Sharing the Gospel Through Open Networks
Editor’s note: our September-October cover theme, “Can We Trust Insider Movements?”, prompted a lot of response, and in these pages we give you a sampler of the subsequent conversation. The September-October issue included an article by John and Anna Travis, who said, “As we have seen the resistance toward changing religions and the huge gap between the Muslim and Christian communities, we feel that fighting the religion-changing battle is the wrong battle. We have little hope in our lifetime to believe for a major enough cultural, political and religious change to occur in our context such that Muslims would become open to entering Christianity on a wide scale.” That comment, and others like it, prompted John Piper, Gary Corwin, and others to write responses. Listen in on the conversation.
Some may fear that the discussion about “insider movements” is a new missiological theory promoted by those who have given up on traditional mission methodology. However, it is instead an attempt to discern and explain what God is actually doing today, and has done repeatedly throughout history, when spreading the gospel rapidly through new people groups (particularly in socio-religious contexts antagonistic to perceived forms of “Christianity”).
I think it is important to remember two things about insider movements:
- Insider movements are not primarily about becoming more “contextualized” and therefore should probably be distinguished from any point on the C1-C6 continuum. Instead, insider movements are about the gospel spreading inside pre-existing relational or identity networks (communities or families) and letting it grow up in whatever form those networks choose under the authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. The pre-existing network becomes the believing community or “church”, while expatriate workers avoid pulling people into new, artificial networks, no matter how contextualized (e.g., Muslims into Jesus mosques), or into foreign structures (e.g., Gentiles into synagogues). As an illustration, we see in Acts that believing Jews kept going to the Temple, not isolating themselves from their non-believing Jewish neighbors – they stayed “insiders.” Meanwhile, Paul asserted that Gentiles didn’t have to become circumcised (which would have marked them as “outsiders”) and that they could even continue to eat meat, which usually had been previously offered to idols, if their conscience was clear, despite the dismay of Jewish believers and the specific prohibition of such by the Jerusalem council (see Romans 14, Acts 15:29, Acts 21:25).
- God has used “insider movements” throughout history, but He has also used other means. To commend the value and validity of insider movements is not to say that other types of church-planting are invalid – this is not an “either/or” prescription. In most cultures there are many people – maybe whole sectors of society (like the Dalits of India) – who are dissimilating, trying to move away from their traditional identity. These people are seeking, as individuals or groups, to move out of their traditional cultural identity or relational network and into something foreign. That is fine! However, let’s not use these examples to obscure our recognition of the thousands (if not millions) who would believe if they did not have to align themselves with a powerful foreign religion (“Christianity”) instead of Jesus himself.
Insider movements are as old as James of the Jews and Cornelius of the Gentiles. This is not a new phenomenon but a reaffirming of a New Testament pattern, explained clearly as the use of “open networks” by Rodney Stark in his book The Rise of Christianity. He explains how the gospel spread through “open networks” – networks of predominantly non-believers – in the fast-growing first 300 years of the early Church.