Young, Restless and Uninformed: Responding to Kevin DeYoung on Insider Movements

Insider Movements: Concerns Abound but Mission Does Not

Kevin DeYoung
It is odd to me that the subject of contextualization in cross-cultural missions – particularly that amongst Muslims and (to lesser extent) Hindus – has become something of a hot topic among evangelical leaders.  It seems now that everyone who is anyone is required to have an opinion about the so-called “insider movements” and that, by and large, their opinion is supposed to be negative.  We are told again and again to beware of the dangers of The Insider Movement lest we all become swept away in this sinister wave of missionary heresy.

Sadly, all this talk seems to be doing very little to actually mobilize Christians to become engaged in cross-cultural evangelism or even simply to develop a cross-cultural friendships.  Prominent Christian pastors, seminary presidents, authors and opinion leaders are “concerned”, we hear of something called “over-contextualization” or of “going too far”, and, of course, they are entitled to express such concerns.  What puzzles me, however, is how so many of the North American Christian masses have suddenly also become “concerned” about insider movements without ever having previously been even the slightest bit concerned for the millions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others who have never heard the message of Christ, have never met one of His followers, or have never yet had even one verse of Scripture translated into their languages.  In a global Church that actually embezzles more money from donors than it gives to cross-cultural missions, much of the armchair missiology being spewed forth seems a bit out-of-place.  But I digress.

Recent Contributions to the Controversy over Insider Movements

Last year, much of the controversy surrounding insider movements was being fueled by an anti-insider documentary entitled “Half-Devil, Half Child” [check out our review here] which pulled no punches in its opposition to contextualization efforts among Muslims.  In recent weeks, the debate has been stirred up again by the January 2013 issue of Christianity Today, especially with its much-tweeted and poorly titled cover article, “Worship in the Mosque”.  The article is a fantastic read for many reasons, not the least of which is the interviewee’s obvious passion for bringing the good news of the Lord Jesus to Muslim peoples - perhaps the most seldom expressed sentiment in all this insider v. outsider movement flap.  

The article has, of course, received its share of criticism.  Among those raising their concerns is KevinDeYoung, a pastor and author who holds considerable influence over the young, restless and reformed crowd (of which I’m basically a part, though the “young” part is becoming less and less true).  DeYoung, blogging over at the popular Gospel Coalition website, responded to the CT article with three questions and three concerns.  And since, I've been watching people “like” and “tweet” his article around since it went live, I’m guessing his thoughts have found some significant resonance among many of the young, restless and (in this case) uninformed reformed. 

So, that in mind [while fully aware that the odds of DeYoung reading this post are slim to none], I wanted to take a stab at responding to his questions.  As I do, I acknowledge that DeYoung is no missiologist.  So, I want to extend some degree of grace, similar to my response to John Piper on the same issue, recognizing that this debate is a fundamentally missiological one and thus a bit outside DeYoung’s wheelhouse.

The Questions of Kevin DeYoung

Pastor DeYoung’s post raises three questions regarding insider movements in general and the CT article in particular.  Let’s take a look at them one by one:

1.       What is the role of the church?

While DeYoung acknowledges that insider movement believers oftentimes see themselves as belonging to the universal Church, he is still concerned about their essential ecclesiology.  But let me say this once again -- something I've said again and again. Pastor DeYoung, there is no Insider Movement!  Whenever  I hear someone use the phrase "The Insider Movement", I fully expect a sucker punch.  It is the chief tactic of Outsider Movement proponents to attempt to portray insider movements as a single, monolithic and dangerous movement sharing common beliefs, practices and values.  The strategy is to essentially paint all pursuers of contextualization with the same brush and then to highlight the "worst" elements of particular insider movements, claiming that such beliefs or practices are shared by everyone who is a "part of the Insider movement".  Of course, this is ridiculous.  The Insider Movement does not exist as a single, unified thing with secret handshakes and membership cards. One cannot be for it or against it because IT doesn't exist.  In actual fact, there are many, many different insider movements among many different people groups.  We do not all share a common set of values or agreed upon practices and (to address DeYoung's specific question) certainly do not have a common ecclesiology.  

Indeed if you ask a bunch of insider Christ-followers about the “role of the church” I would guess you’d find nearly as much variety of opinion as you would at any large, American evangelical gathering.  My point is that when DeYoung asks, “What about church officers, weekly preaching, the administration of the sacraments, membership and church discipline?” he seems to be suggesting that these are pretty much settled issues for all non-insider movement Christians.  I think we all know better than that.

