One of the many changes our world has experienced in the last few decades is the resurgence of Islam. As the post-colonial nation-states of the West have implemented open immigration policies and promoted multiculturalism, western civilization has opened its doors to thousands of Muslims who have been welcomed as citizens. Thus, Islam is no longer an unfamiliar religion to the average westerner, but one which westerners are becoming increasingly familiar with. The West's interest in Islam has been brought to an acute level of awareness by the escalating terrorist activities in recent years—activities which climaxed in the unforgettable and horrific events of 9-11. Westerners have now been forced to reckon with understanding what Islam is all about, and a major part of understanding Islam is involves coming to grips with the hostile nature of this religion and the threat it poses to western civilization. Interestingly, it is in this cultural milieu—one in which the “threat” of Islam has been renewed—that a new, pragmatic model for missions to Muslims has emerged, namely the Insider Movement (subsequently denoted by the abbreviation “IM”).
The IM, which is also known as “C5,” “Messianic Islam,” or “Movements to Christ,”[i] is a new, 20th century model for missions to Muslims which claims to offer the ideal and successful approach for the evangelization of Muslims. The movement is barely three decades old and is quickly gaining traction throughout the broader evangelical world. Rev. John Stringer observes that “missiological journals, Christian magazines and newspapers have been awash in anecdotes . . . extolling this purportedly new, biblical approach to ministry.”[ii] Unfortunately, though, this movement is something which orthodox Christians ought to be very concerned about, for it is laden with critical doctrinal compromises and pervaded by syncretism.
Generally speaking, the IM permits, if not encourages, converts to continue living within the context of their Islamic cultural, political—and yes, even religious—environments. Converts are encouraged to continue practicing their Islamic faith outwardly in the mosque while supposedly remaining “Christian” inwardly. Thus, advocates of the IM do not emphasize need for converts to join a local church. To the contrary, proponents of the IM encourage converts to remain within their own Muslim families, culture, and religious context. To describe the IM in a nutshell, I offer David Garrison's brief and poignant definition. He describes the IM as “a popular movement to Christ that bypasses formal and explicit expressions of the Christian religion.”[iii]
In this paper, we will seek to highlight some of the main factors which underlie the rise of the IM, following which we will set forth some of the movement's main principles. We will conclude with the observation that the IM minimizes the “stumbling block” or “offense” of the cross and obscures the fundamental antithesis between the Christianity and Islam.
Origins of the IM
As we consider the origins of the IM, two main factors must be considered: firstly, the influence of the modern movement in missions known as contextualization; secondly, the connections the IM has with the modern movement in evangelical Christianity known as the “emergent church.”
The Contextualization Movement
Contextualization is not in and of itself an adequate way of stating what the IM is; nevertheless, it is within this modern movement within missiology that the IM finds its beginnings. As Madany writes, the IM is the “logical descendent of the contextualization movement” and “the latest genre of contextualization.”[iv] But first, just what is the “contextualization” movement?
The contextualization movement arose during the second half of the 20th century, primarily in discussions among evangelicals. Advocates of the contextualization method of missions focused their concerns on how missionaries could bring the gospel into foreign cultures in a way that is relevant, meaningful, and understandable. The movement was also very concerned with how to avoid unnecessarily offending those to whom the gospel was presented. The editors of Chrislam offer the following definition of the movement:
Contextualization is concerned with translation of gospel content into any cultural form for the purpose of communicating Christ more clearly. It is about proper communication.[v]
Or consider the following definition from the editors of Introducing World Missions:
The core idea [of contextualization is that of taking the gospel to a new context and finding appropriate ways to communicate it so that it is understandable to the people in that context. Contextualization refers to more than just theology; it also includes developing church life and ministry that are biblically faithful and culturally appropriate.[vi]
As defined above, we can say that the desire to “contextualize” the gospel is, in and of itself, a good and necessary process.
The Bible itself is loaded with examples of “contextualizing” the gospel message as it is brought to new peoples and foreign cultures. Think of how the apostle Paul circumcised Timothy “because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3). Or think of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law . . . so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law . . . so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel.
Paul took various measures, both in his own conduct and lifestyle as well as in the physical aspect of circumcision in his apprentice, Timothy, so as to ensure that the gospel message would not be hindered. Paul lived in a way that was sensitive to the cultural context in which he was ministering the gospel. He wanted to ensure that if there was any offense, that it would be the cross of Christ alone that offended, and not any tangential matters such as his physical appearance, social habits, or even status as circumcised or uncircumcised.
The Gospel of John also provides us with an example of contextualization, specifically in the area of language. In a bold and radical move, John utilizes the important Greek word λογος to refer to the eternal, pre-incarnate Christ. The term λογος was a pagan Greek term laden with philosophical and religious baggage about the origins and power behind the universe. However, John proceeds to fill this pagan term with entirely new meaning. No longer is the λογος a rational principle or impersonal force which energizes and maintains the world. Rather, the λογος is now the personal, incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God become man, the one in whom and through whom all things exist and were created. Thus John used the language of his day to “contextualize” the gospel, that is, to convey it in a way that was clear and meaningful to his recipients.
