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

If you died tonight, do you know you would go to heaven? Or do you not care?

“If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to Heaven?”  That question, or some variation, has started thousands of evangelism conversations and is the opening line for many evangelism programs (especially “Evangelism Explosion” started by D. James Kennedy).  The conversation then goes on to “how you know,” and it exposes people who trust in their good works, or perhaps are just uncertain, whereupon the evangelist can point to the finished work of Christ and to the free salvation He promises.

Today, though, according to a survey by the Southern Baptist publisher LifeWay, over half of Americans never wonder about that question.  A Christianity Today feature calls this “The Evangelistic Question That Died,” but I’m not so sure that the evidence is that people as a whole are no longer concerned about their eternal destiny.

The breakdown of the survey results is telling:  67% of Americans who never attend worship services have never wondered about whether or not they will go to Heaven.  (Perhaps the general consensus today is that everyone enters some kind of white-light paradise–or that if we just die, that death isn’t all that bad–so worrying about the prospect of going to Hell is no longer as much of  an issue as it once was.  Since those who don’t go to church are the main targets for evangelism efforts, maybe the question is not the best evangelism-starter.)

Meanwhile, 57% of “born-again or evangelical” Protestants also never ask the question.  (But perhaps this is because they have an assurance of salvation. Then again, 43% of them do wonder if they will make it to Heaven, so maybe they don’t have as much assurance from the Gospel that they should have.)  Interestingly, only 34% of non-Evangelical Protestants–presumably those from the more liberal mainline church bodies–never ask the question.  So 66% of “liberals” do worry about their salvation, so perhaps might be open to the conversation!

Significantly, only 36% of those aged 18-29 never wonder if they will go to Heaven, which means that, despite laments about young people leaving the church, this is an issue for nearly two-thirds of them (64%).

The regional breakdowns are also interesting.  In the so-called Bible Belt of the South, 50% of the population never wonder if they will go to Heaven.  (Again, this probably includes both secularists and Christians who know they will get there.)  In the lesser-churched West, the percentage of those who never ask that question is 52%.  In the Midwest, it’s 45%, which means that a majority of 55% do wonder.  And in the ostensibly secular Northeast, supposedly the most secular part of the country, only 31% never ask that question.  Over two-thirds of the population, including New Yorkers and New Englanders, 69%, the largest percentage surveyed, do wonder about their eternal destiny.

 

The Evangelistic Question That Died | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church–for free

Rod Rosenbladt, emeritus professor at Concordia-Irvine and a co-host at the White Horse Inn radio program, has a presentation that has become a classic, with tapes and transcripts passed from hand to hand like samizdat novels in the former Soviet Union.  It’s called “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.”   Many, MANY have found it a lifesaver, indeed, a proclamation of the Gospel that is so powerful that they have come to faith.  Even long-time veterans–and casualties–of churches have come to understand through this presentation the full magnitude of the Gospel, with many embracing it for the first time.  It’s featured in a sidebar on this blog as being available from New Reformation Press.

Well, now New Reformation Press, with the support of South Orange County Outreach and Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano, California, is making this this presentation available FOR FREE.   You can download it as an mp3 file, as a written transcript, or as a video!

I’ve heard Dr. Rosenbladt give this message in person and it blew me away, so hard-hitting and effective and pastoral it is, giving such comfort to troubled souls and making so real the full implications of Christ’s Gospel.  You want an example of evangelism?  Here it is.  It is addressed specifically to the casualties of American Christianity, to those who have become burnt out, disillusioned, and despairing due to the pressures, expectations, and culture of so many of our churches.

Listening to this presentation would be an excellent Reformation day observance.  In both its proclamation of the all-sufficient work of Christ and in its critique of churches that neglect that message, it captures what the Reformation was–and is–all about.

Get it or view the video here:   New Reformation Press » The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church.

Preaching assurance vs. preaching doubt

I have noticed that there are two kinds of preachers, especially when addressing young people: One kind tries to assure the listeners of their salvation in Christ, underscoring His grace and mercy and His atoning work on the Cross. The other kind tries to make the listeners question whether they are “really” Christians. (“Did you REALLY give your life to the Lord? Do you show the fruit of true faith? Does your life show evidence of true conversion? Maybe you need to commit your life to him again, just to be sure.”)