Now, are these important issues?  Absolutely.  Are insider movement Christ-followers working through these issues in their context?  Yes.  Is there a degree of uncertainty and disagreement about these things among the wide variety of insider movements in the world?  Of course.  Is this struggle at all unique to insider movements?  Not on your life!  Now, I certainly don’t begrudge DeYoung the right to espouse his own Reformed Church of America ecclesiology and even to be passionate enough to teach and advocate for it in the broader body of Christ.  But I think he fails to see that being a part of an insider movement doesn’t make one any more likely to disagree with him on those things than does being a Southern Baptist, a charismatic, or and Anglican.  The bottom line is that most insider movements consist of local bodies of Christ-followers who are a part of the larger body of Christ and who take a variety of approaches to the sacraments, leadership, discipleship, and worship.  You know, just like every other church and denomination on the planet.

2.       Why not try to form a more culturally sensitive expression of the Christian church?

Pastor DeYoung's second question is difficult for me to understand and my hope is that he will do us a favor and explain exactly what he means by this.  According to my reading of the CT article, the particular insider movement in focus (i.e. “The People of the Gospel”), did exactly what DeYoung's question seems to imply that they didn't do.  Indeed that seems to be the driving point of the article.  I’m not sure in what sense the group in question is, in DeYoung’s view, not a church.  Unless, DeYoung is saying that contextualization efforts should consist solely of adapting already existing churches.  If that is the case, DeYoung should simply give this a bit more consideration.  I’m sure he can attest from his own experiences that this is easier said than done.  By and large, I observe that precisely what insider movements do is create “church” (i.e. Christ-centered bodies of disciples) within a given context.  I suppose it could be the case that DeYoung feels it is necessary to use the actual English word “church” in every context.  I hope he doesn’t mean that, because that would be kind of silly.  Slightly less silly would be for DeYoung to advocate that all new churches always use the word for “church” (translated, of course) that the majority of Christians use in that region.  But this would wrongly assume that the most popularly used word is the best translation of the New Testament concept of a church.  In many cases, it isn't the best word at all.  DeYoung says that he would encourage insider movement leaders to “dream of a church that embraces some familiar cultural styles without jettisoning the idea of church altogether”.  In my view, the CT article featured a man who did exactly that.  So, I don’t really understand the problem here.

3.       Shouldn’t some things be strange when we are called out of darkness into light?

Of course this is a very popular notion among outsider movement advocates.  Again and again we are told that the Bible calls us to be a peculiar people, to be separate, to shine brightly in contrast to a dark world.  But this is mostly empty rhetoric used to justify the clear separatist mentality so common among outsider movement advocates.  In actual fact, such scriptures have nothing to do with language, clothing styles, music, art, liturgical forms, and the like. DeYoung, who is a gifted Bible teacher, certainly knows this to be true.  Indeed to use these Biblical concepts in this way actually undermines the high calling of holiness we've received.  These scriptures speak of the kind of holy character and transformed hearts that followers of Christ should manifest in the world.  DeYoung asks if the rituals and vocabulary and general feel of the church should be strange to new believers.  The answer is a resounding “NO!”.  These should be absolutely as familiar as possible and not foreign.  The extent to which we fail to fully contextualize worship, evangelism and discipleship is the extent to which we inadvertently communicate that the locus of transformation for the new creation in Christ is somewhere other than in that person’s new heart, new mind, new life, and new Lord.  The most powerful contrast is the disciple of Jesus who seems in every way to be fully a member of the Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist community and yet exhibits an unmistakable divine life within his or herself.  Such a person shines so powerfully and so mysteriously that onlookers cannot help but to ask as to the meaning of that light – “You are clearly one of us, and yet . . .” (think, Incarnation).  But for the extracted new believer, almost no degree of character change can overcome the non-believer’s assumption that all evident changes are due to that forsaking of the person’s birth community and culture and are therefore necessarily bad.

The Concerns of and for Kevin DeYoung

DeYoung ends his article by raising three concerns about insider movements.  In particular:

-  There seems to be a naïve view of culture.
-  There seems to be an overly casual attitude toward theological truth.
-  There seems to be an implicit understanding that the Holy Spirit will do what human teachers don’t.

