The latest mission strategy: “Insider Movements”

We’ve blogged about those translations of the Bible for Muslims that avoid little terms like “Son of God” in order, supposedly, to attract followers of Islam.  It turns out that such Bible translations are only one strategy in a whole new approach to mission work, one that encourages Christian converts to continue as members of their old religion!  Bill Nikides explains in Modern Reformation:

The most explosive issue in global missions within the evangelical church today is something called “Insider Movements.” . . .

It has become a go-to option for all sorts of traditional evangelicals working with ostensibly reputable missions organizations such as Navigators, Frontiers, Summer Institute of Linguistics (a branch of Wycliffe), Global Partners for Development, and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Some embrace the Insider Movement label and identity; others prefer to remain low key. In many cases entire organizations—while in others, only some individual members—are committed to its core principles. Even worse, it appears that some missionaries and agencies are guilty of dissembling so as to maintain plausible deniability. . . .

Here are a couple of stock definitions to get us on our way. Insider Movements (IM) are variously defined as “popular movements to Christ that bypass both formal and explicit expressions of Christian religion” (Kevin Higgins, “The Key to Insider Movements,” Internal Journal of Frontier Missiology, Winter 2004). Another definition Higgins offers is that they are “movements to Jesus that remain to varying degrees inside the social fabric of Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, or other people groups.” In other words, as John Ridgeway of the Navigators relates, Insider Movements advocate “becoming faithful disciples of Jesus within the culture of their people group, including religious culture.”

Fundamentally, Insiders are those who profess faith in Christ but remain members of their original religious communities; Muslims remain Muslims, Hindus remain Hindus, and Buddhists remain Buddhists. In the Muslim world that means they must acknowledge one exclusive God, Allah, and that Mohammed is his final and greatest messenger. They remain members of the mosque, practice the five pillars of Islam, live openly in their cultures as Muslims, participate in Muslim sacrifices and feasts, and identify themselves as Muslims. In many cases, I’m familiar with baptized Christians who are persuaded to re-enter the mosque after renouncing their Christian identities. . . .

There are, of course, major problems with such an approach to missions and evangelism. First, Insiders make the unbiblical assumption that such biblical passages teach that true believers can have a purely inward faith that can be manifested inside any faith system, including that of other non-Christian religions.

Second, practitioners and Insider missiologists (or scholars of the theology of missions) ignore the fact that the Bible is loaded with texts, even entire books, devoted to distinguishing truth from error and true religion from false religion. In other words, doctrine matters and has to be central in our theology of missions. Unfortunately, doctrine is surprisingly absent from much Insider literature, and rarely do their proponents address the twin topics of idolatry and false religion. Instead, Insiders suppose that religions are relatively harmless cultural creations, that they are man-made and therefore disposable. Even Christian articles of faith, such as the church and the sacraments, can be said to be cultural creations that can simply be replaced with other things in Muslim cultures.

via Modern Reformation – Articles [subscription required].

Never mind about what the Bible says about syncretism, idolatry, having no other Gods, Church, etc., etc.  But this approach helps missionaries rack up bigger numbers of converts!

Here is an objective, fair and balanced Wikipedia account that  confirms that description.

This is an example of the mindset that I’m seeing more and more that is at the root of a lot of church issues today:  Christianity is just about becoming a Christian–having a conversion in which a person “accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior”–whereupon, since “once saved, always saved,” the Church and the Christian life don’t matter!

HT:  Jim Rademaker

Mormonism as the fourth Abrahamic religion

In a New York Times op-ed piece, David V. Mason admits to being a Mormon and most emphatically NOT a Christian:

I’m about as genuine a Mormon as you’ll find — a templegoer with a Utah pedigree and an administrative position in a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am also emphatically not a Christian.

For the curious, the dispute can be reduced to Jesus. Mormons assert that because they believe Jesus is divine, they are Christians by default. Christians respond that because Mormons don’t believe — in accordance with the Nicene Creed promulgated in the fourth century — that Jesus is also the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Jesus that Mormons have in mind is someone else altogether. The Mormon reaction is incredulity. The Christian retort is exasperation. Rinse and repeat.

I am confident that I am not the only person — Mormon or Christian — who has had enough of the acrimonious niggling from both sides over the nature of the trinity, the authority of the creeds, the significance of grace and works, the union of Christ’s divinity and humanity, and the real color of God’s underwear. I’m perfectly happy not being a Christian. . . .

Being a Christian so often involves such boorish and meanspirited behavior that I marvel that any of my Mormon colleagues are so eager to join the fold.

In fact, I rather agree with Richard D. Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who calls Mormonism a fourth Abrahamic religion, along with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Being set apart from Christianity in this way could give Mormonism a chance to fashion its own legacy.

