Book Review: Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus

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Book: Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus

by Jerry Trousdale Thomas Nelson, 2012 (208pp), ISBN 978-1-4185-4728-8 ($9.99)

Review by Jeff Morton

 

Better than cauliflower

I don’t like cauliflower. I know it’s good for me, but that doesn’t make it taste any better; however, there are things I do because they are right, not because I enjoy them. You are probably expecting me to say I didn’t want to read this book, but I did; and it was good for me, right? No, I wanted to read Jerry Trousdale’s many-storied account of how the church is growing among Muslims in Africa because the setting is Africa. I have a soft spot for the continent, having spent nine years there with SIM.

So what I’m saying is that I was prepared not to like the book; and in the end, I certainly enjoyed reading the book, but it left me with more questions than answers.[1]

Let me provide a quick synopsis of the book and then I will work through some of the questions I have.

 

Summary

Trousdale primarily emphasizes the need for–hold on to your cliché detector–a paradigm shift among Christians vis-à-vis discipleship. Summarizing the seven shifts in chapter 12, the author has nevertheless woven these ideas throughout the previous chapters punctuating each point with several illustrative narratives of Christians who are living out the principles. The seven shifts are

  • Make intercessory prayer the highest priority
  • Make disciples who make disciples
  • Invest time in the right person
  • Don’t tell people what to believe or do
  • Never settle for revealing just one dimension of Jesus’ life
  • Never substitute knowledge about God for an obedience-based relationship with God[2]
  • Understand that Jesus does impossible things through the most ordinary people (180-185).

The book offers principles many of us are already following; so a seasoned discipler may not glean as much from the book as a greenhorn, but Trousdale does provide at least one major improvement over some other discipleship books. The methods are not simply biblical (a point I will discuss below), they are in fact Jesus-oriented. Jesus practiced these principles and they are therefore tested by a master discipler, the incarnate God himself. One cannot ask for a better endorsement than that!

Finally, let me put your mind at ease. The book is not on a crusade to convince the reader that insider movements (IM) principles are the best way to make disciples. That is not to say Trousdale’s work does not overlap in a few areas with IM; it does, but the book is most assuredly not a primer for producing insiders. Now let’s get into a few problematic matters.

 

Questions

Style

The first thing I noticed about Trousdale’s style was the apparently conscious decision to call believers from Islamic backgrounds Christ-followers; those from a non Muslim background were signified as Christians.[3] I appreciate that the author has not shied away from using the C-word unlike so many proponents of IM. And I am not opposed to having the Christian from a Muslim background called a Christ-follower (cf. 15, 22, et al). But before you work yourself up in a tizzy, Trousdale does use, albeit sparingly, the C-word for Muslims who have converted (cf. twice on p. 25, and elsewhere). I don’t ever remember seeing the word converted applied to a believer, but transformed is used frequently. So I guess my only real complaint here is that I wish the author had also applied the term Christ-followers to Christians from non-Muslim backgrounds, too.

 

Subtance

You may think I’m still stuck on a style issue, but I wondered why the author never documented any of the places where the miraculous events are taking place.[4] To me this sounds very much like what the proponents of IM have done to us: ask us to believe these marvelous events are taking place without providing a means for us to study these movements for ourselves. The end result of this is that miraculous events require miraculous faith on our part, considering all the fiddling with numbers that has gone on within the IM. Now, I don’t doubt the author’s veracity, but good scholarship requires some type of documentation; otherwise it becomes a matter of “he said” and “she said.” There are very few footnotes and none of these substantiate the claims of such large movements.

There is the issue of the names and places that are mentioned in the book. I’m pretty sure the names of the disciples are pseudonyms, but the author never tells us that. There is also the story of the Yappa Muslims (cf. 50); this is a tribe that does not exist, yet we are not told it is a pseudonym.[5] This does not lend itself to increasing the reader’s acceptance of the reality of the movements.

One of my concerns before picking up the book was to know how in line with Scripture the book would be. It was a concern of Trousdale as well. On page 11 of “About the Team and Author,” he asserts that disciple making “is the discovery and intentional implementation of biblical principles and values that have been hidden in plain sight in the pages of the Bible.” And a bit later in his introduction he flexes even more Bible muscle: “All the principles that we are seeing at work are clearly outlined–indeed, commanded–in the pages of Scripture” (16).

This is a high standard–and one I’m sure we all appreciate–but notice the principles are not simply stated in Scripture. They are commanded. Am I right to infer that there is simply one methodology for discipleship? This is where I have a few questions.[6]

Jesus commanded that we go into the all the world and make obedient disciples (Mt 28:19). We are agreed on the mission to make obedient disciples, but where did Jesus tell us exactly how to do this? It’s not part of the Great Commission. Trousdale believes that first, the manner in which Jesus discipled provides the commands for how we must disciple; and second, he examines the sending out of the disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 for the “person of peace” principles.

