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UIM: Concluding Response to Waterman

03 Jan Posted by in | Comments

UIM: Concluding Response to Waterman

On November 5, “Waterman Response to Talman and Travis” was posted on the BtD blog. While interest in the discussion generated by his review of Understanding Insider Movements (UIM) may have waned, we felt some final clarifications on our part could be helpful.

Footnote to a Footnote

Waterman further clarified the reason for his taking exception to a Talman footnote that simply stated that Christianity Today published an article that “cast favorable light on IMs” (UIM, f.n. 51, p. 21).  Taken at face value, this statement about the CT article is true. What concerned Waterman were subsequent clarifications of that article that were made by Abu Jaz and Gene Daniels in which the expression “cultural insiders, theological outsiders” was used.


Based on these subsequent clarifications, in future editions of UIM, we will work to take out this footnote, especially since it is not really crucial to the point Talman was making, which was simply that a number of Christian publications, Christianity Today (CT) being one, have attempted “to reduce the rhetoric” and bring clarity to this complex issue. We are sure that CT appreciated the subsequent comments from Abu Jaz and Gene Daniels due to CT’s commitment to accuracy in their journalism.


A comment we think may be helpful is that we were not surprised to hear that in the Abu Jaz movement, the new followers of Jesus do not worship Jesus in the mosque. This is typical of most IMs we know of where the functions of ekklesia are not fulfilled at the mosque, but rather in house meetings.  Also, people in all IMs, to one degree or another, can be seen as “cultural insiders” and “theological outsiders.”  What we mean is that as followers of Jesus living under the authority of the Bible, some of the insiders theological beliefs and practices (as well as some cultural ones) are being changed or redeemed and others are being rejected altogether.



Improper use of the term “proselyte”?

In UIM we argued that the New Testament does not follow the model of “proselyte” conversion. Waterman felt the term “proselyte” was pejorative. Different people use the terms “convert” and “proselyte” in different ways, so we can understand why Waterman feels as he does. But what we intended is similar to what Andrew Walls discusses in his article, “Converts or Proselytes?: the crisis over conversion in the early church.” Like him, we used the term “proselyte” in a missiological sense, not a pejorative one. But Waterman also objects to our use of the term “proselytization,” because its “biblical context properly refers to conversion of Gentiles to Judaism (not to non-Christians of any background becoming Christians).” However, Walls explains the appropriateness of this application of the term proselytization in the following:


On many occasions since Galatians was written, good Christian people have tried to ensure that those they have brought to faith would become as much like themselves as possible; have the same priorities and avoidances, hold the same things important, take the Torah [Law] and circumcision of those who evangelized them. And it is safer. If any conservative-minded Jerusalem believers read 1 Corinthians, they would no doubt have found all their fears about the decision of the Apostolic Council [in Jerusalem (Acts 15)] confirmed and would be doubly sure of the folly of leaving raw believers, newly brought out of paganism, without the guidance of the Torah [Moses’ Law]. The way of proselytes is safe. They give up their old customs and beliefs and take up those of someone else. There is a sacrifice involved— they give up their national heritage and social affiliations. But once this is done, the guideposts are clear; there is a precedent for every eventuality, every situation has been met before.

Converts face a much riskier life. Converts have to be constantly, relentlessly turning their ways of thinking, their education and training, their ways of working and doing things, toward Christ. They must think Christ into the patterns of thought they have inherited, into their networks of relationship and their processes for making decisions. And new issues, cultural or intellectual, where it is necessary to make a Christian choice, are arising all the time and with no exact parallels in the past. Proselytes may walk by sight; converts have to walk by faith.

The distinction between proselyte and convert is vital to Christian mission. It springs out of the very origins of that mission, demonstrated in the first great crisis of the early church. The later church has seen many heresies come and go, but the earliest of them has been by far the most persistent. The essence of the “Judaizing” tendency is the insistence on imposing our own religious culture, our own Torah [Law] and circumcision. Christian conversion as demonstrated in the New Testament is not about substituting something new for something old—that is to move back to the proselyte model, which the apostolic church could have adopted but decided to abandon. Perhaps they remembered the word of the Lord—his only recorded utterance on the subject of proselytes—that proselytes, won by infinite pains, readily become children of hell (Matt. 23:15). Nor is conversion a case of adding something new to what is already there, a new set of beliefs and values to supplement and refine those already in place. Conversion requires something much more radical. It is less about content than about direction. It involves turning the whole personality with its social, cultural, and religious inheritance toward Christ, opening it up to him. It is about turning what is already there (International Bulletin of Missionary Research 28:1 [Jan. 2004], 6, bold font is ours).


Societal dynamics over beliefs?

Waterman states,

The question in every context is: ‘Which items receive top priority in decisions about what to reject, reinterpret or transform? Is it ‘societal and communal dynamics’ or ‘beliefs and practices’?” I would give priority to beliefs and practices, which is why I see “inside Hinduism” and “inside Islam” as crucially different. It appears from their recent comment that Travis and Talman see societal and communal dynamics as taking higher priority.


We do not think we asked or answered the question as Waterman presents it (i.e., Which takes top priority: “Is it ‘societal and communal dynamics’ or ‘beliefs and practices’?”)  If it sounds like we did, we did not intend to. What seems to take top priority are those points or issues that the scriptures confront—whether they concern their society, community, beliefs, practices, or themselves. This is the role and work of the Holy Spirit speaking to them.

The key point that we were making was not that defenders of IMs view societal and communal dynamics as taking higher or lower priority over beliefs and practices. To the contrary, as evangelical Christians, we naturally give priority to beliefs and religious practices over social and communal dynamics. But as we stated in our first response,

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 evangelical Christians, we are all inherently essentialist in our view of faith; thus it is only natural that we view other religions in that way. However, in our view, the vast majority of the world’s population are not essentialists (with religious fundamentalists being the chief exception), but communal in their orientation (what we have often described as a “cultural” or “socio-religious” view of religion). They belong to a group that has an identity that we view as a “religion” (whether they be Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, or other). Their religious identity is often not based on a particular set of beliefs per se, but primarily on their belonging to a community—just as individuals belong to a family regardless of what they believe.

In closing let us say that we appreciate Waterman raising points and asking questions.  The movements we described in our book are a relatively new phenomenon.  Even though we are supportive of IMs, we also have questions ourselves and want to remain in learning mode. We do hope, though, that this present response of ours can serve as a final one to this series of interactions over Waterman’s critique of UIM.

With joy as we look forward to remembering our Savior’s birth!

Harley Talman

John Jay Travis



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