Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Review: The Insider

Today's post will simply be a review of The Insider. In general in the future, I think I'll try to do both a regular post, but this time it's not going to happen.

I've just (finally!) finished reading through The Insider, by Jim Petersen and Mike Shamy. The subtitle is "Bringing the Kingdom of God into your everday world." The title is, as you will see, fitting. The book is entirely focused on the role of Christianity in our lives, working outwards through very intentional relational evangelism. (For contrast, most books available talk about relational evangelism as a much less "aggressive" and active form of evangelism than Petersen and Shamy do.) The book is published by Navpress, and the influence of the Navigators' particular brand of evangelistic theology is clear - and welcome. The authors begin by laying out a general background for why they felt the book necessary, then move into 4 sections on what being an "insider" means. The first section casts a vision for the theology and theory behind the idea of an "insider;" the second on obstacles to being fruitful in our ministry; the third on the life patterns that define a fruitful insider, and the fourth on the actual life of an insider. These sections move from the theoretical to the very practical in a logical and methodical progression that never flags or loses the reader's interest. It may in fact be difficult to use the book as a study tool, as it can simply be an addicting read, bringing up an overwhelming urge to just keep reading. The sections themselves are divided into chapters, though the number of chapters per section varies from 7 at the high end to 2 at the low end.

The style is conversational and informal, in essence as if the authors were presenting the ideas to a small audience in something like a relaxed classroom presentation breaking off from a larger conference setting. Their tone is always clear and concise, and there were no difficulties in understanding what they were saying, even in the more theoretical sections early on in the text (which, it should be noted, the authors make a point to indicate can be skipped if one wishes to sipmly get at the practical end of things; I recommend anyone reading the book reads those sections, because they're excellent). Anecdotal evidence is provided liberally throughout, with harder statistical data appearing rarely but to good effect. The authors rely heavily on their own experiences working as "insiders" and use both their successes and mistakes to illustrate the points they are making throughout the course of the text. Their passion for the subject comes through clearly in an excellent - and never didactic - authorial voice.

I'll begin by noting that in terms of demerits, I can find none for the book, either textually or spiritually, in terms of their presentation. After careful consideration of the points of the text on a spiritual level, I can find no conflict with Scripture - quite the opposite, in fact. The text is also always clear: when it changes from author to author, this is identified easily in text; when a new topic is being addressed, it is always explained very clearly.

The basic premise of The Insider is that for the majority of people everywhere in the world, evangelism and discipleship occur at a personal level with the people in our lives - the people in whose lives we can be insiders, by being already a part of them. They make a point to note that they are not in any way dismissing the work of itinerant evangelists, but rather noting that most people do not have the call of the itinerant, but do have the call of God to evangelize (it is, after all, a universal command to all Christians). This leaves us asking, "How?" The book attempts to answer that question by pointing out that by simply being intentional in the lives of the people we already know, the people we see everyday but rarely speak to - from our coworkers to our neighbors - we can just be someone on the inside of their life. The itinerant evangelist comes from outside, bringing a message - a wonderful message, to be sure - but a message that is inherently going to be mistrusted because it comes at the hands of a stranger. When the same message comes in the form of actively lived Christianity and relationships built on no-strings-attached friendships where trust has been established, it has a far better chance of not only being received but also taking root and growing deeply - so much so that it will be multiplying, rather than stagnating (as so many Christians are at this point). With this argument comes a great deal of extremely well-thought-out argument for the idea at an abstract level, proof of the idea in the real world, objective realization of the difficulties of it - and how we overcome those, and life patterns that define a successful insider. The lattermost section is brilliantly profound while remaining remarkably simple and in many ways easy, at least at a conceptual level. The concluding section has stuck with me as one of the most powerfully challenging visions I have ever seen cast for the Christian life and the body of Christ as a whole in the coming century.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book, and without reservation: if you have any interest in seeing the kingdom of God furthered in those around you, pray about reading this book. It's hardly Scripture, but these men are dead on in the approach we ought to be using to get to the people around us and impact their lives, bring them to Christ so they might be saved, and then watching them carry on the work as well.

- Chris

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