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UIM: Waterman Response to Talman & Travis

05 Nov Posted by in | Comments

I appreciate Travis and Talman’s response to my review of Understanding Insider Movements. At a few points they used phrases like “It is not clear to us what Waterman has in mind” and “Waterman does not realize,” so I’d like to offer clarification and comment on just a few items mentioned in their response.

  1. Christianity Today’s feature on IM. In my review I objected to Talman’s statement: “CT cast favorable light on IMs in an interview between Gene Daniels and a Muslim follower of Jesus,” since the interviewee (Abu Jaz) himself strongly objected to CT’s misrepresentation of his ministry.
    • The subsequent issue of CT (January 2013) after the interview was published, included this clarification: “The ‘people of the Gospel’ are not Muslims theologically. They are not worshiping Jesus in the Mosque. They have no right to practice worship in the mosque in our legal and theological context. The ‘people of the Gospel’ are an assembly which has their own identity. They are cultural insiders, but theological outsiders.” (This version of the CT article apparently posted in February 2013.)
    • This clarification also appears in this discussion, posted November 2013.
    • It was also quoted and discussed at some length in the 2013 IJFM article “Bridging the ‘Socio-Religious’ Divide: A Conversation Between Two Missiologists.”

Two years later (in 2015) came a full-length article by Abu Jaz, expanding on the differences between his movement and IM. At roughly the same time, UIM arrived. Travis and Talman responded to my review: “Waterman does not realize that IJFM 32:2 was not published until after UIM had already been printed.” My review cited the most substantial and easiest to find link (rather than the two-years prior postings). But I found it hard to believe that Talman was unaware of Abu Jaz’s prior statement that CT’s pro-IM framing misrepresented his movement and practices. So I emailed Talman, who explained: “I drafted the Historical Development article in 2012 and I see from a later version that I updated it by adding the note about the CT article in April 2013….Reading the clarification…, I did not at all view it as his disavowing IMs or as accusing CT of misrepresenting his movement.”

So my disagreement with Talman on this point is not a matter of the timing of UIM’s publication vs. IJFM 32:2. Our difference hinges on his positive view of CT’s casting “favorable light on IMs” versus my concern about CT’s misrepresentation of field realities.

  1. Naaman the Syrian as a template for Christian interaction with other faiths? Talman & Travis responded to my review: “Waterman says that he hopes that in a great many ways, Christians today would act differently than Elisha did. It is not clear to us what Waterman has in mind, but he seems to imply that the prophet Elijah [sic] was acting contrary to the will of God.” I’m happy to clarify that I certainly did not have in mind that Elisha acted contrary to the will of God. My intention can be found in my next sentence (also quoted soon after in the Talman/Travis response): “This argument from silence also ignores progressive revelation.” Under the Old Covenant (at Elisha’s time), the nation Israel (with its unique laws and culture) served as the locus of God’s kingdom on earth, the central revelation of God’s salvation. Under the New Covenant (Christians today), God’s kingdom decidedly becomes manifest in every nation and culture on earth. Ignoring this radical difference through facile application of an OT example seems to me an incredibly weak argument.

With the events of Christ’s death, resurrection and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, radical changes took place in the relationship of gospel and discipleship to world cultures, as well as the corporate reality of the people of God (the body of Christ). I would propose that OT examples (and even the pre-cross/resurrection/Pentecost example of Jesus’ earthly ministry) should be applied through the lens of post-Pentecost apostolic teaching about the issues in question. This understanding of progressive revelation seems to me a basic principle of hermeneutics.

Travis and Talman continue: “as so many chapters in UIM attest, the NT does not ‘progress’ toward requiring proselyte conversion.” I question the direct application of the category “proselyte conversion” to Muslims who choose that as they follow Jesus, they want to join brothers and sisters throughout the world in being called Christians. I’ll not argue the point in this brief response; I simply note that I consider this a too-simple application of a pre-Pentecost (and in current usage pejorative) category for Jesus-following Muslims who want to call themselves Christians. (Note: I don’t argue for requiring this is terminology; I only mention that I consider Travis and Talman’s use of the “proselyte” phrase unhelpful.)

