The Gospel Coalition


Volume 37 Issue 2
Jul 2012

High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel

David B. Garner
David Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

1. Messianic Muslims and Muslim Evangelicals

1.1. What Is IM?

In June 2011, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) passed an overture entitled, “A Call to Faithful Witness.”1 This overture, while sounding alarms on biblical translations that render the familial terms for God (Son, Father) with less offensive terms in the target language, also brought ecclesiastical attention to increasingly popular approaches to missions described as Insider Movements (IM).2 Called now Jesus Movements by some,3 these controversial methods have gained traction in regions where the Christian gospel has historically encountered harsh opposition. Motivated by the perceived scarcity of measurable fruit in places like Bangladesh and other predominately Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu countries,4 evangelical missionaries have employed IM techniques since the 1980s. In the 1990’s, IM popularity expanded around the globe as many missionary practitioners became enamored with its tactics.5 Since these two formative decades, various forms of IM practice have entered the mainstream, crossed organizational and denominational boundaries, and now shape much of evangelical missions.

To their credit, IM-ers have sought to address certain missiological blind spots and have implemented greater methodological self-consciousness, seeking to halt unwittingly importing Western culture under the banner of Christianity.6 Measuring the success of that rectification to cultural imperialism is not our present concern. Rather we attend here to the more controversial facets of IM thinking. Many IM proponents insist that Muslims who convert to Christ should hold fast to various Islamic practices and avoid the identity of “Christian” altogether. This avoidance exceeds the realm of labels, as converts are called to remain inside Islamic religion and retain their Islamic cultural and religious identity. It is fair to say that most IM advocates intend that these remaining and retaining insiders not simply carry on their cultural and religious practices unthinkingly, but do so with an eye toward recasting these religious traditions and exposing their fellow Muslims to Isa-Masih (Jesus the Messiah).7 Some IM-ers assert that Christian missionaries should get “inside” the social and religious boundaries by public conversion to Islam, and some western missionaries have become practicing Muslims to deliver the message of Jesus.8 Still others assert that genuine Islamic perspective affirms that the “religion revealed by all the prophets (e.g., Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad) was originally the same . . . ‘true Islam’ is what real Christians believe.”9

How have such paradigmatic changes in missions gained traction? Though causes surely vary, ultimately IM practice prevails because of conviction. Affirming their commitment to Scripture, many have grown to believe IM methods alone honor the gospel’s integrity, that these movements alone follow the Spirit of God today. In fact, IM advocates view their missiological methods as not only within the scope of biblical permissibility, but rather as mandated by how Scripture portrays apostolic patterns. Is this so? Has IM unearthed the buried jewel of historic missions, recapitulating the first-century successes recorded in Acts? Is IM’s interpretation and application of the interface of apostolic method and first-century religion rich rediscovery or radical redefinition?

Piloting IM thinking is a set of determinative hermeneutical commitments, and it is these hermeneutical features that will serve as the focus of our analysis. Professing converts and missionary practitioners could surely be found to defend IM practice and proclaim evidence of its fruit. However, neither a battle of anecdotes nor listings of alleged successes and failures adequately reckon with IM practice. IM thinking needs addressing according to Scripture, and IM-ers themselves have discerned this need. As criticism has mounted, IM advocates have openly defended IM practices, producing not only anecdotes and statistics, but also arguing from Scripture itself. Such defenses have come primarily from missiologists and missionary practitioners, most with strong ties to Fuller Seminary’s renowned innovative missiologists, such as Donald McGavran. So integral to IM is this Fuller foundation that before we can adequately address its hermeneutical contours, we must understand the historical and conceptual impetus for these contours—that is, the cultural anthropology and missiology of McGavran and his colleagues.

1.2. A New Map for Missions

At the end of his influential life, McGavran cried out, with all of his missiological gravitas, for a “giant step” of prayerful deployment of frontier missionary societies to “focus on the unfinished task of world evangelization!”10 In this forceful plea, McGavran claimed that missiological zeal for the unreached masses would succeed only if combined with deliberate, tactical mobilization. Emotion without strategy is empty, and as he assessed his contemporary landscape, existing missions structures appeared woefully deficient to the monumental task. “Unless here in America literally thousands of new frontier missionary societies are founded, in thousands of local churches in most Churches (denominations), the ‘unreached peoples’ will not be reached.”11 Notwithstanding the exaggerated American-centric dependence for worldwide evangelistic success, one can only appreciate McGavran’s vision and zeal.

McGavran proved himself a fearless maverick and strategist, a perpetual advocate for creative cultural analysis and attendant missiological corrections. In a fashion similar to and openly sympathetic to the controversial formulations of fellow Fuller professor Charles Kraft, McGavran paradigmatically relied upon cultural anthropological and sociological research.12 Assessing his ardor and analysis, one should also note here his foreboding definition of unreached peoples. Tucked neatly in the rallying call to mobilization lies a striking distinction between reached and unreached peoples, an underlying sociological concept that has birthed a powerful impetus for IM. McGavran asserts,

An “unreached” ethnos or segment of society is one in which individuals who are Christ’s followers are perceived by their fellows to have “ left their own people and traitorously gone off to join another people.” Putting it positively, a people is to be considered reached when its members who become Christians are perceived by their fellows as “still our people who are pointing the way to what they believe as a good path for us all to follow.”13

The so-called traitorous departure of Christians, which McGavran bemoaned as early as The Bridges of God in 1955, 14 generated early rationale for missiological recalibration. Taking aim at the “problem” of converts leaving their families and their social identities, and marching in step with McGavran’s vision for the world and angst over measured missions failures in resistant cultures, missiologists such as Charles Kraft, Ralph Winter, Kevin Higgins, John and Anna Travis, Dudley Woodberry, and Rebecca Lewis have drawn the IM map. By extending the boundaries of McGavran’s “people groups,” they have found ways to affirm a broader range of religious and cultural neutrality.15 McGavran consistently opposed missiology shaped by Western individualism,16 and IM proponents have elevated such “people groups” and “people movements” into a decisive paradigm, asserting broader acceptability of their non-Christian religious identity and practices, and encouraging “believing families . . . [to] remain inside their socioreligious communities.”17Capitalizing on McGavran‘s categories IM advocates have advanced extant socio-religious identity to a place of functional stasis and prominence,18 so that following Jesus means appropriating him within the boundaries of existing religions.

Thus, according to IM missiological cartography, the best route toward creating a growing body of Jesus followers is to insist they (1) remain in existing cultural, social, familial, and religious networks and (2) retain their unique religious identity and practices. Asserting that much of what Westerners discern as church are truly “man-made ecclesiastical structures,”19 IM strategists call us to accept and promote such non-Christian communities of those who follow Jesus. All roads may not lead to Jesus, but the Spirit of Jesus surely blazes redemptive trails in non-conventional, non-Christian, ways.20

1.3. God and the Apostles: The First Insiders?

The conviction of the IM promoters, self-consciously evangelical, is resolute: “What is truly at the heart of the insider movement paradigm is the God Who is at work directly among the nations, including their religions, to make in each a people for Himself. These are His movements, and He is the true Insider.”21 To IM theorists and practitioners, proclaiming the gospel to the unreached peoples of this age requires these correcting methods, methods that, they argue, emulate the behavior of the apostles. IM missiologists effectively see themselves as restoring biblical missions. With an eye to emulating courageous apostolic method, IM advocates ask, what did Jesus really do? What did the apostles do? What did the early church do? And what would they do today to reach peoples whose cultural and religious identities are thoroughly non-Christian? What would they do to reach people whose identities, relationships, and existence center in and survive only in these non-Christian, even anti-Christian contexts?

Reflecting on Paul’s missionary-zealous “I would become” words in 1 Cor 9, J. Dudley Woodberry, Professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, raises the question about twenty-first-century emulation/application of apostolic method:

If Paul were retracing his missionary journeys today, would he add, “To the Muslim, I became a Muslim”? . . . Would he and the Jerusalem Council endorse Muslims being free to follow Jesus while retaining, to the extent this commitment allows, Muslim identity and practices, just as these Jerusalem leaders endorsed Jews being free to follow Jesus while retaining, to the extent that commitment allowed, Judaic identity and practices? 22

2. Insider Movement Hermeneutics

2.1. Rebecca Lewis and IM Advocacy 23

With such questions ringing in our ears, we turn now to Rebecca Lewis, the daughter of another Fuller missiologist, Ralph D. Winter. In her writings, Lewis has attempted to rigorously defend IM and to define its legitimate parameters. In what sense can or should religious and cultural identity remain unchanged when trusting Jesus Christ? In what sense can we properly “assert that Christ calls people to change their hearts, not their religions”?24 Not only a theorist, but a seasoned practitioner among the Berbers of North Africa, Lewis self-consciously reflects upon her own mission undertakings. Her growing corpus of publications, most of which is accessible on the Internet, has also elevated her influence for promoting and practicing IM.

Before addressing her thought directly, let me commend Lewis for her clear writing, general hermeneutical consistency, and energetic presentation. Her McGavran-esque vision for worldwide evangelism combined with a refusal to accept humanly constructed boundaries for kingdom work is at a formal level commendable. “We’ve never done it that way before” is an unconscionable, disastrous posture, one that finds no turf in Lewis’s thought. In addition, though it is an all too common practice to isolate the gospel message from the method of its proclamation, Lewis rightfully asserts the indivisibility of the two.

Employing a hermeneutical and methodological approach typical of the prevailing IM thinking, Lewis’s crystallized defense of IM appears in an article entitled, “The Integrity of the Gospel and Insider Movements.”25 This particular article will henceforth serve as our primary, though not exclusive, point of reference for analysis since it usefully distills key theological and missiological arguments that expose prevailing IM hermeneutics. Those either curious or concerned about IM will find here an accessible exposition of its interpretive and theological underpinnings, as well as a window into its practical implications. Attuned to IM critics, Lewis appeals that we revisit both how we understand the Christian gospel and assess IM. While her article renders nothing fundamentally new to IM discussions, its numerous engagements with Scripture, its comprehensive claims, and its disarmingly simple appeal beg a response.26 Moreover, while Lewis has written other pieces on sociological factors in missions27 and other IM-related subjects,28 in this article she explicitly attempts to build her most compelling biblical case for IM philosophy and methodology.