Christianity, you’ll recall, had to fight the same battle. Many early Christians grew up reading the Torah, living the law, observing the Sabbath and thinking of themselves as Jews. They were aghast to find that traditional Judaism regarded them as something else entirely.

In addition, these Christians had to defend their use of additional scripture and their unconventional conception of God and explain why they were following a bumpkin carpenter from some obscure backwater. Early Christianity’s relationship with non-Jews was even worse. Roman writers frequently alluded to rumors about the cannibalistic and hedonistic elements of early Christian rites. One after the other, Christians went to the lions because they found it impossible to defend themselves against such outrageous accusations. They did eat flesh and drink blood every Sunday, after all.

Eventually, Christianity grew up and conceded that it wasn’t authentic Judaism. Lo and behold, once it had given up its claim to Judaism, it became a state religion — cannibalism notwithstanding — and spent the next 1,700 years getting back at all the bullies who had slighted it when it was a child.

Eventually, Mormonism will grow up. Maybe a Mormon in the White House will hasten that moment when Mormonism will no longer plead through billboards and sappy radio ads to be liked, though I suspect that Mr. Romney is such a typical politician that, should he occupy the Oval Office, he’ll studiously avoid the appearance of being anything but a WASP. This could set back the cause of Mormon identity by decades.

Whatever happens in November, I hope Mormonism eventually realizes that it doesn’t need Christianity’s approval and will get big and beat up all the imperious Christians who tormented it when it was small, weird and painfully self-conscious. Mormons are certainly Christian enough to know how to spitefully abuse their power.

via I’m a Mormon, Not a Christian – NYTimes.com.

Read what Justin Taylor has to say about this.

HT:  Paul McCain

Freedom of worship or freedom of religion?

Terry Mattingly points to a shift in language and of thinking that could be devastating to religious liberty:

With the sounds of protests echoing across the campus, President Barack Obama knew his 2009 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame would have to mention the religious issues that divided his listeners.

“The ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt,” he said. “It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us.”

With this sweeping statement Obama essentially argued that religious faith contains no rational content and, thus, offers no concrete guidance for public actions, noted Thomas Farr, director of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. This would shock America’s founding fathers or anyone else who has used religious doctrines and arguments in favor of human equality or in opposition to tyranny.

The president’s views were even more troubling when combined with remarks weeks earlier at Georgetown by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said Farr, during a conference sponsored by the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. The daylong event drew a variety of scholars and activists including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Jews, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Mormons and others.

Clinton’s speech contained repeated references to freedom of “worship,” but none to freedom of “religion.” She also argued that “people must be … free to worship, associate, and to love in the way that they choose.”

Thus, the secretary of state raised sexual liberation to the status of religion and other central human rights, said Farr. This evolving political doctrine is now shaping decisions in some U.S. courts.

“Powerful members of our political class are arguing,” he noted, “that there is no rational content of religion; that religious freedom means the right to gather in worship, but not to bring religiously informed moral judgments into political life; that religious freedom must be balanced by the right to love as one chooses, and that to make religious arguments against that purported right is unconstitutional.”

via tmatt.net » Blog Archive » Freedom of “worship” vs. “religion” — again.

Mattingly goes on to discuss the recent manifestation of this shift from “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship”:  The Obamacare contraception/abortifacient mandate, which exempts “houses of worship” but not religious individuals or religious institutions that minister to outsiders.

The rainbow-colored halo

President Clinton was hailed by the liberal media as “the first black president”–on the basis of his soulfulness, sexual appetites, and other racist stereotypes–even though there would be an actual black president a few years later.  Now Newsweek is hailing President Obama as “the first gay president” with a cover story by Andrew Sullivan about alleged affinities between being biracial and being gay.  (Never mind that gays had been disillusioned with the president for not doing anything for them until his recent announcement that he support gay marriage.)

I think this is ridiculous journalism and unfair to President Obama.  What gets me, though, is the cover.  In an extreme version of media hagiography, both of Obama and of gays, the president is adorned with a halo.  A rainbow-colored halo.

Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama’s Gay Marriage Evolution – The Daily Beast.

We have recently discussed homosexuality and gay marriage, to the point of exhaustion, so let’s not talk about those subjects as such.  Let’s talk about the halo.

In what has to be one of the  most dramatic turnarounds in moral and cultural history, gays have acquired the status of sainthood, while those who oppose homosexuality have acquired the status of evil villain.  Homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness; now homophobia is considered the mental illness.  Gay sex used to be considered a vice; now it is assuming the status of a virtue, while disapproving of gay sex is considered a vice.  Conservative Christians have liked to think of themselves as “good” (despite their own theology); but now they (or we) are demonized.  Gays, though, wear a halo.  Not that everyone believes this, but this is the projection of both the elite and the popular cultures, whose influence is permeating everywhere.

