Thursday, October 5, 2017

Review and Summary of Insider Jesus (Dyrness 2016)

Global Missiology published my review of Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements, and you can read the entire review online here. This concludes my series through the book. For your reference, here are the summaries and review in order:

1: Intro- The Rise of Contextualization

2: How Does God Work in Creation and Culture? A Theological Proposal

3: Religion in the Biblical Narrative

4: Case Studies of Insider Movements Today

5: Religion and the Mission of Christ

6: Conclusion- Is God Doing Something New?

Review at Global Missiology 

Let me know what you think in the comments below.


Doug Coleman said...

Dear Warrick,

Greetings. I just ran across your review of Dyrness in Global Missiology. I noticed that you commented on my review of the book and an article of mine previously published in Global Missiology. In your comments, you attribute to me a presupposition of a post-Enlightenment conceptualization of religion (essentialized and monolithic). I deny that I hold this presupposition or this view. This same claim was made by Bradford Greer in his review of my dissertation. I responded to this claim rather specifically (, yet it continues to be trotted out without any demonstration of its validity. It seems to me that "essentialism" has become a derogatory term in missiology which is perhaps being used as a way to dismiss views, including mine.

I have lived in the Muslim world for almost 20 years. I am quite aware of its diversity and of the challenges of defining "Muslim" as well as the difficulty of determining whether some practices are "religious" or merely "cultural." I mentioned this in my dissertation, yet Greer and others have continued to ignore this.

I agree that these are important questions. However, it seems to me that IM proponents have largely concluded that the integration of "religion" and "culture" means that the possibility of separating the two at any level is precluded. Therefore, anyone who suggests such a possibility at virtually any level is automatically labeled negatively as an "essentialist" who can only view Islam as "monolithic." Obviously, I disagree with this conclusion. The charge of "essentialist" also strikes me as a form of ad hominem attack and sloppy scholarship.

In the end, we must all come to our own conclusions and give account to God for them. However, in the meantime I long for an honest, robust, dialogue that represents others' views fairly and accurately and engages with their arguments rather than trying to dismiss them based on the charge of subconscious presuppositions.

Doug Coleman

Warrick Farah said...

Hi Doug,

One of the things I have appreciated about your writing and scholarship is that you stick to issues of argument and avoid getting personal. So I was surprised to your claim that there is some form of ad hominem attack at play here- this was never my intention and I further do not believe I have done so in any way. I have long admired your irenic approach, and I would love to stick to the issues as brothers, following the excellent example of your scholarship.

Yes, I have seen your responses to your critics. Recognizing Islamic diversity is not the antidote for essentialism. Orientalists have always recognized the diversity in Islam. One can still exhibit essentialism in conceptual frameworks even while claiming to recognize variation in Muslim societies. Many missiologists actually boast of the merits of essentialism- see the April 2017 issue of Global Missiology, for example. Evidence of essentialism can bee seen when the categories "non-Christian religion" or "non-Christian religious practices" are employed. For instance, you wrote, "Does the Bible teach, suggest, or indicate that the existence of diversity within a non-Christian religion affects whether or not a follower of Jesus can remain within a given non-Christian socio-religious community?" I think this is a strange rhetorical question posed within the essentialist framework. Essentialism deals with religion as an intrinsic and evaluative category. I would rather deal with idolatry than vague notions of religion- this is where I feel a Christological approach is more helpful. I do agree with you, that the cultureligon issue is quite tricky, and I don't claim to have figured it all out.

And yet I have also accused Dyrness of essentialism in his description of Insiders, have I not? One of the issues I have with IM proponents is that they seem to conflate religion and culture while failing to adequately address the issues of idolatry, sin, and error. I contend that we need a more robust discussion on the issues of subconscious presuppositions- let us bring them to the surface for robust analysis. Our biblical theology of "Islam" is the elephant in the room in ministry to Muslims, and we would do better to dig deeper into our epistemologies and hermeneutics of cultureligion or else run the risk of speaking past each other (as has happened so frequently in missiological discourse). I fully agree with you that we need "an an honest, robust, dialogue that represents others' views fairly and accurately."

I have a couple chapters in a book coming out next year (hopefully) that explains more of these points in detail, so I would rather wait to engage then so I can make my case more clearly. 😃 (But no, I do not quote you nor critique you in the book.)

I'm really looking forward to meeting you in person soon! I'm sure we'll have no shortage of things to talk about. :-)

Your friend in Christ,

Doug Coleman said...

Dear Warrick,

Greetings again. Thank you for the reply. I think dialogue is healthy, and I hope I can do it in a healthy way. I acknowledge that I "took the gloves off" a little more, so to speak, in my reply to you. Part of that is due to my frustration with the nature of the conversation at large, but part of it my frustration with continuing to be labeled with certain terms without any evidence cited, even in the face of my offering evidence to the contrary.

