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Talman and Travis Response to Waterman Review

18 Oct Posted by in | Comments

A Response to L.D. Waterman’s Review of Understanding Insider Movements

We appreciate the fair-minded tone and over-all measured review by this critic of insider movements (IMs).  In his conclusion, while stating what he saw as the book’s shortcomings, Waterman concludes that Understanding Insider Movements (UIM) “presents the most complete and thorough explanation of IMs available at this time” and “will serve as a useful reference work for those who want to have in one place the best of arguments and explanations for Insider Movements.”  This was our hope for the book.  We have organized our responses below around seven categories or general critiques that Waterman brings out in his review (e.g., a “one-sided presentation”). We hope this interaction is helpful to the reader and will bring greater clarity toward an understanding of insider movements. (Waterman’s review can be found in the September 2016 edition of SEEDBED).

  1. One-sided presentation

Prior to the publishing of UIM, dozens of articles and book chapters supportive of insider movements were in circulation, some stretching back to the 1970s. Although books had already been published against IMs, no book to date had brought together these many supportive articles in an attempt to explain what insider movements are. UIM, consisting of some forty-five previously-published and almost twenty new articles, was designed to meet this need. The size and scope of this project precluded the addition of articles critical of IMs, but we did try to address the most common critiques we have heard, many of which came up at meetings of Bridging the Divide. Numerous chapters in UIM address frequently heard questions and concerns, most directly in chapters 4-5 (part 1), 40-42 (part 5), and 51-57 (part 6), but incidentally or indirectly throughout the volume. In addition, quite a few articles reflect discussions and presentations given at Bridging the Divide, most notably chapters 5, 6, 60, 61 and 62.

  1. Overview of UIM

Waterman singles out Talman’s “Reflections on Religions” article for mention, but we feel he misunderstood the chapter’s main point. Talman is not saying that if someone has “clarity about the meaning of religion” that he or she would not likely be able to “grasp the IM paradigm” (as Waterman states).  What Talman is saying is that the very word or concept of “religion” is complex and multi-layered (one of the main overall themes of the book).  The traditional or what some call “essentialist” view of religion focuses on beliefs and doctrines, maintaining that each religion consists of “fixed sets of convictions with well-defined boundaries.”  The fact however, is that millions worldwide see themselves as part of one religion or another, while often having little personal commitment to or understanding of the official beliefs and doctrines of that faith (or they hold to beliefs that in fact are different from the standard beliefs associated with that religion, as is the case with insider followers of Jesus).  In the United States, for instance, it is hard to imagine that 7 out of 10 adults are followers of Jesus Christ, yet the most recent Pew foundation research from 2014 indicated that a full 70.6% of US adult citizens self-identify as Christian.[1]

For many of these 7 out of 10 US adults, as well as millions of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and others around the world, religious identification is largely a cultural, social or legal matter, closely tied to ethnicity and family identity.  Most never chose to enter the religion they are part of – they were simply born into it.  It is this fluid cultural, ethnic or “socio-religious” reality of religious identity that allows for some true disciples of Jesus Christ to follow him as Lord and Savior spiritually while remaining socio-religiously part of the Jewish, Hindu or Muslim community of their birth.

  1. IM as a generalized construct

Waterman felt it was unhelpful, even “surreptitious” to “borrow some viability and credibility of ‘Hindu’ IMs” to try to explain IMs among Muslims.  We feel here Waterman misses one of the major points of the book—the insider phenomenon is actually best understood when it can be seen across a variety of socio-religious contexts.  As was brought out in the book, as people of different backgrounds (e.g., Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists) become disciples of Jesus while remaining part of the socio-religious community of their birth, some of their beliefs and practices will be rejected, some reinterpreted or transformed and others marginalized in their efforts to follow the Bible.  Certainly the beliefs and practices that Muslims and Hindus will reject, reinterpret or marginalize are different, but the societal and communal dynamics of the two groups are very similar.  Muslims, Hindus and others who follow Jesus as insiders share the same desire to love and serve their families and live as salt and light among them. Coincidentally, just this morning John Travis had breakfast with an Asian gentleman who had been instrumental in seeing an insider movement birthed among Hindus and another among Muslims in the country where he lives.  He explained differences in the structure of these two movements but noted that the basic insider dynamic of remaining integrally connected to family and community for the sake of Jesus was common to both.