Both Paul and John provide us with examples of contextualization which, far from compromising the gospel, ensure that the gospel message is clearly and thoroughly communicated in a different cultural context. Sadly, though, the contextualization movement in modern missiology has gone beyond biblically appropriate measures and has given way to syncretism (one of the two dangers which missiologists such as David Bosch warned us was inherent in an imbalanced method of contextualizing the gospel in a new culture[vii]).
There are numerous negative aspects to the contextualization movement. To begin with, proponents of contextualization have leveled some severe criticisms against the modern missionary movement which began with William Carey in the late 18th and early 19th century. According to Rev. Bassam Madany, these critics claim that the modern missionary movement failed in its evangelistic efforts to Muslims in past centuries because these early missionaries lacked cross-cultural sensitivities.[viii] A self-proclaimed insider named Mazhar Mallouhi, who is a Syrian-born Muslim convert to Christ, serves as a prime example of critics who put forth such sharp accusations. Mallouhi, in his arrogance, goes so far as to say that all efforts by Western Christians to convert Muslims to Christianity were motivated “not [by] true love or friendship,” but, presumably, by imperialistic greed and notions of white man's superiority.[ix] These critics also say that most of the missionaries of the modern period “were not good at 'cross-cultural communication',” an inhibition which critics say accounts for the lack of success of such missionaries' efforts.[x] However, these criticisms and accusations are most unfair.
We must ask critics of the modern missionary movement what they mean by “failure”? Were there not enough converts for their liking? Was there not enough numerical success? Did the supposedly few converts to Christ take too long before coming faith in Christ? If, as clearly appears to be the case, these critics are using the pragmatic measuring stick of numbers, then we must recognize that an unbiblical measuring stick is being used to assess whether or not the modern mission movement was successful in its endeavors to Muslims. Thus we can dismiss their criticisms as out of hand.
What is particularly noteworthy, though, is the criticism that the missionaries of the modern period lacked in cross-cultural communication skills. This is also a most unfair criticism. As Madany explains, the pioneer missionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries were adequately versed in Islamic languages. In contrast, however, “the majority of advocates of the 'IM' come from Western Evangelical circles that, unlike the pioneer missionaries . . . do not seem to be adequately versed in Islamic languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Turkish, Urdu, or Malay.”[xi] It seems that proponents of the contextualization model of missions are willing to unfairly criticize faithful missionaries of the past so as to bolster their cause and boost their own ego.
The contextualization movement is further plagued by what is called the “incarnational” model of missions. The incarnational model places more of an emphasis on practical deeds of kindness and works of relief than it does on preaching and teaching the gospel message.[xii] Advocates of the incarnational model of missions seem to have lost a sense of the distinctness of Christ's incarnation (i.e. that the incarnation is not something to be replicated by followers of Christ, but something to be proclaimed). Furthermore, advocates of the incarnational model of missions seem to forget what the purpose of Christ's incarnation was. The purpose of the incarnation was not first and foremost to set forth an example or model for mission methodology. Rather, the purpose of the incarnation was to provide the perfect God-Man who would come to live the life we sinners could never live and to die in our place. The main purpose of the incarnation was to provide atonement on the cross—not to provide a pattern for missional methodology![xiii] The incarnation now stands behind us in redemptive history as an event that must be preached and proclaimed. Sadly, it is just such proclamation which advocates of the incarnational model of missions seem to compromise and neglect. They overemphasize the need to “be” Christ's hands and feet through practical deeds of service and love, and under-emphasize Christ's command to proclaim Him as the one and only Lord and Savior, as Paul did so boldly in Acts 4:12.
Sadly, advocates of both the contextualization movement and the incarnational model of missions attempt to immerse themselves and their message too deeply within the cultural context of the recipients. The result is that they compromise both the gospel message and their own lifestyle, and as a result, they become guilty of syncretism. As we will come to see, we find much syncretism in the IM. As the editors of Chrislam say, proponents of the IM “fuse information about Jesus into an existing religion such as Islam.”[xiv] In their haste to contextualize the gospel, insiders too quickly adopt Islamic rituals and religious practices which do not comport with Christianity, and end up with neither Christianity, nor Islam, but either an aberrant form of the host religion, or a new religion altogether—a religion which could perhaps be termed “Chrislam.”
The Emergent Church Movement
Another important factor to be aware of when considering the origins of the IM is the liberal wing of evangelical Christianity within which this movement arose, namely, the emergent church movement. As speaker, apologist, and missionary Jay Smith observes, “The Insider paradigm seems to borrow from this new tradition, and certainly owes much to it.”[xv] Once we understand some of the characteristics of the emergent church movement, we will be in a position to see how its principles and values have set the stage for many of the missiological principles which we find at work in the IM.