Personally, I don’t believe the CT article provides enough information for us to make any particular judgments about these issues as they relate to the particular insider movement in question.  Having personally been working among insider movement believers, leaders, and cross-cultural missionaries for a number of years I can’t say that I've noticed any dangerous trends related to the concerns DeYoung offers.  On the contrary, I find that insiders tend to have a fairly advanced understanding of culture which easily surpasses the typical, in-the-pew Christian.  Beyond that, I have found that attitudes toward theological truth and the Holy Spirit's activity exhibit the same level of diversity that one finds in the broader Church.  So, it isn’t that DeYoung raises unimportant concerns, it is just that they don’t seem to have anything in particular to do with contextualization or insider movements.  It is a fallacy to assume that because a particular insider movement exhibits a certain problem or weakness that all insider movements should therefore be characterized as being prone to the same.

Before leaving off, I think it is important to raise a very important concern about Pastor DeYoung's post -- namely, that he says nothing at all about how critical it is to reach Muslims with the gospel.  Does DeYoung assume that his readers will already believe this?  This is, of course, where I began today's post.  I'm concerned about the fact that we have all these concerned people stating their concerns about the methods employed in reaching the least-reached peoples in the world and yet so few of them seem concerned that we actually obey the Great Commission among them.  Now that's something to be concerned about, Pastor DeYoung! 


  1. All of these (well-intentioned) voices crying out about the dangers of contextualization hardly ever seem to take into account that their own theology and ecclesiology has been contextualized from/into Western cultural traditions/forms. Why do we think that we (Americans) hold the only true standard of what constitutes a church? In other words, if a local body of Christ doesn't pass our test of "church", then they (those dangerous insiders), must be "jettisoning the idea of church altogether”. And not to pick a fight, but from my limited perspective it seems that it's mostly the Reformed (pastoral) crowd that has these issues (realizing that we all have our own issues to deal with :). Cody, in your opinion, does this come from putting the ecclesiological cart before the missiological horse?

    1. I agree with you. I don't know why it appears, as you say, that the Reformed crowd is louder on this issue. I fall more into that theological perspective myself and obviously take a different view on contextualization. Yes, problems do arise from putting ecclesiology before missiology, but don't have to. I know some very missionaries with very, very strongly ecclesiological positions who are nevertheless fine contextualizers. I think the problem lies more in the cultural presuppositions and biases that you have indicated.

    2. I think there is a lot of ingrained fundamentalism in the opponents of IM. (I'm not an IM proponent.) Theology always has a conversation partner (the bible + something) but only a fundamentalist would deny this. It's not necessarily a Reformed issue, but an issue of nascent fundamentalism.

      Also, when DeYoung asks about the "role of the church" he appears to ignore Abu Jaz emphasis on a "Muslim focus church planting strategy"!

      DeYoung also fails to see how the Amercian evangelical church IS already insider. He accuses Abu Jaz of a naive view of culture, when I actually think its a case of the kettle calling the pot black. I have a lot of respect for DeYoung, but I'm afraid that he might be operating within a fundatmentalist, Christendom paradigm. (I know that's not fair of me to say without backing up, but that's my sense from many of his writings, and I don't think I'm alone in this opinion.)

    3. Thanks, Warrick. As always, your feedback hits the nail on the proverbial head. I'm excited to dig into your latest post on the C-spectrum. Getting to that next.

  2. Yesterday my 3 year old daughter was trying to count the number of people at our table and, at first, kept forgetting to count herself. How often do we make the same mistake in our considerations of how another culture embodies this thing called "church"? We are quick to point to all of the differences but are blind to our own peculiarities. Once we pointed out to my daughter that she was omitting herself she erred on the other side and counted herself twice as she went around the table. This seems to be the other common error I see from the western church, that even when they acknowledge the diversity of worship forms and theologies around the world they often give twice the weight to their own peculiarities. Just my two cents.

    1. Worth more than two cents, Indo. Great insight. Thank you for sharing!

  3. i feel like the same misunderstandings that plagued critics of the emergent church are being recycled in this new controversy. good stuff here, cody.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Andrew. Seems not only the same criticisms but many of the same critics as well.