In my comment above, I mentioned diversity within Islam in relation to essentialism for two reasons: 1) because this was the issue Greer raised in his charge of essentialism (i.e., that my supposed essentialist view prohibited me from seeing diversity within Islam), and 2) you seemed to link the two together in your mention of me in your review of Dyrness in Global Missiology. You wrote, "Coleman's own work asserts that Islamic religious practices are idolatrous. But he also relies on a presupposition, incorporating a post-Enlightenment conceptualization of religion (essentialized and monolithic)."

In my response to Greer I stated clearly that I am personally well aware of diversity within Islam. I gave examples, and stated that I could give many more. Yet the label essentialist/monolithic is still used. At some point, if one wants to label another view, it seems that he needs to provide evidence that this is the case. Until your reply above, I had not seen any concrete evidence presented to support the claim that I am operating from an essentialist/monolithic view, only a general accusation.

In your reply to me above, you cite a question that I posed in my response to Greer as evidence of this essentialism. Regarding that quote you write, "Evidence of essentialism can bee [sic] seen when the categories 'non-Christian religion' or 'non-Christian religious practices' are employed." If this is the defining criterion, how would you explain your use of this category in your review of Dyrness in Global Missiology? You write, "I would argue for more nuance than both Coleman and Dyrness offer- a way that draws some distinction between religion and culture, but which also recognizes that not all contextual aspects of non-Christian religions are necessarily idolatrous."

So am I misunderstanding something here or is it possible to refer to "non-Christian religions" without holding to an essentialist view? (I really don't mean this as a snide retort. I am honestly asking if I have missed something here. If I haven't, it seems that your criterion means you are subject to the label of essentialist based on your use of the category in your Dyrness review.)

As an aside from the debate about essentialism, the point of my article on 1 Corinthians 8-10 (to which you linked in your comment in the Dyrness review) was not to suggest that all elements of all "non-Christian religions" (if I can use that term without being labeled essentailist) are necessarily idolatrous, but to argue that, as I understand what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 8-10, a Jesus follower's assigning new meaning to a pagan religious/worship practice does not mean he/she is then free to participate in that practice. (The discussion about whether there are contextual aspects of "non-Christian religions" which are not idolatrous is another topic for another day.)

(continued below)

Doug Coleman said...

Regarding essentialism in general, I keep coming back to a couple of issues that seem to be worth keeping in mind: 1) a radical commitment to avoid any language that hints of any aspect of essentialism will at some point make conversation non-sensical or virtually impossible. If one always has to avoid any use of the term "non-Christian religion" (or any synonyms or euphemisms), at some point we will loose our ability to talk about the topic. 2) Second, a radical commitment to avoiding anything essentialist will at some point leave us without any way to refer to anything. We would never be able to speak of "Islam" or "Christianity" or any other "system" or "religion" (or even the category of religion) because a "religion" or "system" does not really exist, just millions of expressions of it, or millions of individual "religions."

One more side note: at the risk of appearing that I am defending essentialism, I found this article helpful in pointing out both some of the problems with non-essentialist approaches and in noting how it might be possible to get at a definition of religion that provides a way to speak of religion while recognizing the need for flexibility and a certain degree of ambiguity (

In regard to my suggestion that there may be something ad hominem here, I do not intend to suggest that you, or anyone else, is intentionally (or even unintentionally) maligning my character. My comment about some of this striking me as a form of ad hominem has to do with continuing to use a label (one against which I have pushed back) without providing any evidence. I admit that one's mere denial of a label doesn't necessarily make his denial true. However, continuing to use a label (particularly one that has strong negative connotations) without providing evidence at some point forces one to ask questions about the reason for doing so. Is it a shorthand way to dismiss one's ideas by associating them with an unacceptable view? Guilt by association is a form of ad hominem (although I readily acknowledge that it is more often used in the form of association of persons or groups).

I really do appreciate your desire to engage in irenic conversation. I hope to continue that tone as well. My "taking the gloves" a little isn't meant to suggest that I desire to do anything less than honor Christ, honor my brothers and sisters, and engage in fair conversation in which I seek to understand others' views, represent them accurately, and engage with them charitably. However, at some point, if there is to be honest conversation, I also need to speak frankly if I do not agree with assertions others have made about my views, particularly when I do not believe they have provided sufficient evidence to justify their claims.

I would be happy to meet at some time if the opportunity ever arose. For the last few years I have largely been unengaged in the IM discussion. I am heavily involved in a couple of ministries cross-culturally that take a lot of time. I only reviewed the Dyrness book because the book review editor requested a review. I had time and was interested in reading the book, so I accepted the request. Otherwise, although I am still quite interested in the academic side of missiology, I do not have the time to devote to significant involvement.

I look forward to reading your upcoming contribution.