In Praise of the Minority Report on so-called Insider Movements

8 06 2014

I want to voice my appreciation for the minority report (MR), and the wisdom it offers us for conducting our partnerships with cross-cultural missionaries, Bible translators and Muslim-background believers (MBBs), who serve Christ in cultures shaped significantly by Islamic religion. I hope delegates to this year’s PCA General Assembly will give it careful, thoughtful consideration [pages 2295-2332 in your packets].

The wisdom of the MR shines through its attention to both the form and content of the biblical text; its articulation of the kingdom of God in relation to the “sometimes more, sometimes less visible church” catholic [WCF 25]; its recognition of a diversity of views and practices within so-called insider movements; and its understanding that true wisdom requires humility, practical skill, moral courage and relational support to negotiate “realities on the ground.”

1. Reading both the Form and Content of Scripture

The authors of the MR have provided “biblical considerations for facing realities on the ground” that attend both the form and content of the Scriptures. The MR recognizes that the Bible is one, big, true story about God’s tenacious love for the world that He made “very good.” Every deep ocean crevice and imposing mountain summit knows His presence; every culture reflects the dignity of His image-bearing culture-makers. Genesis sets the limits and trajectory for the rest of the story. It helps us to understand the nature of human sin as rebellion against our Creator. Every culture, then, also refracts human capacities designed for image-bearing in misdirection, perversion and corruption to produce idolatries and injustices that wreck the shalom of God (Plantinga). But, Genesis also helps us understand the nature of God’s covenant-making with Noah, Abraham, and Israel as a means of reconciling the broken relationship between God and humankind and restoring shalom. This covenantal, storied pattern comes to climactic ratification in Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah, who fulfills God’s law and its missional purpose to display His light to the nations (cf. Ex 19:4-6; Deut 4:6-8; Matt 5:17; Lk 24:44-49). As the crucified and risen Lord, this Jesus is also the Last Adam, the fulfillment and restorer of humankind’s covenantal role as image-bearers, who attest to God’s good, peaceful reign over all things (Rom 5:12-6:14; 1 Cor 15:20-28; Eph 4:17-24; Col 3:5-17).

In and through Christ, the image-bearing, disciple-making role of God’s covenant people is renewed, empowered and marked by the Holy Spirit. Remarkably, the Spirit’s presence is revealed in a Pentecostal pattern of faith in Christ and repentance of sin; baptism; diverse languages and gifts; as well as a fellowship of goods—including the breaking of bread—that attest to the Lord’s mighty deeds in history in agreement with apostolic witness (Acts 2; 8:14-25; 10-11; 15; 19:1-21). The ending of Acts is open for a reason: the Spirit’s witness to the risen Lord continues through the worldwide church. The apostles do not mark the end of the age of witness. To the contrary, they inaugurate it and set the intercultural, narrative pattern of the church’s testimony to the Lord of all. The church is a part of the same age as the apostles, the final, eschatological age of the Spirit. Stories about “a living Christ who continues to break into people’s lives, into their dreams, visions and prayers” should not surprise us for they fit the Script. As David Garrison’s multi-year odyssey throughout the Muslim world (Dar al-Islam) indicates, these are not isolated anecdotes but a re-sounding theme of his qualitative research from more than 1000 face-to-face interviews (Interview with David Garrison, “Why Muslims Are Becoming the Best Evangelists,” CT April 2014, Viewed May 22, 2014). Just as John the Evangelist wrote, the resurrected Christ is drawing all people to himself; the Spirit of witness is convicting the world of sin and righteousness. The primary role of the Spirit’s ministry and gifts is not merely to authenticate the apostles’ teaching (2 Cor 12:12), but to build up a multilingual, multi-cultured, multi-membered social body, the Body of Christ, that expresses God’s kaleidoscopic wisdom before all the world’s principalities and powers (Rom 12-15; 1 Cor 12-14; Eph 3-4; 1 Pet 4).

2.  Articulating the Relation Between Kingdom and Church

The MR recognizes that the proper fruit of the Spirit’s witness—the social embodiment of this true story—is churches. As Kavin Rowe rightly summarizes, “the vision in Acts is of a kingdom that is every bit as much a human presence as it is a divine work. That is, the kingdom of which Jesus is King is not simply ‘spiritual’ but also material and social, which is to say that it takes up space in public” (World Upside Down, 101). But, Luke-Acts describes this kingdom taking root organically and growing slowly within cultures. Indeed, this is how Jesus describes it through his stories about the kingdom in the form of a mustard seed and yeast (Lk 13:18-20). While outsiders first label disciples as “Christians” (Acts 11:26; 26:28; cf. 1 Pet 4:16), Luke describes early gatherings of Jesus’ followers in synagogues, the Temple area, houses and lecture halls as “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), a Messianic reform movement within Hellenistic Judaism. The Spirit’s witness to Christ’s sufferings and glory spread[s] relationally and organically through existing social structures and networks (cf. 1 Cor 7:12-24; 9:19-22; 1 Pet 2:9-3:7). Jesus did not create a separate kingdom, he established a subversive grassroots movement to lay claim to that which is rightfully his by attesting to his resurrection and rule over all things.

