Opinion – Insider Movements

Opinion – Insider Movements

I am adding this foreword to this article to clarify my stance on Insider Movements.  I am in opposition to Insider Movements that subjugate the Gospel to culture and/or redact culturally offensive material from the Bible.  (There are some other minor issues that I would not personally practice, but these two are primary and are deal-breakers for me.)  For the most part everything I do and teach is compatible with those who practice Insider Movements.  Unfortunately, the term “Insider Movement” has become identified by traditional Christians and leaders with those who subjugate the Gospel to culture and/or redact culturally offensive material from the Bible.  This means the term has become problematic and raises high passion on all sides of the yelling match (it is not a conversation).  I have dealt with the term “Insider Movement” from the negative side of the argument, including the reasons that cause me to reject the terminology.  It is up to those who embrace the “Insider Movement” terminology to clearly state what they do and do not believe and practice.  I certainly understand that traditional Christians and leaders often say one thing and do another.  But, when the accusations come, it is up to us to Biblically defend our beliefs and practices.  History and tradition have tremendous weight, and those of us who stand against that weight are forced to defend our beliefs and practices, even though the accusers are not held to the same standard.  


David Watson


There is a disturbing trend in missions known as Insider Movements.  I am not going to address all the good things that have come out of Insider Movements. In fact, I have contributed to the body of knowledge related to Insider Movements, and I have incorporated into my work many of the things I have learned from Insider Movements.  I want to address two aspects of Insider Movements that cause me to be in opposition to Insider Movements as they are currently being expressed – The subjugation of the Gospel to culture; and the redaction of culturally offensive material from the Gospel in order to appease a culture.

Insider Movements start with culture and subjugate the message of the Gospel to a particular culture.  Truth starts with the Creator and His message via His Holy Spirit to mankind and through His expression of Himself as the Son of God, Jesus.  (This sentence is an inadequate expression of the nature and function of the Holy Trinity)   The primary authoritative source of God’s communication with mankind is the Bible.  If, because of culture, we choose not to present the entire Word of God to those from any given culture because parts of the message may be offensive, then what we are presenting is NOT the Gospel and it is potentially heretical.  Yeah, I get progressive revelation.  But this is not the same as letting God’s story unfold in all its beauty and ugliness as expressed by mankind, regardless of cultural bias.  It’s changing the story to make it acceptable.

By the way, much of the Western church is guilty of Insider Movement mentality.  We don’t talk about hell.  We avoid controversial issues like homosexuality, adultery, divorce, abusive relationships, the murder of unborn children, and much more.  We don’t demand obedience to the Word of God, love for God and our neighbors, and holiness as the normal expression of devotion to God for those who call themselves Christian.  You can add to the list the things we don’t address from the Bible with new and other Believers, as well as seekers.  Our doctrines have become watered-down, and in some cases heretical, to appease the sensibilities of our Western culture.  Is it a surprise that our mission efforts are following the same trend?

I know.  Insider Movements are trying to be culturally sensitive.  Culturally Sensitive Expressions remove or never incorporate Western or other-culture expressions of leadership, worship, governance, and etc.  Culturally Sensitive Expressions ask the question, “How do we obey the Word of God in our context, regardless of what it may cost us?”  It is not being culturally sensitive to change the message of the Bible, which was given to us by God.  It is being heretical.  This is true whether you are removing the “Son of God” language to appease Muslims, or if you are saying the commandments of Jesus were just for the 11 Apostles and we don’t need to worry ourselves about obeying them in our churches today, or if you are teaching that there is no hell.

Muslims will die for one letter of the Quran.  What message do we send when we are willing to change and/or ignore entire passages of the Bible in order to be culturally sensitive?  Why will we fight for “grace”, “mercy” and “forgiveness”, but ignore “repentance”, “obedience” and “good works”?  Has our desire to be culturally sensitive in order to reach people for Christ taken us away from Christ and made it impossible for us to lead people to Christ?

The most disturbing issue related to Insider Movement mentality is the willingness or demand to redact the printed Word of God in order to be sensitive to the culture.  Whether it’s the removal of the “Son of God” language, the changing of the “Father God” (gender) language, or the removal of anything that someone may consider offensive; any change to the Word of God begs the question, “Where does it stop!?”  There is a difference between scholarly interpretation/translation of the Bible with peer review and changing the thrust and meaning of the Bible to appease culture.  The Bible should address the sinful and/or misguided worldviews of mankind, not comply with them.  God is the standard, not our culture(s).

