as a whole. 85% of these individuals are either Hindus or Muslims. Given current trends, these are expected to grow to 6.5 million by mid-2014.
Similar to how discipleship to Jesus in the first century moved beyond the confines of the Jewish community, opening a way for Gentiles to follow Jesus, we are now witnessing the growth of discipleship movements to Jesus within non-Christian religious traditions. This phenomenon, often referred to as “insider movements” (IMs) or “Jesus movements within” (JMWs), has caught the attention of many people.
Numerous articles have appeared over the past fifteen years on the topic of insider movements. There has been confusion and controversy as well as misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Newcomers to the conversation are often bewildered, scarcely knowing where to start reading. Moreover, even those who are heavily engaged in this issue find it difficult to keep abreast of all that has been written. Until now, no book has been published that seeks to present this phenomenon in a comprehensive fashion. Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of Jesus within Diverse Religious Communities is a response to the many voices that have been calling for such a publication.
As the title indicates, we describe these discipleship movements as occurring within diverse religious communities rather than religions, as the latter might connote a mixing of biblical faith with unbiblical theological beliefs and practices. However, neither do we describe these movements as merely being within “diverse communities” or “diverse cultures,” as if the discipleship were being expressed through neutral, non-religious forms. These are religious communities with religious cultures, replete with their own holidays, histories, customs, foods, vocabularies, and ways of life.
Western readers must understand that the way religions function in much of the world is very different from how they function in most secular or Western countries, especially where a separation of church and state exists. Religious forms, symbols, and culture for much of the world are often fused so that religions function like cultures. While those who follow Christ in insider movements undergo transformation of their spiritual lives and theological beliefs, they retain much of their religious culture.
Our initial intent was to compile an anthology of existing articles. We sifted through the many published articles, seeking to select those seminal, influential, or representative writings that get to the heart of this subject. However, as we surveyed these articles, it became evident that there were some gaps in the literature. As a result, a substantial number of articles have been written and included as fresh contributions to this subject. Due to space limitations, we have sometimes given priority to succinct treatments over lengthier ones or used relevant excerpts instead of full articles. We have also taken the liberty of standardizing the transliteration of Arabic and foreign-language words and names for the convenience of readers, as well as making many minor changes for accuracy and consistency in mechanics, spelling, source documentation style, etc.—changes that aid understanding without altering style or meaning.
We rejoice over all the ways that God is moving in the world today. Much has already been written elsewhere about more traditional approaches. It is not our purpose in this book to give equal time to all opinions on the subject of insider movements—space alone precludes this. But we do aim to clarify common misunderstandings, offer answers to oft-heard objections, and address areas of legitimate concern so that the reader may more accurately understand insider movements (as promised by this book’s title). Our hope is that readers will understand the nature and significance of these movements and acquire an even deeper appreciation of the great variety that exists worldwide within the body of Christ.
Our primary intended audience is those committed to seeing the good news of Jesus Christ cross social, cultural, and religious barriers. Educators might choose this volume as a textbook for students in religious studies and cross-cultural training programs. Those positively disposed toward insider movements may find it useful in helping explain the complex issues of these movements to their constituencies. This book may also be useful as a reference guide for those interested or engaged in cross-cultural witness among those of non-Christian religious traditions.
We trust that our aim of bringing greater understanding of insider movements will be achieved by the arrangement of our presentation into the following seven parts:
1. Setting the Stage
2. Examples, Testimonies, and Analysis
3. Biblical and Theological Perspectives
4. Contextualization, Religion, and Syncretism
5. Approaches in Witness
6. Concerns and Misunderstandings
Some readers may be from non-Christian religious communities. Perhaps you have only caught glimpses of a Jesus clothed exclusively in culturally Christian forms or, worse, one who is tied to foreign political systems and civilizations. We hope you will discover in these pages that we, as followers of Jesus, deeply regret how the impression has often been given that Jesus is for some but not for others—as though one group had a monopoly on Jesus. In fact the opposite is true: we believe that the love of God in Jesus is for every community, family, and person on earth regardless of culture, religious community, or nationality. We as his followers are called to share this message and do all we can to remove barriers that might separate anyone from him. We support the right of all people to know and follow the risen Jesus regardless of their religious community or label. Our heart’s desire, dear reader, is that all would experience the life about which Jesus spoke: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
This anthology is long, intended to serve as a reference guide. We recommend, however, reading all of part 1, “Setting the Stage,” before delving into other sections. We pray for God’s blessing in your life as you read this book.
Introduction to Part 1
Citing passages from both the Qur’an and the Bible, Brother Jacob told Isaac the story of God creating the world as a good place, about Adam and Eve and the temptation of Satan, and about their disobedience of God. He declared that as a consequence of their sin, Adam and Eve became alienated from the presence of God and enslaved to darkness, sin, and death. So how could their relationship with God be restored? How could they return to the garden of Eden?
Brother Jacob went on to talk about Cain and Abel, the descent of the world into evil, and the rescue of Noah and his family. He noted that God called Abraham from Babylon to follow him and gave him eight sons. He talked about the descendants of Abraham, about David, about the disobedience of his son Solomon and his descendants, until it came to the true son of David, the true heir of Abraham’s promises, the second Adam, Jesus, who was the first human being in history to completely submit himself to the will of God. He said that it was the will of God that Jesus the Messiah should suffer death on the Cross to save humanity, and that God raised him back to life. God exalted Jesus to sit at his own right hand as Lord and Savior of the world.
Brother Jacob said that the Lord Jesus had appeared to him as well, in 1969, and had shown him that he was the way of salvation. He read in the Gospel where Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus, he said, was himself the sirat mustaqim. Master Isaac said he believed in Jesus and was ready to serve him and wanted to be baptized right then and there. Brother Jacob, however, counseled him to wait. He said, “God has made you a great leader, and he wants all of your followers to know that Jesus the Messiah, and he alone, is the way of salvation. Go home and tell your wives and children first that Jesus is the Lord and Savior, and then tell your closest disciples.” Isaac agreed, and they set a date for Jacob to come and share the good news.
