David Garner, Westminster Theological Seminary associate professor of systematic theology and chair of the PCA’s Insider Movement (IM) Study Committee, said committee members are striving to complete a report on how IM practices affect the PCA.
“We’ve got a wonderful group of guys on the committee,” Garner said, “a rich constellation of missiologists and those that are gifted more on the theological end of things, and everything in between. It’s a diverse group eager and committed to doing good work together.”
“Insiders” are professing believers in Jesus who, among other things, are encouraged to also identify as Muslim. In some cases within IM, Bible translations avoid Christian terms regarded as offensive to Muslim populations, such as references to God as “Father” and Jesus as “Son.”
The committee will summarize and assess the theology and practices of Insider Movements; examine the theological impact of Bible translations that remove familial language in reference to the Trinity; offer a biblical response to such interpretations; assess the influence of Insider Movements among mission agencies including PCA missions partners; and recommend resources for training congregations and explaining the relevance and importance of the issue to the denomination.
“The overture has a fairly large scope in terms of what we’re asked to research and report on, and because of its scope, we have carefully divided its charge into manageable components,” Garner said. Garner also said the committee plans to have a progress report for the General Assembly this June.
The other committee members are teaching elders Nabeel Jabbour and Bill Nikides, as well as ruling elders Robert Berman, Jonathan Mitchell, and Tom Seelinger.
Berman, who’s served as ruling elder for 14 years at First Presbyterian Church in Crossville, Tenn., said committee fundraising has been “less vigorous” than hoped. While the General Assembly approved $15,000 in fundraising support from the presbyteries for the IM Study Committee, the committee has received about $5,000 to date. Funds have been used thus far to facilitate video meetings and face-to-face meetings among the committee and with missionaries and global church partners.
Though the committee’s been actively working, “there’s not been a tremendous pouring of resources,” Berman said. “We’ve tried to be financially efficient,” he continued, “but it helps to meet in person.” He said receiving more of the pledged funding would enable the committee to meet face-to-face with more people. “There’s sort of a different level of communication you’re able to achieve in person.”
Berman said the committee has had two in-person meetings of multiple days’ length, as well as monthly video conferences and constant email exchange.
“We have read and studied mounds of literature, and have interviewed experts around the world, including translators, missionaries, nationals in Muslim countries, and theologians,” Garner said. The committee is saving the content of its research for the report’s final release.
Garner’s first exposure to the movement was almost two years ago, while teaching in Bangladesh and Indonesia.
“Through my international exposure, I have come to know nationals (Muslim-background converts to Christ) and missionaries who currently face the advocates of Insider Movement methods, and who have to reckon with Bible translations that have employed less than faithful language for God as Father and Jesus as Son,” Garner said. “One example was a case of Western missionaries who publicly converted to Islam to get Insider [status] and witness to Muslims, and this angered both Christians and Muslims. Whatever their intentions were, it is creating both confusion and anger on all sides. Not surprisingly, mistrust of Christians has resulted from this type of syncretistic activity.”