The Insider Movement: A Brief Response

I've been asked recently by a few people to comment on the Insider Movement phenomenon. Seeing as I have my Greek 101 final exam today, I'll have to keep this brief :-)

What Is the Insider Movement
At the risk of being too succinct, IM is the missionary perspective that new believers from Muslim backgrounds ought to be left in their Muslim context. In other words, let the Muslim stay Muslim as long as he is now a follower of Jesus.

Why Is there an Insider Movement?
There are many reasons why IM became so popular:
1 - It's a lot easier for someone raised Muslim to say "I'm a Muslim who follows Jesus" than to say "I am no longer Muslim; I'm Christian"
2 - It's much easier for families to accept new followers of Jesus if they are still regarded as Muslim
3 - Missionaries feel better about their efforts, because they see an exponential increase of "fruit" when before they had little
4 - It's easier to raise funding at home when reporting massive success abroad
5 - It creates less conflict, more warm fuzzies.
6 - (This deserves it's own number) Some missionaries use this approach to preach to Muslims without having to explain or defend that Jesus is God.

What's the Problem?
The problem with IM is that traditional Islam is not compatible with following Jesus. Islam denies the very purpose for which Jesus was sent into this world (his death on the cross for our sins; cf. Qur'an 4:157) and it denies the divine nature of Jesus (Qur'an 5:72, 5:116).

To risk perhaps going too deep into my opinion: many Westerners distinguish between culture and faith from a Western perspective, understandably but regrettably so. For example, people in the West often call themselves "Christian" or "Jewish" while separating themselves from the beliefs of their faith, to the extent of even having disdain for it. This distinction cannot be applied to Islamic culture the way it can in the West; although Muslims do not always believe what the religion traditionally taught, almost always you will find their allegiance lies with Islam, and they will rarely separate themselves from it. So when a Muslim follows Jesus, he is first a Muslim, and then a follower of Jesus. That just doesn't work.

Where Do We Draw the Line
I must be clear: I think we ought to contextualize the message, as much as possible. If a BMB, believer from a Muslim background, wants to say "Allah" instead of "God", by all means feel free. (FYI: Arab Christians used the term "Allah" even before the advent of Muhammad and Islam. They still do.) If a BMB wants to pray on a prayer rug, pray away!

Where I draw the line is when we compromise the Gospel. Which is why we must be absolutely clear what the Gospel message is: God incarnate, Jesus, died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day as the firstborn of the resurrection that God may be glorified through our eternal salvation.

If an Insider decides to contextualize everything except the Gospel, I'm fine with that! But the moment Jesus' deity is compromised, or his death on the cross for our sins, or his resurrection from the dead, then we are preaching a false gospel. And God has already judged such people:
"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, (or someone in the Insider Movement) should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" Galatians 1:8 NASB, the parenthetical is mine
Summary
The Insider Movement has the right heart, and I embrace the concept as long as it does not go too far. Unfortunately it often does, and we need to be on guard against a false Gospel.

For More:
See Alan Shlemon's recent article on STR:
Muslim Followers of Christ? A Look at the Insider Movement

See Lingel et. al, Chrislam (even includes contribution from IM proponents)
Chrislam on Amazon

5 comments:

  1. I totall agree with you and you hit the nail on the head Dr. Nabeel. There is one Gospel and not two. We cannot have a blended or a cocktail Gospel. Well explained.

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  2. I'm so confused by this: We have a missionary couple at our church who had been missionaries among Muslims for several decades and their approach is to go in and present Jesus and the gospel message, sometimes using the Koran, but also using the Torah to lead them to Christ. The Muslims are invited to "study the Torah" and many of them gradually come to an understanding of the gospel. However, it is a gradual process for most and some of them do not necessarily leave "Islam" or their culture after they become saved. When I questioned the missionaries more about it, they admitted that they don't always know at what point a person becomes saved, because it is through gradual study of the bible and increase in knowledge of who God & Jesus are that they come to an understanding of the gospel. I worry that presenting the gospel in this way may cause Muslims to "mix" Islam with Christianity, yet they've said that it is extremely hard to present the gospel any other way and there are churches being built and people being saved going this route. I'd love to hear some feedback on this, because our church is supporting these missionaries, so ultimately the money our family gives to the church goes towards this organization. I've heard of missionaries doing this with Native Americans (sort of mixing the teachings of the Great Spirit and trying to turn him into Christ) and also the same with Hindus and Buddhists. The bottom line question for me is: Is it a form of idolatry to present the gospel by "correcting" the definitions of who Allah God and Jesus are... or should we be instead evangelizing by clearing teaching Muslims to turn from their false gods to the One True God?

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  3. Leener,

    I think it's okay to take a slow approach; it doesn't really matter if we know exactly when a person has saving faith, as long as they ultimately do. But, that said, the question remains: at some point, any point, do these new believers actually grasp that Jesus is God, that he died on the cross for our sins, and that he rose from the dead?