Jesus’ proclamation of the reign of God summons all humankind, albeit locally and relationally in the language and cultural categories of its hearers. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As Lamin Sanneh reminds us, “the same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast . . . decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language” (Translating the Message, 2nd ed., 110). To be sure, this “divine action” through the crucified, yet risen, Jewish Messiah gathers people first among Israel, then among the nations creating what Rowe described as a “human presence,” a “material, social” and “public space.” “The Kingdom creates the church, works through the church, and is proclaimed in the world by the church” (Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 119). But, as the MR report recognizes, the kingdom is not merely the church (Vos). As Luke-Acts attests, even the census decree of Caesar Augustus, the opposition and threats of the Sanhedrin, and the considerations of Pilate, Gallio, Felix, and Festus, not to mention puppet kings from Herod to Agrippa, are all caught up in “the plan of God” (Acts 2:23; 4:28; 5:38; 13:36; 20:27). The kingdom works through the Spirit’s witnesses within the varied social bodies of every culture—its households, councils and assemblies—as salt and light, and eventually an alternative body politic, household, elder council and assembly emerges, bears fruit, and produces a harvest (1 Cor 3:5-9). The Gospel script inhabits and transforms local social and leadership structures to claim a kingdom presence as a public assembly both gathered in worship and dispersed in witness.

3. Recognizing a Diversity of Views and Practices among so-called Insider Movements

The MR is right to question the existence of a so-called “Insider Movement Paradigm” [see page 2300] when, for well over twenty years, frontier missions organizations have published discussions, expressing a spectrum of views about indigenous Kingdom movements in majority Muslim and Hindu cultures. In his 2007 book, Theology in the Context of World Christianity, Timothy Tennant describes and evaluates these discussions and their nuanced descriptions of Christ-centered communities among MBBs. “The C1-C6 Spectrum” reflects differences, as indicated by the numbers, in three main areas: “the language of worship, the cultural and/or religious forms used in both the MBBs’ public life and worship, and their self-identity as Muslims or Christians” (Theology, 196). At issue is how to go about distinguishing between religious and cultural identity, and whether or not that is altogether possible. As the review of the Scriptural story and the articulation of the relation between God’s reign and church show above, this is an issue in every culture, not just Muslim or Hindu cultures. The kingdom action of Christ’s Spirit is affirming, redirecting and restoring culture-making human beings from “every tribe, language and nation” back to the original plotline of their image-bearing in every sphere of life for His glory and our good [see MR, Consideration A, pages 2320-2322].

As Consideration C of the MR reminds us, we are called to live missionally in the world, and to do that, we cannot be of the world. Indeed, as Christ consecrated himself for us, our sanctification is not only for God, but also for others [pages 2325-2329; cf. John 17:15-18]. Along the spectrum of descriptions of Christ-centered communities of MBBs, Tennant summarizes that “C-1 and C-2 churches are considered . . . overly biased toward foreign cultural and religious forms of Christianity [and] extractionistic in their attitude towards Islamic cultural forms. [But,] C-3 and C-4 church-planting strategies enjoy wide support throughout the missionary community [as they] are regarded as contextually sensitive and biblically sound” (Theology, 199-200). However, the focus of Tennant’s analysis is whether or not to encourage “followers of Isa al-Masih” (Jesus the Messiah), who self-identify as “Messianic Muslims” (C-5 believers) to continue Islamic religious practices like the daily salat (prayer) and its recitation of the Shahadah (creed), while they maintain their familial and social relations in their Muslim communities. Tennant’s answer, which is affirmed by the MR, is “the best approach is to see C-5 as a temporary, transitional bridge by which some Muslims are crossing over into explicit Christian faith, hopefully to one of a C-3 or C-4 character” (Theology, 217). In contexts where “legal identities are permanently established at birth . . . [we must] walk patiently and carefully with our brothers and sisters who are learning to follow Jesus in places that force them to remain officially recognized as Muslims” [MR, page 2305]. Moreover, the C-6 category refers to small, secret gatherings of underground believers who live under constant threat of severe, even violent persecution and/or martyrdom. As Tennant exhorts us, they need “our prayers, not our analysis” (Theology, 197).