About two weeks later, at the appointed time, Jacob arrived to find a gathering of two hundred or more of Isaac’s leading disciples. The Sufi master began by telling them all the story of his prayer and the vision he was given by God. He described traveling during a storm to get to Brother Jacob’s house to ask him the secret of salvation. He then asked Brother Jacob to tell them all the way. So Brother Jacob told the story again, starting with the Qur’an and then moving to the Bible. He told the story of Creation, the Fall, and the descendants of Adam down to Jesus the Messiah. He called them to put their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. All of the leaders agreed, but they said they must first share this news with their wives and children.
A few weeks later Master Isaac sent word to Brother Jacob to come back. Brother Jacob arrived to find that the Sufi master and 250 of his leading disciples were ready to be baptized. So Brother Jacob baptized Isaac and his wives and son. Then he told Isaac’s wives to baptize their daughters. He then instructed Isaac to baptize the 250 senior leaders of his movement and to send them home to baptize their own wives and children, share the word with others, and baptize those who believed. On that day several thousand people were baptized, thus beginning a movement to Christ within a culturally Muslim community.
Brother Jacob had brought along three cases of New Testaments, and he gave these to Master Isaac for distribution to his leaders. But three days later Isaac returned the cases, saying they were obviously not for his people, as they were not in his language—at least not the way they used it. There were too many foreign and ecclesiastical terms, and too many occurrences of words that pertained to a different ethnic group. Brother Jacob, however, had a poetic paraphrase of the gospel story that he had prepared, using familiar and acceptable language, and he offered that. Master Isaac thought this book was won derful, and he took a large quantity back with him for his flock. At that point Brother Jacob realized that these new disciples of Christ needed a Bible in familiar and intelligible language, and so he initiated a Bible translation project for them, starting with the Gospel of Mark.
These two movements continue as culturally sensitive house-church movements, in spite of various forms of persecution—both from some church people who do not like this approach and from those Muslims who are not happy to see people following Christ. Master Isaac has died, but the movement he led continues under the pastoral care of his sons. They are confident that since it was the Lord Jesus himself who directed them to Brother Jacob and his insider approach, the Lord will also guide and protect them and through them bless the Muslim community to which they belong. The preceding story describes a Jesus movement within a Muslim community—but there is more to it than that. These Muslims became disciples of Jesus in what we could call a “house-church movement,” but which remained part of the Muslim community. Following the guidance of God’s Spirit, they were not integrated into the existing national church, as most Christians would expect. What happened with Brother Jacob and Master Isaac may be unusual, but it is not unique. Similar stories have emerged, at times causing controversy or conflict within the Christian community (both local and global), not to mention their own non-Christian communities. Within the Christian missions community, this kind of discipleship-to-Jesus movement has often been referred to as an “insider movement” (IM).
As the title indicates, the aim of this book is to aid the reader in “understanding insider movements.” Part 1 sets the stage. Six articles orient the reader to these “disciples of Jesus within diverse religious communities” by providing definition, historical background, conceptual perspective, answers to common questions and objections, and critical reflection on our assessment criteria.
Chapter 1, “Insider Movements: Coming to Terms with Terms” by John Jay Travis, offers a working definition of IMs based on a description of their fundamental characteristics.
In chapter 2, “Historical Development of the Insider Paradigm,” Harley Talman notes that IMs resemble what took place in first-century movements, where original socioreligious identity was retained, but that they differ from the traditional paradigm of Protestant missions. Nevertheless, we can trace the emergence of IM ideas in the modern era back to the late nineteenth century.
Chapter 3, “Muslim Followers of Jesus?” by Joseph Cumming, gives a balanced presentation of two opposing viewpoints, along with a response by an Arab Christian, Martin Accad.
Chapter 4, “When God’s Kingdom Grows like Yeast: Frequently Asked Questions about Jesus Movements within Muslim Communities,” comes from the pens of John Jay Travis and J. Dudley Woodberry, two recognized authorities on IMs in Islamic contexts. (Please keep in mind that IMs occur within communities of other religious traditions as well.)
Chapter 5, “Myths and Misunderstandings about Insider Movements” by Kevin Higgins, Richard Jameson, and Harley Talman, addresses concerns commonly raised by critics.
Chapter 6, “Seeing Inside Insider Missiology” by Len Bartlotti, examines the “lenses” through which we analyze and assess insider movements. It may be that some of our core convictions and theological standards reflect assumptions and personal preferences rather than biblical mandates.
Insider Movements Coming to Terms with Terms
John Jay Travis
Both Scripture and church history indicate that when people discover Jesus, they want to tell others about it. Similar to the woman at the well, who joyfully shared with fellow Samaritans, many others over the centuries have told their families and friends about Jesus in ways that have led to movements. This present volume explores insider movements, whereby people of non-Christian religions follow Jesus as Lord and Savior while remaining integrally part of the family and socioreligious community of their birth. This first chapter focuses on the meaning and usage of a number of key terms and important related concepts found throughout the book.
“Socioreligious” and “Religiocultural”
The terms “socioreligious” and “religiocultural” are used to describe the close relationship that is often observed between religion and culture. Millions worldwide understand their religion or religious identity as something inseparably bound to their ethnic, national, social, or family identity. It is instructive that many people with little or no belief in God or interest in spiritual matters still view themselves as members of a religion. This phenomenon might help explain why in the United States, for instance, a recent poll indicates that 77 percent of the population self-identify as “Christian” even though it is hard to imagine that this many Americans are actual followers of Jesus. Similar statistics involving religious identity are found in other countries as well, causing some to speak of “cultural Jews,” “cultural Muslims,” or “cultural Christians” (note: while observers may use this terminology, members of these religions do not usually add the word “cultural” when referring to themselves). By using the terms “socioreligious” and “religiocultural,” we remind ourselves that for most of the world, a change of religions is not simply a shift in personal beliefs; it means separation from family, community, and society.
