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The Hidden History of Insider Movements
The Hidden History of Insider Movements

The dramatic growth of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is summed up in one striking statistic: If current trends continue, by the year 2050, six countries in the world will each have 100 million Christians. And only one of the six—the United States—will be located in the industrialized West.

Christianity is growing in places where other religions once reigned. In these contexts, the very word Christian can carry strong connotations of Western culture, and with it imperialism and colonialism. Because of this, many new movements to Christ are rethinking the nature of church, giving rise to "insider movements" or "churchless Christianity." Members of such movements trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, but choose to remain within their Hindu or Muslim home cultures.

In his book Churchless Christianity, theologian Herbert E. Hoefer profiled such insider movements among people living in rural Tamil Nadu, India, and its capital, Chennai (formerly Madras). These are devoted followers of Christ who have not joined a visible Christian church and, indeed, remain identified with the Hindu community. They call themselves Jesu bhakta—devotees of Jesus. (Typically, Hindus accept people in their community who worship Jesus, even exclusively, within the larger framework of Hinduism.)

Jesu bhakta maintain their cultural identity as Hindus. Estimated to number 160,000 people, they do not belong to any visible, formal church, and do not call themselves Christians, because of the strong cultural association surrounding the term.

Similar and better-known movements have emerged among people in Islamic cultures. And it's no small thing: It involves 200,000 or more Muslims ...

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January/February 2013

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