Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

My Concerns about Insider Movements

Over the past several months I have written a number of posts on various issues of Insider Movements. I have read many books and articles over the last year by both advocates and critics. In this post, I will summarize my chief concerns about Insider Movements (IM). These concerns apply to any religious context where an insider approach is practiced. I am not making judgments on the character or motives of either advocates or critics. I am expressing my concerns about the insider model. In my opinion, the insider model weakens the Gospel message and the discipleship process.

Concern #1: IM tend to diminish the uniqueness and authority of the Bible.

When other sacred books, such as the Qur’an, or religious traditions are regarded in some sense revelatory, the uniqueness and authority of the Bible is lessened. Historic evangelicalism has held that the Bible alone is God’s written revelation. For example, our organization’s (SEND International’s) doctrinal statement reads:

We believe in the plenary and verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible as originally given; that it is the only infallible Word of God, and the supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and conduct.

This is not to say that there are no truths in other sacred books, but rather to say those books are not inspired revelations from God. After all, there are truths in this morning’s newspaper but that does not mean it is inspired. Truths that are present in other sacred books come from general revelation or are borrowed from the Bible.

Some advocates of IM in Muslim contexts encourage acknowledging Mohammad as a prophet and the Qur’an as a revelation from God. While we certainly want to be respectful in referring to both, we cannot affirm either without diminishing the Bible. The Qur’an contradicts the Bible on fundamental issues.

Jan Hendrik Prenger speculates that there is a link between one’s understanding of the doctrine of Scripture and their view of IM (Muslim Insider Christ Follower, p. 17-18). Prenger’s book is an eye-opening study of twenty-six non-Western insider leaders and five alongsiders (Westerners working with the insider leaders). He developed a M-Frame (M standing for mission of God) to give structure in identifying the theological convictions of the insider leaders and alongsiders (p. 116-126). His M-Frame identifies four paradigms: Fundamental, Ecumenical, Integral, and Global. I am concerned here only with the convictions about the Bible and the Qur’an.

Only one of the insider leaders and none of the alongsiders believed that the Bible was “the inerrant word of God.” The Bible was viewed as “the infallible word of God” by two alongsiders and fourteen insider leaders. One alongsider and nine insider leaders viewed the Bible as the “inspired record of God’s dealings with his creation throughout redemptive history.” Two alongsiders and two insider leaders  believed that the Bible is “a record of communication between God and man”.

When it came to views of the Qur’an, none of the respondents viewed it as “a satanic book” [the description used for the Fundamental paradigm]. One alongsider and four insider leaders believed that the Qur’an is “a dangerous book; only to be used as a one-way bridge to the Bible and Christ”. One alongsider and fifteen insider leaders believed that the Qur’an is “a book with many truths from God.” One alongsider and seven insider leaders believe the Qur’an is “a record of communication between God and man.” The respondent numbers were compiled from the M-Framework plots on pages 128-217 of Muslim Insider Christ Followers.

Given what Prenger has identified as alongsider and insider leaders views of the Bible and the Qur’an, it is not surprising that those with a high view of the Bible tend to be critical of IM. The vast majority of respondents in Prenger’s study did not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. This is maybe not surprising given that there has been a drift away from a high view of the Bible within evangelicalism over the last 30-40 years (see G.K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism). Therefore, this concern of mine about IM is also a concern I have about the evangelical movement at large. I think we are experiencing the same drift that started a hundred years ago at the 1910 Edinburgh mission conference.

Concern #2: IM tend to weaken or ignore the doctrine of the Trinity.

In Prenger’s study of twenty-six insider leaders, only three made use of “trinitarian language or doctrine to describe or define God (Muslim Insider Christ Followers, p. 295). The doctrine of the Trinity is also diminished by avoiding Father/Son language in Bible translations for Muslim contexts.

The doctrine of the Trinity is central to the gospel message. Fred Sanders’ book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, makes the case that “the Trinity is the gospel.” He explains:

Trinity and gospel are the same shape! This is because the good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens his Trinitarian life to us. Every other blessing is either a preparation for that or a result of it, but the thing itself is God’s graciously taking us into the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be our salvation.

(The Deep Things of God, p. 98)

God’s nature needs to be defined by what he has revealed. He has revealed himself in the Bible as one God and as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is often misunderstood by Muslims (and by Christians as well). Now I understand that the doctrine of the Trinity involves mystery.  That is inevitable for finite creatures seeking to understand the infinite. Deuteronomy 29:29 states, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (ESV).  But despite this mystery, the doctrine of the Trinity is an essential doctrine and should not be ignored or sidelined. Sanders’ book is a great place to start if you wonder about the importance of this doctrine.