“Christian,” “Christianity,” and “Follower of Jesus”
The way the terms “Christian” and “Christianity” are generally used in this book differs from the narrower meaning that evangelicals typically give them (i.e., denoting true saving faith in Jesus; being “born again”). Rather, most of the authors, having spent much of their lives in cross-cultural ministry, use the terms “Christian” or “Christianity” to designate socioreligious categories, as do many cultures of the world. Thus these terms are applied to both committed and nominal “Christians,” be they Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or other. The terms “follower/disciple of Jesus” or “follower/disciple of Christ” are more commonly used in this book to refer to those with true faith and heart allegiance to Jesus— what most evangelicals mean when they use the term “Christian.” The initially strange-sounding phrase “non-Christian followers of Christ,” therefore, would indicate people who are socioreligiously not “Christian”—they identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.—yet are spiritually, morally, and biblically true followers or disciples of Jesus.
“Insider,” “Insider Movements,” and Related Terms
Although the term “insider” can be used in a variety of ways, here we mean “a person from a non-Christian background who has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior but retained the socioreligious identity of his or her birth.” This means that in following Jesus, insiders have not left the religious community in which they were raised, nor have they joined a denomination or branch of Christianity.
Several good definitions of “insider movements” have been published and widely used since 2004. In the following section is a working definition of this term based on key characteristics of these movements. First, though, we look at two other, related expressions: “Jesus movements within” and “the Insider Movement.”
The term “Jesus movements within” (JMW) is often used in place of “insider movements.” Many prefer this term because of the clear focus on Jesus and the ability to indicate the religious community in which the movement is occurring: “a Jesus movement within the Hindu community,” or “within a Muslim community,” and so forth.
At times we read the term “the Insider Movement.” Many consider this a misnomer, however, because there is no singular movement, organization, institution, or group that could rightly be called “the Insider Movement.” The majority of insider movements worldwide are localized, organic, and largely unaware of each other. Hence most people who understand them speak of “insider movements” in the plural rather than “the Insider Movement.”
A Working Definition of Insider Movements
Throughout this book we only refer to movements as insider movements if they contain each of the five following dynamics or characteristics:
1. Following Jesus and the Bible: following Jesus as the risen Lord and Savior and the Bible as the word of God.
2. Fellowships with indigenous leadership: gatherings occurring in culturally appropriate ways for prayer, Bible study, and fellowship (i.e., biblical ekklesiae) within families and social networks, led by fellow insiders whom God has raised up for leadership.
3. Spiritual transformation: spiritual transformation occurring through the leading of the Spirit and the study of Scripture, resulting in certain cultural and religious beliefs and practices being retained, others reinterpreted, and still others rejected.
4. Remaining as witnesses: disciples remaining integral members of their families and socioreligious communities, as witnesses for Jesus.
5. Multiplication: ongoing witnessing and prayer leading to the multiplication of new followers of Jesus, new insider leaders, and reproducing insider fellowships.
A useful working definition of insider movements, therefore, is the following: Multiplying networks of Jesus followers in insider-led fellowships where the Bible is obeyed as the word of God, spiritual transformation occurs, and insiders remain part of the families and socioreligious communities of their birth, bearing witness to Jesus, their risen Lord and Savior.
The following concepts are explored in greater depth throughout the book. They are mentioned briefly here, however, because they bring greater immediate clarity to the working definition of insider movements given above.
1. While insider believers have some different beliefs from fellow Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims, or Jews who do not yet follow Jesus, they intentionally look for ways to find common ground with their people. But they do this while staying true to the Bible and the daily leading of the Spirit in their lives. They retain anything from their socioreligious community that is helpful, praiseworthy, and not contrary to Scripture.
2. This dynamic of remaining within one’s religious community while having some different beliefs causes both continuity and discontinuity with the past. This means that while much is retained, some beliefs and practices are reinterpreted or rejected. For instance, Hindu followers of Jesus reject the worship of multiple gods and goddesses (polytheism). Instead they worship only the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth, whom they know through Jesus Christ. They would, however, as God leads them, be part of the life of the local Hindu community as much as is biblically possible, not taking steps to adopt another socioreligious membership or identity.
3. In other contexts, Jewish followers of Jesus reject the standard Jewish teachings that Yeshua (Jesus) is not the Messiah and that the New Testament is not true Scripture, yet they still live traditionally Jewish lives as respectful members of the Jewish community. Muslim followers of Jesus whom we know reject the commonly disseminated teachings that Jesus did not die and rise again and that the New Testament has been corrupted; however, they continue to live as part of their Muslim community, respecting it and participating in its traditions and practices insofar as conscience and the Bible allow. Similar patterns of retaining, rejecting, and reinterpreting aspects of religious life and culture in light of the word of God and the leading of the Spirit are seen in insider movements among Buddhists and Sikhs as well (see chaps. 11 and 19). Even as Jews in the first century eventually pressured Jews who followed Jesus to leave, so it may happen with some insider movements. The point is that even if insiders are one day rejected or feel the need to leave, they are not the ones initiating the separation from their families and communities.
4. It is crucial to point out, however, that even though those in insider movements follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior and obey the Bible as God’s revealed word, they should not be viewed as simply Christians by another name. These are fresh expressions of faith in Jesus where he was not known before. Insider leaders are involved in the same process of self-discovery and self-theologizing that countless others have gone through since the gospel broke out of the Jewish context and entered Gentile contexts two thousand years ago. The reality of insider movements raises the question of who is really a part of the kingdom of God and the body of Christ, and of who has the right to interpret Scripture.
5. Finally, a key feature in describing the fellowships in these movements is that (depending on the local situation) they are open and inviting to those who do not yet know Jesus. In addition, these groups, which are generally family centered and home based, are relationally linked with numerous similar groups, fostering momentum and movement.
Historical Development of the Insider Paradigm
First men say that it is not true, then that it is against religion, and,
in the third stage, that it has long been known.
—Louis Agassiz on new theories
Insider Movements: Old or New?
Ever since the Jewish roots of the gospel first produced Gentile fruit, there have been varied viewpoints among God’s people regarding the interrelations of faith in Christ, religious tradition, and sociocultural-political identity. Therefore, differing perspectives on insider movements should not surprise us.