Honing in on selected Scripture texts, Lewis explicitly and ambitiously argues that IM is not simply a biblical position but the biblical position. Another prominent IM advocate, Kevin Higgins, shares this clarion ambition, owning a grand sense of IM’s historic significance:

I believe the debate about Insider Movements actually is a debate about the gospel, one as potentially earth-shaking as the Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Anabaptist reform movements of the 16th century. Those movements were driven by the recovery of basic, foundational biblical truths such as justification by faith, a gospel of grace, the priesthood of all believers, and the place of the Bible in the life of the church and of the believer. And they forced church leaders to re-evaluate church practice and doctrine.29

Highlighting the increasing numbers of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists to whom “God is granting faith in Jesus Christ” yet who are not “becoming ‘Christians’ in name or adopting traditional Christian forms or identity,”30 Lewis suggests that Insider Movements are actually not a creation of missiologists at all, but spontaneous activities that require us “to evaluate if they are biblically legitimate.”31 The role of missiologists is rendered passive and investigative, rather than persuaded and promotional. Regardless of how we might treat this interpretation of the origin of IM,32 as the growing publications make obvious, perpetuation is hardly passive. Description has openly become prescription, and commensurate with Higgins’ analysis, Lewis’s argument raises prescriptive questions about both practice and doctrine.

2.2. The IM Stakes

One of the pervasive challenges of interacting with IM argumentation is clarity. Definitions, identifiable theological parameters, and even clarifying applications of IM assertions remain elusive. IM argument characteristically delivers broad affirmations that posit trajectories but leave the explicit nature of those trajectories fluid. Non-definition is surely intentional, as IM paradigms align with Paul Hiebert’s “centered set” paradigm in which movement defines following Jesus.33 Belief in Christ is not about doctrine (“bounded set”) per se, but about orientation; it is not about adherence to particular beliefs according to defined boundaries, but instead about process toward the center, Jesus Christ (“centered set”). Lewis marches in lock step with this thinking. While she surely would not deem all religious practices acceptable for a Christ-follower, the rigorous commitment to undefined boundaries compels avoiding specific contemporary examples or tools for analyzing such questions; to do so would establish improper boundaries when the very notion of such boundaries derails the paradigm. With exquisite irony, however, such centered-set orientation is bounded by a commitment to no definitive boundaries.34

In 2007, Lewis described IM trajectories in terms of their diverse, non-Western, non-traditional communal character: “‘insider movements’ consist of believers remaining in and transforming their own pre-existing family networks, minimally disrupting their own pre-existing families and communities. These believing families and their relational networks are valid local expressions of the Body of Christ.” 35 Lewis and other IM advocates deem divergent religious structures sufficiently neutral, so that they speak of “Messianic” or “biblical” Muslims, and “Hindu Christ-followers.”36 Accordingly, whether Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, extant socio-religious structures should serve as suitable expressions of believing in Jesus. 37 Lewis calls us to rethink our categories and, with no express bounding qualifications, to legitimize the non-Christian communities of those who follow Jesus. Scripture endorses, she contends, such a posture toward these religious forms: “Just like in the New Testament, He [Jesus] does not seem to be concerned that religious structures or forms be established in His name.” 38

To be sure, Lewis describes insiders as “remaining in and transforming”39 these networks; however, the effectiveness of such transforming influence is both highly suspect and actually impossible to measure objectively. 40 But even more fundamentally, the way in which such networks and their practice are to be “transformed” reveals that IM thinking is predisposed to accept other religions’ traditions and practices. Such alleged neutrality of religious activity, which governs the IM paradigms, must receive fullest biblical scrutiny. For opposing reasons, both proponents and opponents trumpet that it is critically necessary to expose IM thinking. Notwithstanding the vital missiological questions, one must appreciate the theological and ecclesiological import here, a point that Lewis herself extends without ambiguity and with redundant refrain: at stake is “the integrity of the gospel itself.” 41

In keeping with these high stakes, we must consider this integrity question. Is the IM “gospel” of which Lewis speaks truly the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God? Does the IM approach to Scripture faithfully present Jesus Christ as risen Lord, with all that attends him cosmically, redemptively, hermeneutically, ecclesiologically, and missiologically?

2.3. Foundations of IM Hermeneutics

In “Integrity,” Lewis delineates core principles: the gospel’s unchanging content and unchanging scope. Concerning the latter, Lewis underscores the universality of the good news for all peoples. Concerning the former, she avers in words that formally echo Paul’s commendation of gospel purity (Gal 1:1–9): we must not distort the gospel “by adding additional requirements such as adherence to Christian traditions.” 42 By overtly affirming gospel purity and universality, the initial formulation sounds promising. Such hopefulness grows in her cursory framing of biblical history, as she evidences a grasp of the organic character of Scripture, seeing the gospel as a realization of the Hebrew Scriptures:

Since circumcision was the sign of the covenant God had made with Abraham, and Pentecost was the celebration of the giving of the law on stone tablets to Moses, the gospel as a new covenant, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, were the fulfillment, not the abrogation, of all God’s promises in the Hebrew Scriptures.43

Digging beneath the presenting structure of Lewis’s formulations, however, we discover some woefully wobbly footings in the interpretive paradigm. The assertion of organic biblical fulfillment is tempered by her insistence that the Jewishness of the gospel was a matter of a “religious framework.” Old Covenant practices were culturally specific, and as such they are not matters of the gospel (spiritual), but matters of religion (human).44 Even the fact that the OT “religious framework” was “God-given”45 evidently means only that its content, which called for certain practices, was just for the Jews as a nation, a culture, a people group. In the NT age, the gospel’s unchanging content came to these Jewish people in their context first, but their context of religious practice is ethnically theirs, and the Jewishness of the gospel is dispossessed of significance beyond that of its historic foray into their communities.

Accordingly, to Lewis, this “Jewish religious community” is effectively a cultural and non-theological entity of which certain members in the first century appropriated Jesus into their religious life and forms. The practices in this religious community are spiritually insignificant in an ultimate sense, entirely disconnected from the real substance of the gospel. Thus, the gospel’s meaning transcends these cultural phenomena, not in a way of radical transforming but of gradual reinterpreting. It is here for the first time that the critical substructure of her thought surfaces—that is, the driving commitment for Lewis, in harmony with McGavran and Kraft, is cultural anthropology.

Under such a cultural-anthropological mindset, temporality proves cultural assignability; that the Jewish religious forms had a terminus indicates that they lack(ed) divine authoritative mandate or, at the very least, they lack(ed) spiritual import in a way necessary for spiritual life. Lewis claims, “Paul showed that the religious traditions of Jewish believers had not delivered them from their sinful nature (Ephesians 2:3), nor from their bondage to demonic forces (Galatians 4:3).”46 She then concludes, “Neither would these traditions deliver the Gentiles from sin, and could merely lead to a new type of bondage.”47 On the surface, this language may seem compatible with Pauline thought. Paul indeed calls believers in Christ away from dependence upon religious activity to full dependence upon Jesus Christ. As Lewis reiterates, “Paul’s main concern was clearly for the integrity of the gospel.”48 What she means, however, by “religious traditions,” gospel integrity, and dependence on Christ we must consider further.

The primary religious form Lewis raises is circumcision. With her governing cultural orientation, Lewis insists that Paul “had changed the mark of the covenant from an external mark (circumcision, Gen 17:13) to an internal mark.”49 This external mark of the covenant to Lewis is one of those religious traditions, and as such it possessed no real, spiritual value in its Old Covenant expression. Immediately we face a problem. This conclusion fails to uphold Scripture’s presentation of circumcision,50 and it defies both the thoroughgoing spiritual character of this sign and the integrated way in which Scripture (in the OT and NT) presents redemption, faith, and obedience. While some in Israel errantly treated it as such, it was never merely an ethnic sign (Rom 4:11), making any such external rendering of circumcision morally culpable, not religiously neutral.51

Questions about circumcision invariably draw us to the Pauline epistles, such as Romans, Galatians, Philippians and Colossians. We comment briefly here on Col 2:11–12. Interpretations vary on this text,52 but what is clear in any reasonable exegesis is that Paul discerns the spiritual significance of circumcision to find its fulfilled theological meaning in Christ’s redemption. The spiritual weight Paul gives to circumcision is no NT creation (Rom 2:28–29; 4:11–12), but rather a NT fulfillment. Paul did not change circumcision from an external to an internal reality. Circumcision had always been a spiritual mark (Deut 10:12–16). Indeed, it was a matter of explicit covenant command by God himself to his covenant people for their obedience (Gen 17; Lev 26:40–42; Rom 2:25–29; Eph 2:11–14).

