Entirely Unbalanced: A Review of "Half Devil, Half Child" (Pt. 2 of 3)

Photo By FirasMT

Today we continue (check out part 1 here) with part 2 of our 3-part review and response to the Outsider Movement film Half Devil, Half Child.  Today, our guest blogger, John Raines, shares some critical insights about discipleship and colonialism before taking on the film's take on the false reporting of mass conversions in Bangladesh.   


There Are No Shortcuts to Good Missiology -OR- Real Problems Should Not Be Dismissed Because of Some Bad Solutions

The problem with labels like the "Insider Movement" and "insiders" is that they are a way of bypassing helpful, but difficult, theological discussions of the particulars. Rather than carefully attending to the discipleship of each new believer, you simply have to ask, "should a person proclaim Jesus inside a mosque or not?" If you say "yes", then you can support anyone who tries to. If you say "no", then you can fight all the people who said "yes". But neither answer is good missiology or real contextualization. We might dig a little deeper by asking, "what would someone have to do in order to be able to proclaim Jesus in a mosque?" The answers to that question would vary greatly because there are so many different types of mosques. In some mosques, in order to be listened to, you might need to interpret the Qur'an like a radical Salafi. In other mosques, simply claiming to believe in the God of Abraham would be enough. And, of course, there is a wide spectrum between these two, and that spectrum is full of issues that we need to think about and discern as the body of Christ. Boiling that discernment process down to one question, "do you agree with the Insider Movement or not", is perhaps the least helpful thing that anyone in the process has yet done.

But here is the biggest problem: even if these "Insider Movement" advocates have answered every missiological challenge wrongly, they did so while responding to real problems that exist in communicating the gospel to Muslim people. These are issues that need to be addressed – wisely, and drawing from a wealth of theological reflection and church history, certainly, but they must be addressed – because they are real problems. It is a problem that when we say "Son of God" a Muslim hears, "the offspring of God's sex with a woman". It is a problem that the division between a believing son and an unbelieving father might be historical baggage (like the Crusades), so that the true sword of the Gospel is not even brought to bear. It is a problem that one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith, the Trinity, is almost universally misunderstood by Muslims to be polytheism. These are all problems that we, the Church, need to address in the way we share the gospel. Things like the film Half Devil, Half Child dismiss all of them by attributing false motives to the missionaries who are trying to respond to such problems. While it is true that some people who follow these contextualization practices do it to gain money or avoid persecution, the attempt to contextualize the Gospel for Muslims is not driven by these motives, but rather by a desire to solve problems like the ones mentioned above. The debate over contextualization can only advance helpfully as it centers itself around answering these questions in a theologically sound way.

Contextualization and Post-Colonialism

The film Half Devil, Half Child is framed to be a statement about the colonialism that is inherent in practicing contextualized missions. It hopes to show that contextualizing the Gospel is a Western idea, which the indigenous believers of Bangladesh reject and which the Muslims of Bangladesh can see through, and therefore that contextualization is colonial. Now of course, any missionary practice that subjugates those with whom it is sharing the gospel is itself offensive to the gospel and should be stopped, so this is a serious charge. But I wonder how we are defining colonialism in this case. There is a certain definition of colonialism which simply says that colonialism is the attempt of empowered people of one culture to influence the disempowered people of another culture. Power in this case may be defined as access to resources which enable one to realize one's full potential, goals, and happiness. Westerners often have more access to resources than others, are therefore more empowered, and are by definition colonial in all attempts to teach or share the Gospel in Bangladesh. Or as the film put it, "You know what we [Western Christians] should do? Sit down and shut up." 

But, the definition used above is not the definition of "colonialism" as the global Church has sought to address that problem over the past 50 years (or the last 2,000 years by different names), and it does not really seem to be the definition at work on the ground in Bangladesh, either. By the way the Church has addressed colonialism, it seems to be defining colonialism more like this: colonialism is the establishment and support of hierarchical structures in which the people of one culture hold power over the people of another culture, and in this case, power is defined as the freedom to choose how to use indigenous resources (personnel, finances, time, energy, etc.). The Church has moved away from this kind of colonialism by raising up indigenous leaders who exercise all the authority within the power structures that steer the indigenous church. But these leaders, by virtue of having often been "raised up" by Westerners, themselves speak in the tones of the traditions of their spiritual fathers and mothers, even though they speak with their own voices. There will always exist that tension, which is why every Christian who disciples a brother or sister must strive to be the image of Christ. Within this scheme, anyone may bring the gospel to anyone else, and it is not colonial provided it comes not in the power of man but in the power of the Spirit and provided that the same Spirit is acknowledged in the lives of indigenous believers as raising them up and gifting them for leadership among their own people in Christ's Church. This, in fact, was the way that the established indigenous church in Bangladesh came to be guided by the Bangladeshi brothers who were shown in the film.