Conclusion: True Wisdom Requires Practical Skill, Moral Courage and Relational Support

How should we respond to our brothers and sisters as personal supporters, congregational and presbytery committees? Whether they live and work as cross-cultural missionaries or relate as cultural insiders to their families and social networks in predominately Hindu, Buddhist or Islamic cultures, our brothers and sisters need our prayers, financial support and demonstrated solidarity. The parable told in the MR of Mustafa’s transformation to Peter is, like some of Jesus’ parables, a cautionary tale that illustrates how cultural storylines compete to shape our identity. The MR upholds the biblical storyline that God’s Word, translated and incarnated into the words and practices of a culture, produces churches that bear witness to God’s reign by the power of God’s Spirit. As Jesus wisely reminds His disciples, His Kingdom is like a mustard seed that starts small, covered from view, and grows slowly to spread both roots and branches throughout its cultural soil and atmosphere. The growing grove of “Christ-centered communities” throughout the Dar al-Islam needs irrigation ditches, not threats of reduced water supplies from outside.

According to Paul, there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5). The same Spirit of Christ who gives dreams, gives us the privilege and duty of developing multi-lateral, patient partnerships in which we learn from and edify one another as we grow up together in Him. We, in the PCA, are not only shaped for good and ill by a narrow, Anglo-Celtic experience of our global faith (see Dr. Jennings’ article http://www.reformation21.org/articles/jennings-and-garner-debate-the-insider-movement.php), we are only now beginning to recover from racist beliefs and practices in our culture that have wounded our witness and undermined our growth in North America. But God, who is rich in mercy towards us in Christ and abounding in love for His world, is moving people from many cultures into the great cities and affordable towns of our continent. Many of them already bear the name of Christ at great cost. Will we learn from their cultural traditions and discipleship practices or merely expect them to adopt our ways? Will we cultivate our identity as members of a worldwide, intercultural social body—the Church—or will we only promote our brand of Christianity?

The Lord who stood with Paul and told him to go to Jerusalem to assist the brothers and sisters materially (Acts 23:11; cf. 19:21), still stands in the midst of His churches (Rev 2-3) praying for our unity as a sign that the Father sent the Son into the world (John 17:20-21). That unity is measured best with the long tape of the history of Christian missions, written in many languages and running through many cultures, dispensed from the powerful, evangelical core of the apostolic faith. The MR affirms both the form and content of the biblical storyline, articulates a proper distinction between church and the kingdom to which it bears witness, and it wisely discerns the breadth and nuances of so-called insider movements. Finally, the MR affirms that God’s Word is always a word-on-target that deals with realities on the ground.

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5 responses

8 06 2014
In Praise of the Minority Report on so-called Insider Movements | Apoblogia

[…] In Praise of the Minority Report on so-called Insider Movements […]

9 06 2014
Jimmy Locklear (@J5locklear)

Thanks, Greg. I agree . Especially in your appeal for prayer instead of analysis and this: “The growing grove of “Christ-centered communities” throughout the Dar al-Islam needs irrigation ditches, not threats of reduced water supplies from outside.” The sort of evangelical imperialism expressed by American “experts” within the PCA has hurt Bible translation work all around the world as churches have pulled back support. There has been other damage, too.

14 06 2014
grperry

Thank you for your encouragement, Jimmy.

10 06 2014
Scott Seaton

I’ve spoken with many Christians who would agree with Dr. Tenant that it would be best if C5 (Insider Movements) were a temporary transition into visible Christian fellowship. But it is important not to read one’s hopes into C5, i.e. that is not how Insiders see themselves; they do not see it as temporary. Insider Movements (a term developed by its proponents) see themselves as “within Islam” or any other religion, and remaining there. Rebecca Lewis of Frontiers and an IM proponent defines it as “remaining and retaining.” I spoke with the Bengali leader of one of the largest Insider Movements in Bangladesh, and he affirmed exactly that. Appropriate contextualization is good and healthy; remaining within Islam and retaining its practices is not. My concern with the Minority Report is that it doesn’t make such distinctions clear, and allows for contradictory interpretations of vague recommendations.

14 06 2014
grperry

While I appreciate your engagement with my essay, Scott, your reply continues the majority report’s mischaracterization of the diversity of insider movements. C5 does not equate with Insider Movements, but represents one type of gathering of those who have begun to consider the claims of Christ in cultures predominately shaped by Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism. The Minority Report is clear and unambiguous in its opposition to C5 as a permanent social location for true followers of Jesus. However, it wisely refuses to set a time limit on the organic process of church formation in someone else’s cultural, socio-economic-political circumstances.

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