Ref21 Editors’ Note: The Presbyterian Church in America’s 42nd General Assembly will address the work of the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM). For access to the SCIM reports of 2014, click here. However, given the global relevance of this question, in the next several weeks ahead of the Assembly, Rev. Nelson Jennings and Rev. David B. Garner will debate the theology and missiology of Insider Movements. We begin the series with two articles by Nelson Jennings and two articles by David Garner.
Below are my thoughts about the PCA’s three-year handling of the matter of so-called “Insider Movements” and associated Bible translations. I articulated these thoughts (without a clearly defined readership in mind) about one week after the May 2, 2014byFaith notice, “Insider Movements Committee Submits Final Report,” which provided my initial access to the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM) final report.
– J. Nelson Jennings, TE in Good Standing
May 16, 2014
In a sentence:
– The PCA has over-extended its severely limited cultural-linguistic-conceptual capabilities in rendering ecclesiastical pronouncements (no matter their contents, very much a secondary concern for me here) about so-called “Insider Movements” and associated Bible translations.
In bullet point format:
– The phenomena called “Insider Movements” are more varied and complex than what we in the PCA can encapsulate, and even meaningfully discuss, within our deeply engrained Greco-Latin-Reformed linguistic-conceptual categories.
– The PCA’s Greco-Latin-Reformed cultural-linguistic-conceptual limitations, combined with the historically engrained impulse of imperial-ecclesiastical conflict (plus U.S.-American competitive and militaristic propensities), compel us to reject – particularly when asked to render our own opinion about – manifestations of Christian faith that we decide are outside our limitations.
– The PCA would have done better to acknowledge our current cultural-linguistic-conceptual limitations and learned from (plus humbly given needed pastoral advice to PCA congregations), rather than take upon itself the responsibility of rendering ecclesiastical pronouncements about, the varied and complex phenomena called “Insider Movements.” [Note: When requested to give input (approval?) into an overture being developed over three years ago, I replied with an earnest plea not de facto to force the PCA into making an ecclesiastical judgment on the matter, given our lack of cultural and linguistic breadth. Alas, what became Overture 9 to the 2011 General Assembly did just that. The results – including in how our approach and questions have been formulated – have been predictable.]
– Perhaps in future generations the PCA will grow beyond our present limitations to reflect more faithfully the breadth of linguistic-cultural-religious-intellectual-socio-political contexts in which we live and serve, both in North America and worldwide.
– In the meantime, perhaps we in the PCA will learn better when to speak and when not to speak, from our extremely limited vantage point, about matters of worldwide Christianity.
In two of my published works, I provide further background:
– “The Tapestry of Contextualization,” in Mission to the World, comp. and ed., Looking Forward: Voices from Church Leaders on Our Global Mission (Enumclaw, WA: Winpress Publishing, 2003), 24-30. Available online athttp://www.mtw.org/Pages/InVision/TapestryContext.aspx and http://www.mtw.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/Resources/ChurchResourcing/Contextualization.pdf.
–God the Real Superpower: Rethinking our Role in Missions (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2007).
In a brief essay:
A Distant Hope for Integrating Our Hermeneutics
J. Nelson Jennings – May 10, 2014
In support of its foregone ecclesiastical pronouncements, the PCA’s three-plus years of deliberations about Insider Movements and Islamic-related Bible translations have stayed true to our hermeneutical instincts and convictions. Those instincts and convictions constrain us to remain steadfastly consistent with our passionately clutched understanding of biblical teaching and of our confessional standards.
Speaking historically, our hermeneutical instincts and convictions were fundamentally forged in the crucible of the interaction between Greco-Latin philosophical categories and special divine revelation, the latter having been given over the course of a millennium-plus into various Hebrew-, Aramaic-, and Greek-speaking contexts. Subsequent contextual realities in the West have further shaped the instincts of our thinking, perhaps most notably the proliferation of modern scientific reasoning.