How colonial is this wave of contextualized missiology dubbed the "Insider Movement"? Insofar as it is a general collection of ideas and practices initiated by Western missionaries (and that is complicated) with the intent to create change among Bangladeshi Muslims, it is colonial according to the first definition. However, if these contextualized missionary practices are raising up Bangladeshi leaders who exercise authority among their constituents, then it is not more colonial than the established indigenous church in Bangladesh, although it will continue to exhibit similar tensions, which are inherent in that form of post-colonialism. Even based on the evidence of the film, the leaders and practitioners of contextualized ministry in Bangladesh are now Bangladeshis. If that is true, then the key concern is not so much colonialism, but whether the tradition that these indigenous leaders echo is a faithful one. And so, again, we must return to the specific issues of the contextualization debate in order to helpfully move forward.

A Story and Its Use

Before I proceed to mention those particulars, I feel the need to comment on one of the film's sub-plots: the false reporting that hundreds of thousands of converts had come to Christ in Bangladesh through "insider" ministries. The story receives a prominent place in the film, but is a bit confusing and possibly misleading. Some national missionaries had falsely reported 750,000 new baptisms to their Western supporter, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, and they had reported that these believers were all "insiders". They used pictures of people taking their public baths, claiming that they were photos of baptisms. Reporting massive numbers of baptisms insured that the organization would continue to support their work. (It's a good example of what happens when your organization is too numbers-focused, but everyone in the world has already beaten the IMB with that stick, so I won't say more.) Eventually one of the nationals' conscience was burdened by the lie, and he confessed, bringing the whole house of cards down. 

It's a very good story. Here's how that story can legitimately be applied to the "insider" debate: 

Because the baptism numbers were so high, we assumed that these methods were amazingly effective, and that made us want to use them. Now, however, we see that the methods are not the silver bullet we thought they were. This was a good lesson to learn, and besides, we should never judge the validity of a practice based solely on its perceived effectiveness anyway! Lesson learned. 

I'm not sure that was the angle from which this story was told, though. Here's how I fear that the story was illegitimately applied to the "insider" debate by implication in this film: 

Advocates of the Insider Movement are all liars and swindlers who report false numbers in order to receive money from the West.  

This isn't a logical conclusion to draw from this story because the false missionary was not practicing any sort of missiology – he was just lying about a lot of things. He wasn't an "insider"; he was lying about being an "insider". If this sort of practice were typical of the "Insider Movement", then there would be no bad insider movements to worry about (or good ones, obviously) because no one claiming to be using "insider" practices would actually be doing so. They wouldn't be sharing the gospel at all. They'd just be con-men pretending to use contextualized missiology, but not really doing so. So there would be no mosques full of "insiders" for us to worry about. There would just be a handful of people claiming that there were. To imply that this was typical of "insiders" would therefore be self-contradictory. And yet, by the way the film is put together, I'm not sure that wasn't being implied. 


Entirely Unbalanced: A Review of "Half Devil, Half Child" (Pt. 1 of 3)

Photo by By Roel Wijnants
In 2012, Red Futon Films released the film Half Devil, Half Child directed by Bill Nikides, whom the film's website describes as "the leading expert in Muslim ministry specifically on the Insider Movement" who is also known for his work as a co-editor to the questionably titled Chrislam (If you want to become a follower of Chrislam like, check this out). That's right, THE leading expert.  So, that just about settles it I suppose.  Any and all detractors now fall firmly into the category of "not THE leading expert". But we press on . . .

If you've been around this blog for awhile, you know that I'm a big believer in the intentional pursuit of contextualization in cross-cultural mission as imitation of Christ's Incarnation and that not only as a sound and Biblical missiological practice but also as a spiritual discipline.  I have written on the level of Biblical and missiological principle [see for example my response to John Piper] specifically in response to Outsider Movement advocates (i.e. those who attack contextualization and insider movements), but my special area of interest is the Hindu world.  For that reason, I make it a rule not to comment on specific forms and practices up for debate in the more popularly discussed realm of contextualization among Muslims.  However, when I saw that this documentary was being kicked all around the Twittersphere, I was more than eager for our own ministry's resident Islamic scholar take a crack at it.  

