Inside the Insider Movement

July 01, 2013

A conversation between Dr. David B. Garner, associate professor of systematic theology, and Rev. Ayub Edward, Presbyterian minister from Bangladesh.

Rev. Dr. David B. Garner spoke to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly about the Insider Movement on June 20, 2013. Dr. Garner chairs a study committee appointed by the PCA to analyze this controversial issue in missions. The following interview was done in 2011 when Rev. Ayub Edward of the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh visited campus.

For more on the Insider Movement, see Dr. Garner's article, "High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel."

Garner: Ayub, as a minister in Bangladesh, you are facing some challenges in relation to a current methodology in missions. Will you please describe this method and how it is affecting life and ministry in Bangladesh?

Ayub: We have come to know that certain methodologies, which are very different from the historic mission methodologies, have started to be applied in Bangladesh.  In fact, Bangladesh has become the “experiment field” of these types of methodologies.  In the past it was known as the “C5” approach, and now it is more commonly known as the “Insider Movement.” When the Insider Movement started working in our country, its leaders said that a Muslim should not become Christian by identity, but if he believes Jesus as his Savior in his heart, that’s all that is necessary. He can continue to practice all Islamic rituals.  So by heart he is a Christian or a follower of Jesus, a “messianic Muslim,” but externally, he is a Muslim: going to the mosque and praying with Muslims, fasting with the Muslims, sacrificing animals with the Muslims at their special feasts, and also practicing Islamic ethics.

Edward Ayub and David Garner

Garner: Talk about the recent Bible translation that is associated with this movement, and explain to us what it is seeking to accomplish, and the struggles that it has presented for you.

Ayub: I think the translation came to establish their missiology.  Since a key principle of the Insider Movement is to give Muslims what they want to hear, that means that if anything in the Bible is negative to a Muslim it should be left out.  One of the dominant factors is using the phrase “Son of God” in reference to Jesus, which Muslims don’t believe and don’t accept. This translation has tried to replace “the Son of God” with “Messiah,” and at the same time they also replace the word “Father” with “Guardian.”

This has come because of much scholarly study and thinking in the West.  Local Bangladeshi people are hired to apply or implement these translations.  Some of the guiding factors coming out of the Insider methodology and translation argue that traditional, existing churches don’t have an agenda to reach the Muslims; they see them as being a failure and unsuccessful, so they want to come up with some different ideas to reach Muslims.  They also say that the methodologies of the Insider Movement are very effective.  In fact, I know two groups of insiders in my country: one who has claimed they have 700,000 believers in their group, and another group claims to have 20 times the amount of followers as all the Protestant churches in Bangladesh.  So when they claim these numbers, they want to justify that their methodology and their translation should be accepted. 

Garner: Having witnessed your ministry in Bangladesh, it strikes me that it is immensely contextual in the way in which you have approached missions there.  Talk a bit about the difference between this methodology and an approach to contextualization that you are employing.

Ayub: I believe in contextualization, but it should be under the warrant of Scripture.  We must not apply or practice something that Scripture doesn’t support. In our ministry, the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh, our contextualization is something like this: when we worship, we sit on the floor; we use a Muslim-friendly Bangla version Bible; and other kinds contextualization.  When we do this, we are careful to distinguish between religious culture and social culture.  Those in the Insider Movement sacrifice animals every year, and they say they’re doing that to maintain the social harmony and relationship with the Muslim society.  But slaughtering an animal is not just a part of social culture; it’s a religious thing that Muslims are practicing.  I think we must be very careful in determining what should be done and what should not be done.

Garner: A number of the leaders in Bangladesh have actually asked you to come and speak to us in the West about not supporting biblical translation work, which replaces “Son of God” with other non-family language like “Messiah,” or replaces the language of “Father” with the word “guardian.” What would you say to us here about supporting these types of translation endeavors?

Ayub: When the Insider Movement began working inside Bangladesh, they asked us to give them a few years.  At that time, they were identifying themselves as Muslims. When their followers were mature in the Word of God, they argued that these “Christians” would then return to the traditional churches.  However, when they printed their New Testament, we thought they would not come back to the church.  That is exactly what has happened.  Now they are going far from the church because now they have introduced a new Bible.  We realized that the Insiders would consider this new Bible translation as their original Bible, and they wouldn’t accept the existing Bible we have right now.

So, I started writing articles, talking with the Christian leaders about the Bangladesh Bible Society, Isai Fellowship in Bangladesh (a national platform for Muslim-background believing churches), and the National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh, which is a wing of the World Evangelical Alliance. I started doing lots of seminars, interactions, discussing these things.  We then had two missions consultations where we drafted a proposal responding to the Insider Movement saying, “No, and no need.”