One distinctive trait of our resulting hermeneutics of God and the world is that we instinctively hold both biblical revelation and our confessional commitments to be essentially conceptual, static, rationally classifiable, and transcultural. Stated differently, our hermeneutics fundamentally dis-integrate propositions about God and God-related matters away from the multifaceted, integrated realities of God and his dealings with the tapestry of peoples and contexts spread throughout the world and across the generations. Furthermore, Non-Greco-Latin, and subsequently non-European, ways of processing, nuancing, formulating, and expressing beliefs and convictions have always been foreign and unknown to our theological ancestry; and, we guard what we understand to have inherited by frightfully dismissing any perceived threats to our biblical and theological conceptualizations we passionately hold to be true.
As a result, our relatively monocultural and monolinguistic capacities confine us to a hidden fear of acknowledging even the possibility that Christian (or in our discriminating minds alleged Christian) belief and practice we judge to be inconsistent with our dis-integrated, deeply held conceptualizations might be valid, or at least instructive to us. Because we isolate our basic theology from the multifaceted and integrated realities of life in God’s world (which we examine by the social sciences), we level red herring criticisms against or dismiss uncomfortable inferences from real-life examples that we determine to lack clarity and precision. Appeals we make to the perspicuity of Scripture – understood to exist somehow in isolation from contextual complexities – reinforce our conviction of defending our articulations against other Christians’ (or alleged Christians’) beliefs and practices we perceive to be inconsistent with ours. Read More
Dr. Nelson Jennings is Executive Director of the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, Editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, and Teaching Elder in the Southern New England Presbytery (PCA).
Part 1: Missions, Cultural Anthropology and the Insider Movement Paradigm
The Insider Movement Paradigm fails to take the authority of the Bible seriously.(1)
Core ideas of Insider Movement thinking have been in the missiological hopper for decades, but only in recent years have the theology and practice of the Insider Movement Paradigm (IMP) burst into public discourse. In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Insider Movements and related Bible translation debates took center stage at the 39th General Assembly by an overture entitled, “A Call to Faithful Witness.” With this overture the Assembly voted to establish a study committee.
Having begun its work in Fall 2011, the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM) has produced a two-part analysis: (1) Part One (http://www.pcahistory.org/GA/2012/40v.pdf) on Bible translations that alter filial and familial language for God, and (2) Part Two (http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/2101-SCIM-2014-ALL-with-MRs-4-30-14.pdf) on the Insider Movement Paradigm. Part One of the report was received enthusiastically at the 40th General Assembly. Part Two of the report will be presented in June 2014 at the 42nd General Assembly.
Cross-cultural engagement is surely complicated. It always has been and always will be. But the challenges to cross-cultural missions come not only to the missionary, they also come from him.
The Dangers in Disciple Making
Disciple making is not an option. It is a biblical mandate, coming from the One to whom belongs all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt 28:18-20). As the risen Son of God in power (Rom 1:3-4), Jesus’ word really is our command.
Since true faith exercises both lips and legs, those converted love to tell the story and love to obey the story’s Master, Jesus Christ the Son of the living God. The pure gospel is truly amazing. Its exclusivity and preciousness make proclamation of the Way, the Truth, and the Life a stunning privilege and stirring obligation.
But as history attests, gospel witness perpetually faces grave dangers. Fox’s Book of Martyrs classically recounts the cost of discipleship and celebrates God-given courage in the face of Christ’s enemies. Recent news profiles a pregnant woman in Sudan facing execution because she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.(2) Events such as this occur around the world on a daily basis. Health dangers, political pressures, language and culture adaptations, family tensions, and travel perils heap additional stresses upon missionaries. The price tag of professing Christ can truly be high.
But more perilous than any of these is a missionary’s failure to communicate the true gospel truly: “the danger namely that in striving to commend Christianity to the heathen and to remove their stubborn and abounding difficulties in accepting it we really accommodate Christianity to heathen thought–in a word we simply explain Christianity away.”(3)
B. B. Warfield continues, “The supremest danger which can attend a missionary in his work . . . [is] the danger that he who has gone forth to convert the heathen may find himself rather converted by the heathen.”(4)
The words strike forcefully precisely because the menace is real and the consequences are disastrous. The greatest temptation in missions comes when our “striving to commend Christianity” in the face of stubbornness and “abounding difficulties” presses us to relegate our affirmed commitment to Scripture’s authority to the sidelines.