Paul repeatedly and harshly rebukes those who seek redemptive efficacy in circumcision (Gal 5:2–6), but even in his rebuke, his treatment of the subject defies any purely cultural interpretation of the sign itself. Contrarily, while circumcision was neither an end in itself nor a means of earning right standing before God (cf. Gal 6:15), the Apostle Paul builds upon its organic spiritual significance throughout the OT, expressing how the sign culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In summary, that physical circumcision was mandated only in the OT age does not make its true meaning cultural or mere religious custom; such a conclusion is at best a naïve interpretive non sequitur. The change in the NT, in its laying to rest the obligation of circumcision, was not due to circumcision’s cultural negotiability, but to the conclusion of its prior covenantal function (Eph 2:12). Accordingly, the OT-to-NT transition discloses movement from spiritual promise to spiritual fulfillment, rather than cultural forms creatively appropriated or interpretively hijacked by the apostles. 53

Lewis’s culture-centric rendering of circumcision then exposes the structural footings in her interpretive method. Determining that abrogating circumcision evidences that it is spiritually negotiable manifests a determinative epistemological reliance on culture as the driving force for biblical interpretation. Cultural primacy in Jewish practice flows seamlessly to the conclusion that other religious practice is also culturally neutral and thereby no inherent concern of the gospel. That such a determinative cultural grid drives Lewis’s IM interpretation comes into full view when we see how she analyzes other biblical passages through her circumcision-paradigm.54

2.4. John 4 and Samaritanism

Capitalizing on a text often referenced by IM proponents, Lewis contends that Jesus’s dealings with the Samaritan woman (John 4) disclose a gospel message that extended beyond the Jewish religion.55 According to Lewis, “Jesus had given Samaritan believers the freedom to worship ‘in spirit and truth without requiring them to become proselytes or to come to the Jewish synagogues.” 56 This conclusion is true, but not in the manner Lewis infers from this passage. Jesus is not proclaiming cultural ambivalence, that is, that Jewish tradition/custom is acceptable and Samaritan tradition/custom is acceptable. He does not preach ambivalence about socio-religious identity. Rather he proclaims that he fulfills the revelation that came through Abraham and Moses and that he has arrived to usher in the promised new age.

The historico-transitional cast of the passage shines brightly: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21).57 Christ’s message about worship “in spirit and truth” is laden with this temporal—or better, eschatological—significance.58 Strikingly, the particularity of his Jewishness sustains this historic, eschatological point. When Jesus says, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), he argues for the broad scope of his theological significance on the basis of his narrow identity as a Jew. In other words, what makes his salvation efficacious to the Samaritan woman is his OT-fulfilling incarnate identity as the promised Jewish Messiah (“I who speak to you am he,” John 4:26) breaking into history in Palestine. His soteric value resides precisely in fulfilling special revelation, a revelation that moves from particularity (Jewish) to universality (Samaritans, Gentiles, etc.) in keeping with the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1–3). In short, his universal relevance springs forth from his eschatological particularity.

Loaded then with decisive theological significance, Jesus’s instruction to the Samaritan woman simply cannot be squeezed into affirming cultural neutrality! Instead, identifying himself as the genuine fulfillment of biblical revelation and as the eschatological Messiah, Jesus called her to a radical and new allegiance, commensurate with the theological weight of the historic moment. His ontological and eschatological identity beckoned a categorically different understanding and practice of worship—“spirit and truth” worship defined by faith in the Son of God, not by Samaritanism. Of course, following Jesus does not delegitimize the Samaritan woman’s cultural identity, but faithful following also cannot be properly construed as affirming her religious identity and practices in a way that makes worship in “spirit and truth” culturally rendered rather than eschatologically transformed. Proper interpretation of this event requires bringing all dimensions of Samaritanism under the theological authority of Christ’s identity, rather than in any way yielding Christ’s authority to Samaritan cultural or religious hegemony. At the very least, Lewis’s construction fails to reckon with the text’s permeating eschatology and thereby eclipses its central meaning and mistakes theological substance for cultural diversity.

2.5. Acts 15 and Redemptive History

After discerning certain cultural/religious affinities of Samaritans and Jews, Lewis turns to what she considers the more difficult case of the Gentiles, their culture and their religion. Summarizing her analysis of the first-century expansion of the gospel, she asks a couple of formative questions:

Did the gospel message bring grace only to those who join the family of faith as it was then construed (the circumcised believers who kept the Mosaic Law) or could the gospel bring salvation to all, regardless of their social and religious context? . . .

Did the message of Jesus Christ only have power to save those who also accepted the religious framework in which Christ himself was incarnated, or could the gospel save those in an alien context as well?59

Initially, these questions seem innocuous enough. After all, who would deny that the gospel did not and does not require Gentiles to become Jews? Who would deny that the gospel defies works-religion? In turning to the Acts 15 dispute, Lewis discloses what she fully intends by her questions. She describes faithful Jews in the Old Covenant as practicing “religious traditions,”60 and then concludes that Peter’s speech in Acts 15 intended to defend “the power of the gospel to save believers who retain their Gentile culture and identity.” 61 Moving directly to the Apostle Paul, she concludes that he likewise argues “repeatedly that the gospel must move into the Gentile people groups unhindered by external religious expectations.”62 Lewis accordingly concludes that to make religious practices a matter of the gospel is to pervert the gospel’s purity. In addition, religious traditions of the Jews already proved themselves impotent to save,63 and “it is the gospel that is the transformative power in the life of a believer,”64 not his religion. Therefore, as Lewis sees it, one’s religious practices are not the turf of the gospel, as the gospel surpasses—or better, does not concern itself primarily with—one’s religious identity or practices.

This cultural wrapping of first century Jew-Gentile relations comes quickly unraveled. According to Scripture, real faith introduces the believer to an entirely new identity in Jesus Christ (Col 3:1–17) and to a brand new familial identity in communion with others distinctly called as God’s children by faith (Rom 8:16–17; 1 Cor 12:12–31). Christ’s lordship transcends religion and culture, not in the sense of ignoring it, but in rebuking its ungodly practices and in calling redeemed Jews and Gentiles to biblical, Christ-shaped community, with its divinely revealed ethical and religious forms. The divine gift of faith vivifies dead and unbelieving hearts (Eph 2:1–10) and combats all rebellious moral and religious practices (Jas 2:14–26; 1 Cor 6:1–20)—whether they are distortions of revealed religion or humanly (or demonically) created false religion. One’s core commitments and practices receive comprehensive and radical recalibration according to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Heb 10:19–39; 1 Cor 15:1–58).

The best of IM advocacy surely concurs with the principle of the gospel’s confrontation with unbelief, but with IM commitments to the autonomy of those in other religious cultures, what the gospel combats and how it does so remain both unbounded and inadequate. Discernment about the gospel’s authoritative impact upon cultural and religious practices becomes hopelessly obscured when one’s paradigm for interpretation is cultural rather than redemptive-historical. Lewis’s exposition here unavoidably suffers from such obscuring, as she assesses the situation through a fluid cultural paradigm rather than a decisive theological/eschatological one. Below we explore more specifics concerning the gospel’s power and calling. But for now we should state simply that for understanding the Jew and Gentile context, the organically and theologically rich contours of biblical revelation simply will not be squashed under cultural analysis that indiscriminately affirms religious identity and practice or in any way minimizes the spiritual antithesis between belief and unbelief.65

Before proceeding with Lewis’s argument, a word here regarding biblical interpretation is in order. Critical to biblical hermeneutics is the organic nature of redemptive events typified, anticipated, and fulfilled. From Scripture’s redemptive-historical perspective, Jesus was the embodiment of biblical (Jewish) promise, and thus the eschatological thrust in John 4 actually characterizes biblical revelation. Jesus’s Jewishness matters then for theological reasons, as it was to the Jews that divine revelation had come and to the Jews that the promise of Messiah had come (Gen 12). Moreover, Christ’s fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12), for example, is as relevant to the Gentiles as it is to the Jews; Abraham is called the father of all who believe—Jew and Gentile (Rom 4:11–12; Gal 3:7–9, 27–29). While divine revelation comes through the Jews, its authoritative, redemptive message was not only for the Jews! As anticipated in the OT (Gen 12:1–3; cf. 1 Pet 1:10–12), the first century marks the hinge point of the ages (Heb 1:1–4) when Jesus Christ the Protagonist of all history brings the unfolding of revelation to its dénouement in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The spiritually dynamic revelation of the NT is grounded in the spiritually alive, yet anticipatory, revelation of the OT. The sub-eschatological restlessness (anticipation) of the OT revelation is, in fact, embedded in the revelation itself. 66

As presented by the apostles, the first century a.d. was a unique, unrepeatable period of redemptive history. It is epochally transitional; the work of Jesus Christ inaugurates the promised new age (Acts 2:17; Heb 1:1–2; 9:26; cf. Matt 12:28; Paul’s use of “first fruits” in Rom 8 and 1 Cor 15). The entire NT organically connects to the OT, as it climactically presents the incarnate Son of God as the substance of all OT anticipation (see, e.g., Luke 24:13–49; Rom 1:1–7; Heb 1:1–4; John 5:39–47). Accordingly, it must be understood that the primary events about which the NT concerns itself—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—are, at their very core, eschatological.67 Hence, Acts and the epistles of the NT must be seen first in view of these historic, christological events. As Paul has put it, his entire ministry centers upon the Scripture-fulfilling life, death, and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 2:2; 15:1–3); Christ’s person and work exhaustively shapes his interpretation of Scripture (2 Cor 1:20); and Christ’s historic triumph defines his method of proclamation (Eph 3:8–13).68 The interpretive presupposition of apostolic ministry is the accomplishment of redemption in Jesus Christ; this eschatological center shapes all reflection upon redemption accomplished, applied, and proclaimed.69

In the historically unique period of transition in the book of Acts, the church is growing into its understanding of this cosmically significant meaning of Jesus Christ’s work and the unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit. While cultures surely felt a jolt at this critical historical point, this is not a period merely of cultural upheaval. It is foremost a period of theological upheaval in which the OT worship forms are replaced by the substance of those forms—Jesus Christ himself. The apostles faced the challenge of guiding the church to move from these spiritual typological forms (OT) to understanding and applying their antitypical realities (NT). Again, this transition is not primarily a matter of cultural adaptation but of organic theological realization. The Old Covenant shadows had given way to the glorious christological light. The reason the apostles handled things in Acts 15 the way they did, when they recognized “the movement to Christ among the Greeks was from God and the Greek ‘Christians’ should not be required to adopt the religious traditions of the church in Jerusalem,”70 was not cultural neutrality. Rather they acted because of the epochal transition that Jesus Christ the Son of God inaugurated, attested by the outpouring of his Spirit. Christ’s work, in fulfillment of the promise made to Abram (Gen 12), marked the dawn of the new age in the gospel. This historic, theological reality changed everything.