  4. Anonymous11:39 AM

    The tension is constant ever since the time of the Apostles. He who defines reality from his vantage point will always have difficulty recognizing any divergent view. No hesitation crosses in his mind as to the existence of a different option from another point of view for he has only one view. It is not because there is no merit in the divergent view (in this case the contextualization). The major problem is this: from the angle of the outsider that reality is invisible. The option you have is to wait until he moves to a different position. The problem is in most of the cases such people do not move unless they die or some sort of earth quake happens. They are not willing to change. Reality is complex. The fool has the advantage of avoiding the pain of dealing with the complex nature of the truth.
    The new and divergent approach scares those who are in the comfort of the “unchangeable” old culture. The one great threat of new approaches bring to the equation is that they are not under the control of the old system. It is new. It is unknown. In general old systems are control freaks. They shot at anything new that deviate from the old system. By the way I am not saying everything old is bad. Let us not waste our time battling. Better to have wisdom to create synergy between the old and the new system. Both have something to contribute in their respective domain.
    Preach hearsay from the old pulpit and people will give you applause. Communicate truth from a new pulpit (simply changing the color or shape of the pulpit) and then be ready to be stoned. That should change. The higher road requires reflection and constructive dialogue. Dialogue requires inquisitive mind that is willing to acquire a new insight from the changing dynamics of society.

    1. Thank you for the feedback. I'm afraid it is not altogether clear where you stand on the issue. In this case, is "old culture" referring to the old Muslim context or Christian traditionalism?

  5. Anonymous4:52 PM

    "Sadly, all this talk seems to be doing very little to actually mobilize Christians to become engaged in cross-cultural evangelism or even simply to develop a cross-cultural friendships."

    Agreed, thanks Cody for a terrific article. I encourage everyone to take the precious little moments that God has given us here on earth, go to our neighbors and take food daily with them. Then let the fragrance of Christ emanate from us to them. If Jesus was to have worn a coat and left it here 2,000 years ago and we had that same coat in perfect condition today, we should wear that coat so that when someone sees it they know it is Jesus' coat and that we wear it very well. - Rich

  6. Salaam Corniche6:13 AM

    I have lived and worked in Muslim majority countries for the last 12 years. I am passionate to see them come to Christ. I have seen first-hand the divisions that those endeared to "hyper seeker-friendly Muslim outreach methods" [HSFMOM] [call it IM if you like] have sown in these areas. I have heard first-hand the pain of Bengalis being treated as guinea-pigs for Western missiological experimenters. What am I saying? Cody, please be careful about dismissing any missiological criticism over very real issues. I share deYoung's Reformed persuasion and because we believe in sola scriptura, we want to see it exegeted rightly, also by [HSFMOM]. This was not stressed by Kevin, but look at all of the proof texts of [HSFMOM] and you will see them wanting. That is because those endeared to this--and yes their level of endearment varies--tend to be social scientists first--read Rebecca Lewis---and theologians second.
    Blessings on your day.

    1. Hi Salaam,

      I really apprecaite your passion! Thank you for calling us back to the Bible.

      Missiology is by definition inclusive of the social sciences. Theology always has a dialogue partner; we cannot do theology in a vacuum. (Systematic theology is the dialogue between philosophy and the Bible.) The IM needs to be looked at missiologically (including in a way that isn’t divorced from context). I’m only bringing this issue up because it appears you might understand the meaning of “sola scriptura.” I wholeheartedly agree that we shouldn’t “proof text”, but honestly, I see Traditionalists (or Those-who-love-Christendom TWLC ;) ) doing the exact same thing.

      For a good example of a missiological approach to socio-religious identity, see

      The Bible sets the foundation and trajectory of the Insider discussion (because it points to the exclusive, glorious sufficiency of Christ in all things), but the social sciences make sure we stay grounded in reality, and not in some idealistic discussion that never happens anywhere (this is what keep hearing from Traditionalists).

      BTW, i'm NOT an IM proponet, but neither am I Traditionalist. Cody is only pointing out some obvious missiological falacies (not just here but in other places as well) among Traditionalists, and I'm pretty sure he's not an IM proponent as well.

      Hope this helps,

    2. Brother Salaam, I believe I have been quite careful in my dealing with Pastor Kevin's questions and concerns. If I have made a mistake somewhere, I'd ask you to point that out specifically.

      As for a label like "IM Proponent", I don't know what that would entail so I can neither confirm nor deny that I am one. I am personally engaged in a work in a non-Muslim context that many would label as an IM. I would certainly describe its trajectory as insider (as opposed to outsider/extractionary). Certainly I am a proponent of that. But, again, "The Insider Movement" doesn't exist as a unified consistent thing, so it really isn't possible to be FOR it or AGAINST it.

  7. Anonymous2:46 PM

    Great article. Thanks for writing it.