Book Notice: “A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement”

Doug Coleman, PhD in Applied Theology with Missions from SEBTS, has recently published his dissertation: A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology and Ecclesiology in the EMS Dissertation Series (WICU Press, 2011). His work evaluates the Insider Movement paradigm (IMP)-a proposal that faith in Jesus does not require severing ties with one’s pre-faith religious community-from four perspectives: the theology of religions, the doctrine of revelation, soteriology, and ecclesiology. This is a very important work for theologians and missionaries (i.e. all Christians) in contact with Muslims. Keep an eye out for the forthcoming Kindle version of this book.

Doug has served in overseas missions for 14 years, primarily among Central Asian Muslims with the IMB. Coleman is also author of “The Agents of Mission: Humanity,” in Theology and Practice of Missions: God, the Church, and the Nations edited by yours truly.

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  1. Roger Simpson   •  

    What is meant by “severing ties” with a non-Christian religious community when one becomes a Christian?

    To me it seems that the essential truth claims of any non-Christian religion and Christianity are mutually exclusive so there is no way a person could logically hold both of these sets of “beliefs” at once.

    However, just because Christianity and non-Christian religions are mutually exclusive at their core, does not in any way support the thesis that “severing ties” is in order. I can’t see how this is Biblical regardless of the trajectory of one’s conversion experience and regardless of who the people are from which a person is severing ties.

    Christians, and especially Christian missionaries, intentionally try to “build ties” not “severe” them. We can “have ties” with people without rubber-stamping their religious beliefs.

    Jonah tried to “sever ties” with the Ninevites. God intervened with different plans.

    Paul, as a former devout Jew, was not too interested in going to the Gentiles, but God sent him to Europe. However, Paul didn’t cease all communication with the Jews. He just called them to task for wrongheaded thinking about how the nascent church would develop.

    The paradigm Paul modeled is that the important thing is “what is happening now and going forward” — not “what type of baggage are you bringing to the table”.

    Roger Simpson
    Oklahoma City

  2. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Roger,

    Hi, and thank you for taking the time to comment. I think the problem is with my verbage in describing Coleman’s book. The Insider Movement proponents urge Muslim converts to Christ to continue calling themselves Muslims, and to continue attending the mosque as if nothing had ever happened. The severing of ties that I mention is not a severing of relationships; it is a severing of ties with one’s old identity as a Muslim.

    Blessings,
    Bruce

  3. Doug Coleman   •  

    Hi Roger,
    Dr. Ashford’s clarification is helpful. Perhaps it is also worth noting that the Insider Movement Paradigm (IMP) defies a simple, brief description or explanation. However, its fundamental claim is that one can come to faith in the biblical Jesus and yet remain vitally connected to his pre-conversion *religious* community. According to this claim, a Muslim can therefore possess salvific faith while at the same time potentially participating in “Muslim” rituals with other Muslims who have not believed on the biblical Jesus, i.e. continuing to go to mosque worship and prayers, and possibly even going on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Advocates state these rituals would need various degrees of reinterpretation, but they are not necessarily fundamentally incompatible with biblical faith. This claim rests on a number of sociological, biblical, and theological propositions. My dissertation is a critique of the most significant biblical and theological arguments offered by IMP advocates.

    By the way, I do agree that new followers of Jesus should attempt to retain relationships with their pre-conversion communities, but I think biblical teaching prohibits participation in non-Chrisitan *religious* rituals; thus the conclusion that new believers need to sever ties with their pre-faith *religious* community.

    A final note: IMP advocates lean heavily on the early church’s continued association with the Temple and synagogue, which necessarily implies some similar type of relationship between Islam and Christianity as with Judaism and Christianity. My dissertation addresses this at several points, but most directly in the chapter dealing with ecclesiology and the IMP.

    Blessings,
    Doug

  4. Roger Simpson   •  

    Dr Ashford:

    Thanks for straightening me out as to what the “Insider Movement” is.

    I have never heard of the “Insider Movement” before. I guess I’ll have to look into this movement. The idea of someone converting from one religion [the “source”] to another [the “target”] and keeping the conversion a secret is a new concept to me. I don’t know if there is a Biblical (or practical) warrent for this or not.

    I’m trying to think of any Biblical example of a Christian (or a group of Christians) being converted to Christianity but still exhibiting outward signs of “practicing” their old religion. Maybe this would open up some opportunity to share the Gospel that would otherwise be closed. However, I’m not able to invision a real-world scenario of how the Gospel would be advanced as a result of the “Insider Movement”.

    Evidently, this is going on in certain Muslem areas in the Middle East and/or North Africa and/or Indonesia and is an issue that IMB missionaries are encountering.

    Is there a “popular level” book that a layman, like me, could read that engages this topic? I don’t think I’d be able to wade through a PhD thesis.

