Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Hermeneutical Hinge to the Insider Debate

Ok so the title of this post is (more than) a little presumptuous.  But humor me for a bit, and please let me know if you think I’m off target here...

Those wishing to promote Insider movements in Muslim contexts maintain a key assumption in their arguments, that just as Jews who came to Christ in the 1st Century remained Jews, then Muslims who come to Christ today can remain Muslims.

Opponents of this assumption respond that Islam’s 1st Century parallel is not Judaism, but Paganism.  Pagans were not allowed to remain Pagans, but took on a new religious identity when they came to Christ.

The debate largely revolves around how you view Islam.  Is it simply a false/evil/dark religion to be delivered from?  Or is it just another part of the world system that one can remain salt and light within?

Of course, Insider proponents will usually say that you must differentiate between Mohammed/Qur’an and Islam.  Thus you will notice Insiders trying to redefine Islam and look at it through the Jesus/Bible lens.

Nevertheless, the way we approach the “Messianic Muslim” issue depends largely upon  how we see Islam.  When looking at the New Testament, is Islam more like Judaism or Paganism?  Or, is it even theologically justifiable to compare Islam to 1st Century Judaism, given the nature of the New Covenant and its continuity with the Old Testament?

Hermeneutics, man.


Abdul Asad عبد الأسد said...

Warrick, good point - this is exactly one of the points that Tennent brings up in his article from IJFM ("Muslim Followers of 'Isa in Islamic Mosques"). Are we equating Islam with Judaism? A lot of ('radical' i.e. permanent C5) Insider proponents do. But if you see C5 as more of a transitional bridge and not a permanent state (as I and others do, including Tennent), then you don't have to do "hermeneutical gymnastics" to equate Islam with Judaism as some try to do.

Tim Herald said...

See Section 6:

Warrick Farah said...

My dearest Timothy,

Thank you for your response. I feel this conversation is heading in a fruitful direction!

So you can become a follower of Jesus and remain a Redneck American- what does this prove?

In the first century Mediterranean world, could one become a follower of Jesus and remain a Roman citizen? Could one become a Jew and remain a Roman? Or could a Roman Jew turn to Paganism and remain a Roman? Or try this one out- could Romans worship new deities and join new religious groups without even worshipping the Emperor while remaining Romans?! Of course.

Yet Rome claimed to be far more than Redneck America claims to be. The Imperial Cult demanded worship from its citizens, and the totalitarian regime was brutal as it forced its will on other societies. But Jesus paid taxes to Pagan Rome, and Paul argued proudly that he was her citizen! Followers of Jesus should be the best citizens of their governments. The New Testament is clear on this. Justin Martyr argued that Christians were great citizens of Rome.

So of course I became a born again follower of Jesus and remained a faithful Californian. A Pakistani can become a follower of Jesus and remain a faithful Pakistani… Do you see where your argument goes? Islam does not in fact have a national/governmental identity- it is not a civilization, even if it tries to be. Do you see Saudi and Iran becoming one political entity in the future, simply because they are both part of the “Muslim nation?”

The intentional blurring of national identity with spiritual identity does not move the conversation forward, in my opinion. We’re confusing categories if we claim a Muslim can follow Jesus and remain a Muslim. The Islamic “Ummah” just doesn’t work that way, even if Muslims say it should.

Acts doesn’t claim Pagans can remain in Paganism. Our identity in the Lord Jesus as part of His Body entails necessary ramifications- it actually has meaning. But unless you assume that Islam parallels 1st Century Judaism, then you can find texts to support the Insider paradigm. So we’re back to the Hermeneutical Hinge again…

Well, I’m sure I’ve given you enough fallacies to expose. Go for it.


Tim Herald said...


I like the "dearest" thing ;^)

A few minor points here:

1. I was directing you to my article mostly to say that I agree with you about different views of Islam driving the disagreement among evangelicals.

2. Thank you for going further with the Rome example and affirming that it is missiologically valid, and good practice, for an indigenous church to argue they are excellent members of a particular society even as they disagree with core beliefs of said society and seek to modify those core beliefs among its other citizens.

3. If you do not think Islam is a civilization, how would you categorize it?

4. How are you defining "Insider" here? I am not really all that eager to hitch my wagon to that particular word until I know exactly which "Insider" we are referring to!