John Raines is an experienced cross-cultural worker and a highly gifted younger scholar who has been with our team for a while and normally writes at his own blog, Speech Acts.  He is, sadly, not the leading expert on Muslim ministry.  However, his response is careful, insightful and does an excellent job of shining a light on the deficiencies, inconsistencies and general imbalance of Half Devil, Half Child - a film that we overwhelmingly do NOT recommend except as a case study in propagandizing. So, without further ado, here is part one of our 3-part review of the film:


Response to the film Half Devil, Half Child - John Raines


There's a recent documentary film about "the Insider Movement" in Bangladesh. After seeing enough links to it bouncing around the internet, I finally ponied up the $3 and rented it. It's called Half Devil, Half Child, it's 80 minutes long, the interviews are engaging, and I think it will be effective in accomplishing its main goal. What is its main goal? To convince churches in America not to support missionaries who are engaging in the missiological practices of the "Insider Movement." Unfortunately, the film proceeds toward this goal by cacophony, not by clarity on what the Insider Movement is. More importantly, it fails to address how the Gospel ought to be preached and incarnated in the Muslim world, and without this constructive component, the film ultimately just another voice in the shouting match. 

Debate on the Insider Movement: Failing to Acknowledge Diversity in the "Insider Movement" Results in Confusion

The film's most confusing aspects arise from its failure to acknowledge the complexity of the Insider Movement - or, as Cody Lorance recently put it on this blog, that the "Insider Movement" doesn't actually exist, but is instead a lot of different insider movements that are diverse in their practices. The diversity of this kind of missiological thinking and praxis is actually discernible in some of the individual interviews in the documentary, but the film's editing smoothes over these nuances in favor of its big idea –insider missiology is all bad. 

The narrative arc of the film conveys one main idea: what started out as a missiological theory in the West has turned into a cesspool of heresy in Bangladesh. To illustrate this point, the film accuses advocates of the "Insider Movement," who are labeled insiders, of a long list of offenses, some of which seem mutually exclusive. For example, insiders are charged with denying Christ by staying in the mosque (in the documentary, none are charged with denying Jesus in speech – only in action – even the main "insider" interviewed in the film was very proactive in sharing what the Gospels say about Jesus), but are later shown as disingenuous because they stay in the mosque when it is obvious to all the Muslims there that they are Christians. So which is it? Do their actions deny Christ or do their actions overtly identify them as his followers? There may be some "insiders" for whom the first is true and others for whom the second is true, but it seems extremely unlikely that both could be true for any one person. 

Whether or not an "insider" denies or proclaims Jesus by his or her actions depends upon a massive number of decisions – whether to pray with non-believers or not, whether to wash before prayer or not, whether to pray publicly in the name of "God" or in the name of "Jesus", whether to call themselves a "Christian", a "Jesus Follower", a "Jesus-following Muslim", or simply a "Muslim", whether to quote the Quranic passages that don't contradict the Bible, whether to publicize their rejection of certain Islamic practices or not – thousands of small situations and choices which make up a life that either proclaims or denies Christ. It's actually the same thing that every Christian everywhere has ever experienced, and most of us have a fairly mixed track record. Some of the people labeled "insiders", find themselves in incredibly complex situations and navigate their choices poorly. They seem to deny Christ. Others navigate their choices wisely and, though like the rest of us they still make mistakes, they manage to proclaim Jesus inside the mosque.

[Want more? Check out What is wrong with Biblical Missiology's Critique of the Insider Movement? and Responding to John Piper's Response to "The Insider Movement"]


Don't forget to check in again tomorrow for part 2 of our review of Half Devil, Half Child.  In the meantime, I strongly recommend taking a look at the excellent article "Worshiping Jesus in a Mosque" recently published by Christianity Today.

[Entirely Unbalanced: Part 1Part 2Part 3]


As close as Timbuktu

Photo By Ben Haggis
I'm in a meeting.

This is a meeting that happens a few times a year-a gathering for leaders of local Baptist associations. I am here representing the leadership of Chicago Metro Baptist Association. As I sit here, trying to listen to the speaker, I keep thinking about Timbuktu.

Actually, I remember that one of the last times I heard Timbuktu used metaphorically was in one of these meetings. Do you know what I mean? We talk about things being as "far away as Timbuktu". Growing up, "Timbuktu" was a word that meant essentially "no place". I remember that in one of these meetings last year someone used a phrase like "as far away as Timbuktu". At the time I had just heart about how bad things were getting in Mali. In particular, the actual Timbuktu had been seized by Muslim extremists. I remember wanting to shout out, "wait a minute!!! Timbuktu is a real place with real people!"

So I am feeling like that again today. I just read today over at the iBenedictines blog that Timbuktu has been freed, but not without great cost. I encourage you to click over and read up on this very real place that The Lord deeply cares about.


What is the "theology of a gangsta"?

On the road today and had a great conversation with a friend about the concept of "Gangsta Theology". It was intriguing to hear what he had to say about how theistic gang-culture is. Welli encouraged him to write something about it and I hope the results will make it to this blog eventually. For now, I'm curious whether any of you have insights on this. I've tried to boil this down into some specific questions, but I can't quite formulate them. Perhaps you can?