The moment we put any culture above the message of God, we become a hindrance to that culture knowing and obeying God within their context.  We become the source of heresy.  We must come back to the central doctrine of Scripture – it is given by God for us to obey.  God’s love language for mankind is certainly grace and mercy.  But mankind’s love language for God is obedience to all the commands of Christ.  Anything less or anything else takes us from God, not to God.  When we are moving from God, how can we show others how to find God?


David Watson
Somewhere over the Pacific

29 Replies to “Opinion – Insider Movements”

  1. Hi David, thanks for your "alert" on this Insider Movements trend. I am in total agreement to your expressed sentiments. The Scriptures IS the Scriptures, and should NEVER be compromised in any way, no matter how "nobel" the intent to want to make it culturally adaptable and acceptable to any target group. No compromise, No apologies. I am sure we can trust the Holy Spirit to work in HIS perfect way to effectively bring the Gospel message and truths to bear in the lives of the messenger as well as the target group. We only need to be sure that we, who would be messengers, be faithful to HIM who sends us.
    Thomas Ooi, Penang

  2. This reminds me of beloved fellow missionaries who serve in North Africa. We had the blessing of visiting them while we lived in Africa. As the days went by, I began to ask some methodological questions as to how they shared the gospel in such a hostile environment. He began to explain their goals; and that would be to have folks just pray to Jesus in their heart as they attended the mosque, and they would, given the opportunity, encourage such folks to celebrate Ramadan to Jesus, again in their hearts of course. Up to that time though there were no conversion stories save the woman who worked for them. As far as I can remember her story was that she became a believer.
    While we were there we had the great honor to eat with a local national family who were very good friends of the American"workers". We later heard that the head of that family, who was not an old man had passed away as well as other close friends. I could not help but think what might have come if Discovery Bible Studies had been started with these folks.
    In the NT we see that confession was an integral part of transition out of Pagan beliefs into Christ. Now where we see cultures where that would have real meaning we shrink back.
    In our own churches here in the West, there is no awareness of church discipline and I dare no understanding of it either apart from Bible students. Have we disqualified ourselves of the Lord's discipline and the necessary inference therein?
    btw, the financial tally of the N African deployment would be in the 7 figures range

  3. The most alarming aspect of this whole discussion about insider movements is, that we don't realize how much we lost of the gospel in our churches. I stopped calling myself a Christian, because I see Christians do sorcery and witchcraft. I see Christians who depend more on the "pastor" than on Christ. I see Christians who cause more trouble in the business world, than non-believers. I see Christians lie and no idea even of repentance. I see Christians who have such an "anointed" talk, that at first everyone is soooo impressed, until you have to do real business with them or make them accountable for anything they said. I see Christians who easily become Muslims, because they love their spouse so much and have no idea what they leave behind. I see Christians, who are wrapped up so much in "church" work, that they don't even know how to have a simple conversation with a non-believer. Certainly, I am not a Christian anymore. Before we start big discussions about things Missionaries do wrong, let us think about who equipped them? Bible colleges are so wrapped up in academics, any study becomes a test of your faith and your lucky if you're still a follower of Jesus after your degree. If missionaries are not equipped with the tools they need for their work, how do you expect them to do things right? Discussing insider movements is definitely the wrong approach to solve the problem. What about becoming followers of Christ instead of playing to be a Christian? What about turning churches into places of worship for Jesus instead of mere, shallow proclamations of worship in actual entertainment shows? What about first becoming real ourselves, set examples and help others to follow and leave the discussions to those who will even discuss the holiness of flies.
    Does that sound harsh? I tried to be friendly and cut out all the bad words. If I haven't succeeded, you can see, that this subject is really moving me and I hope you forgive me for any offense. But I do hope, you get upset a little bit and go for the real change.

  4. David
    I react very positive on this opinion, because I believe God urges me to it as a gesture of obedience to Him.

    Hennie Yzelle
    South Africa

  5. Thanks David! "Insider Movement" is a new one on me but the concept, unfortunately, sure isn't. Hopefully I'll remember your message as we strive to live out and share the gospel here in Japan. No watered down versions please! 🙂

  6. This was interesting for me because I love insider movements I think they are great. I definitly feel that I don't want to water down the gospel though. My question is can you create a movement made up of Muslim followers of Jesus who do not compromise the scriptures or water it down, but they can still keep their culture and follow Jesus in their own expression. I love the scriptures and know that the word of God promises suffering and pursicution, but do we have to extract people from their culture to do this?