One of the current points of discussion is whether insider movements have historical precedent or if they are an entirely new phenomenon and represent a new paradigm of mission. In support of the former are those who find precursors and principles foundational to insider movements in the Old Testament. Others note, additionally, that Jesus never advocated a proselyte model of conversion: Jewish converts remained socioreligious Jews, Samaritans did not become Jewish to follow Jesus, and various groups of Gentiles followed Jesus as Gentiles.2 Furthermore, the Apostle Paul insisted in his letters to the Romans and Galatians that faith in Christ should not carry its religious trappings into a new socioreligious context, and the Jerusalem Council confirmed this missionary principle and practice. Hence many do not view insider movements as something new at all, but as similar to the movements that took place in the first century.
Others, however, describe insider phenomena from the vantage point of modern history. They observe that insider movements are strikingly different from the typical fruit of modern Protestant mission, where both tribal peoples and those few from the world’s major religious traditions who came to faith in Jesus joined some branch of Christianity to express their faith.
Therefore we can say that the insider paradigm is both old and new: it is old in that it resembles what took place in first-century movements, where original socioreligious identity was retained, and it is new in that it differs from the traditional paradigm of Protestant missions. Insider movements are new expressions of an ancient pattern. As we read of this “new” paradigm, we should remember that it accords with ways God has been working that are as old as the gospel itself.
This chapter identifies examples of insiders in the modern era and discussions in the literature that envisioned or described such an approach, emphasizing the newness of the paradigm in contrast to traditional Protestant mission.
In the process we will observe another “old/new” phenomenon: the fact that God’s elect have often displayed negative or even hostile attitudes toward those of other religious traditions. Just as Jesus’ Jewish disciples were allergic to Samaritans and Gentiles, so modern Christians frequently have an aversion to non-Christian religions. Yet new disciples of Jesus from the major religious traditions have often sought to integrate their life in Christ with the thought and practices of their social and religious heritage. This chapter will trace early attempts at such indigenization and contextualization in the modern era, which have contributed to the development of the insider paradigm. We shall see that then, as now, such endeavors have often met with resistance from traditional Christians.
Early Advocates of the Insider Paradigm
Brahmabandhab Upadhyay (1861–1907) was an Indian nationalist who, after deciding to follow Jesus, sought to indigenize his faith in Christ by integrating Hindu and Catholic identities. He utilized Hindu philosophy to express gospel truth (akin to Hellenistic Christians exploiting Greek philosophy). His dream of a Hindu-friendly Catholic monastery was rejected by the church as being too radical. He was thwarted by the top clerics in the Indian church, and his writings were eventually banned by Rome. His later life was marked by disillusionment with the West and its influence, and he determined that political engagement was essential for the evangelization of his homeland.
But we find a happier engagement between a Hindu follower of Christ and the Christian church in the life of Kandaswami Chetti (1867–1943). He more authentically embodies the insider paradigm. While affirming his membership in the body of Christ, he did not join the existing Indian churches or change his identity to “Christian.” His motivation was to “prepare the way for a movement from within Hindu society towards a Christ who shall fulfill India’s highest aspirations and impart that life of freedom for which she has been panting for ages.”
At the same time, but with no apparent connection to the likes of Upadhyay and Chetti, a radically different conception of mission to Hindus began to appear among Christian workers. The year 1893 records the voice of an obscure member of the Wesleyan Missionary Society from Mysore City (in South India), the Reverend H. Haigh. Without providing us with details of his vision, Haigh argues for a drastically different approach to mission that corresponds with the insider mentality:
The principle I contend for, then, is this: that the books which we publish should be carefully related to Hindu thought, expressed in its terms, done in its style, adopting where it can its positions, and leading on, still in Hindu fashion and in its terminology, from points of agreement to essential points of difference. In this way we may, perhaps, be able to furnish an effectual exhibition of legitimately “Hinduized Christianity.”
N. V. Tilak (1861–1919) was also a zealous Indian nationalist and talented poet. This Brahmin was challenged to read the Bible and was soon converted and baptized in 1895. As a Protestant missionary, he pioneered use of Hindu forms to express biblical faith, especially his devotional songs and poetry. After more than twenty years of service, he resigned and entered the fourth and final stage of high-caste Hindu life, sannyasa (renunciation), but contextualizing it with seven biblical requirements. At age fifty-five, he launched “God’s darbar” (“the royal court of God”). Through this fraternity of baptized as well as unbaptized Christ followers (for whom, among the latter, baptism represented antipatriotism), Tilak sought to offer to India a de-Westernized Jesus as its ultimate guru. However, Tilak died within two years, and the darbar with him. But he left a legacy of a radical attempt at indigenized discipleship—seeking to be fully biblical and fully Hindu.
In subsequent years, kingdom yeast silently penetrated the dough of Hindu society. Decades later (c. 1980), Lutheran missionary Herbert Hoefer stumbled upon some Hindu Christ followers in South India, whom he labeled “non-baptized believers in Christ.” Churchless Christianity presented the astounding conclusion of his research—that there were more of these Hindu followers of Christ in Chennai than there were Indian Christians. But his description of their theological thinking and practice was troubling to outside observers. However, since that time, these believers have defined themselves as “Jesu bhaktas” (devotees of Jesus), an accepted category within Hindu piety. Moreover, these Hindu disciples of Christ complained to Hoefer about the title of his book on two counts. First of all, they insisted that they were not “churchless,” even though the structure of their faith community differed from that of the West. Secondly, they were not “Christianity,” because their biblical faith was expressed through Hindu religious forms and identity.
