Perhaps the most important piece of my growth in Blue Ocean style ministry has been the idea that we are a centered set movement. Instead of building walls, guarding our boundaries, and focusing our efforts on getting people over the wall, I’m on a mission to point people toward Jesus.
I found this idea immediately helpful in my ministry to teens in the early ‘00s. It clicked, and sharing it seemed to set teens free to love other teens without feeling guilty about whether they shared common beliefs about life. And I’ve been set free too: I don’t worry about winning people to my point of view anymore, or at least I don’t worry nearly as much as I used to. Instead, I work to head toward Jesus, and to invite others to do the same. If they don’t take me up on an invitation, Jesus isn’t going anywhere, and he’ll keep waiting for them.
I think my initial attraction to the centered set was pragmatic: “Hey, doing this is a lot more fun than working on boundaries, and it frees me up to skip over some painful topics, yay!” But our church staff was recently confronted with one of those painful topics, and we worked through it for a year, at cost for all of us. Now we’re on the other side, and I am ready to evangelize for the centered set. I think it’s not only pragmatic and easy to practice, it’s deep and can weather storms that batter my foundation. The practice of continuing to turn toward Jesus, and the discipline of inviting others to do the same instead of condemning them for the ways their beliefs diverge from mine, has brought me to a place of greater faith in Jesus.
But I wonder: How much reflection have we done on what this means?
My church has a monthly Theology Pub, in which we read a book and talk about it at a local bar. We spent 2010 looking at a lot of books about reconciliation, the best of which (by far) was Miroslav Volf’s “Exclusion and Embrace,” in which Volf plumbs the philosophical and theological depths of forgiveness and presents a compelling case that Christianity provides the basis for forgiveness. Finishing his book, I felt like I understood reconciliation more fully than I’d have thought possible.
Has anyone similarly plumbed the depths of the call to practice centered set faith? Has anyone examined it philosophically and theologically, and its implications for life, service, sharing the Good News, ethics, morality, and the like?
If so, I’d love to read, listen, and hear what’s been discovered. And I’d love to hear you, or anyone interested, speculate on the answers to some of the questions I’m asking in my heart. What does the centered set say about the nature of human existence? What does it mean for our relationship to church history, to the Bible, to other Christians, and to the world? Where are the areas of tension where you feel it might be best to stick to something other than pointing toward Jesus?
I recently proposed to some friends an idea that feels simultaneously vaguely blasphemous and incredibly appealing. What if, when I experience a tension between what I understand of the Bible and what I understand of Christ… what if I choose to follow Jesus? Where would I end up, and why do I suspect that I’d end up in a different place than I stand now?
What do you think? What impact has the centered set had on your practice, and where would embracing this concept wholeheartedly take you?