In the first installment in this series on the Insider Movement (IM), I discussed the definitions of terms (Insider and Contextualization) used to help describe what the Insider Movement is about.
In this article we will look at the first three of ten characteristics of Insider methodology. Let’s be reminded of the fact that the Insider Movement is an approach intended to reach Muslim people more effectively with the gospel. However, the approach has some serious problems. The most pressing is that of syncretism, a problem that the church has struggled with since its birth in one way or another. Syncretism, as it applies to missions outreach strategy, often results in the attempt to make the gospel so culturally relevant that the message itself becomes irrelevant. Insiders can go so far in the pursuit to establish “commonality” or “common ground” with the listening audience that they destroy the foundational truths of the gospel—and in so doing, they proclaim a message that is impotent and powerless to bring transformation and new life.
The first characteristic of Insider methodology that we will examine is found not only in proponents of IM, but also quite frequently within the values of the average American Christian today.
The Kingdom Supersedes The Church
Is the church no longer relevant and important in reaching lost people with the gospel? To some Insiders, the ministry of the church and its importance in effective evangelism and discipleship is no longer needed. And why is this happening? The answer is that many Insiders believe that the “Kingdom” of God supersedes the authority and importance of the “Church” of God. They argue that the “Church” has erected too many cultural barriers to ever be effective reaching out to a lost Muslim.
In her work, “Insider Movements: Honoring God-Given Community and Identity,” Rebecca Lewis refers to the “Kingdom Circles” concept that is a foundational principle of IM. She writes:
The Acts 15 question is still relevant today: Must people with a distinctly non-Christian (especially non-Western) identity “go through” the socio-religious systems of “Christianity” in order to become part of God’s Kingdom? Or can they enter the Kingdom of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone and gain a new spiritual identity while retaining their own community and socio-religious identity? 1
She illustrates the idea she speaks about in a diagram used often by those espousing Insider practicum. The Kingdom Circles diagram is two distinct smaller circles that intersect with one larger circle. The two smaller circles represent two different religious entities: One is the Church, and the other would be any other religious group. Among Insiders, that religion is usually understood to be Islam. The larger circle represents the Kingdom of God. According to the Insider, the Kingdom supersedes the church, Islam, or any other religious group.
In “Twelve Frontiers of Perspective,” Dr. Ralph Winter writes:
In Chennai, Madras, alone, millions of devout followers of Jesus and the Bible have chosen neither to call themselves Christians, nor to identify with the socio-ecclesiastical tradition of Christianity and who still consider themselves Hindu. That report indicates that there are many more of this kind of devout believer than all the devout believers in that place who do identify with the social tradition of Christianity. 2
Is the church subservient to the Kingdom? The whole of the epistles in the New Testament were written to the church. I cannot find “kingdom” authority overrunning the commands given to the church in the New Testament. In fact, according to the Ephesians 5, we are told of Christ’s love for His “bride” the church that he will present blameless when the universal church is gathered to be with him in the glories of heaven! The church is precious to God, and has not been eclipsed by the Kingdom.
In the Presbyterian Church of America’s report on the Insider Movement, the authors make this statement about the Insider focus on the Kingdom:
The visible church and the kingdom are distinguishable, to be sure, but they are inseparable. One may not claim membership in the kingdom without also claiming membership in the visible church. 3
Make no mistake; the word “church” can be offensive within the Muslim context. But we can reference the church in terms that are consistent with the Scriptures and yet call it different names within different cultural contexts. The Greek word Ecclesia (church); can be called The Assembly, The Called, The Gathering, etc.) As long as the members follow the Bible, appoint biblical leadership, baptize, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is fulfilling the church’s biblical mandate. However, never is the church (ecclesia) to be removed as a non-essential in making disciples, maturing them, and multiplying them across the globe until Jesus returns! The church, as it is understood in the New Testament, is the primary means of reaching the world for Christ.
Muslims Remain Muslim “Followers Of Jesus”
The “Insider” idea here is to encourage new believers to remain cultural Muslims after they put their faith in Jesus. Insiders believe the gospel implanted in the Muslim’s heart will turn Islam “inside out” and redeem the individuals and the culture as well.
Again, Rebecca Lewis is quoted proposing this principle:
Thus, the gospel reveals that a person can gain a new spiritual identity without leaving one’s birth identity, and without taking on a new socio-religious label or going through the religion of either Judaism or Christianity. 4
Tim Timmons also explains this Insider position:
A cultural Buddhist can be a follower of Jesus. A cultural Muslim can be a follower of Jesus. Anyone can be a follower of Jesus and still remain within his or her cultural background. 5
But what does this really mean? Cultural Islam (as well as the religion itself) envelopes everything that person is! Islam is not a religion that can be bifurcated.
How does a person follow Jesus and follow Islam at the same time? Dudley Woodberry writes about how he thinks it’s possible for Muslim “followers of Jesus” to remain cultural Muslims. He suggests they take the five pillars of Islam and “contextualize” them according to biblical truth. He believes that “Jesus followers” in Islam could still “confess the Shahada, perform ritual prayers in the mosque, give, fast, and even apply a hajj principle if these pillars were re-applied to align with the teachings of Jesus.” 6
What is a Biblical response to this Insider position? Is it possible for a growing vital body of believers in Jesus to rise up and transform Islam itself from the inside out? Both Biblically and practically, the answer is no. To be a “Muslim” follower of Jesus is to be neither. The salvation, mercy and grace of our God and Savior runs counter to all the foundational tenets that Islam is.