The step from loving the lost to affirming their idolatry is never more than a word or deed away, but departure from the revealed truth decimates authentic ministry. It is only when Scripture weighs squarely on our methods in ministry that testimony of Scripture’s authority means anything at all. Confessing Scriptural authority is not the same thing as carrying out that authority. Affirming biblical authority is not identical to applying it.
I should flesh this out a bit more. When decisions about what I say or how I say it fail to apply Scripture’s self-interpreting authority (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.9), my decisions about these words and methods rest on some authority other than the Bible’s.
And here is the threat that disturbed Warfield and should disturb us. The pressures to perform or even to win unbelievers, when unchecked by biblical truth, can sway the well-intended missionary (or minister) away from biblical moorings.
Whether due to pragmatism, personal fears, economics, inadequate theological preparations, or cultural anthropology, compartmentalized biblical authority will always lead to error. That is, when we apply biblical authority selectively, we assess things like culture, religious practices, and identity according to non-biblical (sociological, cultural anthropological) categories. The Bible serves as a tool in our interpretive hands, rather than a comprehensive authority for analysis of cultures, religions, and peoples.(5) In no time, contextualization becomes concession. Adaptation becomes compromise. The Jesus proclaimed becomes one other than the biblical Lord. The Christian becomes as the heathen.
From Missions to Missiology: The Insider Movement Paradigm
Since the time Warfield’s troubled remarks took to paper, the crisis has multiplied exponentially. No longer are Warfield’s worries missionary problems; they are nowmissiological ones. Such change is worse than mere numerical expansion. The very practice Warfield warned against is now promoted as missionary method, and one common expression of such method is the IMP.
Applying creative cultural anthropological constructions, missiologists argue earnestly that good missions makes diversity of peoples, cultures, and religions(6) ultimate and virtually non-negotiable.(7) In these paradigms, preserving cultural and religious diversity reigns over pursuing confessional, theological solidarity. Esteeming differences overshadows the transcendent word of God concerning what is true of men and women worldwide.
In anticipation of common pushback, let me point out that I absolutely do not contend for transcendent abstract theological principles. Quite to the contrary, Scripture presents concrete and theologically rich historical realities: the historical creation of male and female in the image of God; the historical covenant made with mankind in Adam; the historical fall; and the historically redefining life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These, among other biblical, historical realities, define peoples and cultures everywhere and must exhaustively shape our interpretation of them.
Yet the IMP does not give these biblical transhistorical and cross-cultural realities their meaningful weight. Instead, it makes interpretive and methodological decisions about culture and religion based altogether upon the soft sciences – anthropology, sociology, and other forms of ethnography. It silences the Scripture’s authoritative voice. Its reliance upon other non-biblical authorities is functionally despotic.
And now under this totalitarian framework of cultural anthropology, the new Gumby standard has broken the biblical backbone of missions. What Warfield considered a sad anomaly has turned into a sophisticated, relativistic, and elastic methodology. Disobedient practice has morphed into missions models.
The Insider Movement Paradigm presents a sustained yet slippery example of such raging innovation in missions.(8)
Part 2: The Insider Movement Paradigm and Syncretism
The Heart of the Insider Movement Paradigm
Extreme forms of the Insider Movement Paradigm (IMP), like those missionaries who publicly convert to Islam in order to “reach” those in the mosque,(9) are often rejected even by IM advocates. But the concerns before the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Church of Jesus Christ more broadly are not merely the fringe excesses of IMP, but its wide and prevalent center as well as its “soft” forms.(10)
Dr. David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and former missionary in Bulgaria.
NOTES for Dr. Garner’s article
1. Advocacy of the Insider Movement Paradigm, in its varied manifestations, comes for a variety of reasons and depends on multiple sources of analysis and input. But in all its forms, the Insider Movement Paradigm qualifies, marginalizes, and sequesters biblical authority. Other authorities consistently eclipse Scripture.