First, the counter-intuitive principles by which Jesus discipled those around him are as follows (cf. 40-45):

  • Go slow at first to go fast later. I expected some scriptural support, but instead the author stated, “We know that Jesus had a timetable for His public ministry. He had just three years . . . So He chose disciple making as His strategy, the most time-consuming strategy one could imagine” (40) What does Trousdale mean by going slow? How did Jesus go slow? When did he speed things up? Is this a command for how we must make disciples or is it simply descriptive of how Jesus discipled? And if it’s a command, shouldn’t it be explicitly directed as such?
  • Focus on the few to win many. “Mass communication and evangelism may have their place, but they show no signs of dramatically transforming the world” (40). I agree with the principle, but how is it biblical? Did Jesus ever practice mass communication? I believe he did (feeding of the 3,000 and 5,000; Sermon on the Mount). I still agree with the principle as stated; I just wonder if it is a command.
  • Engage an entire family or group, not just the individual. “The New Testament record shows that Jesus and the early church had a strong focus on seeing whole families come to faith.” I think I agree with the latter part of the statement. Household conversion stories do seem most common in the book of Acts; however, to make such a blanket statement about Jesus when there are so many exceptions might invalidate the conclusion. Jesus had twelve disciples and just three of those were his intimates. Sure, wives traveled with them (Luke 8:1), but we are not told that Jesus was focused on discipling whole families–not even the families of his twelve disciples. I think the example of Jesus shows us something different: the importance of discipling a few in order to see a larger group discipled.
  • Share only when and where people are ready to hear. Selective exposure is a problem; people don’t listen to what they don’t want to hear. Selective perception is a problem; people reinterpret what they do hear to align with their presuppositions. And selective memory is a problem; people often forget what they know but don’t agree with” (41). The author doesn’t tie this to any example. Is it a command?
  • Start with creation, not with Christ. Again, I agree this is a great principle and one I know I follow when discipling Muslims, but is it what Jesus did? If so, when and how? It is a biblical principle since the Father has revealed himself to us in this manner, but to extrapolate it into a command or as a method Jesus employed cannot be supported by any text.
  • It’s about discovering and obeying, not teaching and knowledge. Jesus practiced this by teaching in parables. Agreed, but is it a command?
  • Disciple people to conversion, not vice versa. I like this very much; in fact, Trousdale believes “discipleship requires a daily choice to intentionally and consistently obey God’s will” (44).
  • Coach lost people from the beginning to discover and obey biblical truth.
  • Prepare to spend a long time making strong disciples, but anticipate miraculous accelerations.
  • Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results. These final three principles are sound, pragmatic, spiritually wise, and proven, but are they explicitly biblical and are we commanded to practice them to the exclusion of all other principles?

Second, not only do the actions of Jesus give us our discipling orders, but Trousdale examines Matthew 10 and Luke 10 (cf. 90ff) for more explicit commands. He states people of peace are God’s pre-positioned agents to bridge the gospel to their family, their friends, or their workplace. This element of Jesus’ strategy for engaging lostness is perhaps one of the most significant principles, and also one of the most neglected principles, for entering unreached people groups. Obeying Jesus’ commands on this (and note that His words are commands, not suggestions) overcomes historic barriers (emphasis mine; 90).

There are some difficulties if we understand Jesus’ words as commands–not just to the disciples being sent–but to us today.[7] If we are not following these commands, does that mean we must be disobedient disciples? Here are the commands from Matthew’s account (the author did not include all of them in his book):

  • Don’t go to the Gentiles (10:5)
  • Don’t go to the Samaritans (10:5)
  • Go only to the Jews (10:6)
  • Preach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7)
  • Heal the sick (10:8)
  • Raise the dead (10:8)
  • Cleanse the lepers (10:8)
  • Cast out demons (10:8)
  • You have been given the gospel freely, so give it without payment 10:8)
  • Don’t accept any valuable metals (10:9)
  • Don’t even take along a bag, two coats, sandals or a staff (10:10)
  • Inquire who is worthy in a town and stay there (10:11)
  • Greet the house (10:12)
  • Bless a worthy house, but take back the blessing from an unworthy one (10:13)
  • Shake off the dust of your feet if you are not received (10:14)

Are we to think that each of these instructions are really commands for us? I hope this is not what Trousdale is saying. Good principles? Yes. Relevant strategies? Absolutely. Are they explicit commands given that we might practice the only real biblical disciple making? I don’t think so.[8]

I understand it appears I am being persnickety by pointing out these minor problems. I’m willing to be considered a curmudgeon about all this, but only if I am wrong to point out that Trousdale himself demanded the reader practice these methodologies by telling us each one is biblical, even going so far as to imply that each principle is a command, not merely a possibility. Remember at the beginning of this review, I cited the author’s statement that what we would read about are biblical principles: “All the principles that we are seeing at work are clearly outlined–indeed, commanded–in the pages of Scripture” (16).