5. Islam and first-century Judaism and Samaritanism are clearly not the same animal. In some areas there are differences and in others there are parallels. In those areas where there are parallels, we would do well to learn from our brothers and sisters who worked within the context of first-century Judaism - of course, the same goes for all groups... Romans, Rednecks, Californians, etc. Thus my drum that our MBB brothers and sisters will benefit greatly from some of the apologies written by the early church fathers while under persecution prior to Christianity dominating Rome.

6. Neither you, me, Abdul Asad, our MBB brothers and sisters, Barack Obama, Timothy Tennent, Muhammad, John the Baptist, Dudly Woodberry, the Nighthawk of the Alabama KKK, John Piper, Monty Python, Paul Martindale nor my Papaw get to decide who is entitled to wear the label "Muslim." Only the community gets to make that decision. Just like in my situation, only the Redneck community is allowed to decide if I am a still a redneck or if I have strayed too far from the core beliefs and practices of the Redneck community. We would all do well to remember this and recognize that this will be quite different from community to community even within Dar Al-Islam.


J said...

First, let me say that I did not read the redneck article.

I just wanted to comment that I really like Tim Herald's point number six. The community is the one that makes that decision. This is particularly relevant when dealing with contexts that are not so tied to more traditional aspects of Islam, i.e. Islamic political structures, trips to the Mosque, reading of the Koran. Their Islamic identity is not defined with relationship to these things, but rather with relationship to a particular nationality. The problem in the Insider debate may be in fact that we are the ones doing the defining rather than allowing people to do it themselves.

For instance, I was trying to explain to some of my friends why it was not okay to drink at my house (they had brought over beer when I had specifically asked them not to). Most of them were Muslims, but drinking for them is not a problem. I said, "Imagine that you were at the house of a real Muslim. What would you do there?" One of my friends became fairly angry and said, "How do you know what a REAL Muslim is? Are you saying that I am not a real Muslim?" If you asked this guy typical questions about faith, belief, cultural and religious practice, you would never in your life say that he was a Muslim if your knowledge about Islam was more traditional. But somehow he still maintains this identity as a Muslim and he is offended if I even insinuate that he is not a Muslim. He is the one who is defining the word, and the majority of his community would not throw him out for his seemingly errant (to me) definition.

Perhaps those who are on one side of the Insider debate feel that they are Biblically required to make these distinctions, and those who are on another side are comfortable with MBBs making those decisions for themselves.

Brock said...

This has been the main question I have been thinking and praying about just this last week. It makes a big difference because God shows zero tolerance for paganism, at least in the OT. When I was praying about this on Friday, I felt God leading my thoughts to the Samaritans. Initially, I see a lot of similarities between Samaritanism (if I can say that) and Islam, but I have to admit I don't know a ton about the Samaritains and what their community identity looked liked after Jesus.

Abu Daoud said...

I like what Cragg said (and I just got a hand-written letter from him last month, which was exciting):

"What Jesus can mean to Muslims only Muslims can decide."

It is, like many of his statements, very short and a little obtuse, but I think I get what he means. That the 'contextualized' Jesus is a character only disciples from a Muslim background can discern and identify. I come from a Bible Church-Anglican-Cathlic background. I am glad to share what I know about Jesus with my Muslim friends, and let them take ownership of that and develop it on their own.

dorajones said...


I'm a Muslim who is investigating Christianity (but I live in a Western nation). It seems to me that many Muslims live in a state like the thief on the cross. Once you accept Jesus as Lord, it is the most momentous decision to shift to that position and life thereafter may take a long time to catch up. So it continues on as "Muslim" whilst the life-altering implications of accepting Jesus begin to ripple through.

I'm contemplating this change, and it seems to me, that the most important thing is to do what Jesus, peace be upon him, said: Love God and love your neighbour. I know there are things like baptism and communion--but the thief on the cross was not able to partake of those, because of his life circumstances, and it seems maybe Muslims are in a similar position.

Or maybe like secret Christians in the Roman empire, that had to trace the sign of the fish in the sand.

Abu Daoud said...

Dora, I was not born into a Muslim family, and I never converted to Islam, but I have many friends who have. If you would like me to put you in touch with them drop by my blog and post something and I'll introduce you to them so you can make a careful and wise decision.