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

Photo By Sailing "Footprints: Real to Reel" (Ronn ashore)
Today we reach the end of our three-part review and response to the controversial film Half Devil, Half Child. If you are just joining us, don't forget to check out part 1 and part 2. Our special guest blogger, John Raines, has been providing us with some very helpful missiological reflections on a film that doesn't often wade very deep into such waters.  As John put it in part on, the film tries to accomplish its goal of attacking insider movements by cacophony rather than by clarity.

In today's post, we move on to some important "takeaways". These are issues that the film raises as a way of discrediting insider movements without providing much in the way of constructive solutions to the underlying problems to which they point.  I have very often dealt with the same kind of attitude in working among Hindus.  Outsider Movement Christians will frequently point fingers (or worse) at things that people like me are doing wrong.  They will label it Satanic and heretical and call me nasty names.  What they don't do is acknowledge that genuine cultural boundaries and difficulties exist which should be carefully considered and constructively approached.  It seems that such problems are solved easily enough via a process of community extraction -- i.e. a gospel which says, "Leave your community, join ours and follow our rules and you shall be saved" (which I've written more about here). 

If you are engaged in ministry and life among Muslims, I hope you will carefully consider the following takeaways.  If your responses to the issues are little more than a list of "thou shalt nots" then you really aren't contributing anything of value to a very real and important discussion of how to bring the good news of Jesus the Messiah all peoples.


Take-away Talking Points

So if our main goal should be to think and pray about the particulars of the "insider" debate, what are some things that this film brought up that we should give some serious thought to? There are a few issues that I'm not going to discuss at length because I'm not sure they deserve it. One would be the reference to Paul's letters as something less than the word of God, and more like "Hadith". It's complicated – I've heard some things like this before – and we could hash out what's really going on there, but at the end of the day, if whoever made that claim really means that Paul's writing is less than the word of God, then we don't have a lot to talk about. I do wish they could have actually interviewed someone who advocates for that, simply so we could have a better understanding of what exactly is being said. But they did not, so we will move on to more central debates. My goal, as I have said before, is to address these issues as if they are real problems. Therefore a part of my goal in writing is that a reader will recognize that these controversial missiological practices, even when they have strayed into error, were initiated as a response to problems that we still need to solve.

1. Bible Translations that remove "Son of God"
The first thing that needs to be discussed is Bible translation, particularly those Bible translations which replace the term "Son of God" with other things like "Messiah" or "Anointed King" or something else. Translation is a significant interest of mine, and I find this debate fascinatingly complex. I do not think that we should replace the term "son of God" with a different title, but the linguistic debate is not a cut and dry one. Here's what I mean: We want our Bible translators to have a thorough grasp of the language of Scripture – in this case, a dialect of Greek spoken by many and influenced by 2nd Temple Judaism's religious language. When Scripture uses the term "Son of God" to describe Jesus, Christians hear a very clear declaration of the doctrines of the Nicene Creed, that Jesus is of one being with the Father, begotten but not made. If you're wondering where I'm going with this, let me assure you: we are right about all those things. But when the Holy Spirit inspired writers to use the term "Son of God", he was doing something far more subtle than you or I quite have the ears for any longer. To Jewish people and other non-Christians who read the Old Testament in the 1st century, the language "Son of God" was a Messianic title. In the ancient world, it was a way of referring to a king, in the case of the Jews, the perfect King – promised descendant of David. For Christians and readers of the Old Testament, it was also a way of referring to Adam (Luke 3:38), and thereby thinking of Jesus as a second Adam. Christians did not learn that Jesus was God from the phrase "Son of God." They learned it by listening to Jesus' teachings and watching his actions (which we have recorded in the Gospels), by studying the Old Testament prophecies, by praying in the Spirit, and by meditating reverently upon Him. Then, because they already knew that Jesus was God, they understood that "Son of God" had always also meant "God the Son." Many translators who replace the term know this history. They also know that the term "Son of God" is understood among Muslims to mean that God took Mary as his wife by having sex with her. In a desire to avoid this miscommunication, they have opted for the meaning that first century Jews and God-fearers would have understood by the phrase "Son of God" by replacing that term with something like "Annointed One". I think this is an unfortunate decision, though, and that despite the term's capacity for miscommunication, we are inviting people to misunderstand Jesus just as badly by omitting it. Especially once those people become disciples. 

2. Jesus-followers who don't need the Church?
Another topic that theologians and missionaries need to discuss is ecclesiology, and that's going to be a difficult talk because ecclesiology is fairly up in the air for a lot of evangelicals. In fact, the ecclesiological situation within established Christianity is so dire that I'm not sure we even have a sensible picture of what it would mean for Muslim-background believers to embrace the Church. But it is not less important simply because we are quite bad at it, too. Christ called us into his Kingdom. He literally called people to redefine family loyalties in such a way that believers were fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters to each other before anything else. We should not run ahead of ourselves to apply this principle hastily, without proper reflection on the different ways that this can be lived out. But it does seem to say that you cannot be a member of the body of Christ without actually needing the whole body; you cannot truly love Christ and desert his bride. 

