Looking at Insider Movements (4): Evaluation (Part 1)

By: Doug Coleman

So what do we make of the biblical and theological arguments of IM proponents? This was the sole purpose of my entire dissertation, and even still I feel like more could have been done. So, a couple of blog posts will be terribly inadequate to offer anything but a number of summary statements. But here are a few brief thoughts.

First, while I appreciate Kevin Higgins’ effort to provide some biblical and theological rationale, I find claims about God working within the non-Christian religions biblically unconvincing. After closely scrutinizing the six characters or passages he cites, I do not find biblical indications that God is working within, or via, these non-Christian religions. God is certainly calling out to, drawing, and convicting individuals (and perhaps even groups) within these religions, and He is certainly “in relationship” with those individuals (albeit it sometimes an adversarial one). But I do not see biblical indications that God ordained these religions as preparation for the gospel or that He is using them as vehicles of communication.

For example, regarding the sailors of Jonah, Higgins makes three brief claims: (1) their prayers are heard by Yahweh, (2) Yahweh directs the answer when they cast lots, and (3) therefore, they are in relationship with Yahweh.[1] In one sense, all three claims can possibly be affirmed. The sailors clearly cast lots (Jonah 1:7) and it seems that God directed. Furthermore, the text indicates the sailors prayed on two occasions, the first time each man praying to his own god (1:5), the second time specifically to Yahweh, Jonah’s God (1:14). Their second prayer was answered (they were spared), but the text nowhere establishes a cause and effect relationship between their prayer to Yahweh and the outcome. In fact, Jonah had already informed them they would be saved if they cast him into the sea (1:12).

The sailors, as with all individuals who have ever lived, are certainly in some kind of relationship with Yahweh, but the text gives no indication that their prayer was anything other than an egocentric concern for their own safety. Furthermore, the text nowhere suggests that God used their religion as a means of communicating or relating to them. God appears to have directed the casting of lots, but lot casting was a common practice among the Israelites and the ancient Near East, so the sailors’ actions are not surprising. But again, how could this support the conclusion that God was working within a non-Christian religious system, or that He intended to affirm such a religion? The other biblical examples Higgins cites are equally problematic.

Similarly, this claim that God is working within the religions of the world-or the possible implication that He ordained them as a means of preparation for the gospel-cuts against the grain of repeated biblical judgments on other religions and the biblical emphasis on the covenant people as the means by which God intends to bring salvation to the nations.

This is not to suggest that non-Christian religions are entirely devoid of any kind of true statements. In fact, I believe there are biblical and theological reasons to expect that most, if not all, non-Christian religions will contain elements of both general and special revelation. However, I am not suggesting that God inspired Muhammad in the way that Kevin Higgins believes He did. Historical evidence suggests that biblical content was available to Muhammad, possibly from multiple human sources. He also had access to general revelation, as do all humans. Therefore, it is not surprising to find true statements within Islam. But this does not mean that God inspired Muhammad, that He is working within Islam to bring Muslims to Christ, or that He ordained Islam as some sort of preparation for the gospel. The latter claim would be troublesomely anachronistic since Muhammad was born almost 600 years after Jesus.

Therefore, it seems misguided to place the religions within the Kingdom of God, as Higgins does. Ultimately, God does reign over all (however you want to work out the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility). But as George Ladd points out, the Kingdom of God is primarily a soteriological idea, and it has come in the person and activity of Jesus, the King.[2]

In the next post I’ll make a few comments on several of the key passages cited by IM proponents, and mention the analogy between early Jewish believers and Muslim Insiders.

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

[2] George Eldon Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1952), 81-91.

[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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