In recent weeks I’ve stumbled back upon the notion of “Center Set Thinking.” It came as I was reading an article on the Blue Oceans website, you can find it here. The information I found pertinent is below:
Bounded Set VS Center Set Models
Bounded sets are best pictured as circles. You’re either inside of them or outside of them. Centered sets are best pictured with a big dot on a page with lots of smaller dots. The issue there isn’t being inside or outside of anything. It’s motion. The big dot represents what holds the set together and the little dots are you, me, and everyone else. Are we moving towards the big dot or away from it?
As applied to following Jesus, the Bounded Set model is very dogmatic. You are in or out based on a certain set of behaviors. For instance, you become a Christian and are saved when you believe, say the Sinners Pray, and are baptized. Once you perform those behaviors, you cross over the line and are “in”. This certainty of being “in” is amazing comforting and stablizing. The downside is that it can lead to complacency because you are no longer concern with following Jesus because you assume he hasn’t moved.
In the Center Set Model, the only thing that matters is motion – are you moving towards Jesus or away from him? If you have attended a congregation for any length of time you have encountered people who are Christians according to the Bounded Set Model, but whose lives indicate that the direction of their hearts are pointed away from God. This is why repentance is such a huge deal. We must be constantly repenting, making course corrections, so that Jesus remains our goal.
I love the Center Set Model because it allows me to love and pastor people (without an agenda) who aren’t “Christians” but ARE Christ followers. The Center Set Model allows me to walk with impunity into the messiest circumstances and bring the Light and Love of Christ to bear. It doesn’t matter what sin is currently dominating someone’s life, if they turn their heart to follow Jesus then they are closer to him than someone sitting in church, but whose heart is disengaged or disinterested.
We have a few people who worship with us regularly who freely confess that they are not Christians and that they have doubts. I love that! I pray more people like that will join us, because even though they haven’t yet submitted their lives to Christ, they ARE following him. They want to know. They want to connect. And they are. God is working in each of their lives in tremendous ways, in large part, I think, because of their honesty.
Center Set thinking allows people to be in process. It allows people to be human, fragile, bold and courageous. It allows for freedom, doubt and miracles. A Center Set environment allows Holy Spirit to take a gangly group of sinners and transform them into little Christs, sons and daughters of God, through the power of Love. For the Word of the Lord is clear – He will wash us, He will cleanse us, He will present us to Himself radiant and spotless. Our job is to keep pursuing Him so that He can do His work and not keep running away because we think we’ve “made it.”
A word on belief and baptism
In no way to I mean to imply that belief and baptism are unimportant in our lives – they are essential ingredients in salvation. They are also just steps along the way of following Jesus, not hoops to jump through to get in the club. Getting baptized, confessing Jesus as Lord, and then living a life of rebellion will not save you, even though you fulfilled the “requirements”.
The idea of being “once saved, always saved” has done untold damage in the Church. It is totally possible to lose your salvation. It is totally possible to walk away from Jesus, even after having tasted of the Age to Come. For the Center Set mindset, this is no problem, because the issue isn’t “being in” so much as it is “getting close to Jesus”. Bounded Set people have real issues with the idea of losing salvation because they are looking for works to save them, not Jesus. If your aim is to passionately follow Jesus every day of your life you are in no danger of Hell, but if your aim is to do as little as possible and still make the cut, you are lost already, for you haven’t understood what Jesus came to do.
Being a Christian (following Christ) is about giving up everything that hinders us from loving Jesus fully and obeying him completely. It is about loving him and trusting that HE is the One who will save us, not our works or our theology. Amen.