Looking at Insider Movements (1): Introduction

[Editor’s Note: Doug Coleman is a SEBTS alum who lives and works in Central Asia. His SEBTS dissertation was recently published as A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology (Pasadena, CA: WICU Press, 2011). We asked Dr. Coleman to publish a critique of the Insider Movement here at BtT, in the form of a six-part blog series.]

By: Doug Coleman

Unless you’re a missionary, missions professor, missions pastor, or spend a lot of time with weirdo’s like us, you’re probably not so familiar with the latest missiological debate: Insider Movements (IM). After a recent book notice at Between the Times and a subsequent post by Dr. Ashford on IM and theological method, I thought it might be helpful to offer a fuller description, along with what I see as some of the key issues and problems. So, Bruce graciously accepted my proposal for a series of posts.

In this first installment, I’ll provide a little biographical info about my own motivations for studying IM, comment on the status of the current debate, and mention a word or two about some terminology. Subsequent posts will describe the main lines of IM, briefly examine key issues, and the final post will list some resources for those who might be interested in further reading on the topic.

While studying in the SEBTS 2+2 program under Dr. Eitel, I became acquainted with the topic of contextualization. Around that time, John Travis published his now well-known C-Scale[1] and the discussion took on a new focus. After spending six years in Central Asia ministering in Muslim contexts, I began PhD studies at SEBTS while on furlough. During some of my reading and research for seminars I became aware of this new thing called “Insider Movements.”

The more I read, the more intrigued I became. I was faced with some questions I had never before considered, saw some interesting interpretations of biblical passages, and decided to dig deeper to develop my own thinking and reach my own conclusions. Along with a growing concern that some critical biblical and theological questions were not being addressed, I also wanted to offer something that might be useful to others facing the same questions. Thus, a dissertation topic was born. But this is more than an academic or theoretical exercise for me. I have served in the Muslim world for more than a dozen years now, and I long to see many more of them come to faith in Jesus and live as faithful disciples.

I also want to suggest that this is not just a debate for those of us across the water from North America. Proponents are encouraging the IM approach among minority populations in the U.S. as well. And missionaries are introducing these concepts to churches when they return on furlough. So this conversation may concern you more than it seems at first glance.

Unfortunately, the IM debate has often been anything but brotherly. I’ve attended conferences both promoting it and denouncing it, and rhetoric on both sides has often not followed Dr. Keathley’s excellent advice. While I have developed strong views on the topic, and I disagree with IM proponents on many key points, those I have met I believe to be brothers in the Lord and genuinely desirous to see Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others come to know Jesus truly. I’m not on a crusade, and this series won’t be a rant against my IM-advocating brothers and sisters. But I do intend to give my honest critique, and I hope it will be helpful, irenic, and faithful to Scripture.

Before concluding, I want to briefly mention a word about terminology. Some IM proponents prefer a term like “movements to Jesus” rather than “Insider Movements.” Perhaps the terminology will change in the future, but the term “Insider Movements” is currently in common use, so it will be preferred here. Also, the literature can sometimes be confusing because “Insider Movements” refers both to the methodology-or paradigm-as well as specific “movements” in specific geographic locations. In these posts, the capitalized form (Insider Movements) will refer to the former while the lowercase alternative (insider movements) will refer to the latter.

Finally, while IM can be applied to various religious settings, most of the literature has focused on IM among Muslims. Because of this emphasis in the literature and my own personal experience among Muslims, these posts will not discuss other religious cultures.


[1] John Travis, “The C1 to C6 Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ-centered Communities’ (‘C’) Found in the Muslim Context,” EMQ 34 (October 1998): 407-408.

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