    1. The quick answer is, "No, we do not have to extract people from their culture in order for them to follow Jesus." There are hundreds of thousands of MBBs who live in their culture and follow Jesus. In our ministry we simply ask them to read the Scripture; say the Scripture in their own words (so we know they understand it); and ask them how, in their context, they will obey the Scripture. We don't teach them how to pray, we ask them how they will pray. We don't teach them how to worship, we ask them how they will worship. Obedience to Scripture forces us to stop some cultural activities, and do some activities that may be out-of-culture, but this is true for all cultures. The primary objections we see are when outsiders insist on how to do things rather than asking how they will obey Scripture and what they are going to do in obedience to Scripture.

      One of my objections to Insider Movements is that outsiders are usually telling the insiders what to do to be insiders instead of asking the insiders how they will obey Scripture in their context. And in worse-case settings, outsiders are softening/changing Scripture to lower the Biblical demands for salvation/faith/belief/obedience. This establishes a church that is crippled from the beginning, and unable to be all that God has called the church to be.


      David Watson

      From Thailand

  7. David,
    Thanks for sharing your highly respected opinion on the very confusing topic of Insider Movements. I personally have worked with C5 "insider" Jesus Muslims in South Asia. To make a long opinionated discourse short, the "Insiders" were slow as Christmas! There was little boldness and a very slow call to repentance, belief and baptism. Has this been your experience???
    The C3-C4 followers of Jesus, on the other hand, were marked by passion, boldness and big numbers of newly baptized believers and churches. Their work resembled the book of Acts. The '"New Buddhists" Movement in Thailand has good and bad but they are also very very slow in the growth of new churches and disciples, compared to what my Burmese friends are seeing. That being said the Grace Covenant "New Buddhist" movement growth and multiplication is much faster than the traditional grace killer churches in Thailand. see http://www.thaicov.org/

    It is very difficult to verify Insider Movements compared to the numerous Church Planting Movements assessments. How can agencies promote insider strategies if they cannot verify the number of new believers and disciples?
    My hunch is that most Insider Movement talk can be traced back to dead disobedient churches, seminaries, Emergent Church Movement and/or arm chair theoretician missionaries. These are the same places that heresies have historically come from. Conferences like SEANET, RETHINKING FORUM and the numerous Muslim contextualization conferences also miss the main point. Their focus should be how to jump-start multiplying networks of obedient Christ-like disciples (CPMs). Our goals should be indigenization and not so much contextualization. Both are biblical but helping new Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu Background believers find their own identity in Christ (indigenization) should take up more of our (outside cross-cultural workers) time. Over focus on contextualization (Insider Movements) is a ditch that hinders Disciple Making Movements (CPMs).

    1. The outsiders' job is to deculturalize the Gospel – to give the Gospel without traditional Christian forms attached. The insiders' job is to cuturalize the Gospel – to determine how to obey all the commands of Christ in their own cultural context. This means that cultural expressions of form may look different, but the new forms were developed by insiders, not outsiders teaching insiders what to do. "How will you obey?" is a powerful question. A question that, if it were asked by modern Christians, would change much of what we do at home and around the world. It would take us from apparent cultural insignificance to a relevance that would transform individuals, families, communities, and nations.

    2. I think 'problems' come if you make TOO MUCH of a distinction between 'contextualization' and for example "indignation'. I belief you can see a 'fruitful' Kingdom harvest with a more INTEGRATED Model. And every 'FIELD' is different – God is God and we ARE NOT! Yes we must evaluate and be aware of error, but please let us be slow to JUDGE and we will be AMAZED of what GOD is doing among the nations outside our 'religious BOX'! JESUS be praised…..

      1. Hi, Garrit. Perhaps you mean "indigenation"? I have not rushed to my conclusions. I have been dealing with this issue for more than 25 years, and this is the first time I have taken a stand against Insider Movements of any stripe when Insider Movements includes outsiders teaching insiders how to be insiders. When outsiders are teaching insiders how to worship as insiders, something is amiss. When people are redacting the Word of God to please/appease culture, something is amiss. When seekers and new Believers are being told that they can ignore parts of Scripture, something is amiss. When it is alright to be disobedient to the Word of God to avoid offending a culture, something is amiss. This is true whether one is in Miami or Medina, Malibu or Mumbai, Dallas or Dakar, Franklin or Frankfurt….