How do you account for this turn-around?  How did it happen?  Why? Are there lessons that Christians can learn from this before the persecutions begin in earnest?  And, to play the Newsweek game, might Christians someday become the “new gays”?

Religious preference & too many gods

The great sociologist of religion Peter Berger comments on the project of Andrew Bowen, who in 2011 practiced a different religion each month—Hindu in January, Baha’i in February, Zoroastrian in March, etc.  Religion today, he says, is no longer a matter of personal identity, history, or belief.  Rather, it is a voluntary association:

In the pluralistic situation every religious institution, which it likes this or not, becomes a voluntary association. Max Weber, one of the fathers of the sociology of religion, distinguished between two institutional forms of religion—the “church”, into which one is born, and the “sect”, which one joins as an adult. The historian Richard Niebuhr suggested that American history has created (presumably inadvertently) a third form of religious institution—the “denomination”, which in many ways looks like a “church”, but which one nevertheless freely joins and belongs to, and which is in competition with other religious bodies. On the level of consciousness, religion loses its taken-for-granted quality, instead becomes a matter of individual decision. The peculiarly American term “religious preference” nicely catches both levels. Put differently, the challenge of secularity, where it exists (it does in some places, notably in Europe), is that there is an absence of gods; the challenge of plurality is that there are too many gods.

When there is a combination of religious plurality with a political system which guarantees freedom of religion, what comes about is, precisely, Niebuhr’s denominationalism. For well-known historical reasons, America has been in the vanguard of such a development. Its emergence in many parts of the world today has usually little to do with American influences, but is the result of the above-mentioned combination of a social and a political fact. Andrew Bowen has, in exemplary fashion, re-enacted this historical drama.

In the pluralistic situation every religion becomes a denomination—even Judaism, which is both a religion and a people, into which, by definition, one is born. In America Judaism has been born again (I choose the phrase deliberately) in at least three denominations.

via If it’s December, I’m Presbyterian | Religion and Other Curiosities.

HT:  Matthew Schmitz

The new religion of Kopimism

A new religion, born of the internet age, is seeking legal recognition:

A Swedish religion whose dogma centers on the belief that people should be free to copy and distribute all information—regardless of any copyright or trademarks—has made its way to the United States.

Followers of so-called “Kopimism” believe copying, sharing, and improving on knowledge, music, and other types of information is only human—the Romans remixed Greek mythology, after all, they say. In January, Kopimism—a play on the words “copy me”—was formally recognized by a Swedish government agency, raising its profile worldwide.

“Culture is something that makes people feel much better and makes people appreciate their world in a different way. Knowledge is also something we should copy regardless of the law,” says Isak Gerson, the 20-year-old founder of Kopimism. “It makes us better when we share knowledge and culture with each other.”

More than 3,500 people “like” Kopimism on Facebook, and thousands more practice its sacred ritual of file sharing. According to its manifesto, private, closed-source software code and anti-piracy software are “comparable to slavery.” Kopimist “Ops,” or spiritual leaders, are encouraged to give counsel to people who want to pirate files, are banned from recording and should encrypt all virtual religious service meetings “because of society’s vicious legislative and litigious persecution of Kopimists.”

Official in-person meetings must happen in places free of anti-Kopimist monitoring and in spaces with the Kopimist symbol—a pyramid with the letter K inside. To be initiated new parishioners must share the Kopimist symbol and say the sacred words “copied and seeded.”

The gospel of the church has begun to spread, with Kopimist branches in 18 countries.

An American branch of the religion was recently registered with Illinois and is in the process of gaining federal recognition, according to Christopher Carmean, a 25-year-old student at the University of Chicago and head of the U.S. branch.

“Data is what we are made of, data is what defines our life, and data is how we express ourselves,” says Carmean. “Forms of copying, remixing, and sharing enhance the quality of life for all who have access to them. Attempts to hinder sharing are antithetical to our data-driven existence.”

About 450 people have registered with his church, and about 30 of them are actively practicing the religion, whose symbols include Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V—the keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste.

via Kopimism, Sweden’s Pirate Religion, Begins to Plunder America – US News and World Report.

We see, of course, what the Kopimists are doing, seeking the legal protections given to religion so that they can pirate music, movies, and the like with impunity.  And when they are prosecuted for internet piracy they can claim religious persecution!

And yet, isn’t this the pattern for the way many people approach religion today?  Their theology is based on what they “like.”  (People don’t like the concept of sin, judgment, and Hell or anything else that would restrict their behavior so they don’t believe in them.)  The Kopimists are simply reasoning backwards, starting with what they like to do and building a religion around it.

What might be some other religions people could construct as a way to justify their bad habits?

How could courts distinguish between these bogus religions and legitimate ones?


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