Looking at Insider Movements (6): Resources for Further Study

By: Doug Coleman

In this final installment I’ll point to some resources for further study and make a few summary remarks about the Insider Movement debate.

Publications by proponents exist almost exclusively in the form of journal articles. The majority of these have appeared in just a few journals, several of which are freely available online. Most of the positive articles have been published in the International Journal of Frontier Missiology (www.ijfm.org) and Mission Frontiers (www.missionfrontiers.org).

Critics have offered a number of responses via articles published in St. Francis Magazine, which can also be accessed free of charge online (www.stfrancismagazine.info/ja/). Also, the web site Biblical Missiology (biblicalmissiology.org) was founded to address concerns about IM methodology (yours truly is not the founder or a participant, by the way). Most recently, the folks there have focused on issues related to Bible translation, particularly controversy related to translation of Sonship and familial terminology.

I have previously mentioned my own dissertation available either from the SEBTS library or for sale here, or in Kindle version. It focuses solely on biblical and theological issues. However, another excellent dissertation critiquing selected missiological elements of IM was completed and submitted at Southern Seminary last year. It also gives an excellent description of the development of IM. You can access it for free here.

Finally, i2 ministries has sponsored conferences critiquing IM, and has published a book as well: Chrislam: How Missionaries Are Promoting an Islamized Gospel. I have not yet read the book because it was released after I returned to the field last year and I have not been able to obtain a copy. See a review and lengthy discussion in the comments section here.

At the beginning of this series, I noted that the tone of this debate has often been less than charitable. I do believe this is worth debating, even vigorously, because the consequences of the outcome are potentially quite serious. But the debate doesn’t require ad hominem arguments or presupposing motives. Furthermore, participants in the debate should work hard to avoid misrepresentations or mis-characterizations, unintentional or not. Unfortunately, I almost always find myself issuing qualifications when I recommend resources from both sides, often not because I disagree with the content, but because I find the tone or other comments objectionable.

I don’t claim that my own writing navigates the waters perfectly, but I can say that fairness, charity, and accuracy have been my highest secondary objectives. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned and interacting in the comments section. I hope it’s been helpful.

[Editor’s Note: Doug Coleman is a SEBTS alum who lives and works in Central Asia. His SEBTS dissertation was recently published as A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology (Pasadena, CA: WICU Press, 2011). We asked Dr. Coleman to publish a critique of the Insider Movement here at BtT, in the form of a six-part blog series.]

Looking at Insider Movements (5): Evaluation (Part 2)

By: Doug Coleman

The previous post dealt mostly with the issue of theology of religions, although it touched on the issue of possible revelation in non-Christian religions. In this post, I want to briefly comment on a few key passages frequently referenced by IM advocates.

Proponents often note the watershed decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. They rightly note that Gentile believers were not required to “go through” Judaism (i.e., be circumcised) in order to be saved. Therefore, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others should not be required to go through “Christianity” today. I can only offer two extremely brief responses. First, if by “Christianity” IM advocates mean a Western cultural form of the worship of Jesus, I agree. But IM on the one hand, and Western cultural Christianity on the other, are not the only alternatives. Second, IM advocates are making Acts 15 answer a question that was not being asked. The early Gentile believers were not saying, “Can we remain in our Gentile pagan religious system and community if we modify some of our beliefs and behavior?” No, they were saying, “Must we take on circumcision?” In other words, the Acts 15 discussion was not about what must or mustn’t be put off, but about what must or mustn’t be put on.

Regarding Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 7:20, 24-that each man should remain in the state in which he was called-I think IM advocates fail to interpret this in light of Paul’s instructions later in the same letter. IM advocates rightly note that the immediate context of 1 Cor 7:20-24 does involve some religious matters (after all, Paul mentions circumcision in 1 Cor 7:19). However, Paul strongly and unequivocally prohibits continued participation in pagan religious activity in 1 Cor 10:20-22. Therefore, unless Paul is hopelessly self-contradictory or schizophrenic, his exhortation to “remain” in 7:20 cannot refer to remaining in pagan religious activity.

This brings me to the suggestion that 1 Cor 8:10 refers to a former pagan, now turned follower of Christ, who is at least in part remaining within his pagan religious community. In other words, he’s still dining at the pagan temple, but Paul doesn’t condemn the practice in itself, only because it harms a weaker brother. I’ll note a few possible interpretations here (you’ll have to read the dissertation if you want all the background). (1) The situation in 8:10 is not actually happening, but is hypothetical. (2) The dining is actually occurring but it is a social-not religious-occasion, so the stronger brother is free to eat if he can do so without causing a weaker brother to stumble. (3) The dining is actually happening, and it is wrong, but Paul doesn’t outright condemn it outright in 8:10, only later in chapter 10 (because he is mainly concerned with brotherly relations in chapter 8 and/or he employs a rhetorical strategy that saves the stronger condemnation until later).

The key point to note here is that none of these interpretations are compatible with an Insider approach. Again, in 1 Cor 10:20-22 Paul clearly and unequivocally condemns participation in anything that constitutes idol worship. So, do Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Christians worship idols? As much as I would like to, I don’t have space to fully address that here. In short, I think the answer is “yes.” If you’re really interested, you’ll have to read at least a few pages of my dissertation.[1]

Finally, I need to say a few words about the analogy between early Jewish believers and Muslim Insiders. First, while there is no clear consensus on exactly when all Jewish believers completely separated from the Temple and synagogue or from the Jewish religious community, history indicates that many of them did stay closely connected for a lengthy period, for various reasons. However, while IM proponents acknowledge some discontinuity between Judaism and Islam, I think the discontinuity is overly minimized. I think Scripture portrays a much more radical discontinuity between the faith of Judaism/Christianity and all other faiths, however politically incorrect such a view may be today.

