Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Revelation

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.

Can we call Muhammad a Prophet?

Insider movement advocates discuss the appropriateness of converts saying the Shahada which identifies Muhammad as God’s prophet. There is not a consensus on this point. Yet saying the Shahada is part of Muslim identity.  Is there any way that we can refer to Muhammad as God’s prophet without compromising the authority of the Bible?

In 2014 the International Journal of Frontier Missiology published an article by Harley Talman entitled, “Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?” (vol.31:4 Winter 2014). Subsequent issues contain responses and counter responses with Ayman Ibrahim (vol. 32:4 Winter 2015; 33:3 Fall 2016) and John Azumah (vol. 33:3 Fall 2016). I am not going to detail their discussion. You can read their whole dialogue in the archives section of the IJFM website.

Learning from Mission History

As I look at the missiological landscape more than halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, I join others in noting similarities with the early 20th century. Christopher R. Little writes:

Indeed, the problems the missionary movement generated at the early part of the twentieth century have returned with a vengeance at the beginning of the twenty-first century. … It is a hard fact to face, but the church has failed to learn from history and is therefore repeating it. – Polemic Missiology for the 21st Century: In Memoriam of Roland Allen, Kindle loc. 137

Photo by Junhan Foong on Unsplash

Insider Movements: Other Religions

The term ‘religion’ is a hot topic of debate in the literature on Insider Movements. Some even question whether it is a meaningful concept. In this post we will explore three questions: “What is religion?”, “What is the source of non-Christian religions?” and “Is God at work in non-Christian religions?”

What is “religion”?

In Understanding Insider Movements, one writer states, “One of the most instructive definitions of religion is provided by Clifford Geertz. He defines it as a ‘cultural system’ or ‘worldview'” (UIM, Kindle loc.  8297)

Missio Dei

This Latin phrase emerged “in Protestant missiological discussion especially since the 1950s, often in the English form ‘the mission of God'” (The Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, p 631). The term sought to anchor missions in the Triune God of the Bible. David Bosch defines it as:

God’s self-revelation as the one who loves the world, God’s involvement in and with the world, the nature and activity of God, which embraces both the church and the world, and in which the church is privileged to participate. Missio Dei enunciates the good news that God is a God-for-people. (Transforming Mission, Kindle loc. 592)

The term became prominent in ecumenical circles at the 1952 meeting of the International Missionary Council in Willigen, Germany.

So what if they have their own sacred books?

Revelation is the foundational theological issue in contextualization (see my “Contextualization: Theological and Cultural Issues in Evangelical Models” on the SEND U wiki). Evangelical Christianity maintains that the Bible is God’s unique self-disclosure. Our SEND statement of faith says, “that it is the only infallible Word of God, and the supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and conduct” (italics added).

How does this commitment to the uniqueness of the Christian Scriptures guide our contextualization in the presence of competing revelational claims such as the Qur’an, the Book of Mormon, or the Hindu Scriptures?

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