If this topic interests you, let me encourage you to check out what my friend, Pastor Gregory Seal Livingston, is doing to engage violence with the hope of Christ this Lent. Read more here:

"Fasting From Violence" -- Lent 2013

Okay, talk to me about violence and Jesus. What does it mean to bring good news in an increasingly violent world?


Money and Missions: We Steal More than we Give

In the process of writing a chapter for a forthcoming book, I have come across a rather troubling statistic.  Here's the situation, or perhaps I'll ease you into it ...

1. In 1995, the International Journal of Missionary Research reported that the total amount of money embezzled globally from churches and Christian organization for the year totaled US$2 billion. (International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 1996)

2. By the year 2000, the total amount of donations misappropriated (i.e. stolen) had surged to US$13.2 billion. (IBMR, January 2000) 

2. By 2009, that figure had risen to US$27 billion and was reportedly growing at a rate of 5.77% annually.  (IBMR, January 2009)

3. The latest figures show that "ecclesiastical crime" has now surpassed US$37 billion.  (IBMR, January 2013)

By comparison, the same reports showed total foreign mission giving in 1995 at US$12 billion, 600% greater than ecclesiastical crime total.  By 2000, Christians were still spending the same amount on foreign mission (US$12 billion), but were by then embezzling a billion dollars more per year from their churches and organizations. In 2009, we gave US$25 billion to foreign missions and now we reportedly give about US$33 billion.  Forget the fact that this amounts to only about 0.09% of our total personal income (by the way, this percentage has remained flat since 1995), more startling is that this is fully US$4 billion less than the amount of money that we steal from donors!!!  To put it another way, while our giving to foreign missions has grown since 1995 by 275% (yay!), the amount we've burgled from ourselves has grown by a whopping 1,850% during that same period (boo!).

What that heck, people?!?! That's just really, really shameful. I'm pondering now how way back in 1818, some Christian leaders were convinced that we'd be able to complete the task of world evangelization within 20 years (Hall & Newell, The Conversion of the World, 1818).  A century later, Mott and the SVMers believed it was "entirely possible to fill the earth with the knowledge of Christ before the present generation passes away" (J.R. Mott, The Evangelization of the World in this Generation, 1902).  More recently so many thought that surely we'd be done by A.D. 2000 (or just a little beyond).  Here's what Ralph Winter wrote in 1989:

"It does not seem impossible for the evangelical congregations of the world to adopt by name all of the remaining unreached peoples by the end of 1991.  This, at least, is a good goal to shoot for.  Then, the agencies need to try to engage every group by the year 1995.  That means for missionaries to be at work, either on the spot or as non-residents.  As the world Christian movement gains momentum, every remaining unreached group becomes closer and closer to other groups where the gospel is already being preached . . . . There does not seem to be any overarching obstacle which would make it impossible for there to be a church for every people by the year 2000." (Winter, "Unreached Peoples: Recent Developments in the Concept", 1989)

It begs the question as to how much our thievery may be hindering our ability to faithfully carry out our God-given mission.  I mean we are certainly robbing God (i.e. not tithing), but then we are robbing his Church in the manner of Hophni and Phineas.  What indeed should we expect from the Lord in the face of this?

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Mal 3:8-10 ESV)

Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD. The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest's servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, "Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw." And if the man said to him, "Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish," he would say, "No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force." Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt. 
(1Sa 2:12-17 ESV)


Christopher's Presentation on Diaspora in Africa

I told you yesterday about my son's debut lecture on diaspora missiology.  Well, as promised, I wanted to make available his presentation and a little video that we shot that night (cuts off at the end, so you miss the last few minutes).  Let me stress that this is more than mere scrapbooking. Christopher's presentation actually contains some really good information and models pretty well the kind of missiological thinking we need much more of.  Consider his pattern which involves:

  1. Defining key terms and concepts
  2. Theological reflection
  3. Data gathering and analysis
  4. Missiological conclusions drawn and practical actions suggested
Nice work, eh?

Well, without further ado, here is the video.  You can also download his PowerPoint here.


My Son's 1st Lecture on Diaspora Missiology

Our ten-year-old, Christopher, made his missiological debut last night at Trinity International Baptist Mission with his first ever presentation/lecture on diaspora missions. His presentation focused on diasporas in Africa. (update here)

Christopher did a stellar job, conducting a bunch of research in order to create lists of African nations based on largest percentage of diaspora population, largest total diaspora population, and most unevangelized people. In the end he created country profiles for six nations he deemed most strategic for diaspora mission work and made a number of suggestions for future mission work.

I will share a link to the presentation when I get a chance. For now I'm just a proud dad. Several comments made following his presentation were along the lines of how similar Christopher's way of presenting was like A. Scott Moreau. I would agree. Christopher is very methodical, a big fan of gathering data and making lists. That's great because I'm not really like that at all. I'm more of a pondering and prophetic type. Lord willing, we'll make a great team going forward.