To this point, David Racey writes:
To practice Islamic rituals in the name of contextualization, and preach the gospel of grace, is a contradiction. It is naive to suppose that these rituals can be performed as prescribed by Islamic law and make them mean anything other than what they have always meant to Muslims. What you may hope to convey by your participation is irrelevant. 7
Dr. Fred Farrokh, a Christian from a Muslim background, wrote concerning a prominent Insider proponent’s public confrontation with him after he taught on IM. The person stood to say,” Roman citizens did not need to give up Roman citizenship to follow Christ, so Muslims should not need to give up Islam.” Dr. Farrokh responded this way:
Roman citizenship was primarily a political affiliation, and if early believers needed to make a choice between worshipping Christ and worshipping Caesar, they needed to worship Christ. If the Insider paradigm was indeed biblical, we should expect Zeus Insiders, Artemis Insiders, Unknown God Insiders and Caesarite Insiders in the NT, but we don’t find any. In every case, these new believers found new identity in Christ (though they retained their ethnicity), and apostolic preaching sought to demolish this idol worship. 8
Allah and Isa Of The Quran are the same God and Jesus Of The Bible
Do Christians worship the same God as Muslims? For the Insider, the answer is “yes.” The god of Mohammad is one and the same with the God who sent Jesus.
In fact, Doug Coe of The Navigators and Common Ground Movement is noted by Adam Simnowitz to have said that “Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of the Qur’an are one in the same. There is no difference.” 9
In an article in Christianity Today, author Mark Galli quotes Miroslav Volf, a professor of theology affiliated with both Fuller Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School:
Both groups are monotheists. They believe in one God, one God who is a sovereign Lord and to whom they are to be obedient. For both faiths, God embodies what’s ultimately important and valuable. But I think that Muslims and Christians who embrace the normative traditions of their faith refer to the same object, to the same Being, when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God. The referent is the same. 10
Sadly, some American Christians have been seduced into believing that the god of Islam and the God of the Bible are the same God. But if this is true, God is completely inconsistent in His character, and attributes.
I think the summary statement concerning this issue is best stated by Alan Schlemon, on the “Stand to Reason” website, when he writes:
Yes, both religions believe in the same what (God), but believe in a different who (the person who fulfills the office of God). Allah is Unitarian (a single essence in one person), while Yahweh is Trinitarian (one essence, but in three persons). The Qur’an claims that Allah has no son, while the Bible says that Jesus is the Son of God. Allah is transcendent, meaning he is separate from his creation. Although Yahweh is transcendent, He is also immanent, which means He enters into His creation and reveals Himself (e.g. Jesus becoming flesh). In addition to this explanation, however, the answer to whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God can be determined with two simple questions: Do Christians worship Jesus as God? Yes. Do Muslims worship Jesus as God? No. Therefore, Christians and Muslims don’t worship the same God because they don’t both worship Jesus. 11
In considering the identity, nature and character of the God of the Christian faith, we have only one authority to identify who he is and what he has done. That authority is the Holy Scripture, which contains the only true and trustworthy revelation of the One True God. This revelation begins in the book of Genesis, and continues through to the end of the book of Revelation.
Next week we will discover how some proponents of the Insider movement have removed themselves from the sole authority of Scripture, and the accurate translation of it, to make the Bible more accommodating to a Muslim audience through inaccurate Muslim idiom translations.
- Rebecca Lewis, “Insider Movements: Honoring God-Given Community and Identity,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 26, no. 1 (Spring 2009): 18, http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/26_1_PDFs/26_1_Lewis.pdf (accessed June 20, 2015). ↩
- Ralph Winter. “Twelve Frontiers of Perspective.” Foundations of the World Christian Movement / Foundations Course: 267-281. http://www.foundationscourse.org/uploads/documents/reader/38_twelve_frontiers.pdf (accessed June 20, 2015). ↩
- David Garner (chairman), “A Call to Faithful Witness: A Partial Report (Part Two of Two Parts) of the AD Interim Study Committee on Insider Movements to the Forty-First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” Administrative Committee PCA (2013): 2182, 2186. ↩
- Rebecca Lewis, “Promoting Movements to Christ within Natural Communities,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 24, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 3, http://ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/24_2_PDFs/24_2_Lewis.pdf (accessed September 5, 2014). ↩
- Tim Timmons, “Making the Story Meaningful, Christianity Isn’t the Way – Jesus Is,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 25, no. 3 (Fall 2008): 150, http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/25_3_PDFs/timmons.pdf (accessed April 9, 2015). ↩
- J. Dudley Woodberry, “Contextualization among Muslims Reusing Common Pillars,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 13, no. 4 (October-December 1996), 171-186, http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/13_4_PDFs/03_Woodberry.pdf (accessed May 2, 2015). ↩
- David Racey, “Contextualization: How Far Is Too Far?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, (July 1996): 308. ↩
- Fred Farrokh, “Report on Evangelical Missiological Society National Conference,” self-published (September 21, 2015): 2. ↩
- Lingel, Joshua, Jeff Morton, and Bill Nikides, ed. Chrislam: How Missionaries Are Promoting an Islamized Gospel. Garden Grove: i2 Ministries Publishing, 2011, p.211. ↩
- Mark Galli, “Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?” Christianity Today 55, no. 4. (April 15, 2011): 29, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/muslimschristianssamegod (accessed January 19, 2014). ↩
- Alan Shlemon, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?” Stand to Reason (February 8, 2014), http://www.str.org/articles/do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-god#.VkTLI4S77mY (accessed January 4, 2016). ↩