2.6. Eschatology and Identity in Christ

To summarize then, the argument in Acts 15 is decidedly not a defense of “the power of the gospel to save believers who retain their Gentile culture and identity.”71 Such a conclusion betrays a reductionistic and theologically anemic interpretation of the work of Jesus Christ! Old Covenant Jewish practices had been divinely given, possessing real spiritual significance, a significance culminating in the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ. Now OT faith in its old forms truly had come to an end; it attained fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Thus because of Christ, to return to Judaism in its Old Covenant forms was eschatologically retrogressive, and to obey the covenant God through the Old Covenant spiritual signs was no longer necessary.72 Such termination of Old Covenant practice indicated God’s faithfulness to his spiritual promises (Gen 12; Gal 3:8)! Of course, we do not find the apostles calling their hearers to repudiate their cultural identity indiscreetly; rather we find them consistently calling their hearers to a faith that produces obedience (Rom 1:7; 16:25), in which their union to Jesus Christ now comprehensively defines their identity, and due to this identity, they are called to submit all of their lives, cultural habits, and religious practices to the explicit authority of Jesus Christ. Solidarity of faith and confession within ethnic diversity manifests a rich component of the single eschatological people of God (Heb 2:10–18; Rev 7:9–12).73

Yet just as she does with Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Lewis renders the Acts 15 cultural context supreme, and in her hermeneutical paradigm eclipses the redemptive-historical. In Lewis’s IM schema that both elevates culture as interpretively primary and neutralizes religion’s spiritual significance, salvation in Christ saves one not from false religion, but in false religion. This critical theological mistake manifests itself not only in the way in which Lewis interprets the ancient Scriptures, but also the way in which she presents Scripture’s teaching for IM’s contemporary practice in people groups around the world.

3. IM Hermeneutics: Christian Life, Church and Missions

To address the modern mission context, Lewis reflects back to her interpretation of the Jew-Gentile relations. To put it in her own language,

It is more accurate to recognize that in the first century there were in existence at least two radically different religions based on Jesus Christ. There was the Jewish version, breathing life into the Laws of Moses and Jewish ritual holy days, and there was the Greco-Roman version, turning philosophy-loving hearts, that explored the nuances of the Trinity and the incarnation.74

With this ancient analysis in view, Lewis insists we should recognize that “Paul was setting a template for how the gospel penetrates radically different cultures.”75 Besides the historical inaccuracy of asserting “radically different [Jewish and Gentile] cultures,”76 these striking statements and other supporting ones beg further consideration. As Higgins promised, IM does indeed force “church leaders to re-evaluate church practice and doctrine,”77 and accordingly, Lewis’s conclusions deliver formulaic and, as we will see, relativizing assertions concerning faith and faithfulness. We will present three interrelated applications of her IM hermeneutic for contemporary practice and doctrine.

3.1. Relativized Religious Practice

With unfettered clarity, Lewis’s summary statements reiterate the IM view of religion’s cultural relativity. According to IM thought, Jews take their ancient traditions and add new “gospel” meanings; Gentiles take their own religious proclivities and imbue them with fresh meanings, establishing their own religiously and culturally practiced “gospel.” Since the OT came to Jews in their cultural context, we must interpret it first on the basis of that human context. Therefore, seeing the OT in its NT fulfillment is essentially cultural; such interpretation was good for the Jews but unnecessary for the Gentiles. Even NT commands must be read through the cultural lenses required by IM hermeneutics.78 Ironically, Lewis’s idea of the unchanging and transcendent power of the gospel obscures the fact that her version of the gospel changes according to the culture in which it goes; its transcendence becomes transience, its power, acquiescence. Gospel appropriation takes shape according to the norma normans (norming norm) of the religious culture.

This IM rendering of religious practices—whether biblical or extrabiblical—moves Lewis in two directions. On the one hand, concerning the Jews, it relativizes the gospel fulfillment of OT promise. By squeezing Old Covenant practices into non-spiritual, non-theological matters, Lewis makes NT interpretation of them unique to Jewish believers. In like fashion, this cultural determination facilitates turning pagan religious practices into spiritually neutral, negotiable matters. While she does not get explicit about what specific religious practices she advocates the Gentiles of the first century to maintain, by her extrapolation to the contemporary implications, we can discern with little doubt the scope of religious relativism in view. Muslims stay Muslim, Buddhists stay Buddhist, and Hindus stay Hindu. Why? Because these “families and communities are claiming to know and to submit to Jesus as their Lord and Savior” while living “in midst of cultures similar to the idolatrous pantheon of the Greco-Roman world” and “remaining members of their communities, including most aspects of their religious culture.”79

In one critical way, Lewis is correct: followers of Christ often should remain in their cultures, their workplaces, and their familial networks, serving as both salt and light (Matt 5:13–16). But the IM paradigm illegitimately extends the boundaries for such remaining and retaining, and it unavoidably attenuates the gospel’s authority. By proffering the gospel according to cultural constraints, cultural hegemony relativizes the magisterial quality of the gospel. In this regard, Lewis asserts, “no one should consider one religious form of faith in Christ to be superior to another.”80 To Lewis retaining Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu religious practice is not only okay; it is the only way in which the integrity of the gospel is maintained. The unchanging gospel according to Lewis is a centered-set gospel, one allegedly uncluttered by boundaries of shared identity and uniform religious activity. Yet this cannot be. The cost is too high. When cultural anthropology frames hermeneutics, culture and faith undergo unbiblical conflation, the antithesis between belief and unbelief suffers eclipse, and the lines between believing practice and unbelieving practice enter an impenetrable fog.

Of course, Lewis views her own thinking on these epistemological and methodological points as biblical, yet she unwittingly reframes her assessment of scriptural authority by a Fuller-fed irreducible cultural diversity: “Today people of many different cultures . . . are claiming their biblical right to live out their faith in diverse ways that are nevertheless grounded on the supreme authority of the Bible.” 81 In Lewis’s thinking, biblical authority functions by leaving the right of decision-making for gospel obedience in the hands of the people group and even with the individual in question.

Matters of church practice immediately surface. While Lewis does not raise baptism per se, her hermeneutical approach raises the question of the necessity of baptism as an act of insider obedience. In fact, some IM sympathizers have determined that baptism is a negotiable form and not a biblical mandate.82 For our discussion here, let it suffice to say that the interpretive paradigm of cultural primacy leads to disturbing vicissitude on such essential ecclesiological questions.83 IM hermeneutics inverts culture and revelation; it brings the authority of biblical revelation under the authority of religion and culture, rather than religion and culture under the full authority of biblical revelation. Again, the propriety of contextualized gospel appropriation should surely be appreciated; but the manner in which it is affirmed here eloquently begs the meaning of Christ’s authority.84

In addition, according to Scripture (e.g., Exod 20:4–6; Deut 4:2; Mark 7:6–9), worship activity—even zealous worship activity—not revealed by God for his people is false religion.85 It is idolatry. As Paul himself notes, zeal without knowledge is wholly deficient (Rom 10:2). Moreover, if idolatry is not defined by what one does (religion), then what identifying features are there? Idolatry of the heart is an idolatry of the life; the practice of the life manifests the faith commitments of the heart. Imagine, if possible, Elijah calling the prophets of Baal (1 Kgs 18) to worship Jehovah God and encouraging them to do so in their temples, at their altars, and according to their familiar pagan practices. Such a proposal sounds preposterous. Yet the idea of a converted Muslim practicing the Five Pillars of Islam is IM gospel.

Such relativism affects not only matters of corporate practice, but also of personal integrity and morality. For example, IM-ers’ concerns to preserve Muslim identity have provided grounds to equivocate about the spiritual significance of saying the shahada (“There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”). Some have argued that since Messianic Muslims do not really believe it or mean it in the way of a sincere Muslim, repeating this conversion formula for Islam is acceptable. Responding to allegations of integrity violations, Rick Brown attempts to distinguish dishonesty from dissimulation;86 others, like Brother Yusuf, insist, “saying the shahada does not harm the believer’s witness to Jesus. On the contrary, it gives him a hearing.”87 The decision about the right to affirm—with or without sincerity—this most vital component of the Five Pillars of Islam derives from the cultural context, pragmatism, or the personal preferences (fears?) of the individual. With palpable irony, in its over-reliance on culture, people groups, and religion, the IM paradigm ironically sustains a stubborn western individualism.88 The determination about the way in which the gospel confronts one’s religious habits resides with the new follower of Christ, and not at the end of the day, with the authoritative voice of God in Scripture or even with the community of Jesus followers.

Manifestations of such IM thinking then are unsurprisingly diverse, as the conclusions about cultural and religious variance are as innumerable as are the interpreters themselves. Relativity reigns, as each IM conclusion underscores the epistemological and interpretive malfeasance of the IM hermeneutic. IM effectively turns Scriptural authority, Christian doctrine, Christian morality, and the explicit teaching of Scripture about the church on their heads.

3.2. Relativized Holiness in a Relativized Church

Making a case for a pure and powerful gospel, Lewis writes, “Paul delineated in Romans, chapters 6–15, that it is the gospel that is the transformative power in the life of a believer.”89 Indeed this is true, but unlike Lewis, Paul never removes the gospel from its overarching covenantal context in biblical revelation. Grace is gracious because the Law objectively and divinely condemns. Guilt before God is in the context of this good and holy Law (1 Tim 1:8; Rom 7:12) so that real, biblical grace extends to one under real, biblically defined guilt. Real biblical grace comes to one corrupted by real, biblically defined sin. As Paul presents the gospel, it is by vital, Holy Spirit-produced union with Christ—the one who has obeyed the Law in full (John 6:38, 15:10; Rom 5:19; Gal 4:1–6)—that the believer enjoys resurrection life. By the grace of God then, every believer’s resurrection life (1 Cor 15:1–58) is lived by the power of the Spirit of Christ for obedience to God’s revealed will (Rom 13:8–14; Gal 5:1–26; 1 Tim 1:8–11; Jas 1:8–13) “in accordance with the glorious gospel” (1 Tim 1:11a).