    I used to work with Muslems in Silicon Valley. I shared an office with a guy who has a PhD in Math from the University of Kansas. He was a Imam at the mosque at Lawrence KS while he was going to school. From what I know I about Islam, I’d say that if a person from an Islamic background said that “they accepted Christianity” while continuing to attend Friday prayers and staying organically plugged into the Mosque then they hadn’t really accepted Christianity. They were just being polite and saying that they “accepted Christ” in a way that means they gave mental accent to the fact that a person who is a prophet and great teacher named Jesus Christ existed.

    If you strip away cultural baggage and 2nd order doctrines and focus on the essentials then Christians and Moslems belive the “same thing” about God EXCEPT for the most important thing.

    Christians –> Christ is GOD and belief in Him is the vehicle for our salvation

    Moslems –> There is no GOD but ALLAH and recognition of him equates with salvation and eternal life.

    Roger Simpson Oklahoma City OK

  5. Tim Rogers   •  

    Dr. Ashford,

    In reading the analysis of the IMP on the WICU website it states;

    To support this claim, IMP proponents appeal to a number of arguments, some of them sociological but others biblical and theological

    Could you help me with the biblical paradigm used in urging converts to remain in “one’s pre-faith religious community”?

    Blessings,
    Tim

  6. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Tim,

    I think Doug’s comments, above, end up answering the question you posed to me. The IM folks make an analogy with how early Christians continued to go to the synagogue with the Jews who had rejected Christ. Based on that analogy, they say that Muslims can/should continue going to the mosque and being practicing Muslims externally.

    Doug Coleman (and I) think this is a bad analogy for many reasons.

    Blessings,
    Bruce

  7. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Roger,

    Hi! I think that Doug Coleman’s comment ends up asnwering the question that you posed to me about what IM’s biblical argument is. Maybe Doug can also speak to your other question concerning a lay level book on the topic. Let’s stay tuned to see what he says.

    Blessings,
    Bruce

  8. Doug Coleman   •  

    Tim & Roger,
    Thank you for the questions. Other than reading my dissertation :) perhaps the best way for you to get a picture of what IMP advocates are proposing would be to read a couple of their own articles. The two that I would recommend as starters are both by Kevin Higgins, a leading IMP advocate, and both are freely available on the internet. A quick search will lead you to them. The titles are “Inside What?” and “The Key to Insider Movements.” These articles will give you some idea of the biblical and theological arguments to which IMP advocates appeal for support of their paradigm.

    Roger, you’ve hit on one of the main motivations mentioned by IMP advocates: maintaining ties with the religious community in order to witness. Advocates suggest that converting from Islam to Christianity causes former Muslims to be cut off altogether, thus eliminating the possibility of witness.

    A related issue is the strong reaction in Muslim societies to “changing one’s religion.” Therefore, say IMP advocates, we need to stop focusing on promoting “Christianity” and encourage Muslims to seek the Kingdom of God. For IMP advocates, the Kingdom of God is not necessarily incompatible with a “Muslim” identity, although many of the traditional Muslim beliefs and practices would need to be reinterpreted, and some of them possibly abandoned.

    As far a popular level book, I am only aware of one that critiques the Insider Movement paradigm, but I have not yet read it. The title is Chrislam: How Missionaries Are Promoting an Islamized Gospel and it was edited by Joshua Lingel, Jeff Morton, and Bill Nikides. I believe it was released after my dissertation was completed. I am familiar with many of the authors, have read a number of articles by some of them, and attended a conference sponsored by i2, the ministry that published the book.

    Another recent PhD graduate, from Southern Seminary, wrote his dissertation on IM as well, but focusing more on the historical development and methodological issues. We are in the process of working on a joint book for a popular audience.

    Like most new ideas, this paradigm has roots that extend back decades, but it has recently emerged as the latest form of outreach to Muslims, and as you can imagine it is quite controversial. For the record, my dissertation argues that it lacks appropriate biblical and theological foundations. I have no reason to believe that any of my professors at SEBTS would endorse the paradigm.

    Doug

  9. Tim Rogers   •  

    Dr. Ashford,

    You write;

    The IM folks make an analogy with how early Christians continued to go to the synagogue with the Jews who had rejected Christ. Based on that analogy, they say that Muslims can/should continue going to the mosque and being practicing Muslims externally.

    Doug Coleman (and I) think this is a bad analogy for many reasons.

    Dr. Coleman writes;

    A related issue is the strong reaction in Muslim societies to “changing one’s religion.” Therefore, say IMP advocates, we need to stop focusing on promoting “Christianity” and encourage Muslims to seek the Kingdom of God. For IMP advocates, the Kingdom of God is not necessarily incompatible with a “Muslim” identity, although many of the traditional Muslim beliefs and practices would need to be reinterpreted, and some of them possibly abandoned.