 

Conclusion

Miraculous Movements reads very quickly due to the narrative content. These are wonderful stories about men and women who have left Islam in order to follow Jesus. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it? Unless those ex-Muslims are obedient disciples; and they seem to be according to the author. But there is the issue of substantiation. And if you know absolutely nothing about the Discovery Bible Study, Trousdale provides an adequate introduction to the purpose and methodology of DBS. It is a commendable way to disciple unbelievers into believers.

But also read this book with your Bible open–not because anything Trousdale writes is unbiblical or questionable. In fact, Miraculous Movements is a book that honors the Word of God. Just the same, keep your Bible handy. Are these methods and principles strictly biblical, let alone commanded? This will be something you will have to decide for yourself.[9]

 

 


[1] [All footnotes are comments from Jerry Trousdale upon reading the prepublished review. I’ve left his comments unedited.] We had 55,000 words to create a popular treatment introduction of disciple making movements aimed at the  general Christian audience.

It was Cityteam’s objective to utilize this book as an introduction to the concepts of “obedience-based discipleship that transforms individuals and communities” to a Christian world where “knowledge-based discipleship” is the norm.

It is designed to be the first of several works that will explore Jesus’ modeling of discipleship and other biblical values and principles that can perhaps help the church throughout the world to be more effective at (1) engaging lostness, (2) making obedient-disciples of Christ, (3) launching simple churches, and (4) launching appropriate training and mentoring of new leaders as they arise.

We are at work now on follow-up works, some of which will be popular treatments, and some of which will be more in the biblical theology categories.

[2] I believe that many of the values and principles of disciple making movements can be implemented without a major paradigm shift.  But I am more and more becoming convinced that “obedience-based discipleship” is very difficult to bring back into a central focus in the church which Jesus’ final words on earth require, without a significant reorientation of Christian values and practices to facilitate obedient relationships with God instead of settling for imparting just knowing about God.

[3] Your observation is interesting because I personally began using “Christ Follower” before 2000 when I was pastoring an American, missionary-sending church and searching for language that communicated to Westerners a higher level of commitment to Jesus than the simple word “Christian” carried in our contemporary culture.

And I certainly prefer it today as well, especially in any context dealing with Muslims.  As you observed, my reasons for this preference are unrelated to IM question, but rather with the weighty cultural, historical, theological, and behavioral connotations that have become tragically attached  to the term “Christian” throughout most of the Muslim world.

When writing the book I was aware that I frequently using “Christ Follower” in Muslim contexts, but I think that I also used “Christian” quite a bit in paragraphs describing former Muslims. Upon reflection I am sure that a preference for the “Christ Follower” term certainly relates to the above paragraph.

We typically don’t use the word “converted” very much in disciple making movements because in the 21st century that too often suggests a formula of a quick sinner’s prayer and  mental assent to a proposition of faith without launching an intentional process of becoming a faithful, obedient, and transformed disciple of Christ.

[4] We actually noted on the bottom of page 11 and on to page 12 that security concerns and promises to protect the identity of sources is why Cityteam chose in this book to change every name, not identify any locations, and mask details of some stories.

Protocols:

About 130 interviews were conducted with mostly Muslim background people from six different African countries.

In almost every case, I myself, or our field staff had prior knowledge of each person interviewed prior to being invited into this process.

Each of those was recorded. Releases were signed by the people interviewed.  The simultaneous translations were recorded and transcribed. In about twenty cases they were   retranslated to check for accuracy.

Transcripts of each of these recorded stories along with original written permission are held securely by Cityteam and Thomas Nelson.  I believe that the list of endorsers suggests what is actually a remarkable list of first person verification including mission researchers, Christian foundations’ staff and consultants, and many partner ministries.

And we are hopeful that a long sought “independent field audit” will happen later this year

[5] The Yappa name was chosen specifically because no people use that name–it well disguises a Muslim people group where there has been significant persecution.

[6] First, we absolutely do not believe there is only one methodology for disciple making.

While we see that the disciple making movements are now moving rapidly among scores of people groups in at least four continents, when God’s people anywhere make strong disciples and plant good churches we are happy.  We have been privileged to see a remarkable move of God among more than more than 150 people groups but we would be delusional to think that our way is the only way that God honors and blesses.