By contrast, Lewis articulates a notion of the moral transforming power of the gospel in a way that abstracts transformation from explicit biblical mandate. To Lewis gospel transformation occurs internally and mysteriously, but her culturally driven IM paradigm deprives the gospel of its fullest implications to one’s life, culture, religious practice, and identity. For Lewis, it is in this formal (religious and cultural) indifference that the gospel retains its essential purity and integrity. For Lewis, gospel integrity requires external practices to remain culturally defined. With this formulation, Lewis effectively bifurcates heart and life, disconnecting gospel belief from gospel practice as defined by the divine Word—“the law of liberty” (Jas 1:19–25). For at least two reasons OT and NT revelation will simply not withstand this divide.

First, as we see in Paul’s formulaic summary in Rom 1:1–7 (cf. Gal 3:8), the gospel of the NT is the gospel of the OT. Gospel reality is trans-testamental. The epoch differs—one is of anticipation and the other of realization; but gospel essence organically prevails in all ages of history. In view of the thoroughly gracious revelation from Genesis to Revelation, the heart/life integrity of the NT is the heart/life integrity of the OT, or as the Reformers noted, salvation has always been by faith alone but never by a faith that is alone. According to both Testaments, working faith is the only real, living faith (Ps 1; Jas 2:14–26; Eph 2:8–10; Gal 5:6). These works of faith find their basis in the revealed will of God, and his Word serves as the basis for understanding and obeying his voice by faith. Identity, faith, and obedience organically interpenetrate in the biblical gospel—in both its OT and NT stages. For believers of all ages, the gospel tethers heart and life inextricably together, as faith in the Redeemer calls for life and practice shaped by the Redeemer’s revealed will (cf. Exod 20:1–17; Rom 12:1–2).

Second, Lewis’s expression of “two radically different religions based on Jesus Christ,” while utterly confusing in terms of how to speak of a united body of Christ in such terms (cf. Eph 4:1–6), betrays a failure to receive the full implications of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection for a people of God who by the Holy Spirit are fully united to Christ and thereby to one another. A predominant thrust of the NT is ecclesiological unity—a unity grounded in our union with Christ and manifest in the shared identity, faith, and practicing fellowship of Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2:11–22; John 17:1–26; 1 Cor 1:18–31). The Apostle Paul is as exercised as he is explicit:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph 2:14–21)

Theological unity accomplished by Christ Jesus prescribes functional, relational, moral, and ecclesiastical unity. United in Christ, the people of God—Jew and Gentile—are irrevocably joined by Christ’s Spirit in purpose and worship, faith and practice, identity and community (Eph 4:1–6). Eschatological reality in Christ compels a practiced ecclesiological unity of God’s people—recognized, realized, relished, and retained.

As noted already, Lewis forthrightly extols the autonomy of the local people group to discern how to appropriate Jesus. Hence, IM boundaries remain fuzzy, and even IM’s centered set trajectory becomes blurred by its paradigmatic commitment to cultural hegemony. Yet it is incomprehensible to speak of Christ’s Lordship, biblical authority, and spiritual transformation in him apart from the explicit life demands that Jesus and the apostles expound—demands that norm our religious and worship practices. Culturally determined religion produces inevitable disunity; divided religions produce a divided church, something that defies the entire thrust of divine revelation.

While it is true that genuine conversion is a matter of faith and of the heart (John 3), it is thereby also unavoidably a matter of new identity (2 Cor 5:16–21). True followers of Christ enter the pathway of discipleship, a pathway that is narrow (Matt 7:13–14) and costly (Luke 9:23). 90 Christian identity in the church and its New Covenant forms are not optional for followers of Christ (Eph 4:1–6). The church is radically more than a committed community of those in a pre-existing social or religious network, who find the message and identity of Jesus compelling and seek to draw him into their preexisting religious constructs.<91 The King of kings, in whose kingdom true believers belong, defines the believer’s identity. The Bridegroom who is the Head of his church defines this identity. The Chief Shepherd of the sheep, in whose fold true believers belong, defines this identity. So it distorts the gospel to accept a conversion of the heart that fails to include the clarion call of vital in Christ identity (Col 3:1–17; Eph 1:3–14, 4:17–5:21). “In short, one’s religious identity with Jesus Christ creates a necessary rupture with one’s Islamic identity, or our identity in Jesus Christ would mean nothing. It is unethical to pretend this discontinuity does not exist or to act as if it is merely a matter of cultural forms.”92 When Muslim (or Buddhist or Hindu) identity is retained upon following Christ, personal identity suffers a divorce from one’s ultimate identity in Christ , creating an inescapable religious schizophrenia.93

That the Spirit of God can and does work in unexpected ways is without question (see John 3). That he works without consideration for Christ’s church as biblically defined is, well, simply unbiblical. After all, Scripture makes abundantly clear that Christ’s headship is linked directly to his church (see, e.g., Eph 1:22–23; 5:23), and the Holy Spirit works in absolute solidarity with the will of the Father and the Son (John 14:15–17, 25–31; 16:4–15; Rom 8:9–11). Moreover, the teaching given through the apostles, which underscores the centrality of the church over which Jesus is Lord, also reveals unique, non-negotiable characteristics of that church, including biblical organization (Titus 1:5); regular assembly (Heb 10:24–25); baptism (Matt 28:18–20; Acts 2:38–39); the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17–32); and preaching, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42; 2 Tim 4:1–2).

Summarily, through his apostles he has defined the marks and attributes of his church, matters that simply cannot with biblical integrity be reduced to cultural adaptability. Yet the IM mantra sounds from the missions minaret: Jesus “does not seem to be concerned that religious structures or forms be established in His name.”94 As far as Lewis is concerned, the shape of ecclesiology is in some sense optional; its form is a culturally determined entity.95 While it is true that the West has infused certain cultural patterns into its forms of worship96 and that entering God’s family transcends human institution, it simply does not follow that all ecclesiology and body dynamics are culturally determined. Scripture as God’s revealed Word will not allow for such an anthropocentric construction of a relativized, disunifying, would-be ecclesiology.

3.3. Relativized Mission

As demonstrated already, according to the IM interpretive paradigm, the ultimacy of culture shapes a proper understanding of the Scriptures. Such cultural primacy also must, according to the IM paradigm, comprehensively fashion our understanding of the contemporary context. Why? Because the only proper way to engage contemporary cultural analysis is to recognize cultural parallels between our current context and the biblical one. IM’s cultural construct view of interpreting Scripture drives unswervingly toward seeing apostolic activity as primarily exemplar activity. In fact, to honor Scripture’s authority is to discern the parallels and to find ways to emulate them in missional enterprise. This culturally driven New-Testament-as-Model hermeneutic permeates Lewis’s IM argumentation, and is highlighted by the oft-employed formative analogy made between current “movements of faith to Christ” and “the first century believers.”97

In view of perceived cultural parallels and a superficial interpretation of the actions of Jesus and the apostles as repeatable phenomena, missiological conclusions are drawn. Having already determined that religious practice in the Scripture is neutral and negotiable, IM theorists insist that we must treat contemporary religious practices with the same “gospel” ambivalence. What is the result? The Bible becomes a how-to manual, and its message is eclipsed behind the cultural interpretive edifice. Unrepeatable and incomparable events in redemptive history become paradigms; and sadly yet disastrously, with equal and opposite force, theologically critical matters become culturally negotiable ones. In such IM method, the cultural how of missions effectively replaces the authoritative whom of missions. The lordship of Jesus Christ submits to the lordship of culture, making religious identity turf beyond the scope of Christ’s redemptive and reigning authority and creating an endless array of mistaken trans-contextual comparisons and conclusions.

The parallels that Lewis draws here are as clear as they are biblically naïve.98 Acknowledging how some western Christians resist other religious traditions, Lewis pushes us to see how our context parallels that of first-century Jews, wherein like those early Jewish believers, we have “2000 years of our own valuable teachings and traditions that we want everyone to build on.” 99 Employing the relativizing hermeneutic that facilitates drawing contextual and methodological parallels, she invokes gospel integrity once again. Just as Paul and the other apostles modeled, “Today we have the opportunity to reaffirm the power of the gospel to move into other cultures and other religious frameworks, and transform them from the inside out.” 100 Thus, to Lewis and other IM advocates, our responsibility is to discern how the apostles refused to force religious practices on the Gentiles, to accept that other religions are acceptable, and to emulate the apostles in allowing religious activities innate to other cultures to provide the parameters for new religious identity and “gospel transformation.” If we do not, “we are actually undermining the integrity of the gospel.”101

IM missiologists and practitioners express a sincere desire to spread the news of Jesus Christ. On one very crucial level, we appreciate their vital and oft neglected focus upon kingdom expansion. How often the western Christian has become comfortable going to church but disinterested in going away from church to the world’s unreached. To be sure, Acts and the epistles boldly expose gospel growth and expansion and call the church throughout the ages to action (Acts 1:8–9; cf. Matt 28:18–20). The work of fearless, tireless, and expansive gospel preaching exposed in the work of the first-century believers under the leadership of the apostles provides a compelling and convicting model for the twenty-first-century church.

Dennis Johnson wisely warns, however, against two extreme positions in interpreting the Acts of the Apostles. On the one hand, some see Acts functioning as a precedent; all of Acts is reproducible for the church today. On the other hand, some try to force Acts effectively into irrelevant history, where “although Acts accurately describes the church’s infancy, this description is not supposed to guide our lives today.” 102> Seeking to honor the rich and relevant theology of the NT, the inimitable realities of the first-century church, and the historical genre of Luke-Acts, Johnson wisely presents a via media. Luke writes history that “ must make a difference to our faith and life, just as his mentor, Paul, describes the purpose of Old Testament history as ethical instruction (1 Cor 10:11) and teaching (Rom 15:4; see also 2 Tim 3:16).”103 Put succinctly, the application of Acts (and for that matter the entire NT) must be done with a view to the decisively unique events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in history. “Caution is needed . . . lest we . . . think that simply because the author records how some people responded to certain events in the course of the narrative we ought to have the same response today.”104 Application and emulation are critical; but they must grow out of appreciating the cosmically significant and unrepeatable events. This revelation of Jesus Christ consumes the writers of the NT, exhaustively determines their radical message (1 Cor 1:18–31), and thoroughly directs their seemingly unsophisticated methods (1 Cor 2:1–5). It is on the basis of the unrepeatable acts of God in Christ and the faithful Christ-centered preaching of the apostles that we now proclaim Christ’s comprehensive lordship over the nations (cf. Phil 2:5–11).

