Looking at Insider Movements (2): Key Characteristics (Part 1)

By: Doug Coleman

So exactly what is this IM thing? I often find that a simple description or definition causes audiences to jump to conclusions before understanding what IM really is, and isn’t. Before I get to a description, we need to be aware of the field realities motivating the IM approach.

IM proponents often note the challenges and barriers to conversion among Muslims. Frequently cited are Muslim misunderstandings about Christians and “Christianity.” For example, many Muslims assume that Christians worship three gods, read a corrupt book, and believe God had a son via a physical relationship with Mary. Furthermore, many Muslims assume Christians are as morally decadent as Hollywood films and MTV videos produced in the “Christian” United States.

As you can imagine, the terms “Christian” and “Christianity” don’t usually generate warm fuzzies for Muslims. Couple this with an often explosive reaction against changing religions, as well as really close family and community ties, and it’s not hard to understand how humanly difficult it can be for Muslims to become “Christians.” Furthermore, when a new believer announces he has become a “Christian” and stops attending the mosque, he is often cut off from his community and his opportunity to share the gospel is gone, or at least severely hindered. By the way, IM advocates react quite strongly to the accusation that the methodology is driven by an attempt to avoid persecution. In response, they cite the martyrdom of a number of Insider believers, killed not because they turned away from “Islam” but because they wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus.

In response to these realities, IM claims that salvific faith in Jesus does not require a change of religion or religious identity, even though biblical faith will require one to abandon or reinterpret certain beliefs and practices of his pre-faith religion.[1] In other words, a Muslim does not have to stop being a “Muslim,” although he may have to change or reject some of his beliefs and practices. So a “Muslim follower of Jesus” might continue to go to the mosque and perhaps even participate in the prayers with others there while internally changing some of the content or meaning. He also might continue to affirm Muhammad as a prophet in some way, and might even participate in the Hajj, again transforming the meaning. At the same time, these “Muslim followers of Jesus” join together separately, away from the mosque, for worship and Bible study.

The most succinct summary of this comes from Kevin Higgins, probably the most prolific IM advocate. Using Naaman as a biblical paradigm for IM, Higgins suggests Naaman returned to his pre-conversion religious community, but some of his beliefs and practices changed. In other words, in regard to his beliefs and behavior Naaman evidenced some change, but in terms of belonging he remained vitally connected to his prior religious community.[2]

So besides Naaman, what other biblical support do IM proponents cite? I’ll mention a few points here and then finish describing the most commonly mentioned evidence in the next post.

First, the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is highly significant for IM advocates. In this landmark decision, the Apostles determined that God was now doing a new thing, meaning Gentiles did not have to “go through” Judaism in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Similarly, today Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others do not have to go through “Christianity” in order to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, according to Paul each one must “remain in that condition in which he was called” (1 Cor 7:20, 24). For IM advocates, this “remaining” includes the old religious community as well, albeit with some modified beliefs and behaviors.

On the flip side, early Jewish believers continued to attend the Temple and synagogue while meeting separately in homes for Christian worship, teaching, and fellowship. Advocates acknowledge the discontinuity between Islam and Judaism, but continue to see the analogy as significant and valid. After all, the first-century Jewish institutions were led by unbelieving priests and elders who rejected Jesus as the Messiah, issued condemnations against Christians, and ultimately pronounced judgment against them. Yet the Jewish Christians remained “inside” the Jewish religious community for decades.

In the next post I’ll finish describing the key characteristics and supporting arguments offered by IM proponents.

[1] For a description of three possible options, see Kevin Higgins, “Identity, Integrity and Insider Movements: A Brief Paper Inspired by Timothy C. Tennent’s Critique of C-5 Thinking,” IJFM 23 (Fall 2006): 121.

[2] Kevin Higgins, “Inside What? Church, Culture, Religion and Insider Movements in Biblical Perspective,” SFM 5 (August 2009): 90-91.

[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.]

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  1. David   •  

    Thank you for posting on this blog regarding this subject. I have recently been exposed to it and on the surface and initial look it appears to be, well wrong. Therefore, I am looking forward to reading your posts.

  2. Doug Coleman   •  

    Hi David,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope the series will be helpful. I’d be interested in your thoughts or further questions. By the way, in what context did you encounter this recently?


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