2. Faith Karimi and Mohammed Tawfeeq, “Appeal Filed for Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Death for Her Christianity,” (May 22, 2014). http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/22/world/africa/sudan-christian-woman-apostasy/ (accessed May 24, 2014).
3. B. B. Warfield, “Some Perils of Missionary Life,” in John E. Meeter, ed., Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (Vol. 2; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1973): 505. Warfield gave this as an address to prospective missionaries. The entire address runs from pp. 497-516.
4. Warfield, “Perils,” 498.
5. To be clear, this concern in no way dismisses the appropriately applied input of the soft sciences. But these uninspired and humanly interpreted inputs must always take their place at the feet of Scripture.
6. The relationship between culture and religion is complex, but in no way operates outside the scope of Scripture’s authoritative voice. J. H. Bavinck says, “Religions is culture made visible,” The Impact of Christianity on the Non-Christian World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 57. Bavinck states elsewhere, “The practices dominating social life can never be detached or even thought of apart from their religious basis,”An Introduction to the Science of Missions, trans. David Hugh Freeman (Philadelphia: P&R, 1960), 175. Paul Tillich similarly writes, “Religion as ultimate concern is the meaning giving substance of culture, and culture is the totality of forms in which the basic concern of religion expresses itself. In abbreviation: religion is the substance of culture, culture is the form of religion,” Theology of Culture, ed. R. C. Kimball (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 42.
7. Of course effective missions require great on the field adaptability, but this flexibility must be governed by the Scripture’s own “macro-historical and -cultural outlook,” which “transforms and redirects life in the first century Mediterranean world. . ., and establishes the continuity necessary for meaningful transhistorical and cross-cultural contacts,” Richard Gaffin, Jr., Gospel In Context 1.1 (1978), 22.
8. Despite the common retort from IM advocates that their work describes rather than prescribes, their prolific writing advocating their viewpoints and methods counters such a claim. “Description has openly become prescription,” David B. Garner, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel, Themelios 37.2 (2012): 255. The online version of this essay can be found at http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/high_stakes_insider_movement_hermeneutics_and_the_gospel.
9. See Garner, “High Stakes,” 250.
10. The Minority Report 2013 presents a “soft” IM, and in a more winsome and equally troublesome fashion, the Minority Report 2014 perpetuates the same line of argumentation. See the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM) 2014 Report, “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions and Insider Movements,” (March 19, 2014), pp. 2280, 2282.
11. Bill Nikides, “Insider Movements and the Busted Church,” Modern Reformation 21.4 (July/August 2012): 36-39. For an online version, see http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=1370 (Accessed May 24, 2014)
12. Such practices include mosque attendance, saying the shahāda, ritual washings, and practicing salāt. Less aggressive forms of Insider Movement paradigms, like “soft” IM, will in varying ways qualify such retention of religious identity and practice. Sometimes statements about “indefinite retention” appear. Other times soft IM advocates deny promoting “indefinite retention,” but never render an adequate repudiation of such retention. Failure to forbid such retention forthrightly seems ubiquitous.
13. Rebecca Lewis, “The Integrity of the Gospel and Insider Movements,” IJFM 27:1 (2010): 45, available at http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/27_1_PDFs/27_1_Lewis.pdf (accessed May 24, 2014). For full interaction with Rebecca Lewis, see Garner, “High Stakes,” 249-274.
14. See pp. 2197-2206 in the SCIM 2014 Report.
15. “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, nonnegotiable 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),” Garner, “High Stakes,” 269.
16. In God’s mercy, no doubt some impacted by the IMP will come to genuine faith in Christ. But any accounts of such personal salvation ought not reinforce the IMP, but the abounding mercy of God in saving sinners. God’s work in spite of our foolishness and unfaithfulness does not warrant the sustaining of unfaithful practices.
17. Recorded in James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and Its Exposition from Scripture (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), 173.