Shifting to the Muslim world, we find early expression of insider paradigm thinking in Rev. Henry Riggs’ 1938 “Report Written on Behalf of the Near East Council on Muslim Evangelism.” Veteran missions thinkers felt that decades of “missionary work among Moslems has not produced the results that ought to be expected from so much sacrifice and labor.” So the Near East Christian Council conducted a two-year investigation to explore the reasons for this “sterility.” The council found two fundamental causes. The first was that “Christian teaching does not mean the same to the Moslem that it does to the Christian” (this highlighted the need for what was later termed “contextualization”). The second was that “in the thought of the Moslem a change of religion is primarily a change of groupconnection and group-loyalty.” The report concluded,
In the thought of the Moslem a change of religion is primarily a change of group-connection and group-loyalty. “Every convert to Christianity is a dead loss to the community.” “The Moslem Community is a noble and sacred thing, a social-political-religious fellowship for which the believer is willing to give his life.” “The greatest handicap against which the Christian missionary has to strive is the power of Moslem solidarity.” “There are thousands of men and women who believe in Christ and are trying to follow him, but they cannot bring themselves to face the break with their own community.”
The great fact pointed out in these statements is very evident. But is this unwillingness to break with their own community due only to lack of courage or conviction? Not always. Many cases have been reported of true believers in Christ who have refused to break with the Moslem community because they wish to live among their
own people, to make Christ known to them. . . .
It is the conviction of a large number of workers among Moslems that the ultimate hope of bringing Christ to the Moslems is to be attained by the development of groups of followers of Jesus who are active in making him known to others while remaining loyally a part of the social and political groups to which they belong in
Islam. . . .
The aspiration here expressed is that the church of Christ might take root within the social-political body called Islam, and not as an alien body encroaching from without.”
It was recognized that the report’s findings would demand “radical changes in the attitudes, methods and thinking” of Christian workers among Muslims, but Riggs and his colleagues were realists who recognized that most of their fellow missionaries felt “duty bound to follow the traditional lines of presentation.” This in fact was the reaction of the majority at Delhi and Tambaram (Madras) conferences in December 1938. Riggs later reported that at both places “discussion was almost entirely devoted to a few of the suggestions, mainly regarding unbaptized believers. Objections to the encouragement of such believers were so urgent as to crowd out almost entirely any real consideration of the underlying principles quoted above.”
In 1941 the Moslem World featured the Near East Council’s report sandwiched between responses by two critics. Samuel Zwemer’s editorial cited a resolution of a group from the Madras conference and the preconference gathering in Delhi that rejected the report due to “the vital necessity of open witness to Christ within the fellowship of the Christian Church” and the need for the Moslem “to break with his past to accept a new way of life in Christ.”19 Zwemer rightly rejected the ecumenical agenda of Harvard professor William Hocking (who advocated a “new World Faith with elements of value taken from all the living religions of humanity”). Zwemer likewise opposed those who sought to replace evangelism with social action. In nearly the same breath, Zwemer rejected proposed changes in missionary method. Although he acknowledged that the Riggs report had “much to commend it,” he viewed its prospects as having even less impact than even a “merely social gospel.” Similarly, J. Christy Wilson understood the report as advocating secret belief and cried out for “open confession.”
However, the following year the Moslem World published the response of one who had attended both the Delhi and Madras deliberations. He asserted that the objections of Zwemer and Wilson to the Near East Council’s report were based on a grave misunderstanding of two of its central tenets. First, it was arguing against extraction evangelism:
The very terminology [“convert from Islam”] puts before the reader the idea of controversy, of struggle to take out of one group, and put into another group, which the Near East survey sought to obviate. The idea of that survey was rather to permit the follower of Jesus to stay within Islam, to claim his right as a “Muslim,” one sur-rendered and dedicated to God—to investigate the prophet Jesus and his Revelation and to follow all the way in obedience to Jesus, considering himself all the while not one who has left Islam but one who, taking Muhammad at his word as to Jesus and the Gospel, has discovered what that really means and has gone on to the more advanced position of utter surrender to the revelation of God in Jesus. This should be the inalienable right of every Moslem. No one ought to have to think that this necessarily involves the proclamation to the world of consequent separation from Islam.
The second misunderstanding was that “such a follower of Jesus will not witness by words as well as by life.” This defender of the Riggs report insisted that Zwemer, Wilson, and other critics had drawn a false dichotomy.
The contrast between the “unbeaten path” suggested by Mr. Riggs and the long-trodden path of the last century is not between “dynamic Christians” and “secret believers,” but between 100-percent followers of Jesus who are trying to be both “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” and ill-advised followers who, like foolish farmers, are scattering their precious seed broadcast on soil that is dry and hardened into something like rock by long exposure to the sun. The first group are not less loyal to Jesus. They simply take more thoughtfully his repeated teaching that fruit will be born only from seed cast on prepared ground and that it is foolish to offer precious gifts to those whose training and preparation can only make them trample these underfoot.
In 1944, after an obituary that eulogized Riggs, who had recently died, an article by S. A. Morrison expressed his view that the issues raised by the Riggs report had not been sufficiently discussed. While agreeing with the Near East Council’s diagnosis, he proposed that the solution to the problem of corporate solidarity in Islam was “promotion of religious freedom in Moslem lands.” But this offered little hope for the near term (as in the seventy years since). More realistically, he acknowledged a growing consensus against “controversy” in evangelism, and the need to win the family or group, delaying individual baptisms if necessary to do so.
Many Religions, One Gospel*
I do not conceive of the gospel of Christ as a religion at all. Jesus never used the word. It was foreign to his conception. He was not coming to set one religion over against another. He came to set the gospel over against human need, whether that need be in the Jewish faith, the Gentile religions, or among Jesus’ own followers. “There are many religions; there is but one gospel.” For religions are man’s search for God; the gospel is God’s search for man. One is from man up to God, and the other is from God down to man.
I know, when I say that, it sounds presumptuous, for a religion was built up around Jesus . . . but the gospel confronts that man-made and fallible system with the same demand and offer as it does the other religions. We do not preach this system built up around Jesus; we preach to it just as we would preach to any other human need. Our message is not the system, but the Savior.
He is the gospel. The gospel lies in his Person. He himself is the good news. He didn’t come to bring the good news. He is the good news. We therefore bring him to East and West and say: The issue is simple. Christ and his kingdom is the issue. Take him direct. . . . Go straight to the Gospels to discover Jesus anew.
