What’s Inside the Insider Movement, Pt. 1 of 4

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In this series of articles we will look at a methodological approach being used in some areas of the world to reach Muslims and other unreached people groups with the good news of Christ. In missions circles, this methodology is commonly referred to as the “Insider Movement.”

In realms of theology and practice, the Insider Movement (IM) is the subject of ongoing debate. In this series of articles, I will present a “collective” view of the movement, comprising 10 characteristics of Insider methodology, 1 as well as a Biblical critique and response to each of these characteristics.

But before we look at the Insider Movement, I think it’s important that we define two important terms in our discussion.

1. Insider

 The term Insider is a descriptive label used primarily by those “outside” this mission’s methodological movement. The proponents of Insider methodologies rarely use the term Insider. Insider practitioners use the terms “Churchless Christianity,” 2“Jesus Movements,” or “Making Muslim Followers of Jesus” 3 to describe their approach and methodology of Muslim evangelism. John Travis, the pseudonym for one of the foremost writers and theorists behind the contemporary Insider Movement, defined an Insider in this way:  “A person from a non-Christian background who has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior but retained the socio-religious identity of his or her birth.” 4

2. Contextualization

“Contextualization” is a term of great importance in critically discussing the Insider Movement. Contextualization is a process we all use in communication and relationships. For example, if I am speaking to my granddaughter about the gospel, I will attempt to contextualize the message by using words, illustrations, and examples that she will understand. I am communicating to her within the “context” of her understanding.

In the Christian setting, Dean Gilliland defines contextualization as a tool “to enable, insofar as it is humanly possible, an understanding of what it means that Jesus Christ, the Word, is authentically experienced in each and every human situation.” 5

One of the best definitions of contextualization I know of comes from Dr. Shoki Coe speaking at the 1972 World Council of Churches consultation, who said, “Contextualization is faithful to the text, relevant to the context.” 6

The principles of contextualization are seen in the Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, the apostle Paul presents a word picture of what it means to contextualize the message of the gospel:

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” 

These verses are used as a core passage for the Insider approach to mission ministry.  And rightly so; any messenger of the gospel should want to use the context of the culture he or she is addressing in order to help communicate the message more effectively.

However, Ralph Winter introduced a new term in his paper, “Twelve Frontiers of Perspective,” to take contextualization further than it had been before in evangelical mission strategy. That term he introduced is “radical contextualization.” He states,

“For example, Hinduism as a whole and Islam as a whole just aren’t breached [by the gospel message]in any major way at all. We only have relatively small beachheads in these blocs. So we began to think, ‘Well, maybe we’ve got the wrong approach; we’re not contextualizing sufficiently.’ So here comes the idea of “radical contextualization,” and all of a sudden our eyes are opened to what is already happening.” 7

When the idea of radical contextualization entered the missionary “how-to” manual, perspective on the most effective missionary model to reach the unreached peoples of the world began to shift. 

Radical contextualization is foundational to Insider methodology. It simply means that the field worker should push the boundaries of contextualization as far as possible. In these articles, I will refer to radical contextualization as “hyper contextualization;” that is, contextualizing the message to the extent that it loses its distinctive biblical, Christian doctrine and becomes syncretistic. This has been for centuries common temptation and struggle with missionaries, who in their zeal for gaining converts, go so far in contextualizing the message that their version of the “good news” ultimately rejects the foundational truths of the Christian faith. Thus, they preach what Paul would call a “different gospel” in order to accommodate cultural norms.

David Garner writes, “Accommodation and contextualization are not the same. Faithful contextualization begins with the gospel and then addresses the culture; accommodation starts with the culture and seeks to fit in the gospel.” 8

One of the main issues surrounding the Insider Movement controversy is this:  how far can we push the boundaries to be “relevant” in our contextualization process before our message is no longer biblically correct?

With an understanding of these important terms in our discussion on the Insider Movement, I will explore in the coming articles just how far from the truth some applications of IM methodology have gone!

In our next article we’ll look at these three Insider characteristics:

  1. The Church Is No Longer Needed
  2. Muslims remain Muslim followers of Jesus
  3. Allah and Isa of the Quran are the same God and Jesus of the Bible

Notes:

  1. It is important to note that not all proponents of Insider methodology embrace all 10 characteristics.
  2. Timothy Tennent, “The Hidden History of Insider Movements,” Christianity Today, (January-February 2013)  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/january-february/hidden-history-of-insider-movements.html (accessed January 10, 2016)
  3. Ben Naja, “A Jesus Movement among Muslims: Research from East Africa,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology (Spring 2013), http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/30_1_PDFs/IJFM_30_1-Naja.pdf
  4. Fred Farrokh, “CITO: A Bridging Conversation, Will the Umma Veto SITO? Assessing the Impact of Theological Deviation on Social Acceptability in Muslim Communities,” International Journal of Foreign Missiology (Summer 2015), http://ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/32_2_PDFs/IJFM_32_2-Farrokh.pdf (accessed May 1, 2015).
  5. (Dean Gilliland, Contextualization in the Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 225).
  6. Joshua Lingel, Jeff Morton and Bill Nikides, ed., Chrislam: How Missionaries Are Promoting an Islamized Gospel (Garden Grove: i2 ministries publishing, 2011), 93).
  7. Ralph Winter, Twelve Frontier Perspectives (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2005), 267.
  8. David Garner, “Insider Movements: Why Should I Care?” The Gospel Coalition (July 22, 2014), http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/kevindeyoung/2014/07/22/insider-movements-why-should-i-care (accessed January 13, 2015).
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