        The methods we use encourage insiders to read the Bible and determine for themselves what they must do to be obedient. Practice is not taught. We simply ask, "In your context what must you do to be obedient to Scripture?" We don't teach people to pray, we ask, "In obedience to this passage, how will you pray?" We don't teach how to worship, we ask, "How will you obey the Scripture in regard to worship?" We don’t teach baptism, we ask, “How will you be obedient to the baptismal passages?”

        We teach obedience to the Word of God. The local group determines how they will be obedient. This means that obedience often looks just like what the culture will need and respect. We teach our outside leaders to deculturalize their presentation of Scripture to avoid transmitting their home culture, and ask the inside leaders to find ways to be culturally obedient. But there are times when obedience to the Word cannot be cultural, no matter what. In these cases Scripture must trump culture. There are simply times when Believers must give up cultural practices in order to be obedient. Note Paul’s writings when he encourages new Believers to abandon sinful practices.


        David Watson
        Irving, Texas

  8. I believe GOD provided for these issues in Psalm 118: 8 " It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man."

  9. From what I know, there is currently much variety in Insider Movements among Muslims; it is not one monolithic Movement. I am wondering if there are any Insider Movements where subjugation of the Gospel to culture is not an issue, where outsiders just encourage insiders to culturalize the Gospel their own way. I would be very blessed to have an answer to that because this doesn't come out of curiosity for me. I am really struggling with this. Thank you.


    Rares A.

    Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

    1. Hi, Rares. There are certainly many movements that do exactly what you expressed. My article was dealing with an extreme that is currently growing. In all our work we try very hard to present the gospel and ask insiders how they will obey it. By "present" I mean let them read it without commentary from outsiders. As they become believers we add in church history, theology, and more. But it continues to be the insiders' jobs to determine what practice will look like in obedience to the whole counsel of the Word. The gage is not traditional Western Christianity, but obedience to the Word.


      David Watson

  10. It seems like some of you have a misunderstanding of the insider movement, and I am afraid are giving it a bad reputation, putting down a method of sharing the gospel that can be very effective for the Kingdom. I know those in the movement take every letter of the Bible seriously, as the complete inspired Word of God. Just as Paul did, they want to reach those and keep those new believers inside their culture, able to reach others. They keep the Gospel pure, and don't take away from it or encourage disobedience. It makes me sad when people criticize, yet don't really know or understand the method or the Muslim culture. Please be careful in your judgements.

    1. Speaking of judgments – it seems you have not read the article. I am the sole author and am responsible for the content of this article. I was criticizing two very limited aspects of some insider movements which redact Scripture and subjugate Scripture to any culture. By your own words you say you don't do these two things. So, help me understand how pointing a light on methods that do not take every letter of the Bible seriously is being judgmental. Peer review and correction is a very important part of Christian heritage and is Scriptural. I have no quarrel with those who take every letter of the Bible seriously, but I will point out the error of changing Scripture or redacting Scripture in order to make Scripture culturally acceptable, regardless of what culture one is trying to reach.


      David Watson

  11. David – I like the emphasis to have them study the Word, and ASK rather than TELL how they will obey the Scriptures. I appreciated your forward – that you stressed not putting all insider movements in one lump as negative, but SOME, and that unfortunately traditional Christians have now equated the term with only those negative expressions that " subjugate the Gospel to culture and/or redact culturally offensive material from the Bible" That's good start to keep from sweeping statements. But later, you seem to further "equate the term" with the negative yourself when you say "Insider Movements start with culture and subjugate the message of the Gospel to a particular culture." Wouldn't it have been better to say, "SOME extreme insider movement proponents" do that, instead of joining in with the "equating" the whole term with the negative like that statement just did?

    About the discovery approach – it's good if we do the WHOLE Scriptures that way, but it's just as easy to sway insiders to our own way by being the one who carefully selects the passages we study, words the questions in a manipulative way, and lead them to our own theological/practical biases by the way we frame the questions, and select the verses. For instance, I can think I'm being true to Scripture on the theme of women in church ministry if I lead them to study 1 Tim. and 1 Cor. passages about "remaining silent" and ask, "how will you obey this", but totally ignore or leave out passages of Scripture that specifically speak of women apostles and fellow servants of Paul, prophetesses, sons and daughters prophesying (clearly a speaking gift!), etc. That approach is well and good IF it`s honest to include verses that SEEM to contradict own biases as well. Topical or theme approaches can revolve around proof texts, but study of WHOLE scripture that way would be good.

