Insider Movements, Conversion to Christ, Conformity to Christ and Syncretism

Greg Strand – February 1, 2013 6 Comments

“Gene Daniels,” missionary among Muslims for the past decade, interviews a Muslim Background Believer (MBB) about his Christian faith lived out in the midst of an Islamic country/culture: “Worshiping Jesus in the Mosque,” Christianity Today 57/1 (January/February 2013)

The editors of Christianity Today include a preliminary word to Daniels’ interview:

Can people from other religious traditions genuinely follow Jesus without becoming “Christians”? The question is a point of much dispute within today’s missions world. Those who follow Jesus yet don’t formally express Christian faith are said to belong to insider movements. And no insider movement has received more attention than Muslims who embrace Christ yet stay within their Islamic community. “Insiders” are hard to access due to cultural, geographic, and linguistic barriers. As a result, many Christians have taken positions on insider movements without ever having met or spoken with someone who belongs to one. In the following exclusive interview, we hear from just such an insider.

The following is the synthesis of two interviews conducted in 2011 with “Abu Jaz,” a key leader in a movement that describes itself as the People of the Gospel. This group represents several thousand Muslims in eastern Africa who have converted to faith in Christ during the past decade, but who have remained in their Muslim communities. Abu Jaz is married and has three children. He started following Isa al Masih (“Jesus the Messiah”) as the Savior 18 years ago.

One of the most interesting statements in this interview addressed becoming a believer, syncretism, discipleship and sanctification/transformation.

First, we cannot rule out syncretism at the beginning of a new believer’s life. The purpose of discipleship is to separate their old beliefs from their new beliefs. So when they put their faith in Jesus, they may have at the same time Muhammad in their heart. But when they start to pray in the name of Isa for their own need, they experience joy, assurance, and peace. And when they pray in the name of Jesus and find people healed and demons cast out, they completely stop thinking about Muhammad. It is a process of the Holy Spirit.

A few questions to ponder:

  • What do you think of this statement? Do you agree/disagree?
  • How much syncretism can be allowed/accepted (acceptable) and a person truly be a Christian?
  • How long would syncretistic beliefs be allowed/accepted after being born again (conversion, becoming a Christian or a believer, regeneration, or other such descriptions of this same supernatural birth)?
  • Does syncretism affect both belief and behavior? How are belief and behavior affected by becoming a Christian?
  • In becoming a believer and in the subsequent conformity into the image of Christ, what and how much is instantaneous and what and how much is progressive? Specifically, how might this affect one’s view of syncretism post-conversion? More generally, how might this affect one’s view of a life of  sin prior to coming to Christ?
  • Is this a (super)natural aspect of the sanctification process, such that the sins, habits and patterns of life prior to Christ are progressively, by God’s grace, put away (mortification), and the graces of Christ are put on (vivification)?
  • How and at what point would you determine this would be a normal and progressive part of the Christian life, and how and at what point would you determine the person has not truly become a Christian?

Though I only included a brief, though important, quote that prompts many questions, I would encourage you to read the complete interview. It will provide a perspective from one who serves as a missionary among Muslims, and a Muslim who lives as an insider.

It should foster greater understanding of this issue, and enable you better to ponder, pray and process it and then to discern an appropriate God-glorifying, Christ-honoring, Spirit-illumined, biblically-faithful response.

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

6 responses to Insider Movements, Conversion to Christ, Conformity to Christ and Syncretism

  1. In answer to your question above: There is an aspect to this statement which I believe is inescapably true (even in our culture) but I am very cautious when I hear statements like this because I have seen so many abuses by IM missionaries who present their ministries in this way. The big question to ask is whether the leaders of these ministries are actively addressing these syncretisms or are they themselves accepting a similar set of syncretistic beliefs. What is often left unsaid by IM missionaries is that these syncretistic beliefs are often engrained in belief system of the entire movement including its leaders. In my mind, it is a very different to have new converts that come with misunderstandings that need to be corrected through discipleship when compared to entire groups that are propagating these beliefs through their discipleship. One of the most difficult aspects with IM is that many IM missionaries will present their ministries in ways that are intentionally misleading. I don’t know if this is true of Gene Daniels but I do recognize some of the common phrases that are used by others in the IM community with an intent to mislead people about the practices of their ministry. When I confronted an IM missionary on this in the past, I was told that they did this because people would not understand if they told them everything.

    • Though one is not intending to impugn motives, as one does not know another’s heart (we don’t even know our own hearts well, and what we do we are easily deceived), these sorts of questions that get to the heart of one’s practice are necessary. The mouth speaks and the practices reflect what is in one’s heart. I appreciate your thoughtful response to the question, Mike.

      • I do agree that we cannot know a man’s heart; this is why I excluded Gene Daniels (I don’t know him). However, I do think we can accept the validity of the motivations of those who do share their motivations with us and some IM people are pretty up front about why they present things the way that they do when the are pressed.

      • I agree. This is why I connected what one says and does as an overflow of one’s heart which does reflect motives. All of that must be discerned and responded to in order to safeguard truth entrusted to us, to refute error and to protect God’s people.

  2. Greg, thanks so much for presenting this series of articles. I really do appreciate your insights.

    • I appreciate the affirmation on this brief series. As you noted in numerous responses, it is very important that pastors and leaders of local churches know about these issues. This was my small attempt to help them to become aware and to begin to ponder, process and pray about these matters.

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