If you have followed the Insider Movement discussion/debate, you’re aware that the International Journal of Frontier Missions has been one of the main advocates of the approach. They have published some critical articles as well, but the editorials and content of the journal are largely positive.
In the January-March 2014 edition of IJFM, Kevin Higgins published an article examining 1 Corinthians 8-10 in regard to insider approaches. The article is entitled “At Table in the Idol’s Temple? Local Theology, Idolatry, and Identification in 1 Corinthians 8-10” and is available freely online here. (By the way, in spite of the date on the edition, this is the most recent edition of the journal. They are behind in publishing.)
Although I strongly disagree on a number of points, I am glad to see this article published because I hope it will advance a public discussion about this passage. As Kevin notes in the article, missiologists and practitioners have been privately discussing this text for some time. I understand the need for private discussion, but at some point the discussion needs to be public, for the benefit of others and to provide the opportunity for others to contribute.
I interacted with this passage in detail in my dissertation (pages 159-177). Lord willing, I will be publishing two articles in Global Missiology in upcoming editions. One of these will be related to Acts 15 and the other to 1 Corinthians 8-10.
A few brief comments on Kevin’s article:
1. I appreciate the fact that Kevin interacts significantly with the text of Scripture. This should be a given, but this has not always been the case in the IM debate. In many articles, Scripture texts are mentioned, but they tend to receive superficial treatment. I appreciate someone like Kevin attempting to engage seriously and deeply with the Bible. There needs to be much more of this kind of discussion.
2. I believe Kevin when he says he has been considering this passage for some time. In fact, he and I had a conversation in January 2013 about engaging in some public dialogue–via journal publication–regarding this text. That did not happen for various reasons. I believe Kevin’s recent article deserves serious consideration, not because I agree with the main points but because it offers clear views by a leading Insider proponent on what I consider to be one of the more important texts in the debate.
3. Kevin rightly notes the need to consider Acts 15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10 together. The fact that Paul does not simply repeat the Jerusalem Council’s decision should at least cause us to ask, “Why not?” and “How do these two passages reconcile?” Thus my decision to publish articles related to these two passages.
4. I understand the passage differently in a number of ways, but perhaps the biggest disagreement I have with Kevin’s main point is his definition of idolatry. It clearly reduces idolatry simply to intent and motivation. According to Kevin, if a believer is not intentionally seeking to commune with a spiritual being other than the true God, then an action is not idolatrous. Lest I be accused of misrepresentation, I’ll quote Kevin directly:
Rather than simply asking whether certain actions or rituals or places are inherently idolatrous (e.g., “Can a believer regularly go to the mosque or a Hindu temple?”), it might be more important to ask what activities, rituals, ceremonies, or rites result in the believer, as a participant, actually seeking to commune with another spiritual being other than the One True God. If I am reading Paul correctly, the issue of idolatry needs to be framed in terms of the believer’s intention in the matter. (p. 35, emphasis added)
Taken to its logical conclusion, this view means that a follower of Jesus can participate in virtually any ritual in any religious setting, assuming he is not “actually seeking to commune with another spiritual being other than the One True God.” In other words, as long as the Jesus follower is seeking to commune with Jesus via the ritual, it is not idolatrous. (I suspect Kevin would also add the qualifier that any such ritual would also need to be void of other sinful elements such as sexual immorality, human sacrifice, etc.) Therefore, as Kevin notes, any limits Paul gives are “surprisingly few.” (p. 35)
5. Kevin interacts with parts of these chapters at length, but 10:14-21 receives strikingly little consideration. I think these verses argue against Kevin’s main point. But I will have to demonstrate that in my future article.