The emergent church is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st century which arose in the wake of a rapidly declining membership among mainline evangelical churches. The movement crosses a number of theological and denominational boundaries and is characterized by its developing and decentralized nature, a vast range of theological standpoints, and a commitment to ongoing dialogue (as opposed to the fixed stance of historic, confessionally-based churches). What is most characteristic of the emergent church, however, is its disillusionment with the organized (or institutional) church. Bill Nikides, a PCA pastor, researcher, and missionary, expresses this sentiment when he states that emergents “decry institutions such as the traditional church.”[xvi] They call into question the long-held biblical notions of official church membership and ecclesiastical office (i.e. the office of deacon, elder, and pastor). Nikides sums up the emergents' disillusionment with the institutional church with the following observations: “Emergents tend to see the organized church as hopelessly corrupt,” and they often figure that it is “far better to focus the believer's energy on building the kingdom and bypassing the institutions.”[xvii]
Leaders of the emergent church also have a strong tendency toward de-emphasizing the importance of the church's creeds, confessions, and dogma. To borrow Nikides words, emergents often view the creeds and confessions simply as “culturally landlocked, man-made statements that may need a doctrinal makeover,”[xviii] and they believe that “spending time scrubbing theology is considered a waste of time and wrong-headed since doctrine is really only cultural Christianity attempting to force its view on others.”[xix] Drawing on Nikides' observations, we can fairly conclude that the emergent church has a minimalist view of doctrine and theology and that emergents hastily dismiss over two thousand years of rich, theological heritage. In so doing, emergents place themselves in a position in which they are very prone to falling into heresy. As we shall come to see, this is already happening among emergents who have embraced the insider model of missions to Muslims.
Another key aspect of the emergent church movement is its compromised view of biblical inspiration. For many emergents, biblical inspiration means that “the authors are inspired, not necessarily the words.”[xx] This, however, is a very dangerous and unbiblical view of inspiration. Such a view runs completely contrary to what we read in passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21, and such a view runs completely contrary to the Reformed view of the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture, which maintains that all parts of the Scripture are inspired, included the thoughts, words, phrases, allusions, and style. However, by not holding to the verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture, emergents find the freedom to proclaim Scripture's authority while at the same time rejecting the church's historical understanding of its teachings. Moreover, it is this minimalist view of inspiration serves as the impetus for emergents to alter the translation of the Bible and compromise key words and concepts in order to create “Muslim-friendly” translations or “Muslim-compliant” translations. This, we will see, is happening in the IM whose compromised views of Scripture resonate with and flow out of those of the emergent church.
A final connection between the emergents and insider proponents is that both movements share some of the same influential thinkers. It is not necessarily the case that these thinkers are advocates of either the emergent church movement or the insider movement. However, it is the case that these thinkers shape the thinking of both movements and serve as spring-boards for a diverse set of ecclesiastical and missiological principles. Chief among such thinkers are the missiologists David Bosch, who is a champion of incarnational contextualization (but who nevertheless warns against the ever-present dangers of syncretism, on the one hand, and irrelevance on the other), and missionary historian Andrew Walls, who is an important architect for encouraging the development of “local theology” in the place of the historic creeds and confessions of the ecumenical and catholic church.
Two other figures serve as influential shapers of both communities: Joseph Cumming, an insider advocate who works at Yale University Divinity School where he runs a “Reconciliation Program” at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, which seeks to promote reconciliation between Muslims and Christians; and Miroslav Volf, the widely known Yale Scholar who postulates the heretical idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God[xxi] and who sets forth similar heresies and compromises as co-sponsor of the Yale Response to “A Common Word Between Us and You: Loving God and Neighbour Together.” These leading thinkers within the broad framework of evangelical Christianity have either taught certain missiological principles which have been skewed by their successors so as to become compromised positions, or these leading thinkers have made theological compromises themselves, compromises which have set the stage for some many of the highly questionable principles set forth by advocates of the IM.
Principles of the IM
Having observed some of the liberal notions underlying the contextualization movement and the emergent church movement, we now move on to look at some of the main principles of the IM itself. As we do so, it will become increasingly evident how the IM flows naturally out of the aforementioned movements.
Lack of Consensus
Before we set forth some of the principles of the IM, it must be said that the movement as a whole lacks any kind of broad consensus. Despite conferences organized by insiders, there is no agreed upon statement of beliefs that have been set forth. Nikides, who has studied the movement in depth, explains that these movements are “shrouded in mystery,” surrounded by “more than a little obfuscation,” and “accompanied by hushed tones.”[xxii] The IM is so ambiguous and undefined that individuals within the movement can hold to any principle or practice, while the movement as a whole denies that any such principle or practice applies to the group as a whole. After attending a conference[xxiii] held by a group which promotes and teaches the “insider” methodology, Smith offers the following the concluding assessment:
There is a multiplicity of Insider opinions and practices. And [therein lies] the dilemma. How was I to assess something which not everyone could agree upon?[xxiv]
He also quotes another leading Christian intellectual who highlights the ambiguity of the movement in the following words:
The Insider proponents are just too slippery to pin down. Even when you quote them, they say that is not what they really mean! The movement is so fluid and vague in many ways that it raises many questions of credibility.[xxv]
Given the movement's lack of consensus and its ambiguity, perhaps we can shed some light on the issue by mentioning what the IM is not. The editors of Chrislam say that the IM is often mis-characterized in two ways: On the one hand, the IM is often portrayed as a missionary method which seeks to contextualize the gospel for Muslims. However, as we shall come to see, the IM goes far beyond the biblical limits of contextualization so as to compromise the gospel message, thus the IM is not a contextualization strategy which orthodox Christians can endorse. On the other hand, the IM is often portrayed as some sort of strategy or tactic for church planting in a Muslim context.[xxvi] Again, however, we must maintain that the IM is not a methodology for church planting, for the goal is not to have converts join a church. To the contrary, the goal is to have converts remain “inside” the mosque where it is thought that they can be more effective witnesses for Christ and find more opportunities to present Christ.
