Monday, February 20, 2017

Insider Jesus 4: Case Studies of Insider Movements Today

Previously we looked at Insider Jesus 3: Religion in the Biblical Narrative, now we look at case studies. Dyrness starts by showing some historical examples of the creation myths in tribal peoples to show how similar their stories are with the Jesus “myth” (i.e. a local deity who had to sacrifice himself to give life to people). According to Dyrness, it is missiologically unwise to just simply neglect these stories and replace it with the Christian story- in so doing we miss the important ways in which God was already at work in that culture and could rob that culture of unique contributions to the understanding of the gospel and the formation of their cultural identity in Christ.

True conversion in this sense did not necessitate abandoning their own spiritual heritage— something that would have been tantamount to denying their own identity. Rather, it meant reimagining this heritage in the light of the new situation; the further revelation of Christ was giving new life to the ancient faith, making possible a renewal of that faith from within. As Paul demonstrated on Mars Hill, their reflection on the gospel could be funded in part by their own religious experience, even if that experience would eventually be transformed by the encounter with Christ…. (Kindle 1401-1405)

It is important to recognize that religious traditions are not homogenous but are fractured arenas of spiritual conflict. Surely violence and corruption must be opposed and overthrown; at the same time, within the impulses for peace and reconciliation— the angels of our better nature— God’s presence and work may be discerned. But second, God is still in the business of speaking to people, and, when this is accompanied by conversation with Scripture, new forms of faith and discipleship can be forged. They are found, that is, if we are willing and able, like Peter in Acts 10, to free ourselves from our inherited religious assumptions. (Kindle 1521-1526)

Dyrness then provides three current examples of insider movements today among 1) Hindus and Sikhs in India, 2) Buddhists in Thailand, and 3) Muslims in the Philippines.

1. The first example is from Darren Duerksen, at Amazon here is the book: Ecclesial Identities in a Multi-Faith Context: Jesus Truth-Gatherings (Yeshu Satsangs) among Hindus and Sikhs in Northwest India. But see his shorter articles at IJFM (2012) and IBMR (2013). Dyrness was Duerksen’s PhD mentor at Fuller. Dyrness summarizes:

I especially want to emphasize that shifting attention away from the ways in which the gospel can be contextualized in these communities, and attending to the emergent interaction between the qualities of the gospel and the communities inherited dispositions, allows a new, generative space to come into view— what Sundermeier has called convivencia. In this new hermeneutical space a new form of Christian discipleship becomes possible, and along the way new insight into both the work of Christ and the value of Hindu and Sikh practices emerges. (Kindle 1704-1708)

2. Next is An examination of dual religious belonging theology : contributions to evangelical missiology by Kang-San Tan. (Click on “Link to institutional repository” for the full dissertation itself) Kang-San is Executive Director of AsiaCMS “based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and a very respected Asian missions leader. Coming from a Buddhist background, Kang-San has worked for the last 5 years as Head of Mission Studies at Redcliffe College, UK. He is a consultant for World Evangelical Alliance and ‘The Lausanne Movement’ on interfaith issues and has written extensively on indigenous Asian mission movements, Asian theology, Islam and Buddhism.” Kang-San Tan claims, “for over two hundred years the Evangelical approach of trying to replace other religions with Christianity has not been successful.

For these believers, the teachings of Buddha find a new setting, and new resonance, when they are understood in the light of the gospel. They provide terms in which the gospel can be seen and accepted. But notice that these terms are not a ladder that is climbed and then discarded but a permanent starting point and a continuing orientation for rethinking the renewing work of God in Christ. Notice too the inclination to return to the book of Acts for guidance in these emerging situations. As with the Yeshu Satsangs, distinctive elements emerge that characterize movements in widely different settings: a consistent focus on devotion to Christ, an impulse to share this good news with family and friends, and regular recourse to learning from Scripture. (Kindle 1752-1757)

3. Finally, by E. Acoba (pseudonym), “Towards an Understanding of Inclusivity in Contextualizing into Philippine Context.” While each of the case studies is valuable, this one is most pertinent to Circumpolar:

Through this process of exploring the nature of prophecy in the light of Muhammad’s teaching, the facilitators were able to show clearly that Jesus, Isa al Masih, was central in the tradition of the prophets. In this way they were making their way toward a Christology that emerged out of the Islamic narrative itself, rather than one imposed by a master narrative of Christian theology. Acoba acknowledges that evangelicals are likely to view this process as syncretism, but he thinks such a judgment fails to recognize the unique hermeneutical process shaped by these Muslim Magindanon believers. Acoba claims this process “also presses towards an acceptance that the gospel narrative is not the domain of the evangelical enterprise alone. In other words, the local practice of hermeneutics is constructing its own narrative of the gospel based on local religious narratives.” 78

This unique interpretive move, I believe, does more than merely suggest the construction of a local theology, though it does this as well. Outside observers should guard against projecting their own religious prejudices on narratives of this kind— whether in judgment or approbation. The truth is that theological formulations simply do not play the same role in Islam that they do in Christianity. (Kindle 1802-1812)

Acoba illustrates this difference later in his article when he narrates an encounter between a missionary he calls Rick and a Muslim believer, Murad. Rick was feeling like a failure after many years of work among Muslim people when even those (like Murad) who had chosen to follow Christ avoided him. Acoba was able to mediate this dispute by pointing out that Murad was in fact deeply grateful for the goodness Rick had shown to him and his family but that he had gone his own way when Rick had not understood the way Murad felt it necessary to practice his faith. 79

On the surface this expresses a classic tension between a missionary and native convert, but in this case I believe something deeper was going on. Two very different ways of understanding life and religion were being played out. Rick had a clear method to his ministry: converts had to attend Bible study, participate in contextual worship weekly, and attend discipleship training; that is, religious devotion had to be expressed in the typical categories and performed in the expected practices of Western Christianity. Murad felt these practices were inappropriate for a Muslim context. At the same time he had no doubt his Muslim identity was compatible with his commitment to Isa al Masih. Though he continued faithfully observing the Five Pillars of Islam, he was also persistent in sharing the good news of Isa al Masih with those around him, attracting others to this new way (including his wife). Rick could not disconnect the good news from the forms that he brought with him from the West; Murad, as Acoba notes, “merely wanted the simplicity of the power of the Good News to be lived out.” 80 This difference is not simply about what Scripture calls believers to do and what another faith has proposed; it is fundamentally about two different notions of what religion looks like on the ground. (Kindle 1814-1829)

Each case study seeks to show how religious practices provide the hermeneutical space necessary for these peoples to attempt to understand what it means to know God in Christ, and necessary to see the truth of Christ understood in the logic of that culture.


  • This chapter reminds me of the famous quote by Ralph Winter: “Most of those yet to follow Christ will not fit readily into the kinds of churches we now have.
  • Each of these case studies are at the “Reinterpreting Insider” on my Five Expressions of Insiderness model. The “Dual-belonging Insider” is a different expression and is less involved the ritual and theological dimensions of religion.
  • I wholeheartedly agree that much of what people reject is Western Christianity, and not necessarily biblical faith.
  • Most of these case studies beg for more info. I REALLY REALLY want to know more about their Christology and ecclesiology, including their understanding of idolatry, among other things. Thus, it makes it difficult to evaluate.

Next is Chapter 5, Religion and the Mission of Christ for what these movements mean for our conception of mission today.

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