—E. Stanley Jones
* Excerpt from E. Stanley Jones, Mahatma Gandhi: An Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury
Press, 1948), 63–64.
It was not until 1947 that the Moslem World resumed its discussion of the Near East Council’s report with A. R. Stevenson’s “Whoever Shall Confess Me Before Men. . . .” He acknowledged that there were good reasons to support the report’s position, but he would present only the case against it: “Christian converts drawn from the Moslem community should be urged to make public profession of their faith.” His article emphasized the example of apostolic witness and the utter absence of NT teaching supporting “secret belief.” Methodologically, Stevenson could not see how a vital, growing church could ever materialize following the latter alternative. Thus the erroneous understanding of what the Near East Council report had advocated persisted. Critics could only conceive of two options: aggressive, outspoken public witness or secret belief—despite the 1942 clarification that the unbeaten path being proposed was a third way: that of faithful disciples of Christ who were wise-as-serpent witnesses and did not “cast their pearls before swine.” Perhaps if the critics lived another generation and witnessed the spectacular growth of the underground church in Communist China, they might have responded differently; for under repressive totalitarian communism, the underground church did not follow an “open, public confession” methodology, but instead that of discreet and opportune witness similar to the “unbeaten path” envisioned by the Riggs report.
Thereafter, discussion of these ideas disappeared from the pages of the Moslem World, but they did not die. In 1969, veteran Southern Baptist missionary Virginia Cobb was weakened by disease and soon to be in the presence of the Lord, but her paper was read at the Tehran Conference, greatly impacting the conferees:
We are not trying to change anyone’s religion. Religion consists of affiliation with a group . . . [a] dogma, and structure of authority. . . . The New Testament is quite clear that none of these saves. It is possible to change all of them without knowing God. . . . Our message is a Person we’ve experienced, not a doctrine, system, [or] religion.
A few years later, in 1976, Martin Goldsmith reiterated the social impediment to conversion, hinting at the difference between personal piety and religious identity in Islamic society:
Islam is within the whole warp and woof of society—in the family, in politics, in social relationships. To leave the Muslim faith is to break with one’s whole society. . . . Many a modern educated Muslim is not all that religiously minded; but he must, nevertheless, remain a Muslim for social reasons. . . . This makes it almost
unthinkable for most Muslims even to consider the possibility of becoming a follower of some other religion.
For this reason, it has been observed that the conversion of a Muslim to Christianity has usually triggered a mechanism similar to the “transplant rejection” phenomenon in medicine. Converts are cut off from the family and society, and if the traditional sanction against “apostasy” (i.e., death) is not applied, they are forced to return to Islam, to join one of the isolated minority communities, or to emigrate to the West.
The following year John D. C. Anderson proposed the concept of a “Jesus Muslim”:
Is it possible for a man to be a child of God, a worshipper of Christ, and yet still to fall under the broad national and cultural category of being a Muslim? . . . There are many experienced Christians who would regard it as blatant compromise, or as a form of religious syncretism. But our need is to differentiate between the traditional concept of making a Muslim into a Christian, with all the transfer of his loyalties to an imported Christian subculture that this involves, and, in contrast, that of making him into a disciple of Jesus Christ, with a primary loyalty to him as Saviour and lord from amidst his nationalities. His headlong confrontation with conservative Muslim theology will come sooner or later. But may he have enough time to demonstrate to his family and friends that the servant of Christ is neither a blasphemer of Allah, nor a traitor to the best interests of his country, but in the highest possible sense one who submits himself to the will of God (which is what Islam means)? Thus the emphasis we are trying to make is upon the Muslim and his culture being changed from within. It was just in such a way that our Western culture has been changed from within, when once the transforming gospel made its entree. This approach is not currently accepted by the Western church. It is contended here, however, that its implications need much closer study. In any case, what are we to say to the fact that our traditional approach to the Muslim has been so singularly unproductive? In the past, a convert from Islam has only been seen by his fellow countrymen in a negative light as one who throws out Islam in toto. Whereas in fact, there is much in Islam that appeals to the conscience of good men.
The issue is really where the ultimate spiritual battle is to be fought. Is it to be inside Islam, or outside? In the one case a few expelled converts try, if they have the courage, to persuade their erstwhile Muslim friends to leave Islam and to join the Christians. In the other, a thousand earnest disciples, with varying depths of spiritual perception, are asking questions within Islam, which may ultimately shake it to its foundations.
Also in 1977, John Wilder wrote optimistically of Muslim people movements to Christ taking place along these lines. At the Glen Eyrie conference that same year, Harvie Conn outlined key concepts that laid foundations for later insider movement thinking. Conn emphasized the need to move beyond the traditional apologetic approach that set Christianity against Islam as monolithic ideologies. Moreover, essentialist views of religion failed to account for the sociological diversity found in Muslim cultures and precluded attempts to “transform or possess Islamic culture for Christ.” Conn also argued for conversion as a process of discipleship and for group decisions in an effort to remove unnecessary social, cultural, and communal obstacles to Muslims coming to Christ. The only barrier must be Christ alone. Conn’s attitude toward the notion of “Jesus Muslims” or a “Muslimun ‘Issawiyun (submission to Jesus) movement” was indicated by his conclusion: “We must look for a verbal equivalent similar to the Jews for Jesus movement who speak instead of being ‘completed in Christ.’” Meanwhile Charles Kraft called for “dynamic equivalence” churches that focused on true “faith-allegiance” versus Christianity as a religious system.39 These writings, all published prior to 1980, were followed by a seminal article by J. Dudley Woodberry in 1989 that provided one of the first case studies of the birth and growth of an IM.
Meanwhile, outside the arena of these missiological discussions, new practices were quietly being pioneered on the ground. For example, beginning in the 1930s, Rev. Fouad Accad, chairman of the Bible Society of the Middle East for forty-two years, had a fruitful evangelistic ministry among Muslims in the Arab world that embodied insider paradigm principles. By the 1970s, he was mentoring several missionaries and nationals in his approach (a number of whom are still active in insider ministry). Accad pored over the Qur’an along with Muslim commentaries and literature, searching for stepping stones to Jesus. He then developed and wrote The Seven Muslim Christian Principles, supporting each principle with verses from the Tawrah (OT), Zabur (Psalms), Injil (NT), and Qur’an. The team he was mentoring field-tested the book and saw it bear fruit. Accad’s mentoring ministry spread internationally, helping movements develop in other parts of the globe.
