12 Oct 2018: Insider Jesus – Book Review
Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements
William A. Dyrness
Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2016, 164 pp. $20.00
Reviewed by John Thompson
Director of Doctor of Ministry Program Assistant Professor of Missiology & Leadership Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Given the mission of Doctor of Ministry programs to develop theologically reflective practitioners, Dyrness’s book provides an excellent resource for encouraging students to consider fresh theological perspectives on God’s activity in a pluralistic world.
“Insider movements” are a growing phenomenon in the 10/40 window of Africa and Asia. These movements are groups of Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists who follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior but who still retain their cultural/religious identity in their original religion. They do not identify as Christian and they may still go to the mosque or temple. However, they are seeking to follow Jesus and studying the Bible as a sacred text.
These so called “insider movements” are controversial in the mission world. Is this syncretism or a transitional stage between their religion of origin and becoming part of the Christian community? In his book, Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements, William A. Dyrness contends there is a third option to consider. He encourages the reader to see these new expressions of faith as new hermeneutical spaces in which participants are formulating fresh expressions of ecclesia and new understandings of the gospel. Given the mission of Doctor of Ministry programs to develop theologically reflective practitioners, Dyrness’s book provides an excellent resource for encouraging students to consider fresh theological perspectives on God’s activity in a pluralistic world.
Dyrness is Dean Emeritus and Senior Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. His depth of professional understanding in theology and culture throughout the book empowers the reader to think both theologically and culturally about this controversial topic. Teaching at Fuller also places him in a scholarly community that is actively researching and writing about insider movements. With his personal connections to the editors of Understanding Insider Movements, a seminal collection of sixty-four essays on insider movements, he had access to a prepublication version in writing Insider Jesus, enabling him to stand on the shoulders of that anthology adding his own fresh and insightful perspective and contributions to the subject matter. He also has international experience teaching in both the African and Asian context providing him a cross-cultural lens.
Dyrness begins Insider Jesus tracing the important historical development of contextualization in missiology. He then highlights the limitations of contextualization for understanding insider movements and champions the need to move beyond the contemporary approach of contextualization. He continues on to expose the culturally conditioned assumptions about religion in Protestantism. With the Reformation, “religion had become not something that is to be done but something that is believed” (10) and consequently, contextualization was the important task of making “a particular set of beliefs about what God has done in Christ” (11) understandable in another culture. Since religion in the Protestant understanding is primarily internal and personal, the corporate cultural expressions of religion are minimized. Dyrness affirms that contextualization has been an important step forward in missions but he warns that it still possesses a colonial impulse. As communicators of the gospel, our view of the gospel is a contextualized understanding. Even the western quest for the original meaning of the text using the grammatical-historical method is a means of interpretation that “has been fatally infected with a modernist and Enlightenment ethos” (24). This rational approach to the text is foreign to African and Asian cultures that did not experience the Enlightenment and who approach sacred texts “in spiritual rather than rational categories” (25). Dyrness contends there should be “a change of focus from the ‘message’ that we carry with us to the presence and activity of God in these places” (27).