Today, we wrap up the conversation about the criteria we use to determine whether someone is “in” or “out.” Yesterday, we looked at a bounded set of evaluating whether someone makes the cut or not when it comes to being considered a Christ follower. A bounded set view is the prominent way churches have taught people to view salvation. There is a set of benchmarks someone must meet (putting your trust in Jesus, praying regularly, reading your Bible, following the commandments, etc.) in order to be considered a Christ follower.
While I don’t think this view is wrong, I do think it is incomplete and leaves little room for God’s sovereignty as well as unintentionally setting up a club-like mentality towards salvation.
I’d like to offer up an alternate way of looking at salvation called centered set. I first learned this term from my good friend Shah Afshar at a workshop he led at The Idea Camp called Conversion and Cognitive Understanding.
In a centered set view, being “in” is not defined by boundaries as in the bounded set. In a centered set view of Christianity, envision Christ at the center and people at different points like the picture above right. Whether someone is “in” or “out” is determined by the direction they are going in. They are either headed towards the center, which is Christ, or they are headed away from the center. Where they are isn’t as important as what direction they are going in.
Now, I know that this way of looking at someone’s citizenship in the Kingdom of God can be problematic. But is it any more problematic than a bounded set view? Just because we’ve fulfilled all the requirements doesn’t necessarily mean we are “OK” with God.
Take a look at Hebrews 5:11 – 6:12. You can click on the reference to read the whole thing. Paul takes a number of Christians to task on their lack of ongoing growth towards Christ. He goes so far as to say they are at risk of being led away from God with very little hope of returning. Our senior pastor put it this way when we looked at this passage during a recent staff meeting:
Our Christianity is real and genuine only when it is real and genuine in the moment.
Some Concluding Thoughts
I started this whole conversation asking the question of how you present the idea of evaluating who is “in” and who is “out” to kids. Now, I don’t expect most kids to get the whole idea of bounded set vs. centered set. I do think, though, that we as ministers to children need to evaluate for ourselves how we view whether someone is “in” or “out.” We cannot simply regurgitate what we’ve been told or recite the “right” answers we’ve been given.
I believe that coming from a centered set perspective allows for us to present a more gracious Gospel, a story of a God who is madly in love with his creation and meets those searching him out where they are. I believe that a centered set perspective requires that being a Christ-follower be more than an event or a list that needs to be checked off. It requires that being a Christ-follower be a continuing relationship with the Creator of the universe supported by involvement in a community of others who are following Christ.
I think that if we help children view salvation as a continued journey towards Christ rather than just a line that is crossed, then we give them something that can stand up to the questions and doubts that will be thrown at them.