Looking at Insider Movements (3): Key Characteristics (Part 2)

By: Doug Coleman

Kevin Higgins, whom I mentioned in the previous installment, has made the most significant attempt by any IM proponent to offer a biblical and theological rationale for various aspects of the methodology. For example, in a brief discussion of six biblical characters or passages, Kevin suggests the Bible contains evidence, or hints, that God is at work within the religions of the world, and that some individuals in other religions are “in relationship with God Himself.”[1] These examples include Melchizedek, Balaam, Amos 9:7, the pagan sailors in Jonah, the Wise Men (Matthew 2), and Paul’s speech in Athens (Acts 17).

According to Higgins, while all non-Christian religions evidence both human and demonic rebellion, they also reflect the activity of God. Therefore, because “God is at least potentially at work in other religions, then the contention of insider movement advocates that disciples can remain within their religious context is potentially true in any situation.”[2] Furthermore, just as Paul found altars and poets in Athens, intentionally placed there as “fingerprints of God within the religions of the world,” we will find in the Qur’an, hadith, mosque worship, and even the pilgrimage to Mecca,”altars to an unknown god” and “poets” that we can quote.[3]

For Higgins, the religions are not only vehicles of God’s activity and potential structures within which followers of Jesus can live as faithful disciples, but they are also part of the Kingdom of God, which Higgins defines as “the whole range of God’s exercise of His reign and rule in the universe.”[4] This does not mean Higgins holds an inclusivist position, but it does mean that, for him, conversion to Christ does not require an institutional transfer of religion. In other words, a Muslim is not required to become a “Christian” and join a “Christian” community.

When addressing the question of Islam specifically, Higgins distinguishes between “Islam as it is” and “Islam as it was.”[5] According to Higgins, Muhammad’s original intent (“Islam as it was”) was to unite the people of his region in the faith of Abraham. The Qu’ran affirms the previous books from Allah. Furthermore, the style of the Qur’an suggests Muhammad assumed his audience was familiar with the content of these books. Therefore, says Higgins, the Qur’an should be categorized as a kind of “midrash” on the Bible, and should be interpreted through the lens of the Bible rather than through the lens of the hadith. Further still, while Higgins does not believe the Qur’an is the “word of God,” and it does contain errors, he also suggests Muhammad received some of it directly from God via “direct inspiration.”[6] All of this (and more which I don’t have room to relate here) leads Higgins to posit a “Jesus Key” hermeneutic of the Qur’an. Muslims may reject interpretations reached via this approach, but early unbelieving Jews also rejected Christian interpretations of the Old Testament as well.[7]

Higgins’ interpretation of “Islam as it was” leads him to the conclusion that remaining within Islam, albeit a reinterpreted Islam, is a biblically viable option for disciples of Jesus. The unbelieving Muslim community may discover these aberrant beliefs and dispel the “Muslim followers of Jesus,” but Higgins believes these followers should remain inside the Muslim religious community as long as possible. Here again, Higgins cites the early Jewish background Christians who did not leave the Temple and synagogue until driven out by the Jews.

Finally, one other possible example of an IM in the Bible suggested by Higgins is 1 Cor 8:10.[8] Paul writes, “For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?” According to Higgins, the dining in a pagan temple is actually occurring, not hypothetical, and Paul does not condemn the action for the thing in itself, but because it negatively affects a weaker brother. Therefore, Higgins concludes this is a “possible example of a Gentile believer who is still ‘inside’ part of their religious heritage.”[9]

In the next two posts I’ll offer some brief analysis of these claims.

[1] Kevin Higgins, “Inside What? Church, Culture, Religion and Insider Movements in Biblical Perspective,” SFM 5 (August 2009): 85.

[2] Higgins, “Inside What?” 88.

[3] Kevin Higgins, “The Key to Insider Movements: The ‘Devoted’s’ of Acts,” IJFM 21 (Winter 2004): 162.

[4] Higgins, “Inside What? 87.

[5] Higgins’ thoughts on this are explained in an unpublished document he graciously supplied to me and allowed me to include as an appendix to my dissertation. See pages 256-308 of Doug Coleman, A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology (Pasadena: WCIU Press, 2011).

[6] See Coleman, “A Theological Analysis,” 121 fn. 182.

[7] Kevin Higgins, “Acts 15 and Insider Movements among Muslims: Questions, Process, and Conclusions,” IJFM 24 (Spring 2007): 38.

[8] Higgins, “Inside What”? 79 fn. 16.

[9] Higgins, “Acts 15,” 37.

[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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