Southern Baptist missiologists respond to ‘dangerous’ views of ‘Insider Movements’ book

Communications Staff — January 5, 2016

"Understanding Insider Movements" was published in 2015 by William Carey Library.
“Understanding Insider Movements” was published in 2015 by William Carey Library.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) — Calling its views “theologically dangerous,” eight Southern Baptist missiologists published a lengthy rejoinder Jan. 5 to a recent book advocating the controversial “Insider Movements.” The book’s authors claim converts to Christianity can continue identifying with their previous religious community while following Jesus.

Ayman S. Ibrahim, Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, coordinated the project with Ant Greenham, associate professor of missions and Islamic studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to reject the various views presented in Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of Jesus within Diverse Religious Communities. The authors say the idea was generated after they received copies of the highly-anticipated book, edited by (pen names) Harley Talman and John Jay Travis, from publisher William Carey Library.

“This edited volume demonstrates that the [Insider Movements] advocates are still attempting to raise their voice apart from sound biblical interpretation and rigorous missiological and theological engagements, and despite cogent opposition,” Ibrahim writes, adding “the sheep are in danger.”

Ayman S. Ibrahim, Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Seminary
Ayman S. Ibrahim, Bill and Connie Jenkins Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Southern Seminary

Ibrahim argues the Insider Movements are “theologically dangerous and missiologically incorrect,” particularly as they relate to evangelization efforts of Muslims. All eight contributors are evangelical experts on Islam and respond to the book’s material on Muslim engagement, which Ibrahim says is its primary focus. Playing off the foundational doctrines of Islam, Ibrahim writes that the Insider Movements adhere to “five pillars”: recognizing Muhammad as a prophet of some sort in the biblical sense, preserving a Muslim identity for Christian converts, valuing the Quran as scripture for instructing converts, replacing biblical terms with a Muslim vocabulary, and preferring “only Jesus” over church and Christianity.

“Christian individuals and groups should work diligently to produce rigorous studies and scholarly works that show the danger and errors embedded in such a volume,” Ibrahim writes. “That work can then be used to train missionaries and young churches around the world, so that they may avoid this deep pitfall. The task is huge, but absolutely imperative.”

Ibrahim first publicly raised concerns about the book in a review he published on The Gospel Coalition website Dec. 18, 2015. A lengthier version of his review appears as the first essay in the eight-part post appearing on the websites of Southern Seminary’s Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, for which Ibrahim serves as the senior fellow, Southeastern Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Criswell College.

Greenham, who has taught at Southeastern since 2001, responded to the book’s claims that New Testament evidence supports Christians remaining in their socioreligious communities following conversion. According to Greenham, authors Michael Roberts and Richard Jameson cite the “communal brotherhood” in the Book of Acts between early Christians and the Jewish communities in which they tried to remain as support for believers in hostile contexts today. Greenham notes, however, that differences between the two groups proved fatal in Stephen’s martyrdom and eventually led to open hostility between Jews and Christians.

“The NT obliges converts to prioritize Jesus — and share him with their communities — but not exchange him (or their believing brethren) for the deceptive zeal of communal solidarity,” Greenham writes. “And holding that ground repeatedly leads to expulsion from one’s ‘socioreligious community,’ whether in NT times or today.”

In addition to Ibrahim and Greenham, contributors also include David A. Bosch, associate professor and program coordinator of the Business Administration program at Boyce College, Southern’s undergraduate school; J. Scott Bridger, associate professor of global studies and world religions at Criswell College; Doug Coleman (pseudonym); Keith Eitel, dean of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions and professor of missions and world Christian studies at Southwestern Seminary; and Dean Sieberhagen, assistant professor of missions and Islamic studies at Southwestern.

Following Ibrahim’s overview of Understanding Insider Movements, Greenham and four of the contributors offer biblical and theological perspectives on the book, while two authors provide insights from the mission field.

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