The need for the body of Christ is most concretely seen in the life of the believer in three ways: The need for discipleship, the need for the Sacraments, and the need for the Spiritual gifts of other believers. Discipleship means learning to read Scripture and worship God according to the rule of faith, in the same way that all Christians have always known God and worshipped Him. The need for the Sacraments is simply the need that all believers have to be baptized and receive the Lord's Supper together regularly, out of obedience to Christ and the calling of the Spirit to center our lives around these holy things. The need for the Spiritual gifts of other believers is the need that every Christian has to be built into something larger than him- or herself by Spirit-filled diversity-in-unity. Can Jesus-followers who remain in the mosque have fellowship with the body of Christ in these ways? Or, more hopefully, how can they do so?

3. Using the name "Christian"
Photo By Edge of Space
Is choosing not to use the name "Christian" to describe oneself the same thing as rejecting the body? I think it may be for some, but it does not have to be, and so I would say that it is different from rejecting the body, and oftentimes it is actually appropriate for a Muslim who comes to Christ to avoid the term "Christian". The reason for this is that the term is not prescribed by Scripture, but simply described, and furthermore, the word "Christian" has gained a lot of baggage for Muslims since the Crusades. The two are heard as if synonymous by many, and for those Muslims to leave Islam to become a "Christian" feels like choosing to side with the invading army that is currently pillaging your countryside and killing your fathers and brothers and sons. Many Muslims, when they come to Christ, choose instead to call themselves "Jesus-followers". Some also choose to keep the name "Muslim" but simply add the "Jesus-follower" on. This is, of course, controversial. Is it tantamount with refusing to repent? This depends on how the word Muslim is understood. The core meaning of the word Islam means "submission [to God]." The core meaning of the word Muslim means "one who has submitted [to God]." However, it varies from place to place and person to person as to how many other meanings have been added to this idea. Regardless of where you go, if you were to invite someone to, "turn away from Islam?", you run the very real risk of literally saying, "would you like to stop submitting to God?" It is difficult to know what to do with the title "Muslim", but whatever is done, we should avoid presenting our faith as something which stops people from submitting to God.

4. Understanding the Trinity and Spiritual Formation
One statement from the film that made me think was that if someone, "does not understand the Trinity, it is impossible for him to understand the gospel. So how can he develop as a true Trinitarian Christian in a mosque that denies the very Trinitarian notion?" First things first, I believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is of first-order importance for the Christian, and that the affirmation of it is one of the first tests of orthodoxy. But let's be clear as to what is being said in the above quote: Dr. Jones (the speaker) is not saying that evangelism should begin with a formulaic explanation of the Trinity. He is asking how a person who has professed faith in Christ can develop as a Trinitarian Christian if he or she continues to attend a mosque. I believe strongly in the role of the body of Christ in the spiritual formation of individuals, so this question is a good one, I think. But if someone is attending the mosque, does it necessarily follow that they don't have any contact with other believers or that they don't read the Bible? For some people, this may be true, and for others it may not. This is one of the big problems with the way the debate is framed: it assumes that there is some standard playbook that says things like "'Insiders' will form no contact with other believers for spiritual formation." What if you go to mosque, but you also meet with other believers for prayer, teaching, and Sacraments? Why can't that be an option in this debate? 


And well, there you have it.  Of course, there is much more to be said and much more that is being said.  Let me mention here again that the recent Christianity Today article "Worshiping Jesus in the Mosque" is a very good read on this issue -- an interview with an actual insider movement disciple of Jesus.  To be sure, the title of the article is bad and misleading (seeing as the interviewee does not worship Jesus in a mosque), but I understand that was an editorial decision and not that of the author or interviewee.  

In summary, I believe that the opponents of insider movements generate much more heat than light.  I even saw a recent tweet that said that "The Insider Movement is in league with the Liberals".  I mean, that's an awesome tweet on so many levels, but it's hardly helpful.  Of course there are plenty of nicer people that warn against contextualization.  They often raise important concerns, but I feel nearly always fail to grasp the complexities of the issues and moreover so often fail to grasp the most essential foundational principles.  Perhaps a good starting point for any further debate on insider movements and contextualization should be the following question:

Do you agree with what Donald McGavran wrote about cross-cultural evangelism waaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1955 (Bridges of God): "The first thing NOT to do is snatch individuals out of their people into a different society"?

[Entirely Unbalanced: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:25 PM

    Hey Cody,
    Thanks for posting this review over the past few days. When I first heard about this film I was eager to watch it and see what the fuss was about. One thing that took me by surprise was the heavy handed implication that "Insider Movements" are inextricably linked with the "emergent church" movement in the states! I'm not automatically opposed to "emergent" churches, especially since they vary as widely as "insider movements" do and a blanket condemnation or endorsement doesn't move the discussion forward in any practical way. However, I am fairly certain that the insider leaders I've heard from aren't reading Brian McLaren. How is this connection established or substantiated?