Thus, as resurrected and exalted Lord (Phil 2:1–11), Jesus Christ authoritatively defines everything (Matt 28:18), including our ecclesiology and missiology. For this reason, even for professed missiological motives, we are in no position to neutralize culture or to promote movements that lack the decisive clarity of the full biblical gospel, the teaching of Scripture about its own authority, and the nature and practice of the church, including its sacraments. These are divinely ordained doctrinal and ecclesiological matters, not cultural, “man-made ecclesiastical structures”;105 the church and its ordinances of Christ are matters of the gospel itself. 106 And to uphold gospel purity, proclamation of that gospel must involve uncompromised expression of such Christ-centered, apostolic teaching—for the practice, doctrine, and advance of the church universal.

4. Conclusion

For the newcomer, IM teaching and practices often elicit shock. To be sure, these inventive methods have generated virulent responses, not only from alerted westerners but even more so from Muslims who have trusted Christ. Muslim convert and pastor Edward Ayub of Bangladesh anguishes over IM practices in his homeland: “Not only do some of these people counsel people to remain Muslim rather than confess Christ openly, they counsel those who have left Islam, having become Christians, to convert back and join mosques.”107 Another Muslim convert, Abdul Qurban, dispassionately depicts IM practice he has witnessed:

Christian missionaries encourage Muslims to embrace Jesus as their Savior but remain Muslims by continuing to read the Qur’an, profess the shahada [“There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”], and participate in mosque activities. They keep their faith in Christ a secret, only to be revealed (somewhat) if another Muslim asks them about Jesus. By maintaining their Muslim identities (and even their beliefs), yet purportedly believing the Gospel, those Muslims remain inside in their communities, waiting for the potential to provide a witness to their fellow Muslims. 108

No longer in incubation, IM has hatched into a mature, practiced, sanctioned conviction. Its pervasive practice around the world by untold numbers of missionaries, mission agencies, and persuaded nationals has created a missiological, ecclesiological, and existential crisis. Its powerful presence is why Christians around the world like Edward Ayub of Bangladesh implore the western church to face and combat the practice, begging the provocateurs to cease and desist. What then must we say to IM advocates about their message and their methods?

We return in closing to the substance of Lewis’s warning that “we should not trivialize this discussion [about people turning to Christ without identifying themselves with Christianity] as a new radical contextualization or a new missiological strategy designed to make it easy for Muslims to come to Christ. Something much more profound is at stake: the integrity of the gospel itself.”109 I agree. The gospelis at stake, and we must not trivialize it. But herein lies the problem: Lewis’s working definition of the gospel and its contemporary expression are trivializing.

Scripture is clearly written to and in a cultural context; God’s redemptive acts and interpretive words occur in real history. 110 Hence, we affirm the presence of cultural factors in Scripture, even those that present challenging interpretive decisions (e.g., head coverings in 1 Cor 11). However, because Scripture organically centers on Jesus Christ, its divinely orchestrated theological substance must determine the parameters of culturally transient factors. Therefore, culture must be viewed according to Scripture’s self-interpreting authority rather than Scripture according to the interpretive authority of culture. Submission to scriptural authority means allowing Scripture to define its own hermeneutic rather than (consciously or unconsciously) imposing a foreign hermeneutic upon it. 111 In short, the divine canon transcends and trumps any cultural canon.

With all humble diligence, students of missions must not read the NT through the lenses of cultural anthropology, even if the motivations for doing so are self-consciously missional. Rather, anthropology must submit to the scrutiny of Scripture and Scripture’s Christ. This distinction is a matter neither of tactics nor semantics; it is a matter of upholding gospel integrity. Any method that wittingly or unwittingly blends the Lord Jesus into unbelieving religious practice is not biblical missions; it is syncretism. Aware of the risk of syncretism, Lewis concludes that this worry can be alleviated by providing “effective and accurate” Bible translation, by infusing “local cultural practices and even religious rites” with “ new meanings,” by refusing to pressure other Christians to conform to particular religious forms, and by resisting the temptation to control “Jesus movements” in cultures other than our own.112 These remedies are inadequate, however, as the embedded cultural IM hermeneutic governs the proposals themselves. Moreover, assessing syncretism through the lenses of an already syncretized theology corrupts the analysis.

Ultimately, assessment of IM must occur according to Scripture’s authority and Scripture’s own definition of the gospel in its rich theological, eschatological, and ecclesiological contours. Lewis’s IM interpretive paradigm muffles the full voice of the gospel and fails to pass the test of careful biblical scrutiny. Imposing its culturally framed NT-as-model hermeneutic upon the Holy Scriptures, IM theory as Lewis presents it fails to read the Bible biblically, robs God’s Word of its organic unity centered in the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ, and draws conclusions about the gospel and its proclamation that unavoidably obscure biblical practice and doctrine. In bequeathing ultimate authority to cultural analysis, IM advocacy has redefined the content and the conduct of the gospel, as well as the means to advance this “gospel.” And in it all, this redefinition has made such “gospel” biblically unrecognizable. In answer then to the prevailing question of this essay, we lament that the “gospel” that such IM construction preaches is not the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, but “a different gospel—not that there is another one” (Gal 1:6b–7a).113

Of course, our coming Judge, the Lord of the harvest, will himself perfectly separate the wheat from the tares. But it is this pressing fact that compels us to believe, practice, and proclaim his gospel in its biblical purity and according to its biblical integrity.

[1] Overture 9 of the PCA General Assembly 2011. As instructed in this overture, the 2011 General Assembly moderator of the PCA appointed a study committee to produce an analytic report on Insider Movements. Published in May 2012, Part One of this report focuses on Bible translation and divine familial language. The report also includes the full text of the final version Overture 9. See “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part One—Like Father, Like Son: Divine Familial Language in Biblical Translation,”–17–12.pdf (accessed May 21, 2012).

[2] There is not just one version of the Insider Movement, and some prefer the language of Insider Movements. For our purposes IM represents both the singular and the plural. Extensive explanation, defense, and debate about IM can be found in numerous issues ofEvangelical Missions Quarterly [EMQ], International Journal of Frontier Missiology or International Journal of Frontier Missions [IJFM], and St. Francis Magazine [SFM]. For a sympathetic look at IM, see the articles at (accessed May 28, 2012); see also, Kevin Higgins, “The Key to Insider Movements: The ‘Devoteds’ in Acts,” IFJM 21:4 (2004): 155–165. A recent 18-author critique of IM comes in Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamized Gospel (ed. Joshua Lingel, Jeff Morton, and Bill Nikides; Garden Grove, CA: i2 Ministries, 2011). For a simpler but insightful introductory critique of IM, see Jeff Morton, Insider Movements: Biblically Incredible or Incredibly Brilliant? (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2012). For direct interchange between proponents and opponents of IM, see the entire issue of St. Francis Magazine 5:4 (2009).

[3] See Kevin Higgins, “Discipling the Nations and the Insider Movement Conversation,” Mission Frontiers 33:1 (January–February 2011): 26–27. Other identifiers include, “Movements to Jesus within Islam (Buddhism, Hinduism),” “kingdom movements to Jesus,” “Jesus movements that multiply disciples obedient to the Bible within different religious traditions,” “the Kingdom paradigm,” and “incarnational movements.” Cf. Morton, Insider Movements, 5.

[4] For the sake of expediency, we will focus our attention primarily on IM in the Muslim world.

[5] Closely aligned to IM is C-5 on the C-Scale taxonomy, created by John Travis (“Must All Muslims Leave Islam to Follow Jesus?” EMQ 34 [1998]: 411–15). The C-scale presents a spectrum of “expressions of faith by MBBs [Muslim background believers],” where the “C” represents a different type of “Christ-centered community.” For a gentle yet formidable critique of C-5, see Timothy C. Tennent, “Followers of Jesus (Isa) in Islamic Mosques: A Closer Examination of C-5 ‘High Spectrum’ Contextualization,” IJFM 23:3 (2006): 101–15.

[6] IM advocate John Travis argues that Christian terms and Christianity bear liabilities antithetical to the gospel. “In the Muslim context, the word ‘Christian’ . . . connotes Western culture, war (the Crusades), colonialism and imperialism.” Muslims “associate Christianity . . . [with] negative aspects of present day Western culture like immodest dress, sexual promiscuity, disrespect of elders, indulgence in alcohol, Hollywood violence, narcotics and pornography” (John Travis, “Messianic Muslim Followers of Isa,” IJFM 17:1 [2000]: 53–59). Cf. J. T. Smith, “How Islamic Can Christianity Be?” (accessed May 28, 2012).

[7] For more discussion of these tactics, see also Phil Parshall, “Danger! New Directions in Contextualization,” EMQ 34:4 (1998): 404–10; Stan Guthrie, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century (rev. ed.; Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005), 130–35; Warren C. Chastain, “Should Christians Pray the Muslim Salat?” IJFM 12:3 (1995): 161–63; Basil Grafas, “Insider Movements: An Evangelical Assessment,” (accessed May 26, 2012).

[8] This fact has been confirmed by direct correspondence with missionaries in secure areas; these particular tactics are also affirmed, albeit guardedly, in John Travis, “Messianic Muslim Followers of Isa,” 55. Tennent (“Followers of Jesus,” 108) notes that some C-5 advocates, including Travis, have moved away from calling westerners to become Muslim for the sake of evangelism. Cf. Roger Dixon, “Moving on from the C1–C6 Spectrum,” SFM 5:4 (2009): 14; republished in Chrislam, 96.

