by William A. Dyrness
IVP Books, 2016
—Reviewed by Robert Covolo, Center for Reformed and Evangelical Theology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
What are we to make of movements among people in Islam who call themselves believers in Isa al Masih (“Jesus Christ”), or Hindus and Sikhs who consider themselves Yeshu Satsangs (“Jesus devotes”)? In his new book, Insider Jesus, William Dyrness brings his wealth of experience and expertise in global missions to offer fresh theological perspective on this emerging phenomenon.
Dyrness’ discussion on insider movements unfolds in six chapters. The first chapter introduces the issue by arguing that the language of ‘contextualization’, as helpful as it is, is inadequate for addressing the dynamics sourcing insider movements—that is, the language of contextualization fails to adequately account for the ‘indigenous impulse,’ and ‘dialogical character’ of mission.
By way of a more satisfactory understanding, the second chapter relates a theological framework of God’s creative and redemptive work to culture and religion. Chapter three further focuses on religion in the biblical narrative—presenting an account that suggests God embraces the cry of the human heart within religions, even as he resists some elements of those religions.
This is empirically confirmed in the fourth chapter, wherein Dyrness submits various case studies displaying the renewing work of Christ emerging from within other faiths. The fifth chapter further clarifies the nature of religion, arguing for a more holistic understanding of religion as a site of personal identity, a sense of place, cultural stories, legends, aesthetic artifacts, rituals, and so on. The final chapter concludes the volume by relating insider movements to the institutional Church and the worldwide Body of Christ.
As the above suggests, central to Dyrness’ take on insider movements is his evaluation of religion as a rich cultural force in its own right. Indeed, given the very term “religion” was developed in the West so as to make faith something that is added (and therefore can be subtracted) from one’s life, Dyrness contends that in Majority World contexts, removing oneself from religion is akin to jumping out of one’s cultural skin. Therefore, according to Dyrness, the proper way to understand insider movements is as hermeneutical spaces wherein life-giving aspects of religion and embedded cultural wisdom become the locale for Christ’s appearance in a wholly new idiom.
While careful and nuanced, Dyrness does not seek to answer all of the questions this slim volume provokes. Undoubtedly, readers will not only be stimulated and enlightened, but also challenged. Even so, regardless of where one lands, this is certainly an important resource, calling into question a host of assumptions about missional strategy in Majority World contexts.
Coleman, Doug. 2011. A Theological Analysis of the Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives: Theology of Religions, Revelation, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology, EMS Dissertation Series. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey International University Press.
EMQ, Vol. 53, No. 3. Copyright © 2017 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. aAll rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.