Review: Insider Jesus by William Dyrness

William Dyrness’s book, Insider Jesus, is an attempt to provide a theological framework for evaluating “insider movements.” He adopts Scott Moreau’s definition of insider movements as, “movements to obedient faith in Christ that remain integrated with or inside their natural community.” (Dyrness 2016, 133) While Dyrness does not attempt to evaluate insider movements he presents an account of contextualization and the relationship between culture and religion that should help missiologists make decisions about how God is at work in these movements.

The book focuses on contextualization. Old forms of contextualization he says “do not capture the hermeneutical and dialogical character of missions.” (Dyrness 2016, 4) A proper understanding of contextualization will understand that religion is a part of culture and that religion forms the hermeneutical spaces for understanding the gospel. Thus he says, “Religion, then, in its basic sense represents the practices associated with the human search for God, ad the times and spaces they employ in this search.” (Dyrness 2016, 101) These hermeneutical spaces are the places where people work out the meaning of God’s presence in their own culture. They are where God comes to the people he is drawing to himself.

By making use of case studies he shows that the gospel always comes to people in these hermeneutical spaces. There has never been any culture which has received the gospel outside of a religious hermeneutical space. By my lights this seems correct, however, I think that Dyrness’s thesis about the role of religion as a hermeneutical space needs to be modified in light of secular humanism. Either he will have to deny the claim that the gospel has always come to people in the context of a religion or he will have to redefine what is meant by religion in order to account for the non-religious secular humanists.

William Dyrness, Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2016).

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