While it is true that the IM is shrouded in ambiguity (this ambiguity should in and of itself give us much reason to question the movement as a whole), it is nevertheless the case that there are numerous overarching principles by which we can characterize the movement as a whole, thereby gaining enough of a handle on this modern trend in missions to know that we must steer widely clear of it.
Converts Remain “Inside” their Islamic Familial Context
Perhaps a most fundamental principle of the IM is its emphasis that converts to the Christian religion can remain within their Muslim biological family and religious context after conversion. Kevin Higgins, who is the executive director of Global Teams mission organization and a self-proclaimed advocate of the IM, offers the following definition of the IM:
As I use it, the phrase Insider Movements . . . [refers to the notion that] followers of Jesus can continue to embrace at least some of their people's religious life, history, and practice without compromising the Gospel or falling into syncretism [emphasis mine, BZ].[xxvii]
Elsewhere, Higgins describes the IM in the following way:
A growing number of families, individuals, clans, and/or friendship-webs becoming faithful disciples of Jesus within the culture of their people group, including their religious culture. This faithful discipleship will express itself in culturally appropriate communities of believers who will also continue to live within as much of their culture, including the religious life of the culture, as is biblically faithful [emphasis mine, BZ].[xxviii]
Also insightful is the definition of “insider” as set forth by advocates at the Common Ground conference:
We define 'insider' as one who embraces Jesus yet remains as a light in his 'oikos' (household) so that as many as possible might be saved (cf. Mat.5:15).[xxix]
It is this notion of “remaining within” or “remaining inside” that lies at the heart of the IM (thus the name “insider” movement), and Matthew 5:15 serves as a “proof-text” for this missional model. In this passage Jesus says, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house [oikos].” Leading insiders at the Common Ground conference explicitly referenced this passage to make this very point. They say, “New believers should not be extracted from their Muslim families (their ‘oikos’). Matthew 5:15 says to shine as a light in one's oikos. The dictum is actually ‘remain in.’”[xxx] It seems to me, however, that the whole notion of converts remaining within their biological family, and by extension, their religious context, is rooted in a faulty understanding and narrow exegesis of Jesus' words in this passage.
Jesus is not talking here about the need for new believers to literally stay within the walls of their own house. Rather, Jesus is speaking metaphorically about how believers must not hide or obscure their faith while living in a corrupt, evil, and hostile environment. Sadly, though, this is just what the IM is all about: hiding and obscuring the light of one's new-found faith by avoiding clear expressions of it! Another problem with the insiders' exegesis of this passage is that they misinterpret the Greek word “oikos” by restricting its meaning to biological family members alone. This, however, is something that Jesus never does. In Matthew 12:46-50 Jesus actually points to a group of His followers and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” In this passage, which insiders conveniently neglect to comment on, Jesus redefines the family in a very pointed way. He defines “family,” that is, “brothers” and “sisters,” as those who are bound not primarily by blood-lines but first and foremost by faith-lines. As Smith notes, those coming out of a Muslim background have a stronger allegiance with their new ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ in the local Christian community than they do with their biological Muslim family.[xxxi] This is particularly the case when they are being persecuted by their Muslim family members. Sadly, though, this is a crucial dynamic which insiders overlook. Blood ties appear to be more important than do faith-ties.
Insiders also neglect to comment on how Jesus' words in Matthew 10:35-37 relate to an exegesis of Matthew 5:15. In this passage Jesus tells us very pointedly that once we are His disciples, we should expect to find “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law,” and he states that “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” These are both radical and crucially important words which, once again, insiders neglect to take comment on. Contrary to what insiders promote, Jesus tells us here that converts should expect to not be able to continue living with their biological family because their new-found faith will be the cause of division and hostility within the family.
Insiders also believe it is beneficial for converts to remain “inside” their Muslim families because it provides converts with many unique opportunities to spread the gospel “from within.” By allowing converts to continue living within their own Islamic household, insiders claim that new believers will maintain relationships which will provide unique opportunities to present the gospel to family members, opportunities that “outsiders” would never have. In the words of leading insiders at the Common Ground conference, indigenous believers are “uniquely gifted by virtue of bloodline and upbringing to reach those of his natural oikos. So our desire is to see this natural gifting used for the sake of the Gospel. The goal is for people to be salt and light in their ‘oikos’.[xxxii] In case we think there is a risk of compromising one's Christian identity by remaining “inside,” Frank Decker, who is himself an insider, assures us that:
these insider movements are not intended to hide a believer's spiritual identity, but rather to enable those within the movement to go deeper into the cultural community—be it Islamic, Hindu, or Buddhist—and be witnesses for Jesus within the context of that culture.[xxxiii]
What are we to think of such a theory? Is it true that the IM does not hide or obscure a believer's spiritual identity? While it may be true that indigenous believers are in a unique position to present the gospel message to members of their own household, it is also equally true that indigenous believers are in a very dangerous position if they remain in close proximity to Muslim family members. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the imminent threat of physical violence, even death, by hate-filled family members. Furthermore, being mere infants in the Christian faith, and being surrounded by hostile and antagonistic family members who cling tenaciously to their “superior” Islamic faith, new converts face much pressure to make spiritual compromises in their faith, perhaps backsliding, or even forsaking Christ altogether. Those who say that converts should remain within their unbelieving biological family for the sake of witnessing to them are naive at best and ignorant at worst. They seem to recognize neither the physical nor the spiritual dangers associated with remaining inside.