  1. Insider Movements versus Insider Paradigm

Waterman says, “Talman clearly demonstrates that Western missiological theory and effort influenced the emergence of IMs among Muslims. Contrary to some pro-IM claims that Westerners were simply reporting ‘descriptively’ the spontaneous appearance of IMs…” Actually what Talman said was merely that missiological thinking was making room for IMs—not that they initiated them.[2]  Elsewhere he nuances this further:

As in the case of Brother Jacob and Master Isaac . . . some IMs have been divinely initiated and arose with little or no influence from outside Christians. . . . In other cases, “alongsiders” . . . have made direct or indirect contributions that supported or facilitated the emergence of a movement.[3]

David Garrison, confirms this from his research:

Some critics have depicted Insider movements as the creation and impositions of Western missionaries on naïve Muslim-background believers. The testimonies of several Indian and Bengali Insider pioneers argue to the contrary. It is true that a handful of Western missionaries have encouraged some of the Insider leaders, providing them with counsel and support, both missiologically and materially, but this occurred only after the movements had already taken root and begun to grow. In their fundamental opposition to what they perceive to be Christendom and the West, these Insider Movements have little tolerance for foreign control or even influence from the West.[4]

  1. Misrepresentations of others’ views

Waterman alleges that Talman “neglects to mention that this Muslim follower of Jesus strongly objected to CT’s [Christianity Today] misleading portrayal of his ministry” in IJFM 32:2. Unfortunately, Waterman does not realize that IJFM 32:2 was not published until after UIM had already been printed.[5] Hence Talman did not “neglect” it. Moreover, in a paragraph very generally describing how missiological discussions were ongoing (e.g., BtD, ERT), his point was only to add that “Influential publications have attempted to educate the Christian public” (footnoting the CT article as an example).

Waterman says that Talman misrepresented Bartlotti when he wrote, “Recently, scholars have suggested that the chief causes of the controversy may not actually be theological, but rather differences in personal preferences, mission paradigms, cultural patters, and worldview (e.g. “the confusion caused by the Western construction and reification of the concept “of ‘religion’).”

Waterman should have observed that Talman did not say definitively the chief causes “are not” (an absolute denial), but “may not” which conveys the notion of possibility, that it is an open question, or that in some or many cases non-theological issues could be the main causes. The accompanying footnote did not just cite Bartlotti, but listed four authors/chapters (in order of appearance in UIM) which should be considered as a whole: Bartlotti (ch.6), Holton (38), Richard (40) and Iyadura (60). Talman gave as an example, “the confusion caused by the Western construction and reification of the concept of ‘religion.’” This was mentioned by only one of the four—it did not infer that all four identify it as a cause. However, if one reads those four chapters (which all have different viewpoints, but most of which emphasize nontheological issues) one will agree with Talman’s statement.

Furthermore, Waterman claims that by using the phrase “scholars have suggested” Talman “ignores the vast number of scholars who have raised serious theological concerns about the insider paradigm.” But to assert that Talman “quietly ignores (as if non-existent) scholars who have raised serious theological concerns” hardly seems like a fair assessment of his intent. The contents of UIM ought to have made it clear that this is not so. Theological concerns appear and are addressed throughout the book. Part 3 of UIM addresses many biblical and theological issues and some sections (e.g., Talman’s ch. 27, pp. 254-261) raise and respond to numerous theological concerns raised by critics.

Waterman asserts that Talman misrepresented Garrison’s “change in perspective” when he wrote: “Garrison revealed that a number of [the Jesus movements in the Muslim world] were IMs. He had previously viewed the notion somewhat negatively due to deficiencies he presumed to be inherent in IMs, but his investigations showed that his concerns were unfounded, and he was amazed by what God was doing among insiders.”

We spoke with David Garrison to see if our statement (above) accurately reflected his views. In comparing earlier writings of Garrison’s with his most recent book (A Wind in the House of Islam) it seemed to us he had become more favorable toward insider movements. In fact, using our definition of insider movements (which Garrison did not draw upon when he wrote his book) we can see that Garrison’s book contained some movements that we would identify as examples of IMs.  Garrison pointed out to us, however, that he has avoided using the classification of “insider movement” himself in the movements he describes because IM has been so broadly caricatured and misunderstood.  Garrison prefers instead to simply describe field realities without categorizing them (beyond calling them a “movement” or not).  In addition, Garrison may have reservations about some examples of insider movements he has heard of. Therefore, not really knowing all that Garrison was thinking, we were presumptive in saying that Garrison’s “investigation showed that his concerns [about insider movements] were unfounded.” We acknowledged our misunderstanding over the phone to Garrison and we appreciate Waterman bringing this matter to our attention. One important point that Garrison mentioned to us over the phone is that the very deeply contextual movements he found within some Muslim communities were very nuanced and complex, not fitting neatly into anyone’s categories or labels.

  1. Slanting and choosing evidence selectively

Waterman states that, “Those retaining a distinctly Muslim identity constitute (unless I’m mistaken) a small minority of Muslim-background followers of Jesus.” Statistics are hard to come by in any type of religious movement whether insider or not. Talman did not mean to be saying that the majority of those coming to faith in Jesus from the world’s major religions were mostly insider (note: as Waterman pointed out—and we agree—the number of nominal Javanese Muslims who came to faith in Indonesia in the 1960s was enormous). In addition, if somewhere in the book an author stated or implied that insider movements constitute the largest type of movements to Christ among Muslims, that too was never intended.  All we are saying is that throughout church history, among those of the world’s major religions (i.e., Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) relatively few have come to faith in contrast to countless millions of tribal peoples and animists throughout Asia and Africa. That said, however, we would refer readers to the “Read This First” (p. xxxv) section of UIM where we cite a mission researcher’s estimate that by 2014 6.5 million “non-Christians were following Christ from within the context of their own religious and cultural traditions.”  This number is not huge by any means in relationship to the size of the world’s Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities, but it is significant, especially since this researcher noted they are growing “twice as fast as Christianity as a whole.”