[9] Bernard Dutch, “Should Muslims Become ‘Christians’?” IJFM 17:1 (2000): 17. One of the issues debated between IM advocates is the true prophethood of Muhammad.

[10] Donald A. McGavran, “A Giant Step in Christian Mission,” Mission Frontiers 1:3 (1985): 31–33.

[11] Ibid., 32.

[12] See, for example, Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), vii–xviii, 93–95. See Charles H. Kraft,Christianity in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1979) and Charles H. Kraft,Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996). For points of sympathy and critique regarding Kraft, see Harvie M. Conn, Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology in Trialogue (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 149–50, 167–76, 329–38.

[13] McGavran, “Giant Step,” 31–32 (emphasis original).

[14] Donald McGavran asserted, “To Christianize a whole people, the first thing not to do is to snatch individuals out of it into a different society” (Bridges to God: A Study in the Strategy of Missions [New York: Friendship, 1955], 10). McGavran, responding to the rugged individualism that still dominates western evangelicalism, argues for “people movements” that seek to advance the Christian faith in a way that “the social life of the individual is not destroyed” (16).

[15] IM advocates, in keeping with Fuller missiology, define religion in terms of cultural norms. See, e.g., Charles H. Kraft, “Is Christianity a Religion or a Faith?” in Charles H. Kraft, ed., Appropriate Christianity (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2005), 83–97.

[16] McGavran, Bridges, 16, 34, 68–99.

[17] Rebecca Lewis, “Promoting Movements to Christ within Natural Communities,” IJFM 24:2 (2007): 76 (italics original).

[18] We would be remiss here to neglect the contemporaneous and correlative theological changes at Fuller Seminary. Having established itself with explicit commitment to biblical inerrancy in 1947, Fuller openly abandoned its commitment to full biblical inerrancy by 1965. As reliance upon cultural anthropology and sociology increased, trust in Scripture correspondingly diminished. This shift in authority represents an entirely different epistemological, hermeneutical, and methodological (missiological) paradigm. See George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1987; repr. 1995); Norman L. Geisler and William C. Roach, Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 17–24.

[19] Rebecca Lewis, “Can the Kingdom of God Break Out of Christendom? Expecting the Unexpected,” Missions Frontiers 33:3 (May–June 2011): 15.

[20] Some IM proponents make explicit the temporary nature of “Messianic” Islam, where practices like “mosque attendance may only be a transitional part of some C5 believers’ spiritual journey” (John Travis, “Messianic Muslim Followers of Isa,” 55). This transitional feature of IM or C5 practice is neither shared by all nor made explicit by most.

[21] Kevin Higgins, “Inside What? Church, Culture, Religion, and Insider Movements in Biblical Perspective,” SFM 5:4 (2009): 91.

[22] J. Dudley Woodberry, “To the Muslim I Became a Muslim?” IJFM 24:1 (2007): 23. Cf. Brian K. Peterson, “The Possibility of a ‘Hindu Christ-Follower’: Hans Staffner’s Proposal for the Dual Identity of Disciples of Christ within High Caste Hindu Communities,” IJFM 24:2 (1988): 87–97. Georges Houssney provides an insightful critique of Woodberry’s thesis in “Would Paul Become Muslim to Muslims?” in Chrislam, 62–76.

[23] I am grateful to Rebecca Lewis for her responses to an earlier version of this analysis. Her comments have helped refine this article for its final form.

[24] Guthrie, Missions, 132–33. The sharp distinction between religion and relationship serves paradigmatically in IM, reflecting the religion vs. faith categories espoused by Charles H. Kraft. Cf. Tennent (“Followers of Jesus,” 111) also highlights the “trap” of yielding to the false dichotomy of “personal” versus “propositional.”

[25] Rebecca Lewis, “The Integrity of the Gospel and Insider Movements,” IJFM 27:1 (2010): 41–48, available at (accessed 11 July 2012).

[26] Dick Brogden, a seasoned missionary to Muslims in Africa, critiqued an earlier article by Rebecca Lewis (“Insider Movements: Honoring God-Given Identity and Community,” IJFM 26:1 [2009]: 16–19), where he challenges numerous IM presuppositions. See Brogden, “Inside Out: Probing Presuppositions among Insider Movements,” IJFM 27:1 (2010): 33–40. This article is particularly useful, as the author has allowed a running commentary of response from Lewis to his critique.

[27] See, for example, Rebecca Lewis, “Underground Church Movements: The Surprising Role of Women’s Networks,” IJFM 21:4 (2004): 145–50.

[28] See, for example, Rebecca Lewis, “Strategizing for Church Planting Movements in the Muslim World: Informal Reviews of Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity and David Garrison’s Church Planting Movements,” IJFM 21:2 (2004): 73–77; idem, “Promoting,” 75–76; idem, “Honoring,” 16–19; idem, “Can the Kingdom,” 15; idem, “Possible Pitfalls of Jesus Movements: Lessons from History,” Missions Frontiers 33:3 (May–June 2011): 21–24.

[29] On this basis, Higgins elevates the seriousness of the IM proposals: “Similarly, I see Insider Movements as fueling (and being fueled by) a rediscovery of the Incarnation, of a thoroughly biblical approach to culture and religion, of the role of the Holy Spirit’s leading God’s people to ‘work out’ the gospel in new ways, and of an understanding of how God works in the world within and beyond his covenant people. And we may be forced to re-evaluate some widely held ideas and practices of our own” (Higgins, “Devoteds,” 155–56). That Higgins emphasizes Christ’s incarnation as missiological exemplar rather than Christ’s redemption as substitutionary underscores a thoroughgoing theological misalignment.

[30] Lewis, “Integrity,” 47. See also Lewis’s development of an alleged historic basis for the spread of the gospel “along pre-existing social networks” (“Strategizing for Church Planting Movements,” 75; “Honoring,” 17–18).

[31] Rebecca Lewis’ response in Brogden, “Inside Out,” 33, note a. IM frequently emphasizes that IM and C-5 thinking are descriptive, not prescriptive.

[32] Even if it could be shown that IM movements have been spontaneous (a debated assertion), that assessment does not warrant turning analysis into system, description into prescription. Spontaneity does not inherently signify divine blessing.

[33] For an explanation of bounded and centered set paradigms, see Paul G. Hiebert “Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories,” Gospel in Context 1:4 (1978): 24–29.

[34] While influential in missiological discourse, Hiebert’s bounded-set versus centered-set distinction fails to satisfy conceptually or practically. Bounded sets necessarily possess centering features, and centered sets necessarily operate within certain boundaries. Moreover, any claims that these paradigms are mutually exclusive or that one is inferior to the other cannot be biblically defended. Charles Van Engen (Mission on the Way: Issues in Mission Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], 183) builds his “Evangelist Paradigm” around centered-set assumptions. He claims, “The major question is not to what religious system a person belongs. Rather, the crucial issue is one’s center. The ultimate question is the question of discipleship, of one’s proximity to, or distance from, Jesus the Lord.”

[35] Lewis, “Promoting,” 76 (emphasis original).

[36] Rick Brown, “Biblical Muslims,” IJFM 24:2 (2007): 65–74; John Travis, “Messianic Muslim Followers of Isa,” 53–59; Peterson, “Possibility of a ‘Hindu Christ-Follower,’” 87–97; (accessed May 26, 2012).

[37] Lewis insists on two distinct characteristics of IM: “1. The Gospel takes root within pre-existing communities or social networks, which become the main expression of ‘church’ in that context. Believers are not gathered from diverse social networks to create a ‘church.’ New parallel social structures are not invented or introduced. 2. Believers retain their identity as members of their socio-religious community while living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible” (“Honoring,” 16, emphasis original).

[38] Lewis, “Can the Kingdom,” 15.

[39] Lewis, “Promoting,” 76.

[40] This difficulty is exacerbated in view of identity confusion. Are insiders Muslims? Are they Christians? Are they Muslims and Christians? What really does “Messianic Muslim” mean?

[41] Lewis, “Integrity,” 46.

[42] Ibid., 42.

[43] Ibid.

[44] In keeping with the Fuller analysis (see note 15), religion, for Lewis, stems from a people group, defines their context, and functioning primarily as a feature of cultural identity rather than bearing spiritual or moral significance.

[45] Lewis, “Integrity,” 42.

[46] Ibid., 45.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., 46.

[49] Ibid., 44.

[50] For more on the biblico-theological character of circumcision, see John Fesko, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2010), and Meredith Kline, By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenant Signs of Circumcision and Baptism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968).

[51] Our point here does not force a decision concerning paedo- or credo-baptism, but rather insists upon the inherent spirituality of circumcision as both Testaments attest. [Editor’s note: Cf. David Gibson’s <a href= "" target- "new">article in this issue of Themelios</a>: “Sacramental Supersessionism Revisited: A Response to Martin Salter on the Relationship between Circumcision and Baptism.”]


[52] While it is not the majority view, this author concurs with O’Brien’s interpretation that the circumcision of Christ is the eschatological judgment borne in his own body (Col 2:11–12). Peter T. O’Brien, Colossians, Philemon (WBC; Waco: Word, 1982), 117–18.

[53] John Murray wisely reminds us, “Our knowledge of the Bible, if it is to be really adequate, must be knowledge of the Bible as it is, and must reflect . . . [its] organic character . . . . We must understand that the whole Bible stands together and that fibres of organic connection run through the whole Bible connecting one part with every other part and every one truth with every other truth” (“The Study of the Bible,” in Collected Writings, vol. 1: The Claims of Truth [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976], 5).

