Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements, By William A. Dyrness alt
  • Christianity Today's 2017 Book of the Year Award of Merit - Missions/Global Church

Amidst the variegated spread of global Christianity, followers of Jesus are showing up in unexpected places. Today we hear of culturally embedded insider movements, Jesus followers in the folds and creases of Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and other cultural fabrics. They elude our conventional theological categories and elicit wonder and debate. Are these authentic expressions of Christian faith? And if so, how should we understand them?

William Dyrness brings a rare blend of cultural and theological engagement to his reflections on these insider movements. Could it be that our own understanding of what God is doing in the world is culturally shaped and needs recalibrating? How might the story of Israel and the early emergence of Jewish followers of Jesus provide helpful perspective on what we are seeing today? What is God already doing amidst a culture and people before the missionary arrives? And how might American Christians need to rethink the nature of religion?

Within the present ferment and conversation, Dyrness's probings and reflections open up a theological space for exploring these questions anew.

"When we are confronted with the reality of religious pluralism, genuine struggles and dialogues are possible only if we take our own faith seriously and at the same time deeply respect the truth claims of other faiths. Professor Dyrness's creation of hermeneutical spaces makes such struggles and dialogues not only possible but, indeed, imperative. A must-read for anyone yearning to learn more about God's mission in the world today."

Sze-kar Wan, professor of New Testament, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

"At last we have in this work an attempt by a Western theologian to understand and truly locate, within our contexts as non-Western Christian peoples, the ongoing work of the Spirit in so-called insider movements. The rise of insider movements is a challenge to recognize the fresh work of the Christ outside of the territorial and theological boundaries of 'Christendom.' In a way, we are seeing a reprise of the Jew-Gentile social crisis—those critical times when the gospel broke out of its Jewish wineskins and the early Greek converts had to grope about as to its life-changing meaning within their own worldview systems. It is providential that at this juncture of the history of the churches, we have fellow travelers like the author of this book to accompany us and shed some light along the way."

Melba Padilla Maggay, Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture

"This book is groundbreaking. Conversations have been taking place questioning the ongoing value of the contextualization movement. This is because among evangelicals contextualization has largely been a project conducted by outsiders assisting those who are insiders. This was an essential step in missions, yet the limitations of the movement are obvious. What is exciting is that in our postcolonial era new theological discourses and practices are emerging from within believing communities that seek to be faithful to Scripture and address more specifically and resonate more deeply with the worlds of these communities. Dyrness lucidly and sensitively introduces the reader to these developments and provides the reader with the theological and conceptual categories to understand and appreciate them."

Patrick Krayer, executive director, Interserve USA

"Insider Jesus, written by one of the foremost theologians of culture, makes a significant contribution to the growing body of works on global theology. It seeks to move beyond the current models of contextualization, which tend to privilege the outsider's (missionary) understanding of the gospel at the expense of the insider's. It advocates an 'intercultural theology' that involves older Christian traditions engaging in serious dialogue with the newer expressions of the Christian faith in indigenous movements. The result is not only mutual enrichment but perhaps a new kind of ecumenicity from which a genuinely evangelical-catholic faith would eventually emerge. Protestants and especially evangelicals need to read this book!"

Simon Chan, Trinity Theological College, Singapore

"In a day when many too quickly give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down response to new movements of followers of Jesus who try to retain much of their religious and cultural heritage of birth, this study offers a wealth of biblical, historical, and theological insight to help us all give a more informed and constructive response."

J. Dudley Woodberry, dean emeritus and senior professor of Islamic studies, School of Intercultural Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

"As the growth in emergent insider movements continues unabated across the globe, missiologists have begun to grapple with the theological and missiological implications of these movements for global Christianity. What does it mean for subaltern communities to embrace Jesus and his gospel while remaining institutionally rooted within their own religious communities? Drawing upon biblical, theological, and ethnographic resources, William A. Dyrness's Insider Jesus offers a comprehensive, critical, and constructive theological response to the challenges arising from the continuing growth of emergent insider movements across the globe. This response truly embraces the plurality of hybridized, boundary-crossing, and transreligious ways in which believers have chosen to follow Jesus while maintaining existing social ties, cultural identities, and religious belongings. As the culmination and crowning achievement of Dyrness's lifelong journey as a missioner and missiologist across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, this compelling and indispensable book is destined to be a seminal resource for missiologists and missioners that is biblically sound and theologically rigorous, yet clear and engaging for nonspecialist readers. I have no hesitation in recommending this as essential reading for scholars and students of Christian mission and global evangelism alike."

Jonathan Y. Tan, Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan Professor of Catholic Studies, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland

"The word insider in the title is accurate but also misleading, because the joy of reading this book is learning more about how God acts and moves in people's lives outside of where and how we might expect. Dyrness takes us through the Bible, theology, history, culture, and case studies to open our eyes to different ways Jesus is being followed today. As a result, our eyes are opened to God's redemptive grace moving creatively in the world. And we're better prepared for thoughtful missions work that participates in God's story without imposing unnecessary cultural baggage."

Kent Annan, Christianity Today, The 2017 Book Awards

"Dyrness interacts with much missional and contextualization literature. . . . He raises questions for anyone interested in missions and how best to approach it in our globalized world."

Gerald Wisz, Christian Market, December 2016

"William Dyrness has written an excellent book, from a North American Reformed Evangelical Protestant perspective, on contemporary Christian movements, in relation to other religions. He introduces an important theology for cultural encounters in our globalized world. The book is a welcome addition for any Western Christian interested in engaging constructively with different cultures."

Richard M. Croft, Mission Studies 35 (2018)


1. Introduction: The Rise of Contextualization
2. How Does God Work in Creation and Culture?: A Theological Proposal
3. Religion in the Biblical Narrative
4. Case Studies of Insider Movements Today
5. Religion and the Mission of Christ
6. Conclusion: Is God Doing Something New?
General Index
Scripture Index


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William A. Dyrness

William A. Dyrness (DTheol, University of Strasbourg; Doctorandus, Free University) is professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of many books, including Modern Art and the Life of a Culture (with Jonathan Anderson), Senses of the Soul: Art and the Visual in Christian Worship, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture, Changing the Mind of Missions (with James Engel), Theology Without Borders (with Oscar Garcia-Johnson), and was a general editor of the Global Dictionary of Theology.