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‘Insider Movements’ in Muslim missions critiqued

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — A new book edited by two Islamic studies seminary professors explores the weaknesses of the popular “Insider Movements” in Muslim missiology.

“Muslim Conversions to Christ: A Critique of Insider Movements in Islamic Contexts,” which released last week, is a multi-author academic response to “Insider Movements,” a missiological approach that argues Muslims can confess Jesus as Lord and remain Muslim, according to Islamic studies professor Ayman S. Ibrahim, an editor of the book. He is Bill and Connie Jenkins Professor of Islamic Studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ant Greenham, an associate professor of missions and Islamic studies, is a co-editor of the book.

In contrast to Insider Movements, which often argues that missionaries shouldn’t push Muslims to openly confess Christianity, the book argues that Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive religions.

“What Insider Movements’ proponents do with Scripture — specifically by overlooking it — is more problematic than what they say about it,” Ibrahim said in an interview. “Insider Movements proponents allow experiences to dictate theological understanding, elevating them to become prescriptive instead of descriptive.”

Two of the main proponents of Insider Movements, Harley Talman and Kevin Higgins, are both American missiologists and contribute two chapters to Muslim Conversions to Christ — one exploring how the Insider converts view the Quran and use it after their conversion to Christianity and another defending the Insider Movements ideology from the text of the New Testament. The rest of the book — written by international scholars and practitioners — is a series of responses to Insider Movements arguments, as represented by Talman and Higgins’s basic claims.

Ibrahim first began seriously studying the Insider Movements phenomenon in 2015 after hearing from a concerned Christian friend who had been reading some the movement’s literature. As Ibrahim explored the movement, he noted it suffers from a limited, Western perspective and features no voices from people living in Muslim contexts.

Although the arguments voiced by proponents of Insider Movements are varied, they ultimately have five main features, according to Ibrahim:

— Muhammed is a prophet in a biblical sense;

— Muslims can be born-again Christians without denying their identity as Muslims;

— The Quran is still useful as Scripture;

— Biblical language that is problematic in an Islamic context should be altered;

— The true Christian church is invisible and need not be physically distinct from a mosque or some other Muslim community.

Not all Insider Movements proponents would affirm each of these, Ibrahim noted, but affirming any one of them still compromises biblical and theological orthodoxy and has a deleterious effect on the mission of the Gospel, he said in an interview.

“We cannot view Insider Movements as a monolithic entity,” Ibrahim said. “The proponents are different from each other and treat things differently. One scholar may say that Muhammad was a prophet in a biblical sense, but another scholar may disagree. This book is intended to interact with those arguments and demonstrate how dangerous these arguments are for the sake of the Gospel.”

The book is divided into three parts. First, Brent Neely writes a long essay on the person of Muhammad, critiquing what he calls “revisionist” interpretations of the founder of Islam. Neely, who is working toward a doctorate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., ministers to refugees in Europe and served with his wife in the Middle East for nearly 20 years.

Part two features 15 lengthy essays from academics addressing a broad range of biblical, theological, historical and missiological issues relating to Insider Movements.

In part three, a wide variety of contributors — including missionaries and practitioners — write 16 short articles from the perspective of people serving on the field in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Many of the contributors are Christian believers from Muslim backgrounds, Muslim scholars or missiologists living in the Middle East. The book features the writing and research of Christian scholars from all six continents, representing not only ethnic diversity but also a great deal of personal and academic experience interacting with Muslims. This experience, Ibrahim said, is crucial to their evaluation of Insider Movements.

“Muslims are coming to Christ in millions. The Insider Movements’ approach to Islam — claiming the prophethood of Muhammad and the validity of the Quran for converts — hardly constitutes the only Christian option,” Ibrahim said. “Instead of relying on western arguments, as Insider Movements’ proponents do, we brought in one volume the voices of Christians from Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, including believers from a Muslim background. All strongly warn against the claims of Insiders.”

The new book, available on Peter Lang Inc. or Amazon for $114.95, also features an essay by Ibrahim and an introduction by SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr., along with contributions from Southern Seminary professors Timothy K. Beougher and George H. Martin.