  1. Using the gospels as a truncated canon? Travis and Talman wrote: “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).”

As just described, I see a radical difference in issues of discipleship and culture before and after the cross/resurrection/Pentecost. During the years of Jesus’ earthly ministry, ritual blood sacrifices by a Jewish priest were still required. Circumcision of males was still required. Eating “unclean” food was still forbidden. The church did not yet exist, and Gentiles had not yet been explicitly welcomed as Gentiles into membership in God’s family. The list goes on. To use the gospels as a template for New Covenant discipleship ignores the vital implications of discipleship worked out and applied in the remainder of the New Testament.

Also, I again object to Travis and Talman’s prejudicial use of the word “proselytization,” which in biblical context properly refers to conversion of Gentiles to Judaism (not to non-Christians of any background becoming Christians). I don’t see Jesus opposing or even commenting one way or the other on “the proselytization of Gentiles and Samaritans.” He didn’t practice or call for proselytization, likely since he was about to inaugurate the beginning of a new age with new cultural patterns and guidelines for those in God’s kingdom. But since the Jewish law was fully in force during Jesus’ earthly ministry, it seems unwise to extrapolate cultural/discipleship patterns from Jesus’ actions into the present without clear reference to post-Pentecost teaching for churches consisting of people from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds (such as we find in Acts and the Epistles).

Concerning Travis and Talman’s question, “Do later epistles overturn the Jerusalem Council’s decision and Paul’s opposition to Judaizing gentiles?” Clearly the answer is “no.” But the question is framed assuming a questionable direct application of the Jew/Gentile dynamics discussed in the New Testament to the Christian/Muslim dynamics of the present. This dubious application has been argued against in numerous articles, so I’ll not repeat the arguments here.

  1. Societal dynamics prioritized over beliefs? Travis and Talman wrote: “Waterman felt it was unhelpful…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 book….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.” This seems to convey that for at least these two proponents of IM, “societal and communal dynamics” take priority of importance over “beliefs and practices.” I think we all affirm the societal and communal value of believers remaining connected to their birth community as much as possible (consistent with biblical obedience), in order to be a light in that context. 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.
  1. Description follows a phenomenon rather than preceding it. My review noted that Talman “amply demonstrates that some Western missionaries in the 20th century proposed a paradigm like the insider paradigm decades before anyone claimed to have seen or experienced an insider movement.” Travis and Talman responded: “Actually what Talman said was merely that missiological thinking was making room for IMs—not that they initiated them,” thus refuting a claim I never made. I didn’t say that Western missionaries “initiated” IMs. My point was only to underline Talman’s acknowledgement that Western missiological theory and effort long preceded the emergence of any IM among Muslims. I didn’t claim causality.

 My point was that in light of prior statements, like for example that of John Travis: “I explained that the C-Spectrum was primarily descriptive” (in “The C1-C6 Spectrum after Fifteen Years” – EMQ Oct 2015), I wanted to note that whereas many Alongsiders have claimed to be simply reporting “descriptively” the spontaneous appearance of IMs, the missiological theory of Westerners (including many Alongsiders) chronologically preceded the rise of IMs. Since, as Talman demonstrates, prior missiological thinking “was making room for IMs,” and in some cases “’alongsiders’ . . . have made direct or indirect contributions that supported or facilitated the emergence of a movement,” I just wanted to note it seems less than likely that those Alongsiders’ advocacy of IMs was merely descriptive.

  1. A word of appreciation. I applaud this follow-up and admission from Travis and Talman: “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.” I’m glad to have encouraged direct interaction with other authors and better representation of their views. And I affirm Garrison’s description of these movements as “very nuanced and complex, not fitting neatly into anyone’s categories or labels.” I consider this a good caution to all of us involved in this discussion, both advocates of IM and those raising questions and concerns.

I hope that through ongoing Spirit-led interaction, we can all grow together to become in every way the mature body of him who is the head

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