    Like most new ideas, this paradigm has roots that extend back decades, but it has recently emerged as the latest form of outreach to Muslims, and as you can imagine it is quite controversial. For the record, my dissertation argues that it lacks appropriate biblical and theological foundations. I have no reason to believe that any of my professors at SEBTS would endorse the paradigm.

    That is the kind of information I am used to seeing from SEBTS. It gives one the information and then tells one the reason “that dog will not hunt.”

    ;)

    Blessings,
    Tim

  10. Roger Simpson   •  

    Dr. Ashford & Dr. Coleman:

    Thanks for answering my questions!!

    At least in my experience [limited to Moslems I’ve known personally in Silicon Valley as a result of working relationships] I’d say that the “insider movement” is neither necessary nor helpful.

    It is not necessary because Moslems are very open to discussing religious topics — in fact they are often proactive in talking about religion – making a case for why you should convert to Islam. So if a Christian wants to interact with Moslems he/she does not need to go “underground” to do so.

    It is not helpful because Moslems tend to view “new” (i.e. new to them) ideas through two big filters: One is: what the message is; and the other is: who the messenger is.

    My personal experience is that they won’t accept a message — no matter how “robust it is theologically” or how “appealing it is logically” or how “compelling it is with personal warmth” if it comes from an infidel. To a Moslem, anyone — such as a Christian — who doesn’t ascribe to a “one God” paradigm is an infidel. A crude analogy would be Christians are to Moslems as Pagans/Polytheists are to Christians. [I use the term “Pagans” in a popular way — i.e. “many Gods”; not necessarily meaning “God and Nature are one”.]

    Moslems are not hard-wired to “accept” the Christian understanding of the Trinity. And if you can’t get past this point you will probably not make much headway with them.

    Reaching Moslems for Christ is going to have to be 99% the work of the Holy Spirit and 1% the work of Evangelization because “getting the message to them” is only the first baby step towards conversion to Christianity.

    For what it is worth, I’d say that most Muslim stuff such as Friday prayers, minarets, Imams, trips to Mecca etc. don’t really cut to the core of either Islam or Christianity.

    If XYZ Baptist Church in Oklahoma City decided to take out the pews and have people pray while kneeling on the floor, and then they put up towers with loud speakers calling people to prayer, and then they had their service on Friday rather than Sunday, that would be “weird”. But there is nothing anti-Christian about any of those practices. If we re-decorated our churches so no images were present but instead only Arabic calligraphy that would be “far out” but that is not inherently anti-Christian either.

    My point is we should not get caught up in cultural baggage. The “cultural engagement” model — that evidently the “Insider Movement” is based upon — is a sideshow. There is a huge gulf separating Christianity from Islam regardless of any cultural baggage on either side.

    Patching up any “cultural differences” does not address any fundamental issue. Instead it trivializes the differences between Christianity and Islam because it tacitly assumes that cultural barriers are the controlling divide between the belief systems.

    Say Muslims wanted to “reverse engineer” the IM movement and set it up here in Oklahoma City. What if they built a mosque that looked like a Baptist Church. What if they put in pews? What if they did away with the Arabic calligraphy? What if they had their services on Sunday AM? What if they had choirs and/or praise teams? What if they did away with minarets? The only difference would be that the rack on the back of the pews had Korans rather than Bibles. Would people fall for this thinking this was just an incremental delta from Christianity?

    I will look up the references you suggest by Kevin Higgins. Also I’ll go on Amazon and try to trace down the book by Lingel, Morton and Nikides. I’m willing to revise my view of the IM pending receipt of a “worked out example”. One that says, “We couldn’t make much progress with the Islamic community in xxx country until we unleashed Christians, with a Muslim heritage, into the mosques and then we saw wholesale conversions to Christianity.”

    How can the IM concept of “bringing people to the Kingdom of God” have any meaning when two different Gods, that have mutually exclusive attributes, are in view?

    Roger Simpson – Oklahoma City OK

  11. Salaam Corniche   •  

    Thank you Roger for your provocative proposal to change your mind re IM “One that says, “We couldn’t make much progress with the Islamic community in xxx country until we unleashed Christians, with a Muslim heritage, into the mosques and then we saw wholesale conversions to Christianity.”
    Do you know that this was tried in Bangladesh. Press came from Bangladesh that said there were as many as 8 million Insiders. I asked a Bengali at a conference how many ex-Muslim believers in Christ there were in Bangladesh and he estimated between 50,000 and 90,000. So beware of the spin doctors. Did you know that the Bengalis released a video that shows just how bad IM is for them? It goes under the name “UnHeralded” and you can find it on You Tube.
    Thank you once again Drs Ashford and Coleman for your respective work and letting others know of a valuable resource in the thesis. God bless you.
    Shalom.

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