The so-called “Insider Movement” has some serious problems, in my opinion, and reveals some of the complexities involved with the issue of cultural contextualization.
This debate is well-worth reading along those lines. David Garner has what I believe to be an outstanding perspective on the issue that has implications for other aspects of cultural contextualization as well. Here are some excerpts:
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. 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.”
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.”
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. 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.
. . .
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 now missiological 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 ultimate and virtually non-negotiable. 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.