A Thought or Two on the "Insider" Movement

In January I was involved in a roundtable discussion at a conference that dealt with the so-called "Insider" Movement, and I had a thought then that crawled into the forefront of my mind today. I want to repeat it here, and flesh it out a bit.

First, some background. At the PCA General Assembly last week the commissioners voted to appoint a study committee on the Insider Movement. For those of you who don't know what that is, it is a mission strategy that is, and continues to become, very popular in evangelical circles. Specifically, the theory is that to get conversions among Muslims, you must allow them to remain on the "inside" of the Muslim world, so to speak. Muslim Christians (an oxymoron, if there ever was one) would continue to go to the Mosque for prayers on Friday, speak of God in terms of "Allah," and when speaking of Muhammed, really mean "Jesus." Their Christianity would be completely incognito among their Muslim families, friends, and neighbors.

Evangelical mission agencies are embracing this strategy (at an alarming rate), to the point of even supporting Bible translations far more congenial to Muslim modes of thought. The translations remove all language about God as "Father" and Jesus as "Son," for these terms are offensive to Muslim sensibilities. The root idea, it seems to me, is to make Christianity more amenable to Muslim conversion by softening its hard edges. Keeping one's Christianity quiet, in many parts of the Muslim world, is a far safer option than wearing it on your sleeve.

The speaker dealing with the subject at the conference (whom I won't name here for various reasons) indicated that one of the theological grounds used by defenders of the Insider Movement is the idea of contextualization, or being "incarnational." Just as Jesus was incarnate in a given social situation without rejecting or demolishing that situation, so also followers of Jesus may follow him without rejecting outright the broader features of the culture in which they find themselves.

Now, I said at that roundtable that I happen to like the analogy of the incarnation for contextual ministry. The only problem is that Jesus became fully incarnate, "like us in every way," as Hebrews puts it, but without sin. It is one thing to be born in the Greco-Roman world and, for example, speak the Greek language, wear a certain kind of clothes, engage in certain situation-specific vocations, etc. It is another thing altogether to be born in the Greco-Roman world and worship Zeus or the Emperor.

So that was my thought. Here is my expansion.

It seems to me that using the incarnational analogy the way the Insider Movement uses it is to misunderstand the entire purpose of God's covenantal dealings with his people. And that is a big misunderstanding. It is to misunderstand, I dare say, the whole Bible. The whole point of God calling out Abraham from among the nations, to establish a covenant with him, to promise that through him all the families of the earth will be blessed, is to create and maintain a people wherein true worship is maintained.

But why?

To create an LZ for the coming King. That's military lingo for "Landing Zone." Israel's purpose was the bless the nations, and they would bless the nations through their Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of David, the true faithful Israelite. But without Israel this is impossible. To whom would Jesus be born? A pagan Roman family? How would such a man worship God rightly and "fulfill all righteousness"? How would he "grow in wisdom and stature" and learn obedience to his heavenly Father? The religious language of his context would not refer to the one true God, maker of heaven and earth, but to idols. In other words, the Abrahamic covenant makes possible a Joseph and Mary, parents who worship the true and living God.

Because Jesus came to a context in which true worship was possible (an LZ), he was able to be the True Worshiper on behalf of his people.

If the Insider Movement wants to use the Incarnation of Christ as their theological justification for Muslims continuing to pray to Allah, confess with their lips that "Muhammed is his Prophet," and keep the Five Pillars of Islam, then what they are really suggesting is this: Jesus could theoretically have accomplished salvation by being born to pagans and worshiping the Greek gods and goddesses.

I cannot think offhand of any greater theological blasphemies. Christians can no more go to the Mosque and pray to Allah than Jesus could have gone to the Temple of Aphrodite. As it is, by his faithful covenantal dealings with his people, God made it possible for the Son to come into the sinful, corrupt world and, at the same time, rightly worship his Father in his cultural context. And Islam is not even remotely analogous to that context.

My language of "Son" brings me to my second thought. God tells us very clearly: "You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain." This means we are to use God's Name rightly, to honor it, and to revere it. And what is God's Name? Jesus revealed it to us, fully and finally at last: "Baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28). This is God's Name. It is how he has, "in these last days" (Heb. 1:1) revealed himself to us.

Translating the Bible and removing the references to Father and Son is a high-handed refusal to say the Name of God. His Name is not "Allah" and "Messiah." It is Father, Son, and Spirit. This very form of so-called "contextualization" violates, it seems to me, the 3rd Commandment. It removes the Name of God from the Bible.

I am very glad the PCA has decided to study this issue, and I prayerfully hope they come to similar conclusions.