Second, regarding the language of the interjected wording “indeed, commanded” I recall that was inserted by an enthusiastic editor and I thought it was a good edit.

I left it in because his change was meant to suggest that the principles we see working so dramatically in Africa and other places in the world are all mined from Scripture-examples, counsel, values-and some are even commands!  All together they have been tested and found fruitful!  But certainly we never intended to imply every principle carries the weight of a direct command from God’s Word.

 

[7] I am not sure I understand the hermeneutical questions here.

The actions of Jesus among the Jews does not negate the principles.  This even includes the “don’t go to the Gentiles and Samaritans.”  Jesus established a strong base among the Jews, and then he later gave the command to move to all the nations.

I don’t understand the point regarding healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons.  These are pretty straight forward and the church worldwide continues to pray for all these things.

Certainly there are some situational instructions/commands that Jesus made to His team that may or may not apply to today.  But the principles are still applicable.

[8] I think that the reviewer is asking if we are implying that our methodology somehow rises to the level of being the only biblical way to make disciples.  No indeed!

Of course, we are beyond thrilled to see how God is using the principles, values, and practices described in the book in our ministry and many partner ministries to liberate more than 80  Muslim people groups in Africa.  Other ministries are reporting even more from across other parts of the Islamic world.

But in both public and private conversations, I am always very intentional in affirming  and encouraging other Great Commission ministries who use somewhat different methods to achieve faithful disciples and  healthy churches.

Cityteam and I  genuinely celebrate that God-honoring progress whenever and wherever it is happening.  It is a wonderful time to be a Great Commission Christian!

 

[9] One final note.  I believe that Christians can learn much to imitate from observing the actions and ministry strategies of Jesus as well as his words.  The Great Commission tells us to teach and obey everything Jesus taught.

His actions certainly continue to be a major component of what hopefully shapes each one of us into becoming fully devoted Christ Followers

Is it possible that His disciples learned at least as much by living and walking three years with Jesus as they did from his Words?  I think “yes, indeed!” And that omission in the modern church is, at the core a crippling limitation in much of today’s modern church.

Jesus’ modeling and coaching itself argues for returning to discipleship not as a curriculum in a class but as a life of being taught, mentored, and coached to be where we live, the best example we can be of our Savior.

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About Author

Jeff Morton / Bunyan Towery (M.Div. and D.Miss., Biola) is pastor of discipleship, Hillside Baptist Church, Dickinson, ND. He is author of " Two Messiahs," "Insider Movements: Biblically Incredible or Incredibly Brilliant?" and co-editor of "Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamized Gospel."

8 Comments

  1. Hello Jeff,

    I’ve read the book and loved it. It was very encouraging to me because of what God is doing. I appreciate your review of the book. However, I’m not exactly understanding the frequent referencing to IM type stuff. I, also, am most certainly not with IM practices in any way. Just recently, I used a critique of an IM article in Christianity Today that was referenced by Steve Addison. That said…I think the IM referencing about numbers might be out of place, however, accuracy is something paramount to me.

    After reading the book, I then looked all over the CityTeam site for their materials. I found the dissertation that Dave Hunt wrote about the project and in it you find all the names and places, I believe, together with some more details on how their practices played out. I’ve also watched some videos by David Watson, who’s training and methodology Dave Hunt used while in East Africa. That said, they seem to be pretty solid on their numbers and integrity as far as I can tell. Also, I believe this same methodology has contributed greatly to the movement among the Bhoujpuri in India, so there is some pretty good road-testing. Plus, it’s bearing fruit in several other countries as well, including the USA.

    Personally, as a newer discipler, I’m striving to implement these strategies among the Muslims I’m around. They seem to fit well, especially given the extremely warped world view that Muslims grow up with.

    @Georges, Let me say that we super enjoyed your stay with us recently and we were blessed, as always. We are STILL excited for the fruit you are seeing. Perhaps you have seen (in the IM community?) lots of examples of people reporting unsubstantiated numbers. Does that lead to an early conclusion of ‘Missionary Fiction’? Just wondering. From what I saw in the book, it looks like there’s plenty of persecution accompanying the spread of the gospel in these countries. So, it doesn’t seem like they are hidden. However, I do think it’s wise (in my limited opinion) to not broadcast to the broader world details of a movement until it’s got significantly more numbers and time in maturity. This movement is under the radar, just like how Jesus comes into a person’s heart rather quietly from the outside. No need to bring any government reprisal or provide opportunity for other workers to bring in strategies that are movement killers. I’m sure there will be a great time (perhaps soon?) when this can come out in the open. Perhaps the locals should/will decide that?