Concern #3: IM’s model of conversion and discipleship does not align with the New Testament.

This is manifest in the insistence of retaining one’s socio-religious identity. The New Testament teaches the need for repentance from dead works, idols, and futile ways to the living God (Acts 14:15; 26:18; 1 Thess. 1:9; Hebrews 6:1; 1 Peter 1:18). Paul understood the importance of turning his back on certain parts of his religious upbringing.  In the epistle to the Philippians, he says that he counted whatever gain he had in Judaism as a loss in order that he might gain Christ (Phil. 3:3-21). He also opposed the Apostle Peter to his face because his socio-religious practice of not eating with Gentiles was not in step with the Gospel (Gal. 2:11-21).

Some advocates of IM appear to think that a separation of cultural and religious identification is not possible. But Don Little observes that it is possible:

Yet, all the Muslims I have known who have come to faith in Christ have instinctively felt that they had to leave the religious life (not their social and cultural identities) of their community because it contained core values that were no longer consistent with their new identity in Christ.

(Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities: Scripture, History and Seasoned Practices, kindle loc. 1624)

There are simply too many issues in Islam that conflict with the biblical teaching about the person and work of Christ and the Christian life. Just as Paul had to leave the Jewish religion in order to gain Christ, so do people of any religious background today. Don Little’s Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities and Sam Schlorff’s Missiological Models in Ministry to Muslims, offer a more biblical and helpful way forward.

In summing up his critique of IM, Little writes (quoting Schlorff):

For these reasons, then, I cannot go along with Insider approaches to ministry among Muslims: their unsatisfactory theology of conversion, the oppressive and ideological nature of Islam and an understanding of discipleship and the church that I believe is inconsistent with the biblical witness and the experience of the church throughout history. Therefore, I am firmly in agreement with Schlorff when he states:

The emergence of “a people movement to Christ that remains in Islam” is not a legitimate objective from the biblical standpoint … I believe that the future of evangelical missions to Muslims lies with that approach that views the objective in terms of bringing Muslims into the kingdom of God as Jesus preached it; including leading them to faith in Christ, training and mentoring them in Christian discipleship and leadership, and gathering them into distinctly Christian flocks that retain social and cultural ties with Muslim society as much as possible, but without outwardly remaining Muslims.

(Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities, kindle loc. 1724)


These are my three primary concerns about insider movements whether in Muslim contexts or in any other religious contexts such as native American religions. Most other concerns are subcategories of these three. Again, I am not judging the character or spirituality of IM advocates. I am, however, disagreeing with their ideas which I find inconsistent with the Bible.


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  1. Kenny

    Gary, thank you so much for this series. I was first introduced to IM through the Perspectives class, right after taking your animism class. The tension between appropriate contextualization and scary Syncretism is facinating, and to be honest, I would never had read all the books you read. Thanks for doing all the hard work so we can benefit.

  2. Gary, you stated that Paul had to leave the Jewish religion in order to gain Christ. Is this not contradicted by Paul’s willingness to participate in purification rites in the temple in Acts 21? Paul also circumcised Timothy, cut his hair off because of a vow he had taken, and apparently was preparing to pay for an offering in the temple. Phil 3 says that Paul no longer took confidence in the flesh, but he never rejected his identity as a Jew. He did not consider his Jewishness to be a ground for his relationship with Christ, or gaining any merit before God. But that is different than saying that he left the Jewish religion. Even in Acts 28, he tells the local Jewish leaders that he has done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors. He still identifies himself as one of them.

    • Gary Ridley Sr

      Ken, Yes, I stated that “Paul had to leave the Jewish religion in order to gain Christ,..” By that I meant the religion as a system of gaining merit which denied who Jesus was and what he accomplished through the cross and resurrection for us. Earlier I stated, “Paul understood the importance of turning his back on certain parts of his religious upbringing.” Some elements of his religious heritage were not in conflict with the gospel but some definitely were. Paul withstood Peter to his face because Peter’s refusal to eat with the Gentile Christians was not in step with the gospel (Galatians 2:14). Christianity’s relationship to Judaism is unique because Christianity is the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. If the Old Testament is accepted as God’s revelation then the New Testament should also be seen as God’s revelation. Paul left those parts on his Jewish religion that the leaders identified as central to their religious identity. That’s why they persecuted him. For the Jewish leaders rejection of the person and work of Jesus Christ was essential for identity as a Jew. But in reality acceptance of the person and work of Jesus Christ was the true mark of being a son of Abraham. Other religions do not share the same kind of connection. Yet there may be religious forms that can be given new meaning if the form is not so associated with contradictions to the Bible that confusion and misrepresentations result.

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