  12. I am not familiar with "Insider Movements," but I don't need to be to wholeheartedly agree with your article. I particularly liked your comments about how western churches are sometimes just as guilty as these "Insider Movements" of compromising Scripture to accommodate our culture. It really doesn't matter what a movement is called, ANYONE who holds Scripture lower than culture, political correctness, or anything else is WRONG.

    I worked on an American church staff for 17 years and I have now worked in China for six years. I have no interest in being used to start American churches. However, I am VERY interested in being used to start SCRIPTURAL churches. I could care less about our American church traditions that many hold as doctrines, but I also could care less how much Scripture conflicts with local culture. Just last night a young man told me, "But this is China, and it is not possible to live like a Christian." I told him it is possible (although not always easy) to obey God in any culture, and we cannot use our human culture as an excuse for disobedience to Almighty God. We should NEVER attempt to lower God to our standards. When culture conflicts with Scripture, it is culture that must change, not Scripture. On the other hand, the spread of the Gospel should never be hindered by the addition of the culture of the carrier of the Gospel.

    It is interesting to me to read some of the above comments of those who appear to become angry and are quick to defend the name and methods of the "Insider Movement," which, it appears to me, was supposed to be about not becoming "stuck" on any particular method. This kind of reminds me of liberal Americans who want everyone to be tolerant of everyone EXCEPT those who don't believe what they believe.

    P.S. I'm sorry that I am only leaving my initials, but because of the "culture" that I live in, it would be unwise to post my full name.

  13. What is an insider movement? Is there a standard definition? According to Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insider_movement ):

    “Insider movement is a term used in the field of missiology to describe a group or network of people from a non-Christian religion who have embraced the life and teaching of Jesus Christ as described in the Bible, while remaining relationally, culturally and socially a part of the religious community of their birth.”

    Based on this definition, messianic Judaism would qualify as an insider movement. So I think we should be cautious about using this term exclusively to refer to insider movements among Muslims. It is interesting that messianic Judaism has created much less of an uproar than “messianic Islam.” I wonder if part of this has to do with the general feeling towards Muslims since 9/11?

    1. Hi, David. The reason messianic Judaism has not raised the same amount of uproar is that the God of the Jews is the same as the God of the Christians, that is, the Creator of all universes. The god of Islam is not the same as the God of Judeo/Christian worldview.

      Insider Movement terminology is used for everything except Judeo/Christian worldviews, because of the Creator issues.


      David Watson

      1. Hello David,

        Greetings from Israel. You (and other evangelicals) should know that the only people who accept Messianic Jews as real Jews are evangelical Christians. I’m not saying this is good, but as someone who lives in the world’s only Jewish State, I thought I would let you know that. Comparing IM to Messianic Judaism supports the position that IM Muslims will not be judged as real Muslims by their community, just like MJ’s are judged as fake Jews by most fellow Jews (and the Israeli Supreme Court, for what that is worth).

    2. Hi David,

      The posting in Wikipedia is deeply biased. It is controlled by one and only one person (one Dave Bogs/Boggs, I forget) who does not allow for any edits to be made. Don’t believe in it.

      D A Miller
      Lecturer in Church History and Theology
      Nazareth Seminary, Israel

  14. Hi David, You say that Judaism and Christianity have the same God, but the God of Judaism is not the Triune God. Contemporary Judaism is a false religion that rejects the Son of God and leads millions into eternal darkness. The Scriptures say that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is the anti-Christ. There is no more or less justification for an insider movement within Judaism as there is within Islam. Orthodox Judaism in America has made a decision to reject the messiahship of Jesus, and has declared that anyone who believes Jesus is the messiah is an apostate. That’s worse than Islam! It seems to me that if we are willing to accept a reform of Judaism through the messianic Jewish movement, we must be willing to accept a reform of Islam through messianic Muslims. Islam is a Judeo-Christian faith that claims the Bible as its foundation. Islam is not a new religion, it is a sect within Judeo-Christianity.

  15. Hi David,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on insider movements with all of us. This certainly is an important topic.

    I just published this short article on the possible historical origins of the IM concept and thought you might find it interesting:


    Feel free to pass it on.


    D. A. Miller, Nazareth

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