The Insider Movement in Missions

In Christian missions an Insider Movement refers to a group of followers of Jesus who remain socially, culturally, and, to some extent, religiously embedded within a non-Christian religion. For example, in the Insider Movement paradigm a Muslim who comes to faith in Jesus may remain within the Islamic community. He may refer to himself as a Muslim who follows Jesus or even just simply as a Muslim, rationalizing that the technical meaning of the word is “one who is submitted to God” and as a Christ-follower he is submitted to God. He still attends his local mosque, but prays in the name of Jesus, even if silently. 

This highly contextualized approach to missions is also highly controversial. Conservative missiologists reject the approach as being duplicitous, syncretistic, and producing a subpar ecclesiology. Further, while certain Western missionaries promote the Insider Movement, many Muslim-background believers and leaders oppose the strategy as keeping new Christians tied to the darkness of their former religion. 

The Insider Movement in Evangelicalism

The Insider Movement approach is not just employed among Muslim people groups, but among Hindus, Buddhists, and other formal religions around the world. As America has secularized, formal religion has declined, but new informal quasi-religious movements have gained prominence, and some evangelicals are employing tactics similar to Insider Movement. Instead of Islam or another formal religion, these brothers are seeking to remain socially and culturally embedded within woke neoliberalism. 

This phenomenon has existed in some ways for decades. The seeker-sensitive movement was contextualized to a suburban middle class that was bound to Corporate America’s sensibilities. These sensibilities led to the disintegration of place, a de-emphasis on marriage and family, a commitment to functional androgyny, and to a corporate executive leadership structure within the church. Many theological conservatives resisted such contextualization and pointed out the errors of the seeker-sensitive, attractional, corporate model of church.

But as our culture shifted, so did the markets, and they found leverage on conservative Christians: sexuality and race. When the culture got woke, so did the church. And this is when we saw the similarities with an Insider Movement paradigm take shape. For example, the first Revoice conference represented an attempt to follow Jesus and remain within the gay community and identity. Instead of a Muslim who follows Jesus, it was gay, but celibate

America’s New Civic Religion

The increased use of Critical Race Theory within evangelical churches and institutions represents an insider approach to America’s new civic religion: Antiracism. 

Before continuing let me offer a qualification. Of course, taken at face value on the literal meaning of the word, we should all be antiracist—that is, against racism, and actively so, not just within the safe confines of our private opinions. And I do repudiate and condemn every sort of racial partiality, pride, and malice. These are all sins to be repented of.

But Antiracism has taken on a technical meaning in our public discourse. It means to be against racism—as defined by leftists—in a certain way. And that certain way is chock full of racial partiality, pride, and malice, not to mention condemnation, bitterness, envy, and strife. These, too, are sins to be repented of, not virtues to signal. 

The hallmark of the Insider Movement is embedding oneself in a non-Christian religion. Is that what Antiracism is? Yes, it has replaced God-and-Country as America’s civic religion, complete with penance, sacraments, chants, blasphemy laws (which I am violating right now), confessions of faith, burnt offerings, and blood sacrifices

The most common insider tactic evangelicals have used is to appropriate Antiracism’s priestly language: white privilege, white fragility, antiracist, white supremacy (for everything, not just overt instances), “just listen,” and unconscious racism. It’s not that we should never use those terms, but in popular evangelical rhetoric they are not used honestly. These terms are deployed to curry favor with certain groups and as rhetorical muscle against others, but in such a way that can be explained away with semantics on the back end. Take the #blacklivesmatter hashtag as an example. Like the Muslim insider believer who insists that Islam technically means submission to God, the evangelical antiracist insiders play word games to justify using #blacklivesmatter. Black lives do matter, don’t they? Well, yes, of course. But that hashtag means a lot more than that. Antiracist insiders use these terms in ways to say two different things to two different constituencies. Shouldn’t plain speech be preferred?

At worst, the insider approach to woke neoliberalism and antiracism stems from fear of man, a desire for the applause of men, and a strategy to use supposed racial reconciliation as a trojan horse to smuggle a false gospel into the church. At best, it is an attempt at evangelism and justice. Mostly, I believe the best. I believe many good men want to bring people to Christ within our specific context, and they want to make right the many wrongs committed because of the color of one’s skin. 

I also believe their tactics are misguided. Many of these same evangelical leaders would reject an insider approach to Islam, seeing that it produces a deficient witness, walk, and church. They should reject an insider approach to woke neoliberalism and antiracism for the same reasons. 

A Better Way

Besides, we have a better way. We have a hot gospel, a barrel proof gospel, that proclaims the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness for the white supremacist lyncher, the abusive police officer, and the black nationalist rioter. Forgiveness for the redneck who says the n-word in a racial joke and forgiveness for the peaceful protestor who took advantage of an opportunity for free Nikes. Forgiveness for the congressmen who made unjust laws and for Christians who excused them.

The blood of Jesus washes us all from all of our sins. It begins with forgiveness, not recriminations and condemnation. It puts away bitterness, envy, malice, and strife. It crucifies the proud man and raises him up to humility. It creates one new man in place of the two, making peace, reconciling tribes to God in one body through the cross, killing hostility, and making us fellow citizens and members of the household of God. 

Jesus did all this when he took the sins of the world upon his body on the cross. There, at the cross, he made peace. This is the message we must proclaim. This gospel is our only hope. 

We also have biblical language to use to teach, rebuke, encourage, admonish, and instruct. We don’t need the new antiracist dictionary. God’s Word tells me how to repent of partiality or malice. I have no idea how to repent for whiteness (and it wouldn’t do me any good if I did because there is no atonement or forgiveness within Antiracism). 

Lastly, we have God’s law to teach us to order society. It’s interesting: While I believe the formal Black Lives Matter movement is poisonous, we share significant overlap of concern regarding areas that need reform. We should de-militarize our police forces. We need an overhaul to our criminal justice system to address mass incarceration. We must root out corruption in our government agencies, including the police. God’s law instructs us on how to deal with these, if we would only read and obey it. 

Preaching God’s Gospel, God’s words, and God’s law will mark us as outsiders to woke neoliberalism. We will be cancelled, slandered, lied about, and called racists. 

So be it. God’s work must be done in God’s way.