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Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of Jesus within Diverse Religious Communities Paperback – September 1, 2015
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Part 1 provides an introduction to the history, terminology, and some of the questions around insider approaches. Anyone interested in a balanced perspective of the issues owes it to themselves to read not just negative critiques, but discussions by advocates and skeptics as represented in this section.
Part 2 introduces a spectrum of examples, case studies, and analyses that help the reader see the diverse and complex varieties of experience and perspective that the way of Jesus presents in different parts of the world. While there is only one good news of Jesus, we have five major versions of that one Gospel in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul). The Holy Spirit inspired the authors to explain and express their understanding of the Gospel in very different ways for different audiences. The voices we hear in this section from multiple global locations help demonstrate that the Holy Spirit can still lead his people to experience and explain our One Savior in different terms and forms in different contexts.
Insider practitioners are often accused of ignoring theology for the sake of praxis. The ones I know take Scripture and theology seriously and wrestle deeply with these issues. Part 3 of the book exhibits a cross-section of exegetical and theological reflection that demonstrates a biblical grounding far deeper than some critics claim. Before dismissing the IM paradigm outright, any honest student of Scripture ought to respectfully and honestly consider the material presented here. To be honest, if I had edited the book, this would have been my opening section. However, the biblical and theological principles elaborated here, weave themselves through the considerations in the rest of the book.
In the New Testament believers took very different approaches to how they could relate to the culture around them. Acts 15 wrestled with that question. Paul's discussions in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15 demonstrate that believers who belong to Jesus and are genuinely his disciples can take opposite views on issues such as participating in meals, what days to observe, etc. Part 4 on Contextualization, Religion, and Syncretism exposes the reader to a variety of perspectives on these challenging, sometimes divisive concerns. Whatever your views on contextualization or syncretism, the issues raised and considered here provide important food for thought for anyone seeking a balanced understanding of different perspectives.
Part 5, Approaches to Witness, again demonstrates that even those working with a similar group of people are led to develop differing approaches for different contexts. The book does not present a monolithic "insider" methodology that all are expected to follow. Instead , the first four parts of the book, when properly understood, exhibit a very biblical diversity of approach and presentation. Just as there are five major versions of the one Gospel in the New Testament, there are 8 different sermons in Acts that take different approaches to introducing Jesus in different situations, cultural contexts, and religious backstories. The willingness to be flexible and adaptable in approach is as old as the New Testament. Just because the approaches articulated are not the same as some other Christians have chosen, does not make them inherently wrong. An honest reader should at least consider the approaches on the basis of their scriptural and theological rationale, not dismiss them simply because they are some form of "insider" methodology.
Contrary to some criticisms of the book, the writers do address Concerns and Misunderstandings in Part 6. They acknowledge where they may have miscommunicated or misrepresented positions or understandings. They engage with critics and skeptics regarding questions and challenges that have been raised. Those who say the book is one-sided, have obviously not looked at the table of contents, much less read the chapters of this section. Fair and honest scholarship considers all sides of a debate, rather than just one's own perspective. It is unfortunate that many critics of insider practitioners have not demonstrated the same balance, respectful consideration of and response to those the see as their "opponents" in regard to this topic.
One of the major questions in regard to insider believers revolves around their identity as followers of Jesus (Isa, Yesu, etc.). The final section (7) considers issues of identity and community in different situations and contexts. For believers who are steeped in Christian tradition, I know from personal experience that these considerations can be painful. For all our use of "Christian" in today's world, the Scriptures use it rarely, 3 times in fact (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16). The chapters in this section, then, are not a call to disobey and ignore Scripture, but to more carefully examine other identities that were much more commonly used and adopted in the New Testament. Part of "becoming all things to all people" may require us to be faithful to all Scripture identities, rather than to the one that is least used in the entire New Testament.
Honest readers, seeking to understand how anyone could advocate for insider approaches should respectfully engage with the material in these pages before dismissing the ideas wholesale. They will find in these pages a comprehensive presentation of the theology and missiology that undergirds and informs insider practice. You may not agree with everything, but you will find honest, long-serving followers of Jesus who have introduced numerous people to Jesus in often challenging, restrictive contexts. I've been inspired by their humility, their courage, and their devotion to Jesus and the Scripture.
Relevance to predominantly Christian countries:
1. One of the questions discussed in the book is how followers of Christ with both Christian and non-Christian religious identities can live and work together in unity. This theme comes out most clearly in Part 5 (e.g. chapter 47). That issue is relevant for traditional Christians as well, given the fact that the different Christian denominations rarely work together in unity. Perhaps there is something we Christians can learn from movements happening around the world that are based on personal devotion to Jesus rather than devotion to a particular religious identity. If God is responsible for these people coming to faith in Christ within diverse religious cultures and identities, perhaps there is something to learn from this about what really matters to God.
2. Traditionally Christian countries have also seen a rise in the number of “dones,” people who claim to be followers of Christ but are disaffected with traditional forms of church, as well as growing numbers with “nones” who are seeking “spiritual” answers outside of the organized religions. Both groups suffer from a lack of the biblical teaching, pastoral care, fellowship, and prayer support that traditional churches provide. It might be that something akin to insider movements could provide that for them more effectively.
3. Western countries have experienced a steady flow of Hindu and Muslim immigrants. Those of them who come to faith in Christ often become involved in a traditional Christian church, but some live in families and subcultures that strongly discourage this. It might be that God will use something like insider movements to meet their immediate spiritual needs and to spread the faith in their communities. If so, then this book could help prepare pastors and their congregations to understand such developments.
What does it look like when the gospel implants into a new group of people with unique values, customs, and worldview? What if your neighbor, coworker, or classmate could be one of those people? This is the best resource you will find on the subject.
Personally, the process of wrestling through these questions brought freshness and new insight into my own understanding of the message of Jesus to me, and I hope it does the same for you!