We must say that there is nothing inherently wrong with a convert wanting to remain within his or her own family; however, converts may not do so to the exclusion of their greater family—the family of Christ. As we will come to see, though, insiders do exclude themselves from the local body of Christ. They neglect their faith-family as they bypass any formal or explicit expression of the Christian faith and as they refuse to become part of a local Christian church.
Converts Remain “Inside” their Islamic Religious Context
In addition to advocating that converts to Christ may remain within their Islamic biological family, insiders also advocate that converts may remain within their Islamic religious context. Rather than encouraging coverts to join a local church, be baptized, and partake regularly of the Lord's Supper, insiders encourage converts to continue attending the mosque for worship. The fact that proponents of the IM do not require that converts worship at a local church or join fellowship with a group of Christians can be seen as a natural outflow of the disillusionment emergents have expressed with the institutional church. Insiders do not consider the institutional church to be a biblically mandated institution; rather, they see it as nothing more than a cultural creation. Consequently, insiders see no need to encourage converts to join a local church, nor do they see any necessity in establishing new churches in Muslim cultures. The institutional church is seen by insiders as a crutch, a stumbling block, and an inhibition to coming to Christ, even an inhibition to a vital faith, just as the emergent church movement claims it to be.
Further problems lie in the fact that insiders allow—even encourage—converts to continue practicing many of the rituals and practices of the Islamic faith. Not surprisingly, there is no consensus among insiders to distinguish between which Islamic rituals are appropriate for a “Christian” Muslims to follow, and which are inappropriate. The range of “insider-sanctioned” rituals includes everything from almsgiving (zakat), performing the Islamic prayers five times per day (salat), participating in the fast at Ramadan (sawm), and going on the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), to regular attendance and worship at the mosque. Most troublesome, however, is that many insiders permit converts to continue reciting the shahada, the foundational Islamic creed.
Rick Brown is one of many insiders whose position regarding the shahada evidences a position of much ambiguity and great compromise. Brown says, “Personally, I think the second half of the shahada should be avoided whenever possible.”[xxxiv] This, however, is just a subjective statement in which he states his own personal preference without giving any definitive answer on the matter at hand. By using the words “whenever possible,” Brown betrays his compromised position, which is further clarified when he says the shahada may be confessed “only under duress with an interpretation that is compatible with the Bible.”[xxxv] Brown finally makes his position clear with this concluding comment: “Someone can say the shahada and at the same time can believe in Jesus as his Savior and Lord.”[xxxvi]
The dangerous compromise Brown makes becomes clear when we recognize the significance and religious import of reciting the shahada in an Islamic context: to recite the shahada is the very act by which a person declares himself a Muslim.[xxxvii] Thus, in confessing the shahada, one simultaneously denies that he or she is a follower of Christ. Jesus warns strongly against such forms of denial in Matthew 10:32, where He says, “Whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven.” Positively, we read in Romans 10:9-10 that “if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Here Paul says that it is by confessing Christ that we are saved. However, insiders say Christ need not be confessed, but the shahada may be! What an ironic, heretical reversal. To confess the shahada, even when under pressured to do so by enemies of Christ, is to deny and disown Jesus Christ.
Despite the significance and religious import of the shahada in the Islamic context, and despite Jesus' warning against denying Him, Brown goes on to speak approvingly of Muslim background believers who now serve as “insider missionaries” as they continue to recite the shahada. Brown acknowledges that these insider missionaries have been “highly blessed in their ministry,” and he offers no signs of disagreement when missionaries say that there are “no negative consequences” resultant in the lives and ministry of those converts and missionaries who do continue recite the shahada.[xxxviii] In response to such views we must ask a few questions: What is Brown's measuring stick for determining whether or not a ministry is “blessed” by God? And what is Brown's measuring stick for success? The number of converts, or perhaps the level of comfort a convert has, or the lack of persecution a convert faces while continuing to live within an Islamic environment? Brown seems to measure success not by faithfulness to the biblical message, but by the pragmatic measuring stick of numbers and ease with which a convert can live his or her life.
The fact that insiders permit Muslims to continue practicing Islamic rituals and confessing the Islamic creed provides us with undeniable evidence that the IM has taken the notion of contextualization to the point of syncretism, just as the Israelites so often did in the Old Testament period when they refused to reject the pagan gods.
By allowing converts to continue practicing Islamic religious rituals, insiders create an environment in which converts will inevitably be confused regarding their religious identity. The editors of Chrislam describe this confusion of identity aptly: “As the theory goes, a person claims Jesus as Lord and then becomes a religious dual citizen, maintaining spiritual passports as Muslim and also as a follower of Jesus. Insider movements muddy the waters of identity [emphasis mine, BZ].”[xxxix] Or, as Moses Gbenu colorfully states it, “The insider movement does not produce disciples of Jesus Christ, but spiritual schizophrenics [emphasis mine, BZ],”[xl] that is, confused individuals who do not know whether they are Muslim, Christian, or something else altogether.