[54] Though Lewis comments especially on John 4 and Acts 15, other favorite IM texts include Num 22–24; 2 Kgs 5; 1 Cor 7; 1 Cor 9; and the book of Jonah. See Bill Nikides, “The Insider Story: Theology,” in Chrislam, 12–22; idem, “Lost in Translation: Insider Movements and Biblical Interpretation,” in Chrislam, 44–61; Tennent, “Followers of Jesus,” 105–9.

[55] See Lewis, “Integrity,” 42. Lewis also treats John 4 and Acts 15 in “Honoring,” 17–18.

[56] Lewis, “Integrity,” 42.

[57] Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[58] Fortifying the already explicit eschatological contours of the passage is the emphasis on the Spirit. See D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Leicester: IVP, 1991), 224–26.

[59] Lewis, “Integrity,” 43.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., 44.

[63] Ibid., 45.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Such ambiguity and truncation have become common in much missiological argument. For example, Van Engen (Mission on the Way, 183–87) proposes three missiological implications of his “Evangelist Paradigm”: (1) faith particularism, (2) cultural pluralism, and (3) ecclesiological inclusivism. While we appreciate the unambiguous assertion of salvation in Christ alone, this model fails to consider adequately critical epistemological questions, clouds the relationship between faith and culture, and by a truncated definition of the church, effectively distances personal faith from Scripture’s determinative teaching on ecclesiology. “As Paul declares in Romans, and we see modeled in Acts, to confess with one’s mouth and believe in one’s heart that Jesus is Lord—that is all there is. Nothing else really matters. All else is to be held lightly. Everything else is negotiable.” (184)

[66] David B. Garner, “Did God Really Say?” in Did God Really Say? Affirming the Truthfulness and Trustworthiness of Scripture (ed. David B. Garner; Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2012), 154–59.

[67] All too often eschatology is improperly relegated to speculative charts and graphs seeking to depict the chronology of future events. Scripture presents eschatology in an unambiguously different sense, connecting the OT and NT in a historico-genetic, two-age fashion (cf. Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology; repr., Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1994). A building anticipation of the coming Messiah in the Last Days characterizes the OT age. The NT presents Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of that anticipation and explicitly exposes his first coming in terms of its epochal significance (see, e.g., Heb 1:1–2). In short, Jesus launches the Last Days; he inaugurates eschatology. Historically and theologically speaking, we are not awaiting the Last Days; since the first century a.d., we have been in them.

[68] See, for example, Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2007), 198–238.

[69] See John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955).

[70] Lewis, “Integrity,” 44.

[71] Ibid., 43.

[72] Isolated apostolic instruction (e.g., 1 Cor 7) for continuing circumcision should be understood according to the transitional age of the first century. “The one mark of sociological distinction formerly did have religious significance but does so no more—circumcision” (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians [NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 311).

[73] While arguing consistently for unity of the body (in identity and spiritual obedience), Paul does not deny the presence of differences between the Jew and the Gentile (Gal 2:15). In fact, in 1 Cor 7:17–24 (cf. Lewis, “Integrity,” 46), he urges the first-century Jews and Gentiles to pursue New Covenant obedience, while not concerning themselves with their circumcised or uncircumcised status—a vital matter of obedience under the Old Covenant (cf. Gal 2:3). Paul here very practically evidences his understanding how the eschatological age brings the spiritual obedience of circumcision to an end. “Paul’s concern . . . is not that they retain their present social setting, but that they recognize it as a proper one in which to live out God’s call. . . . Thus he tells them that being in Christ does not negate their present situation; but neither is he arguing that it absolutizes it. . . . The gospel absolutely transcends, and thereby eliminates altogether, all merely social distinctions. In Christ Jew and Greek together, whether slave or free, make up one body” (Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 309, 311–12). Though IM advocates seek to find a contemporary parallel in Islam, Jay Smith demonstrates the falsity of the parallel: “The problem with saying like or remaining in Islam is that Islam is both a religion and a culture. Staying in Islam means to take on all the religious connotations, as well as its spiritual power. In these verses [1 Cor 7:17–24] Paul does not suggest Gentiles stay as pagan worshippers in their local temples” (Jay Smith, “An Assessment of IM’s Principle Paradigms,” in Chrislam, 286). Cf. Tennent, “Followers of Jesus,” 107.

[74] Lewis, “Integrity,” 45.

[75] Ibid., 47.

[76] The vigorous cultural distinctions presented here simply do not withstand scholarly analysis regarding the Hellenized Jewish world of the first century. See, e.g., Martin Hengel, Jews, Greeks and Barbarians: Aspects of Hellenization of Judaism in the Pre-Christian Period (trans. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980); James D. Newsome, Greeks, Romans, Jews: Currents of Culture and Belief in the New Testament World (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992). Even if, as Louis Feldman contends, Hengel’s Hellenization thesis is overstated, history defies any radical difference between Jewish and Gentile culture (Louis H. Feldman, Judaism and Hellenism Reconsidered [JSJSup 107; Leiden: Brill, 2006]).

[77] Higgins, “Devoteds,” 155.

[78] Lewis, “Integrity,” 45.

[79] Ibid., 41.

[80] Ibid., 46.

[81] Ibid., 45.

[82] See Phil Parshall, Muslim Evangelism: Contemporary Approaches to Contextualization (2d ed.; Colorado Spring: Biblica, 2003), 199–210. See also, H. L. Richard, “Unpacking the Insider Paradigm: An Open Discussion on Points of Diversity,” IJFM 26:4 (2009): 180; Higgins, “Inside What?” 74–91. Bill Nikides critiques Kevin Higgins and Donald McGavran for their relegating sacraments to something less than central church practice. Bill Nikides, “A Response to Kevin Higgins’ ‘Inside What? Church, Culture, Religion and Insider Movements in Biblical Perspective,’” SFM 5:4 (2009): 98n8.

[83] “The theological framework and analysis present in C-5 writings has been overly influenced by Western individualism and the privatization of faith which tends to keep the doctrines of soteriology and ecclesiology at arms’ length” (Tennent, “Followers of Jesus,” 111).

[84] The authority of Jesus (“the Lord of glory,” Jas 2:1) singularly shapes the gospel-defined religion that is “pure and undefiled before God, the Father” (Jas 1:27a), and unites his church (1 Pet 1:22–23). Biblical religion “must be in harmony with the divine standard (para tÅ� theÅ� kai patri, ‘before the God and Father’), and so acceptable in his presence—acceptable religious observance related to ‘God our Father’” (D. Edmond Hiebert, James [Chicago: Moody, 1992], 126).

[85] For treatment on the authority and teaching of Scripture for worship (i.e., the “regulative principle”), see Hughes Oliphant Old, Worship Reformed according to Scripture (rev. and expanded ed.; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002); Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W. H. Thomas, J. Ligon Duncan III, eds., Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2003), 17–105; Terry L. Johnson, Reformed Worship: Worship That Is according to Scripture (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic, 2000); G. I. Williamson, “The Regulative Principle of Worship,” (accessed May 20, 2012).

[86] “Some Messianic Muslims say the shahada, but not all of them are true believers in it. Nominal Muslims say the shahada, but they are not true believers. Some of them are engaging in dissimulation—masking one’s inner thoughts and intentions. That is not the same as deceit, which involves the manipulation or exploitation of others rather than mere social conformity or self-protection.” Rick Brown responds to Gary Corwin in Gary Corwin, “A Humble Appeal to C5/Insider Movement Muslim Ministry Advocates to Consider Ten Questions,” IJFM 24:1 (2007): 12. This article includes responses from five proponents of IM.

[87] Brother Yusuf also responds to Corwin in Corwin, “A Humble Appeal,” 12.

[88] Because of its localized autonomy, relativism moves irresistibly to individualism.

[89] Lewis, “Integrity,” 45.

[90] Lewis insists (“Honoring,” 18) that insider movements properly “affirm that people do not have to go through the religion of Christianity, but only through Jesus Christ, to enter God’s family.”

[91] See Tim and Rebecca Lewis, “Planting Churches: Learning the Hard Way,” Mission Frontiers 31:1 (January–February 2009): 16–18.

[92] Tennent, “Followers of Jesus,” 113.

[93] Lewis frequently juxtaposes the constant (extant social structures as the context for the expression of faith) and the dynamic (the becoming and transforming influence of faith on the existing socio-religious structure). The unexplained interface of these constant and dynamic elements issues a dissatisfying obscurantism. See Lewis, “Honoring,” 16.

[94] Lewis, “Can the Kingdom,” 15.

[95] Cf. Lewis, “Promoting,” 76.

[96] Other cultures have done the same.

[97] Lewis, “Integrity,” 41, 42.

[98] Lewis is explicit about this transcontextual parallel elsewhere: “Can we see that the Muslims are like our Samaritans, with their Abrahamic religion, and the Hindus are like our Gentiles, with their idols and temples?” (“Honoring,” 19).

[99] Lewis, “Integrity,” 44.

[100] Ibid., 47.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1997), 4. Johnson urges readers to read Acts in view of Luke’s purpose to show what God has done in Christ; to read Acts with a view to the theology of the NT epistles; to read Acts in a way that honors its deeply rooted OT thought structures, Hebraistic styles, and theology; to read Acts in coordination with Luke; to read Acts in view of its structural signposts (5–13).

[103] Ibid., 5.

[104] Walter L. Liefeld, Interpreting the Book of Acts (Guides to New Testament Exegesis; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 58.

[105] Lewis, “Can the Kingdom,” 15.

[106] “A new convert not only has faith, he or she is brought into a common faith” (Tennent, “Followers of Jesus,” 111).

[107] Ayub Edward, “Observations and Reactions to Christians Involved in a New Approach to Mission,” in Chrislam, 256.

[108] “Flirting with Frankenstein: Insider Movements from the Inside,” in Chrislam, 238.

[109] Lewis, “Integrity,” 46.

[110] See Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.; Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980), 3–24.

[111] The Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9 states well Scripture’s final interpretive authority: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.”

[112] Lewis, “Possible Pitfalls,” 22–24.

[113] See David B. Garner, “A World of Riches,” Reformation 21 (April 2011), (accessed May 20, 2012).

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