Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Insider Approaches

There has been much debate on insider movements on the web, in certain Western church movements and missions, and especially in the St Francis Magazine published by Interserve. Here is a brief statement on what the Insider Movements are, and some pros and cons of the approach.

What are Insider Movements?
These are movements that begin within a ‘cousin’ people group without much encouragement from ‘outsiders’, such that the movement continues without the adherents having to leave their socio-religious group. They have accepted Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as Lord and Saviour, but continue to call God ‘Allah’, pray five times a day, meet with others either in homes or in the usual religious meeting place, and read the holy books sent by God. They avoid using Christian terms such as baptize, church, Christian.

Bible translations that are ‘insider’ tend to translate the parts of the scriptures considered to be offensive using dynamic equivalents, while keeping the more literal versions in introductions and footnotes. They also take out most of the ‘language of Zion’ (Jew, Israel, temple, synagogue) and replace them with generic terms such as ‘meeting place’ for ‘synagogue’ or insider terms such as ‘Beytul Makdis’ for ‘temple’. One contentious issue is how to translate ‘Son of God’ in such translations. Arguably it mainly has the sense of chosen and beloved of God i.e. it is more Messianic in background than Trinitarian (for which ‘Son of Man’ with its Daniel 7 background is arguably much better evidence). Since our cousins think we believe that the Trinity consists of God, Mary (mother of God), and their son Jesus, as the result of a physical union between God and Mary, there are good arguments for translating the phrase dynamically, much as other biblical phrases are. The reason this is contentious is because many creeds take ‘Son of God’ as the starting point for defining who Jesus is as the 2nd person of the Trinity.

Another pioneering method is to use storying, especially a series of audio-visual media called ‘Lives of the Prophets’, which focuses on characters in the Bible already accepted by our cousins. The stories are excerpts, allowing potentially offensive passages to be left out. Sometimes substitutions are made e.g. ‘Abraham’s son’ for the same referent ‘Isaac’.

MBB M (cousin) background believer – someone who has left Islm and joined a church
Insider Someone who still calls themselves a Mslm (one who submits to Allah) but believers in Isa al Masih
Outsider Foreigner or ethnic ‘Christian’
C1-C6 scale A scale of contextualization starting from completely Western (un-contextualized) to secret meetings of believers that cannot, by definition, be counted. Not many ‘insider approach’ adherents like to use this scale, but if they do, C5 would normally be considered as insider – Christ-centred communities of ‘Messianic Mslms’ who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour

Pros of this approach
* The believers are able to meet with others from a similar background rather than with foreigners of those of ‘Christian’ origins, and they have more opportunity to witness to others
* Avoidance of ‘extraction’ of new believers (though this is seen by some as a straw man – new believers are often excluded by their own families rather than extracted by those who shared the gospel with them)
* Avoidance of all the political issues to do with America and Israel vs. the Islmc world etc.
* Is highly sensitive to the cultural background of the believers and allows them to continue to respect God’s word, pray, and meet in ways they are used to
* Has worked fantastically in certain part of the world, where there are large movements of insiders
* Take account of the fact that ‘Son of God’ is a metaphor. Translations do keep the original sense in the footnotes
* Allows our cousins to begin to interact with the Word of God without them getting highly upset at some of the terminology or ideas
* Is arguably more in line with the teaching of the Bible that the Trinity is economic (to do with what Christ achieved and therefore who he must be) rather than immanent (ontological – who Christ is by definition). See: for more info

Cons of the approach
* Upsets MBBs and more traditional churches and mission groups by seeming to move away from classic 4th-century definitions of Christian orthodoxy
* Is considered to be ‘one step too far’ by many involved in contextualised mission to our cousins. These workers accuse these approaches of resulting in syncretism (though one person’s contextual approach is another person’s syncretistic approach or even heresy i.e. who defines what is ‘too far’?)
* Hasn’t worked (yet) in all contexts
* Some translations not only translate ‘Son of God’ dynamically, but take out all the Father-Son language in the gospels. The Father-Son metaphor may be one that is intrinsic to life and to our understanding of God
* Insiders tend to keep themselves to themselves and find it hard to relate to the wider body of Christ (the Messiah)
* Cousins can see what is going in and a) see it as a con b) use it as proof that we have ‘changed’ the text (as orthodox Islm teaches)

Insider approaches are to be commended for their cultural sensitivity and jettisoning of the colonialist mission paradigm. They are, however, rather experimental in that we will only see the results of such efforts in time. Will they lead to positive church growth or syncretistic groups of pseudo-believers/cousins?

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