Book Review: Morton, Jeff 2012. Insider Movements: Biblically Incredible or Incredibly Brilliant?

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Jeff Morton is a professor at Biola University’s Cook School of Intercultural Studies. As in his previous works Two Messiahs (2011) and as co-editor of Chrislam (2011), in the present work, within the framework of 12 succinct articles, he has explored so-called “Insider Movements,” also called “Jesus Movements.” Inspired by movements that follow Jesus as the “Messiah” (Messiah Movements) (e.g. Messianic believers of Jewish background), he examines those from the Islamic realm. Morton goes into the – for the whole discussion very helpful – division into a theological understanding of religion, biblical foundations and the understanding of conversion. He sifts through these three areas using statements made in Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ) and the International Journal of Frontiers Mission (IJFM) by key proponents Kevin Higgins (Global Team; IJFM 2004-2009), Lewis Rebecca (Fron-tiers; IJFM 2007-2010), Dudley Woodberry (Fuller Seminary; 1989; 1996; 2007), and Rick Brown (SIL International; IJFM 2004-2010). Because of its timeliness, the World Evangelical Alliance’s (WEA) denying position regarding Islam-contextualized terminology in Bible translations, published in April 2013, is not addressed. He answers questions about the identity of Muslim messiah followers, the understanding of church, and the translation of terminology objectionable to Islam in Bible translations or scriptural material in his other publications.

Right from the introduction and in the first chapter, Morton makes it clear that he views Islam as a “false religion with a false message about a false hope delivered by a false prophet, and written in a book filled with false claims” (p. 9; emphasis in original. EW). To demonstrate what he sees as the serious differences between the biblical and Quranic understandings of God, Morton uses the proper names Yahweh and Jesus in contrast to the Islamic Allah. In doing so, the anti-Christian orientation of Islam becomes clear to him above all in the Quranic textual content, which he points to as evidence throughout.

Chapter two illuminates the idea of an, according to Higgins, original orthodox Islam, which is renewed from within by Messianic Muslims and has not removed far from Original Christian views (p. 14). On the basis of the central event of the incarnation of Jesus, he shows the “anti-Christian spirit” (p. 17) of Islam, which rejects it. Morton goes on to discuss his three main arguments (see above) on the basis of selected biblical textual evidence from proponents of the Insider Movement.

He further discusses Gen 14:17-20, the appearance of Mechizedek, king of Salem (chapter three). Higgins sees in this pericope an action of God (El in v. 18 in reference to Semitic Elohim and Allah) in other religions, namely the religion of Melchizedek, which is a foreshadowing of the Messiah. Morton rejects this. The latter assumes that Melchizedek’s religion, similar to Abraham’s, worshipped the true God Yahweh at its core, and therefore took heed with Yahweh.

In chapter four, Morton discusses 2 Kings 5:15-19. According to Higgins, the story of Naaman and his cure of leprosy by the prophet Elisha is another indication that a believer should remain in his religious-cultural environment. The fact that Naaman took to Aram from Israel’s earth shows that he was to remain in his cultural-religious tradition with the prophet’s permission. Through the biblical linkage of the possession of Israel’s earth and the God of Israel now worshipped by him (v 15, 17), this story shows that one can worship Yahweh even as a non-Israelite. At the, end Morton rejects such, as an argument from silence, since no qualitative statement would be made about Naaman’s position in relation to the God of Abraham.

In chapter five, Morton discusses Jonah 1 and the position of the prophet and the ship’s crew as evidence of non-Jewish Yahweh worship. In his opinion their relationship to Yahweh, based solely on the prayers mentioned, cannot, in his view, be considered evidence of a real relationship to God.

John 4 and Acts 8 are further passages that are considered by proponents as evidence of non-Jewish followers of the Yahweh cult and are supposed to prove that these people groups remained in their religious-cultural environment (chapter 6). The conversions from the Samaritan people are often seen by proponents as examples of Insider Movements (pp. 36-37). Morton, however, again rules out such a derivation from the argument from silence. Since there is no mention of a detailed conversion of the Samaritans, nothing can be said about it.

Acts 15:19-21 (chapter 7), Acts 17:22-23, 28 (chapter 8), 1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (chapter 9), and 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (chapter 10) round out the considerations, though the argument remains similar.

In chapter 10, Morton takes up a comparison by Woodberry that is noteworthy here. The latter sees similarities between the Decalogue of Exodus 20 and the same commandments in the Qur’an. Morton compares the two and concludes that (1) the Sabbath commandment was not taken up in the Quran because Muslims use Friday as a holiday (p. 74), (2) that there are two commandments that are not clearly answered in the Quran (no other gods, do not kill), but (3) that the other commandments also appear in the Quran. Muhammad remains a plagiarist for Morton. Interesting at this point is that Morton traces Woodberry’s remarks on an approach to Islam back to John Wilder’s 1977 article: Some Reflections on Possibilities for People Movements Among Muslims (Missiology 1977). The whole represents for Morton what has become a long-running and dangerous paradigm shift in evangelical theology.

Morton then moves on to an understanding of return and conversion and Christianization (chapter 11). He sees the main concern of the proponents of Insider Movements as wanting to avoid at all costs Christianization or, in the worst case, Westernization of faithful followers of Jesus from Islam (pp. 88-90). Morton makes it clear that this basic assumption is wrong, since a convert does not become a Christian by name, but a true Christ follower who can call himself anything he likes, but who belongs to “Christ”. In this context, cultural-religious arguments play only a minor role. Finally, Morton concludes with a clear rejection of the Insider Movements as part of true Christhood (chapter 12).

Also worth mentioning are the two appendices. Appendix 1 contains a policy statement by Bassam Madany against the initialization of Insider Movements as a Western product. Appendix 2 is an examination by Roger Dixon of Insider Movements in West Java, Indonesia. Roger Dixon has been partly involved in the movement (also in Bangladesh) and concludes that it is a false gospel and a false approach that has opened many rifts instead of closing them.

This book is helpful in getting a picture of the theology and missiology of proponents and opponents of the Insider Movement approach. It is ironic, or sarcastically negative, in places, which is consistent with the author’s “evangelical biblical” and “conservative” understanding. If a theological approach to Islam – and this is the crux of the matter in this discussion – is not desired, then one comes to such conclusions. Above all, the contention between Scripture and the Quran make this study a tool for apologetic inquiry. Finally, it should be said that the overemphasis on a Western influence in the formation of Insider Movements does not represent the whole truth. In part, Christian development workers in the Islamic world encountered pre-existing circles of messiah followers whom they took on. The latter development, however, does not appear in Morton’s work.