Not only do converts become confused regarding their religious identity when they continue with Islamic rituals after their supposed conversions, they also place themselves in a position where they face grave spiritual dangers. The editors of Chrislam quote a missionary who issues the following warning: “Due to the overtly demonic nature of most of these folk Islamic practices, unless a new believer renounces them and is set free by Jesus, he is likely to fall back into the occult [of Islam], becoming hamstrung in his spiritual growth.”[xli] Indeed, converts who remain inside an Islamic religious environment even risk denying the Christian faith altogether and returning to the Islamic religion. Sadly, most insiders do not recognize the grave threat posed by such spiritual dangers. They underestimate the power of Satan and the spiritual warfare he wages, and they underestimate the antithesis that stands between the two faiths.
The Qur’an as a Pointer to the Gospel
Proponents of the IM also have exceedingly problematic views of the Qur’an. Many insiders are willing to place the Qur’an on a level similar to that of the Bible, and some insiders go so far as to claim that both the Bible and the Qur’an are divinely inspired. According to Smith, insiders at the Common Ground conference strongly implied that “the Qur’an was one of four authoritative ‘God breathed’ books.”[xlii] Such a view of both the Bible and the Qur’an, however, is laden with grave dangers which inevitably lead to an infinite number of compromises of essential biblical truths.
Speaking of the role of the Qur’an in her mission work, insider Patricia Bailey says, “I use their own book of precepts [the Qur’an] to validate the authenticity of Christ.”[xliii] Bailey here evidences a very suspect hermeneutical move which compromises both the self-attesting authority of the Christ of the Scriptures as well as the ultimate authority of the Bible.[xliv] The Bible needs no other source, nor any external evidences, to validate or authenticate it. The Bible itself is the very Word of God and stands on its own authority. In this way, the IM compromises the classic doctrine of Scripture that the Scriptures carry the evidence of their truth and authority in and of themselves (cf. Belgic Confession, Article V).
But more can be said about insiders' view of the Qur’an. Smith offers the following summation of the words of missionaries who adhere to the insider model:
We would say that the Tawrat [Torah], Zabuur [Psalms], and Injil [Gospels] point to the Kingdom of God, while the Qur’an teaches a) Monotheism, b) against idolatry, c) points to Jesus, d) points to earlier books. Thus it can be used as a "stepping stone", a "candle” of light that shines toward Jesus and the Bible.[xlv]
Another insider, Jamie Winship, speaks of the Qur’an’s role in missions by saying, “It's a pointer to the Gospel.”[xlvi] However, to say that the Qur’an can be used as a stepping stone toward Jesus or the Bible, and to say that the Qur’an is a light that shines toward Jesus and the Bible is to completely misunderstand the fundamental teachings of the Qur’an and Islam. The Qur’an itself is full of internal contradictions.[xlvii] What is more, the Qur’an disagrees with the Bible on many foundational truths. For example, the Qur’an denies the following: the doctrine of the incarnation (cf. Surah 9:30, 23:92-3, and 112:3), the biblical account that Jesus actually died on the cross, the biblical theory of blood-atonement, and most importantly of all, the concept of the Trinity (cf. Surah 4:48). For the sake of time we will only comment in detail on the insiders' view of the Trinity, since the doctrine of the Trinity is the most foundational theological concept which, if compromised, leads to the compromise of every other Christian doctrine and the Christian faith as a whole.
Smith reports that insiders at the Common Ground conference spoke of the term “Trinity” as “an extra-Biblical term” which is part of Christian traditions, creeds, and confessions, but not part of the Bible.[xlviii] These insiders then conclude that, because the term is not actually found in the Bible, it is not something that Muslim converts need to incorporate into their language or theological schema. Mazhar Mallouhi, a Muslim-background believer and self-proclaimed insider, goes so far as to explicitly state that the Trinity “is not a 'necessity' for him.”[xlix]
To find such thinking among “professing Christians” is utterly shocking and appalling. The concept of the Trinity and the Triune God is not something which stands on the periphery of the Christian faith; it is the sine qua non of Christian faith. The concept of the ontological Trinity is the very basis upon which all the major creeds of our church are structured, and to deny the Triune God is to deny the Christian faith altogether. What insiders are compromising here is the God of the Bible. And if the God of the Bible is neither believed in nor confessed, then we can understand why it is that insiders make so many other compromises both in theology and in practice.
Suffice it to say that the Bible and the Qur’an are fundamentally antithetical on all the foundational points of theology and doctrine. The Qur’an is put forth as a corrective to what Muslims claim is a corrupt Bible, so even the Muslims, by nature of the case, do not believe that the two books agree. Adam Simnowitz, a minister with the Assemblies of God church who has studied Arabic in the Middle East, rightly states that it is only by “semantic fallacies, straw man arguments, leaps in logic, unorthodox interpretations of the Bible and the Qur’an” that one can claim to find any harmony between these two books.[l]
Orthodox Christians must oppose the view of the Qur’an upheld by the IM and stand firm on the conviction that the Qur’an sheds no light whatsoever on the Bible. Quite to the contrary, orthodox Christians must boldly assert the truth of the matter, namely, that Muslims claim the Qur’an to be a superior and final revelation of God which not only abrogates but also sheds light on what they insist is a corrupted Bible. We conclude, then, by saying that the Qur’an may never be used to authenticate either the Bible or the Jesus of the Gospels, for the Qur’an stands in complete opposition to the Bible.