Granted the problem of nominal Christianity. And granted the need to make people realize how sinful they are so as to help them grasp their need of the Gospel. But I would argue that the latter approach can do great harm. The one thing that DOES make a Christian is faith in Christ. Doubt is the opposite of faith. To make a person doubt his or her salvation is, ironically, to destroy faith, rather than to build it up. Furthermore, these “are you really a Christian” messages have the effect of making the hearers look within, at their good works or their feelings or their piety or whatever. Surely, whenever we look honestly at ourselves we will find nothing to commend ourselves before God. Rather, what needs to happen is to encourage troubled or doubting souls to look OUTSIDE themselves to the Cross of Jesus and the promises of God’s Word, to objective facts about God’s disposition towards them (“Did God cause you to be baptized? Have you taken the Lord’s Supper and heard the words “given for you”?)

I wonder if the attempts to scare young people into greater piety may be having the opposite effect.

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.

The new rules for evangelism

Last week we blogged about the conclave of world evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and liberal Protestants that put together a document on the Ethics of Evangelism.   Christianity Today has a good analysis, including what the document leaves out and what it says that some might find troubling:

“I think the fact that the WEA [World Evangelical Alliance] is engaging with the WCC[World Council of Churches] and the Catholic Church here indicates that they are becoming more willing to embrace interreligious dialogue,” Mannoia said. “On the other side, I think for the WCC and the Vatican to make the statement that witnessing is in the nature of the church marks a significant adjustment.”

George Hunter, dean of the School of World Missions at Asbury Theological Seminary, sees an even more significant adjustment in what’s not in the document. “A lot of times in these documents it’s what they leave out that’s really telling,” he said. “Probably the Catholics engaged in the greatest concession by omission here: sacramental expression. Omitting sacramental rites from the ‘essence’ of evangelism is a huge statement from the Catholic Church, and an indication that they are willing to give up an important part of their tradition in order to meet evangelicals in the middle.

But Lon Allison, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, said the document doesn’t include everything evangelicals would have liked to see, either. “We wish that the verbal witness of the good news of Jesus was considered more central to how we express love to our world,” he said. “While it was appropriate to teach how acts of service and justice, as well as Christian behavior, are witness, we desire to say that the most essential element of witness must be the verbal expression of the gospel adorned by love acts, respect, and gentleness.” . . .

Jerry Root, professor of evangelism and leadership at Wheaton College, said that he similarly fears the document’s failure to make verbal proclamation explicit “leaves the door open for some to consider any proclamation at the time of service a coercive act.” The document, he notes, says Christians “should not … violat[e] others’ rights and religious sensibilities” and “never denigrate, vilify, or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith.”

“This is ambiguous,” said Root, author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. “If I said to another person, ‘We need Jesus for the hope of heaven,’ could this be considered a denigration of another’s faith because of that faith’s inability to provide a Cross-centered redemption? We never want to be offensive, but there are some features of the Cross that simply are offensive, by nature, to those outside the faith.” . . .

Craig Ott, professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said that while the omissions are significant, evangelical leaders are likely to be more uncomfortable with some of the language that’s included than with what’s left out.

“There’s at least four mentions of the necessity of interreligious relationships and continuous commitment to engagement with other religions, and I’m not sure that this is realistic or theologically a major part of missions,” he said. “This leans very heavily toward Catholic and WCC notions that the God of other religions is the God of Christianity, and that’s something evangelicals are not willing to accept.” . . .

Similarly, Hunter notes one section that states, “Christians are to acknowledge that changing one’s religion is a decisive step that must be accompanied by sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation, through a process ensuring full personal freedom.”

“That is not consistent with evangelical policy in the past,” Hunter said. But he thinks it’s worth questioning evangelical emphasis on the “moment of decision.” “Faith is more like a gift—like falling in love—than a methodical, carefully discerned decision.”

But is “changing one’s religion” the same as “converting,” or “having faith”? The terms faith, religion, and witness appear repeatedly in the document, but not evangelism.

“This document steps back from a lot of the activistic language we see in the Great Commission and throughout Matthew and favors the more Jesus-centric language of John—Jesus as the perfect witness to the gospel,” said Dana Robert, co-director of the Center for Global Christianity and Mission at Boston University. “You don’t see any language like convert or evangelize in the document because it would be perhaps perceived as too strong.”

via Top Evangelical, Catholic, and Mainline Bodies Issue Evangelism Rules | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

So we have a sort of Evangelicals Catholics & Liberals Together moment.  Evangelicals feel good that they have been included at the table for once.  Catholics gave up the sacramental dimension and evangelicals gave up going for the instantaneous decision.  With the emphasis on peace and justice and interfaith dialog, rather than the actual Gospel, it sounds like the liberal protestants basically had their way.   Or am I missing something?

 (Lutherans, of course, unlike evangelicals, were not included at the table except for the liberal variety in the WCC.)

HT:  Ted Olsen


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X