I believe the exhortation of Hebrews 13:13 (“let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach”) is particularly important for this discussion, especially in light of this analogy. Again, if you’re really interested you’ll have to check the dissertation for all the supporting documentation and discussion (pp. 210-223), but I believe the author of Hebrews was calling Jewish background followers of Jesus to make (or maintain) a decisive break with the religious community and system of Judaism. If this was essential for first-century Jewish believers, how much more so for those who come to faith from non-Christian religions today?

There’s so much more to say, but that’s why I wrote a dissertation.


[1] Doug Coleman, A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology (Pasadena: WCIU Press, 2011), 59-61.

[Editor’s Note: Doug Coleman is a SEBTS alum who lives and works in Central Asia. His SEBTS dissertation was recently published as A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology (Pasadena, CA: WICU Press, 2011). We asked Dr. Coleman to publish a critique of the Insider Movement here at BtT, in the form of a six-part blog series.]

Looking at Insider Movements (4): Evaluation (Part 1)

By: Doug Coleman

So what do we make of the biblical and theological arguments of IM proponents? This was the sole purpose of my entire dissertation, and even still I feel like more could have been done. So, a couple of blog posts will be terribly inadequate to offer anything but a number of summary statements. But here are a few brief thoughts.

First, while I appreciate Kevin Higgins’ effort to provide some biblical and theological rationale, I find claims about God working within the non-Christian religions biblically unconvincing. After closely scrutinizing the six characters or passages he cites, I do not find biblical indications that God is working within, or via, these non-Christian religions. God is certainly calling out to, drawing, and convicting individuals (and perhaps even groups) within these religions, and He is certainly “in relationship” with those individuals (albeit it sometimes an adversarial one). But I do not see biblical indications that God ordained these religions as preparation for the gospel or that He is using them as vehicles of communication.

For example, regarding the sailors of Jonah, Higgins makes three brief claims: (1) their prayers are heard by Yahweh, (2) Yahweh directs the answer when they cast lots, and (3) therefore, they are in relationship with Yahweh.[1] In one sense, all three claims can possibly be affirmed. The sailors clearly cast lots (Jonah 1:7) and it seems that God directed. Furthermore, the text indicates the sailors prayed on two occasions, the first time each man praying to his own god (1:5), the second time specifically to Yahweh, Jonah’s God (1:14). Their second prayer was answered (they were spared), but the text nowhere establishes a cause and effect relationship between their prayer to Yahweh and the outcome. In fact, Jonah had already informed them they would be saved if they cast him into the sea (1:12).

The sailors, as with all individuals who have ever lived, are certainly in some kind of relationship with Yahweh, but the text gives no indication that their prayer was anything other than an egocentric concern for their own safety. Furthermore, the text nowhere suggests that God used their religion as a means of communicating or relating to them. God appears to have directed the casting of lots, but lot casting was a common practice among the Israelites and the ancient Near East, so the sailors’ actions are not surprising. But again, how could this support the conclusion that God was working within a non-Christian religious system, or that He intended to affirm such a religion? The other biblical examples Higgins cites are equally problematic.

Similarly, this claim that God is working within the religions of the world-or the possible implication that He ordained them as a means of preparation for the gospel-cuts against the grain of repeated biblical judgments on other religions and the biblical emphasis on the covenant people as the means by which God intends to bring salvation to the nations.

This is not to suggest that non-Christian religions are entirely devoid of any kind of true statements. In fact, I believe there are biblical and theological reasons to expect that most, if not all, non-Christian religions will contain elements of both general and special revelation. However, I am not suggesting that God inspired Muhammad in the way that Kevin Higgins believes He did. Historical evidence suggests that biblical content was available to Muhammad, possibly from multiple human sources. He also had access to general revelation, as do all humans. Therefore, it is not surprising to find true statements within Islam. But this does not mean that God inspired Muhammad, that He is working within Islam to bring Muslims to Christ, or that He ordained Islam as some sort of preparation for the gospel. The latter claim would be troublesomely anachronistic since Muhammad was born almost 600 years after Jesus.

Therefore, it seems misguided to place the religions within the Kingdom of God, as Higgins does. Ultimately, God does reign over all (however you want to work out the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility). But as George Ladd points out, the Kingdom of God is primarily a soteriological idea, and it has come in the person and activity of Jesus, the King.[2]

In the next post I’ll make a few comments on several of the key passages cited by IM proponents, and mention the analogy between early Jewish believers and Muslim Insiders.


[1] Kevin Higgins, “Inside What? Church, Culture, Religion and Insider Movements in Biblical Perspective,” SFM 5 (August 2009): 85.

[2] George Eldon Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1952), 81-91.

[Editor’s Note: Doug Coleman is a SEBTS alum who lives and works in Central Asia. His SEBTS dissertation was recently published as A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology (Pasadena, CA: WICU Press, 2011). We asked Dr. Coleman to publish a critique of the Insider Movement here at BtT, in the form of a six-part blog series.]