Muslim-Compliant Translations of the Bible
Another aspect of the IM which should be of great concern to orthodox Christians is the attempts which have been (and are being) put forward to produce a new translation of the Bible. Such translations have been variously termed as “Muslim friendly” versions or translations which use “Muslim-compliant idiom.” These versions seek replacement terminology for key scriptural words and concepts such as “Son of God” and “God the Father,” because these terms are highly offensive to Muslims. These translations are being produced both in the western and in the Arabic world. Sadly, even Wycliffe Bible Translators and its primary partner, SIL International, are involved in the production of such translations. Thankfully, though, the Presbyterian Church in America has warned against these Muslim-idiom translations and has issued an official rebuke to Wycliffe which has forced the organization to reissue new guidelines for its translation work.[li]
Muslim-compliant translations are also being produced in the Arab world by Muslim-background believers who are part of the IM. For example, Mazhar Mallouhi has produced his own so-called “user friendly” or “Muslim compliant” Arabic translation of the Bible. However, he has also made numerous linguistic compromises. In his translation, Mallouhi has replaced references to God as “Father” with terms such as Allah, Rabb, Waliy, Al Aziz, Amir, or Ruh Allah.[lii] And he has replaced references to Jesus as “God's Son” with terms such as habib (beloved) or sayyid ul bashar (master of men) or representative of God.[liii]
What are we to think of such translations of the Bible? While on the one hand it is commendable to use language and terminology which fits meaningfully within a given linguistic and cultural context, we must maintain, on the other hand, that we may not alter or change key biblical metaphors solely because they are considered offensive and blasphemous to the ears of unbelievers. Terms such as “Father” and “Son” in the Bible are crucial to the biblical concept of who God is, namely the Triune God. We cannot understand who the God of the Bible is unless we maintain these key words and metaphors. Furthermore, without the language of Father and Son, we have no basis for the relational aspect of God as a personal being who has inter-communion and an ongoing exchange of love between the three Persons of the Godhead.
As we translate the Scriptures, we must remember that all of Scripture is God-breathed, even the metaphors, language, and individual word choice (as per the view of verbal plenary inspiration set forth in the Reformed tradition). Thus, we may not change either biblical text or its foundational metaphors simply for the sake of offending someone's sensibilities. However, as we have seen, the IM has its roots partly in the emergent church movement, which has compromised its view of biblical inspiration. Since insiders, along with emergents, believe that the authors of the Bible are inspired, but not necessarily the words, they give themselves the freedom to alter crucial biblical terminology.[liv]
It is easy to understand why these translations are popular in the Muslim world, for the concept of God presented in these Bibles is not offensive to Islamic ears. And since many Muslims are accepting the message and the God of these “Bibles,” many naive evangelicals are claiming that the use of such Bibles is bearing much fruit. Collin Hansen, who has recently been appointed as full-time editorial director of the Gospel Coalition, reports claims from certain evangelical and insider circles that Bible translations which avoid the phrase “Son of God” are “bearing dramatic fruit among Muslims.”[lv] But again, we must recognize that such Bible translations compromise the biblical concept of God, and thus we must question whether or not they bear any saving fruit at all. The God presented in these Bible translations is neither the God of Qur’an nor the God of the Bible, but simply another idol, or, shall we say, the god of “Chrislam”?
Pragmatism is clearly the underlying motive for those who produce and use Muslim-compliant translations of the Bible. Joshua Lingel, an apologist, professor, and prominent critic of the IM, goes so far as to say that these translations are “governed by pragmatism”[lvi] and motivated by a desire to re-write the Bible so that it does not offend the receptors. However, we must always allow the message of the cross and the message of Christ to offend. We must never stand in the way of the offense of the Gospel. "Frankly,” says Lingel, “we need to be willing to allow the Word of God to offend."[lvii] Certainly Paul and the apostles of the New Testament period were willing to allow the gospel to offend—and yes—they even suffered as a result. And Jesus Himself offended people with His message (cf. Matthew13:57; Mark 6:3). Thus we too should expect the gospel to offend and never try to evade offense by compromising biblical language in our translation and in our preaching.
There is one final tenet that seems to govern the IM, namely, pragmatism, as has been hinted at above. And it appears that pragmatism may well be the movement's most overarching principle. In a pragmatic model of missiology, the goal is to get the highest number of converts as quickly as possible, and controversy and persecution is to be avoided at all costs. These pragmatic interests are found throughout the IM. For example, Rev. Edward Ayub, a former Muslim, says that “the avoidance of persecution and repression is the principal logic driving this insider movement.”[lviii] But Jesus tells His followers to expect persecution, even death, solely on account of their faith in Him (cf. Matthew 23:34; Luke 21:12; John 16:2). And Paul tells Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Sadly, the IM seeks to avoid the very persecution Christians are told to expect. And it is their very desire to avoid persecution that explains why insiders are so quick to compromise the gospel message and the Christian lifestyle to the extents that they do.