Contemporary Developments Regarding Insider Movements
During the past two millennia, millions of adherents of the world’s “minor religious traditions” (e.g., animistic, tribal, and ethnic belief systems) have accepted Jesus and embraced an entirely new religion, Christianity. However, those from the world’s presen
What a valuable collection of multi-faceted, clear explanations and examples of the cultural, religious, political, and other complexities surrounding the term “insider movements”! Scholars and practitioners from a wide variety of backgrounds present well-grounded research in addition to thoughtful accounts from personal experience, providing insights from Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Muslim contexts.
Well aware of the controversy surrounding the topic, the editors have included a number of articles that address objections in a non-confrontational manner (see especially Part 6). Perhaps the greatest triumph in this regard is Bartlotti’s exploration of the presuppositions framing such divergence of opinions (Chapter 6).
Most of the chapters are short and easily digestible in one sitting, with the notable exception of Woodberry’s profound exploration of the history and context of the pillars of Islam (Chapter 45), which surges to nearly thirty pages. Each division of the book comes complete with study questions, making this volume ideal as a textbook or general reference book. I hope that Understanding Insider Movements (or UIM, as it is affectionately referenced within its own pages), will spread far and wide, informing and inspiring many regarding God’s work in the Kingdom around the world.
This book is well titled! If you want to understand insider movements, this is the book for you. Whether you’re largely unfamiliar with the concept, or quite familiar with the idea of insider movements and the surrounding debate, this book probably has what you need to deepen your understanding and forward your thinking on the topic. It certainly deepened my understanding. That isn’t to say that this book is for everyone. But if you’re reading this review, you’re probably not “everyone.”
One of the major strengths of Understanding Insider Movements is how it brings together voices from many different backgrounds, theologies, and even times. The result is that the book provides a rich diversity of insight into insider movements and the relevant Biblical teaching. I suspect that even many of the contributing authors would learn from reading this book.
Although Understanding Insider Movements is clearly supportive of insider movements, not all the material is unequivocally in favor of insider movements. I felt the book did a good job of equipping me to think critically about insider movements.
On the negative side, many readers will probably only benefit from certain sections of the book. Those who have already read significantly on insider movements will not benefit much from the introductory section, while those who do not need to think about all of the nuances of insider movements will not be as benefited by the advanced sections. But for others, it will be a book that they keep coming back to.
Because certain Bible passages are more relevant to the topic of insider movements, many different articles (re)examined and (re)exegeted the same Biblical passages. Sometimes different examinations of the same passage brought out different insights or nuances, or applied different questions, but the repetition of the same argument based on the same passage, again, occasionally made reading later articles tedious. In this respect, Understanding Insider Movements works better as a textbook, read over a semester, than as a one-time examination of the topic.
Despite these one or two weaknesses, I think anyone interested in insider movements will get a lot out of this book.
In a globalizing world where the interaction of differing religious groups will only increase, Understanding Insider Movements is a must read for the missiologist and layperson alike. It strikes a perfect balance of being scholarly, yet engaging, and communicating a clear message without unfair bias.
What does it look like when the gospel implants into a new group of people with unique values, customs, and worldview? What if your neighbor, coworker, or classmate could be one of those people? This is the best resource you will find on the subject.
Personally, the process of wrestling through these questions brought freshness and new insight into my own understanding of the message of Jesus to me, and I hope it does the same for you!
Throughout my studies in missiology, intercultural studies and theology over the last decade, I have grown accustomed to hunting down articles from many sources for research projects on contextual ministry among various non-Christian religions as my studies lent themselves to. I am thankful for this new volume that has compiled many of the main source texts on Insider Movements, along with many new (to me) global voices on the topic. The volume is grounded in scripture throughout, bringing the reader/minister/researcher back to the original Biblical texts. I wish that “Understanding Insider Movements” had been on my shelf throughout my studies, but am thankful that it will now be a resource for future generations of men and women training for intercultural ministry. This anthology of articles and narratives should become a staple for those preparing for ministry in non-Christian religious communities. I will recommend it to all intercultural studies and missiology students. I am excited to hear about the many more stories of new Christ followers that I pray will come as a result of learning from those who have gone before us.
Understanding Insider Movements is groundbreaking in many respects. It provides an overview of what has been written about insider movements, both historically and missiologically, and is a foundation for the discussion. Highly encouraging, deeply illuminating, and thoroughly researched, it brings things into perspective and helps us find answers to questions that are so often deeper than expected. It shows God’s heart for His body being of one mind while celebrating His followers’ diverse backgrounds. The topics are thoroughly developed, and it is quite easy to follow how the different aspects are unfolding without losing the overall picture. Additionally, the book doesn’t require one to be an expert to understand what it is all about.
Missiological wisdom comes through again and again in these chapters. It is convicting at times to read of how God was guiding people 70, 90, or more than 100 years ago toward insider missiology when it was not yet adequately recognized.
One of the book’s overall emphases is creating a common understanding of what is meant by the term “insider movements,” as this will give a basis for further edification and cooperation. Different, often underlying, concepts and worldviews are exposed in the process.
There are 7 parts to this almost 700-page anthology. Here is an overview:
Part 1: Setting the Stage
The term “insider movement” is introduced and examined, including the historical development of the “insider paradigm.” A lot of burning questions are addressed, including myths and misunderstandings. I found the articles in part 1 helpful as preparation for a deeper understanding of the following parts.
At the end of each part are study question which can be used for groups as well as individuals. The study questions help the reader wrestle with the issues at hand and solidify a thorough understanding of the content.
Part 2: Examples, Testimonies, and Analysis
Part 2 has two sections. Section 1 addresses examples and testimonies.