Waterman also raises the question of why we did not include some of what he sees as the more controversial ideas which some have associated with insider movements.  He mentions, for instance, having a very high view of Mohammad, holding to a low Christology, placing citations of the Quran next to the Bible as a source of spiritual authority, and an overemphasis on the compatibility between Islam and Christianity.  Frankly, it never crossed our mind to include these ideas in UIM as we do not see them as core or inherent parts of understanding insider movements.[6]  Our aim throughout the book was to emphasize principles and practices that seem integral and common to most insider movements.

  1. Weak biblical foundations

Waterman deems this to be one of UIM’s greatest weaknesses. He finds fault with three points in Talman’s article on the Old Testament and IMs, but with some ambiguity that makes it difficult for us to respond to.

He asserts that Talman’s use of Elisha is an “argument from silence.” (We assume he is referring to Talman’s seeing Elisha as giving approval to Naaman to return to his people and still carry out the duties he had with the King in the temple of Rimmon, in spite of Naaman’s pledge to sacrifice to no God but YHWH). Talman’s discussion of Elisha occurs in a section on “Non-proselyte conversion in the OT” which notes that Israel had “no clear or specific command to engage in proselytism” but was to be “a light to the nations,” modeling the experience of God’s blessing and presence by giving him their full allegiance and treating others ethically (as typified in the Torah); Gentiles were not required to become Jewish proselytes. If this is the normative principle, then we should assume that Elisha is following it (as did Obadiah, Jonah and Nahum). So, there is more here than an argument from silence.

Waterman makes reference to Talman’s suggestion that “many Christians today would have acted differently than Elisha” (and insisted that Naaman avoid even an appearance of syncretism by joining our community of faith, becoming a Jewish proselyte through covenantal circumcision, and living according to . . . the Mosaic Law).” Waterman counters, “I would hope that in a great many ways, Christians today would act differently than Elisha did,” asserting that Talman’s position “ignores progressive revelation” (without specifying how). We disagree, for as many chapters in UIM attest, the NT does not “progress” toward requiring proselyte conversion (adopting a new religious system to follow Jesus).

Waterman seems to deny that “Jesus only required faith and opposed the proselytization of Gentiles and Samaritans” asserting that this is an “argument from silence and ignores progressive revelation” (again without explaining how). But we are unaware of anywhere that Jesus engages in proselytization—everywhere he seems to only require faith, expressed in obedience to his commands. Does Waterman mean that Jesus did expect or require proselyte conversion, but the church decided to do otherwise? Or does the NT “progress” to require more than Jesus did? Do later epistles overturn the Jerusalem Council’s decision and Paul’s opposition to Judaizing gentiles? We cannot determine the basis for Waterman’s claim that this ignores progressive revelation.

Waterman claims that Talman’s affirmation that “other religious traditions can even enrich our own spiritual life and worship” is too broad and dangerous and that he gives no cautions or safeguards. But his concerns are addressed by what immediately follows in the “call for an approach of duality”—retaining the positive features, rejecting the negative, reinterpreting or relegating, etc. (194-95).

Waterman also criticizes a citation of Paige by Roberts and Jameson. We contacted them and they have dialoged with Paige & Waterman about this. The particular point that Roberts and Jameson were making agreed fully with that of Paige in that portion of his paper, although they arrived at very different overall conclusions in the end. A footnote to that effect by Roberts and Jameson would have helped prevent any misunderstanding.

Citing these four examples Waterman asserts that “the weakest aspect of advocacy for IMs appears to be the biblical foundation.” Even without our responses above, we think that UIM’s twelve chapters on this topic suggest otherwise.


We hope this has been a helpful response to some of Waterman’s concerns and critiques.  We sincerely appreciate his raising questions as there is still so much about IMs that we do not know.  In spite of what our colleague Waterman sees as shortcomings in the book, we appreciate his affirming that overall UIM “presents the most complete and thorough explanation of IMs available at this time.”

John Jay Travis

Harley Talman

[1] . The Pew research showed US adults being 46.5% Protestant, 20.8% Catholic and 3.5% other denominations or sects.

[2] Talman said, “By tracing the preceding historical developments, we can see how missiological thinking was making room for IMs. The question of linkage has not been adequately studied, but it is only since the 1980’s that we have witnessed the birth of such movements in the modern era,” 21.

3 David Garrison, A Wind in the House of Islam (Monument, CO: WIGTake Resources, 2014), (p. 43).

4  Ibid., 113.

5 Talman’s article on the historical development of IMs was written before the article expressing Abu Jaz’ objection was published in IJFM 32:2. UIM was printed in August 2015. The International Journal of Frontier Missiology (IJFM) told us that they did not actually publish issue 32:2 until September 2015.

[6]  We did, however, include a chapter (ch. 52, “Muslim Followers of Jesus and the Muslim Confession of Faith”) that shows the diverse range of views of Muhammad among various Muslim insiders and some Christians.


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