Furthermore, pragmatism is evidenced in the way insiders define and measure “success” in their mission work. Insiders measure success largely by the number of converts that are produced, rather than by whether or not missionaries remain faithful to the message of the Bible. Commenting on the importance of numbers in the IM, Smith tells of how, in every conversation he has had with proponents of the insider model, it has always been the case that reference to numbers is eventually introduced.[lix] Smith concludes that one of the strongest impetuses within insider circles can be summed up in the motto: “As many as possible.”[lx] Therein lies the pragmatic principle at work once again: for insiders, the ends (gaining converts) always justifies the means (methodologies, theologies, translation work, etc...).[lxi] If a particular method gains converts, then the method must be legitimate.
Indeed, many within the IM are claiming to have gained an unprecedented number of converts. Insiders claim that Muslims are coming to Christ in significant numbers today, far more than ever before in the history of modern missions. However, we must exercise caution here. We must question the validity of the conversions which are being reported. David Greenlee, himself an insider, claims that there are a large number of Muslims coming to Christ through the IM. He writes, “Until recent days, the number of Muslims reported as coming to faith in Jesus Christ was small. Something, however, has changed. That Muslims in significant numbers today are, in a biblical sense, coming to faith in Jesus Christ is no secret.”[lxii] But what are we to make of these claims that the number of converts has surged? Certainly we must question the validity of these conversions reported by people such as Greenlee and ask what criteria they are using to determine whether someone is a genuine convert or not. Sadly, Greenlee's criteria for assessing conversions are laden with problems. In the above quoted article Greenlee assesses the validity of insider “conversions” by examining the conversion phenomena through seven different lenses: psychological, behavioural, sociological, cultural, spiritual warfare, human communicator, lens of God's divine role. What is shocking is that none of these lenses include any theological or doctrinal considerations! Thus we must conclude that many—if not most—of the reported conversions may very well not be genuine conversions at all.
Having surveyed some of the principles which govern the IM, we can safely say that the movement as a whole is motivated more by pragmatism than it is by a desire for faithfulness to the biblical message and the biblical model of missions. Converts can continue to practice Islamic religious rituals and confess the shahada because “it works,” it prevents them from being persecuted. And converts can continue living in their Muslim families because “it works,” it keeps life easy and pain-free. Furthermore, insiders use the Qur’an pragmatically as a pointer to Jesus and the Bible because in this way Muslims are not offended. Finally, in translating the Bible for the Muslim world, key biblical terms and concepts may be compromised because “it works.” Such translations quickly gain a Muslim readership and a large following among Muslims. Such pragmatism and compromise found throughout both the teachings and the missiological methods of the IM. But since the IM flows out of the contextualization movement and the emergent church movement, which are also laden with compromise and pragmatism, we should not be surprised to find these same principles at work in the IM.
Given the resurgence of Islam in our 21st century world, it is certainly the case that the church is being presented with new opportunities for bringing the gospel to Muslims. However, since the IM is permeated by the compromise of foundational biblical truths, a disdain for the modern missionary movement, and an unwillingness to take an outright stand for Christ, it is a movement which orthodox Christians must shun—a missional model which orthodox Christians must not endorse. Although the IM offers a pragmatic paradigm for mission work which promises quick results, we must maintain that the converts which the movement produces are not followers of the Christ of Scripture, but followers of some other Christ, or some other God, or some other religion—perhaps Chrislam?! So let us be on our guard, and let us speak out against this movement which compromises the uniqueness and finality of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who alone saves. Satan is subtle in his ways of undermining the gospel, and (it is only with a grief that I say this) the IM is proving to be one of the tools which Satan himself is using to subtly undermine the gospel. Let us be on guard!
Antonides, Harry. “The Insider Movement: Tinkering With the Christian Mission to the Muslim World.” Christian Renewal, November 11, 2009, pg. 34-36.
Garrison, David. “Church Planting Movements vs. Insider Movements: Missiological Realities vs. Mythological Speculations.” International Journal of Frontier Missions, Vol 21 (2004), pg. 151. http://www.ijfm.org
Greenlee, David. “New Faith, Renewed Identity: How Some Muslims are Becoming Followers of Jesus.” Accessed January 6, 2012. http://www.edinburgh2010.org
Nikides, Bill. “The Emergence of Insider Movements.” Accessed January 9, 2012. http://www.wrfnet.org
Smith, Jay. “An Assessment of the Insider's Principle Paradigms.” Accessed January 9, 2012. http://www.answering-islam.org
Chandler, Paul Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path between Two Faiths. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2007.
Lingel, Morton, and Nikides, eds. Chrislam: How Missionaries Are Promoting An Islamized Gospel. Garden Grove, CA: i2 Ministries Publishing, 2011.
McDowell, Bruce A. and Zaka, Anees. Muslims and Christians at the Table: Promoting
Moreau, McGee, and Corwin. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.
Morton, Jeff. Two Messiahs: The Jesus of Christianity and the Jesus of Islam. Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica Publishing, 2011.