    Anyway, all that to say that there is some other info out there on this great move of God.

    I love getting info from you guys and I love your desire to keep things Biblical….so do I. Please keep up the great work and may we expect amazing things to come from the amazing God we love and worship!

    Blessings!

  2. I’m always amazed by how many people post on this site with fake names, and who are really the most negative writers and commenters of all.

    1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

    People who use fake names to hide who they are really are trying to keep themselves and their deeds in the dark. They certainly don’t want fellowship.

    Where is the fruit? We may disagree, that is one thing, but Christians are of the light. Shameful things are done in secret and the dark.

  3. Beza:

    Greetings.

    Too bad you aren’t returning to read this. I tried your email address two times, but both times my reply was unsuccessful.**

    I’m disheartened that you read my critique of Jerry’s book as unbridled cynicism. That was neither my intent nor the result.

    Perhaps you simply found what you expected to find?

    That Jerry read the critique pre-publication–and thanked me–is that cynicism on my part?

    That I was prepared to not like the book, but did (second paragraph)–is that cynicism?

    That the only footnotes to the review were Jerry’s comments, complete and unedited–does a cynic hoping to make a point do that?

    That I “cautioned” myself when I wrote, “I understand it appears I am being persnickety by pointing out these minor problems. I’m willing to be considered a curmudgeon about all this . . .”–does a cynic allow such self-condemnation like this? Does a cynical review only mention “minor problems” when they could be called major catastrophes (which they weren’t, of course)?

    That I ended my review on a positive note, that it contains great stories, the DBS is “a commendable way to disciple unbelievers into believers,” and some good biblical principles–is that cynicism?

    In the end, how you react to what I’ve written is your choice. I am not attempting to persuade you to stay with the site or leave. But I do object to being wrongly thought of as cynical. A curmudgeon, certainly; a cynic, certainly not.

    My original intent was to not reply to your comment on the site, but to keep it private. Your false email account did not allow me to do that.

    Blessings,

    Jeff Morton

    **This is why my text was rejected when I replied to your email address:
    SMTP error from remote server after transfer of mail text:
    host mta6.am0.yahoodns.net[98.136.216.25]:
    554 delivery error: dd This user doesn’t have a yahoo.com account (bezabeza11224576@yahoo.com) [0] – mta1116.mail.gq1.yahoo.com

  4. I used to read this site from time to time, but was turned off by the overwhelmingly negative tone. I just checked back today to find this latest example of cynicism disguised as missiological criticism. I’m at least glad to see that your conversations have become virtually an in-house discussion between your little group. This will be THE LAST time I ever look on this site, unless I need a dose of cynical, critical, (truly) narrow-minded nonsense.

  5. ERROR = I meant to say, “I do think we should suspend disbelief and belief . . .”

  6. Salaam and Georges: the jury is still out on the statistics Trousdale provides. They are hard to believe, but I don’t think we should suspend all disbelief and belief until an independent audit is finished. I know that the IM has put us all at DEFCON 5 when it comes to statistics, but the solution is hardly to go ballistic (neither of you has done that; I’m just saying . . .).

  7. Salaam Corniche on

    Jeff: I wonder if you have any thoughts about the book’s title?
    a. Does the fact that there is a so-called movement necessarily make it miraculous?
    b. “Hundred’s of Thousands” implies at least 200,000. Where are they, as Georges asked?
    c. “falling in love with Jesus”. Has a good touchy-feely sense to it, but it is something of substance? Do these people know what sin is? Do they know who a Holy God is? Do they know what repentance is? If so, they would know what conversion is. Are they “falling in love” with the person who will give them fire insurance, or are they truly bowing the knee to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Seems like if it is the later the title might read, “are bowing the knee to King Jesus.” If they would show exclusive allegiance to this King Jesus, the shock ways would reverberate through the air. Case in point, the apostles were those who “turned the world upside down”

    Lastly, I am not sure I missed something, but this Jesus only, Gospels only, seems to miss Acts and the Epistles.

    Thanks again and I hope to hear from you or Jerry.
    Shalom

  8. Jeff, Your review is amazing. I could not have done anything this good and this detailed.
    Thank you for the many challenges.
    I know Jerry and have talked to him personally. I honestly was confused by the claims and when I read the book it sounded to me like Missionary Fiction. But hey, if God is doing such great things, let us rejoice. But I think that if there are so many Christians, in the hundreds of thousands, what is the reason for fear of exposing them. Are they all hidden? If it is true that there are all these conversions, they should be visible and known. So there is no reason to hide them.

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