Why “no?”  Because visible, traditional churches are afraid of Insider strategy.  Since Insiders are going to the mosques, and to Muslims, if they go to the mosque and preach Jesus, they would be caught, and it would be considered a conspiracy of the traditional visible churches like ours, so the churches would be attacked.  Christians in Bangladesh are very much concerned and afraid of this strategy. 

Secondly, we are saying, “no need of another translation.” We already have a translation, which is widely acceptable and widely used by the Muslim converts.  And many Muslims are buying that Muslim-friendly Bangla version that is by the Bangladesh Bible Society.  In fact, we have the whole Bible: New Testament and the Old Testament.  You can collect or buy any number of copies of it available in my country.  So there is no need of another translation.

There is another problem.  Throughout history, Muslims have been accusing Christians: “You Christians are always changing the Bible; you don’t have your original Bible.”  So, when a new translation comes, the Bible has been changed, and that means to the Muslims that our faith is baseless, and we don’t have any credibility.  When these Insider translations of the Bible go to the Muslims, they will show that as a proof, justifying their accusations.  Christians are very much concerned that they are going to face challenges even from the Muslims from these translations.

Garner: As you know, the Bible’s teaching on the Sonship of Jesus Christ is vital.  In fact, one can say that you cannot properly speak about Jesus as Messiah without having an understanding that he is truly the Son of God.  So, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is the Son of God, but in a Muslim context, that notion of Jesus as Son is a very difficult one.  Can you talk a little bit from a Muslim mindset about why that is so difficult?

Ayub: The difficulty arises from the teaching of the Quran itself.  In the Quran, there is a Trinity mentioned which is God, Mary, and Jesus.  So to a Muslim, sonship means that Jesus is a physical son of God, which cannot be.  They cannot accept the Sonship of Jesus Christ.  But we need to remember that their view of the Trinity is not according to what we believe in Christianity; our Trinity is different from the Quranic Trinity.  Because of that, when we want to preach the gospel with Jesus Christ as the Son of God, they are not willing to accept that because of their prejudice from the Quran.  However, we can clarify in what sense Jesus is the Son of God.  We Christians also don’t believe that he is a physical Son in the way the Muslim traditionally understands it. I have seen in my own ministry and evangelism that many acknowledge “I had a wrong view about ‘Son;’ now I am clear what it means.”

Garner: It is true, then, that the Sonship of Jesus Christ in that context is rooted in a false understanding of what sonship really is, and it also sounds like what a true doctrine of Trinity is: God as Father, Jesus as Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In light of that, as you look at this new translation, which removes the familial language, how do you think this new translation affects the Muslim’s correcting their understanding of the Trinity and of Jesus’ identity?  Does it help or hinder, and how?

Ayub: I do not think it will be helpful at all.  There are a few reasons these translators are giving for substituting “Son of God” with “Messiah.” One reason is in Mark 1:1.  They say that in some manuscripts, “the Son of God” is not there.  So based on that, Mark 1:1, they are changing the “Son” in other texts.  So just by using Mark 1:1, they give the excuse that some manuscripts didn’t have “The Son of God.”

Secondly, they say that “Son of God” and “Messiah” are synonymous.  But, to a Muslim, “Messiah” means a very different thing than “Messiah” in the Bible.  To a Muslim, they say “Isa al Masih”, “Jesus the Messiah,” but the meaning of Messiah in Arabic, in the Quran, and in Islam is “one who is washed, cleansed or wrapped”—something like that.  So, it doesn’t give the proper meaning of the Messiah from the Bible.  To a Muslim, when we replace the “Son” with “Messiah”, that means we are downgrading the term, giving it much less meaning.

Garner: So it sounds like, even from the standpoint of contextualized ministry in Bangladesh, that you see the need not to eliminate the language of sonship, but to explain what it actually means in a biblical sense.  Is that a fair assessment?

Ayub: Yes, it’s fair, and I think that it should be in our context.  We don’t need any scholarly inventions.  Some missions groups say that in some cultures the term “Son” cannot be expressed in their local language, that they don’t have the right word.  But the situation in Bangladesh is not like that.  Bengali is a very big linguistic group; in fact it’s the 8th largest language group in the world.  So, we have the proper word for the son, and we don’t need to bring any other ideas here.

I should also mention that apart from theological considerations, Bangladeshi church leaders are emotionally involved; they think that changing the word “Son of God” is a matter of attacking our fundamental faith.  They see the resources from the Western countries as creating a lot of damage to the Christians in Bangladesh.  For the Muslim-background Christians, this is an even more emotional thing.  When I was Muslim before my conversion to the Christian faith, I was ready to sacrifice my life for a single letter of the Quran.  Now I’m a Christian, and when I see that the “Son” and the “Father” are changed in the New Testament, and are replaced with some words that are not so significant or not equivalent of those words, I am deeply hurt.