My starting question was “Is God in all of this? How do I get my understanding lined up with what I encounter?” The examples and testimonies are not only from the Muslim world but, surprisingly, also from the Buddhist and Hindu worlds. Despite the obvious differences in context, there are certain commonalities.
What stood out to me was that biblical faith and Jesus are at the center of insider movements. This is refreshing, amazing, and praiseworthy. And convicting at times.
Section 2 digs deeper into case study analysis. The case studies show how different movements can be from each other; they also expose the hurdles that keep people from coming to Christ and show ways God has overcome some of those hurdles.
Part 3: Biblical and Theological Perspectives
This part starts with a biblical paradigm for mission and looks into the Old Testament regarding insider movements. In the New Testament the theme of conversion is addressed together with Jesus’ examples of discipling among the lost. Additionally, what “keys to insider movements” do we see in the book of Acts? What is the incarnational model of Jesus and Paul? What role does Acts 15 play in this discussion? The supremacy of Scripture is highlighted. 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul becoming all things to all men so that by all means he might save some, is examined and applied to what we see God doing around the world in our times.
Part 4: Contextualization, Religion and Syncretism
Part 4 is divided into two sections. Section 1 analyses contextualization. It addresses how Christ has often been imprisoned within the concepts of “Christian,” “Christianity,” and “Church.” I found this sobering—if this is true, the biggest obstacles for a move of God are actually the very people who bring the “good news.” This part also addresses the issue of how the gospel cannot be received as good news independent of the messenger, the messengers’ background and affiliations.
Going beyond that is Section 2: Religion and Syncretism. Deeper questions are asked: What is religion, actually? Is the modern Western concept of religion deterministic in our understanding of mission? Is the mere idea of “world religions” inadequate in cross-cultural encounters? Can it be that by trying to avoid syncretism, syncretism is actually produced? Some of these dynamics are illuminated, and while the difficulties in dealing with religions and syncretism are undeniable, solutions are not easily available.
The study questions in part 4 are especially helpful and engaging, even more so if the reader has overseas/cross-cultural experience.
Part 5: Approaches in Witness
The role of “alongsiders” is analyzed, especially in the Muslim context. What does it mean to “become like” and “remain like” a people? How does the witness’s attitude towards Islam and Muslims shape the witnessing?
Is “church planting” actually a way forward? Or is “church planting” already so steeped with cultural, religious, and historic baggage that witnesses jeopardize God’s work before they even start? Are there ways out of this dilemma, and if so, what do they look like? Can we learn new approaches from Scripture?
Part 6: Concerns and Misunderstandings
One chapter looks at the history of the C-scale and how it has been misused, even by expert missiologists. Other issues are raised: How can insiders respond to Christian concerns? The answers to the question of “Is Allah God?” are dealing not just with intellectual misunderstandings but also with convictions we as readers bring to the table. Can we learn lessons from history about the possible pitfalls of Jesus movements? What are the points different groups can agree or not agree upon when it comes to those concerns? How do we deal with different viewpoints?
Part 7: Identity
This part is especially relevant to the cross-cultural worker, as everyone is wrestling with these issues. The identity of the worker is addressed as well as the identity of the individuals and communities who hear about Jesus. This is especially crucial, because right here the gospel is at stake: Is Jesus actually understood by the hearer in the way the messengers intend to make Him known, or is this understanding already compromised because identity issues were not adequately addressed in the first place? Can the workers’ self-identity and their perception of the hearers’ identity compromise the good news? Is it cultural identity that the hearer believes needs to change? What are some different, more helpful models of individual identity?
The book closes with two testimonies I perceived as very helpful. They show a healthy way forward, and it is good to see experts saying that they are still on the journey. The Holy Spirit is teaching everyone, and we can all learn from one another. This book is a huge step forward in that direction.
In the last part of this review, I would like to address a few questions that might come up:
Who should read this book? In general, everyone who has heard the term “insider movements” and wants to form an opinion on it.
Who should study the book? Missiologists, mission-minded students, field workers, and professors of cross-cultural studies, theology, and missions.
Why read and study this book? The content is on the cutting edge of missiology; it will shape the future of cross-cultural work. Besides that I see the potential for further unity on a topic that has stood out for the volatile discussions surrounding it. We can all be on the same page rather than needlessly regurgitating misunderstandings.
Is this just a one-sided presentation and justification of insider movements? No, it is not. It addresses issues raised by lots of people over many decades. It is a scholarly work, and all the contributors know what they are talking about.
How fundamental is this book regarding missions? It addresses core issues that have been wrestled with for a long time—some for over a hundred years. There will be a steep learning curve for anyone new to these ideas, yet I believe reading this book early can potentially save someone a lot of frustration and connect him or her to the heart of God in surprising ways.
Is it practical? It is not a step-by-step problem-solving book, and it does require everyone to prayerfully consider what the Holy Spirit wants to teach through these pages. Reading it, and applying whatever wisdom God is granting everyone in practical ways, is a spiritual act. We need His wisdom.
Do I need first hand cross-cultural experience to digest the content or can it be understood without going overseas? I cannot imagine that the content could be understood in more than a superficial way without the reader having some overseas/cross-cultural experience. It might, however, be best to read it even before going overseas simply to acquire awareness of the many different issues involved. That said, the cross-cultural practitioner with 20 years of experience might get more out of it than the one with 5 years.
In missions, we all know the term ‘Insider Movement.’
It has been tossed around a lot in recent years - sometimes favorably, sometimes with passionate distrust. But there was nowhere one could turn for an extensive Biblical, historical, anecdotal, scholarly and honest look at the subject. That is,until now. Travis’ andTalman’s excellent new book,‘Understanding Insider Movements, Disciples of Jesus Within Diverse Religious Communities,’ brings together articles from experts in all these different fields and arranges them in a way that flows, bringing the reader along. Thus ,after dispelling myths, learning the Biblical basis and historical background of these movements, examing case studies and seeing how to eliminate syncretism, at the end, I believe the open-minded reader can truly say he/she ‘understands Insider Movements.’
Thank you for this much-needed, timely volume!