    Another concern I have is this: do the Muslims that are being reached by these missionaries ever repudiate the teachings of the Qur'an and Muhammad? If they do not, their allegiance is still to Islam, not to Jesus. You cannot follow Muhammad and Jesus; Muslims might think they can, but that's because they think Jesus isn't God.

    So I'd find out about those two things. If the missionaries do not consider their mission accomplished until the new believers accept the deity of Jesus and stop following Muhammad/the Qur'an, then I'd be okay with them. If their disciples still follow Muhammad and/or do not believe in the deity of Jesus, I'd approach the Lord on how to proceed; supporting their teachings as they are would be to support a false gospel.

    I hope that helps, Leener.
    -Nabeel

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  4. Hello Nabeel, I thank you for your very good article. I am considered by many to be one of the leaders of those defending those who come to Christ while remaining identified with their Muslim families and communities (see my article by Rebecca Lewis: The Integrity of the Gospel and Insider Movements, at www.ijfm.org), and I too think the crucial issue is: do they affirm the Gospel (as you have stated it above in bold), and has Jesus Christ become Lord of their life and the Bible the scriptural authority in their life (this is affirmed by all the others I know who defend field indigenous Insider Movements). I would consider this same criteria to be crucial in all cultures, including our own, where identification with Christianity does not necessarily mean saving faith. Similarly, in most countries Muslims can retain their Muslim identity and be atheists or agnostics or have divergent beliefs; however, most Muslims believe (as the Quran states) that Jesus is the Word of God and Spirit of God, and I have not found explaining the divinity of Christ or the ultimate authority of the "former scriptures" a difficult task. Also, most quickly can come to understand the meaning of "Son of God" once they understand the NT is clear that sex had nothing to do with it. Just as new believers in our own culture take time to put off their faith in their own works or in material wealth (etc), it does indeed take time for Muslim believers to put off faith in their own goodness through following "the Law" or faith in material wealth or in pre-Islamic occult practices. I have yet to meet a Muslim who believes Mohammed can save them, since that is not taught in Islam. But lack of obedience to Scripture and poor discipleship can lead to syncretism in our context as well as theirs, as former allegiances or sinful practices are not "put off." This was also true in Roman times, when being a Roman citizen "required" worshipping the Emperor (started by Augustus Caesar), yet for 300 years early Roman Christians retained their Roman citizenship and identity while refusing to worship the Emperor, and, if publicly called to account for their divergent beliefs, died if necessary. Granted, there were also quasi-Christian movements at that time that became syncretistic, such as gnosticism. Nevertheless, Paul and the apostles did not decide (out of fear of syncretism) that the Roman believers had to put off their Roman identity (and become Jews) even though their Roman citizenship clearly had idolatrous religious associations and requirements---but Roman "insider movement" believers did have to change their allegiance and faith to Jesus Christ alone as do Muslim believers. This apostolic decision was based on the examination of Scripture and the acceptance that God was indeed blessing Romans (even Roman generals) with the Holy Spirit when they put their faith in Jesus Christ. Today we undeniably see God blessing Muslim believers who remain identified with their families and communities with His Holy Spirit, miracles, dreams, healings, and evangelism, all based on a clear understanding and acceptance of the Gospel. In these indigenous field Jesus movements we see the core of Reformation being re-affirmed with only faith, only grace, only Jesus, only scripture, the priesthood of all believers, and only God getting the glory. Again, I do not know any "insider movement" proponents who compromise the Gospel. Sorry this is so long!--- Rebecca Lewis

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  5. Hi Rebecca--

    Thanks for visiting this blog and for your thoughtful comments! I praise God for your dedication to Him and for your passion to share Jesus' word for His glory :-)

    Also, thanks for starting this dialogue with me; I have found it difficult to dialogue with insider proponents, for whatever reason. My guess is they expect me to be antagonistic, but I'm really just trying to get a clearer understanding of some perspectives and methods.

    I just read your article on ijfm. You provided a good explanation of the pro-insider perspective, but what caught my eye is the same thing that has concerned me about IM for a while; namely, I could see nothing along the lines of "these followers of Jesus believe He is God." I often find that lordship is addressed, which is good and which you did multiple times, but never is it clearly stated "they believe Jesus is God."

    You did say above that you have found explaining the divinity of Christ is not a difficult task, which I find reassuring. But may I be so bold as to ask you for a clear answer to two questions? I get a lot of questions about IM when I'm speaking, and this would help me a great deal in answering them:

    1 - Do insiders need to know that Jesus is God to be saved? Not just any "lord", not the greatest human lord, not even a human lord with God in him, but The Lord, God Himself? What do the other leaders of IM think?

    2 - If they do need to know that Jesus is God to be saved, approximately (I know each situation is different) how is this doctrine taught, and about what percentage of insiders would you say believe Jesus is God?

    A clear answer to these two questions would be a tremendous blessing, dear sister. I look forward to hearing your response!

    In Him,
    -Nabeel

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