Looking at Insider Movements (5): Evaluation (Part 2)

By: Doug Coleman

The previous post dealt mostly with the issue of theology of religions, although it touched on the issue of possible revelation in non-Christian religions. In this post, I want to briefly comment on a few key passages frequently referenced by IM advocates.

Proponents often note the watershed decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. They rightly note that Gentile believers were not required to “go through” Judaism (i.e., be circumcised) in order to be saved. Therefore, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others should not be required to go through “Christianity” today. I can only offer two extremely brief responses. First, if by “Christianity” IM advocates mean a Western cultural form of the worship of Jesus, I agree. But IM on the one hand, and Western cultural Christianity on the other, are not the only alternatives. Second, IM advocates are making Acts 15 answer a question that was not being asked. The early Gentile believers were not saying, “Can we remain in our Gentile pagan religious system and community if we modify some of our beliefs and behavior?” No, they were saying, “Must we take on circumcision?” In other words, the Acts 15 discussion was not about what must or mustn’t be put off, but about what must or mustn’t be put on.

Regarding Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 7:20, 24-that each man should remain in the state in which he was called-I think IM advocates fail to interpret this in light of Paul’s instructions later in the same letter. IM advocates rightly note that the immediate context of 1 Cor 7:20-24 does involve some religious matters (after all, Paul mentions circumcision in 1 Cor 7:19). However, Paul strongly and unequivocally prohibits continued participation in pagan religious activity in 1 Cor 10:20-22. Therefore, unless Paul is hopelessly self-contradictory or schizophrenic, his exhortation to “remain” in 7:20 cannot refer to remaining in pagan religious activity.

This brings me to the suggestion that 1 Cor 8:10 refers to a former pagan, now turned follower of Christ, who is at least in part remaining within his pagan religious community. In other words, he’s still dining at the pagan temple, but Paul doesn’t condemn the practice in itself, only because it harms a weaker brother. I’ll note a few possible interpretations here (you’ll have to read the dissertation if you want all the background). (1) The situation in 8:10 is not actually happening, but is hypothetical. (2) The dining is actually occurring but it is a social-not religious-occasion, so the stronger brother is free to eat if he can do so without causing a weaker brother to stumble. (3) The dining is actually happening, and it is wrong, but Paul doesn’t outright condemn it outright in 8:10, only later in chapter 10 (because he is mainly concerned with brotherly relations in chapter 8 and/or he employs a rhetorical strategy that saves the stronger condemnation until later).

The key point to note here is that none of these interpretations are compatible with an Insider approach. Again, in 1 Cor 10:20-22 Paul clearly and unequivocally condemns participation in anything that constitutes idol worship. So, do Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Christians worship idols? As much as I would like to, I don’t have space to fully address that here. In short, I think the answer is “yes.” If you’re really interested, you’ll have to read at least a few pages of my dissertation.[1]

Finally, I need to say a few words about the analogy between early Jewish believers and Muslim Insiders. First, while there is no clear consensus on exactly when all Jewish believers completely separated from the Temple and synagogue or from the Jewish religious community, history indicates that many of them did stay closely connected for a lengthy period, for various reasons. However, while IM proponents acknowledge some discontinuity between Judaism and Islam, I think the discontinuity is overly minimized. I think Scripture portrays a much more radical discontinuity between the faith of Judaism/Christianity and all other faiths, however politically incorrect such a view may be today.

I believe the exhortation of Hebrews 13:13 (“let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach”) is particularly important for this discussion, especially in light of this analogy. Again, if you’re really interested you’ll have to check the dissertation for all the supporting documentation and discussion (pp. 210-223), but I believe the author of Hebrews was calling Jewish background followers of Jesus to make (or maintain) a decisive break with the religious community and system of Judaism. If this was essential for first-century Jewish believers, how much more so for those who come to faith from non-Christian religions today?

There’s so much more to say, but that’s why I wrote a dissertation.

[1] Doug Coleman, A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology (Pasadena: WCIU Press, 2011), 59-61.

[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.]