further up and further in

I've said before that I didn't know what I was doing, when it came to my faith process of the past decade or so.  

Ever since I first realized, as a missionary living overseas, that I didn't really believe God loved me--ever since that day the preacher said, "God delights in you," and I said, "Wait.  I don't really believe that"--well, it's been a "wander toward" kind of situation, looking for Love ever since.

on the sidewalk behind City Lights bookstore, San Francisco. photo by me and my cell phone.

on the sidewalk behind City Lights bookstore, San Francisco. photo by me and my cell phone.

I write around and around it, unraveling my own thoughts.  

Every once in a while, I come across something that helps me understand my process a bit better.  Richard Rohr's Falling Upward has been a huge help to me in the past couple of years.  

And recently in a Facebook group, someone presented the idea of "bounded set" religion vs. "centered set" religion.  

These ideas are from a paper called "Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories," written by Paul Heibert in 1978.   I probably read this in a missiology class years ago and it went right by me.  Paul, I'm sorry it took me so long to appreciate your work.  Thanks for your patience.  (Here's a link to a more recent exploration.) 

"Bounded set" means that we define Christianity by its boundaries of orthopraxy (correct practice) and orthodoxy (correct doctrine.)  

  • We know who's in or who's out, based on how they behave and what they believe, and it's important to carefully define the lines so that we know who's a heretic and who's a true believer.  
  • There's an expectation that everyone will be very much alike, believing the same things, and following the same rules.  
  • Getting inside the boundary lines--"being saved"--is the most important goal of evangelism.

"Centered set," on the other hand, defines itself by who is at the center, and our movement relative to the center.  

  • Are we moving toward God or away from him?  
  • The movement toward God is more important than defining lines and staying inside them, and defining who is outside our lines.  
  • There may be a wide variation between beliefs and practices, as people are in different places in their faith journeys.  

"A Christian has Christ as his God. Christ is his center if he moves toward Christ—if he seeks to know and follow after Christ. From the nature of the centered set, it should be clear that it is possible that there are those near the center who know a great deal about Christ, theology, and the church, but who are moving away from the center. These are the Pharisees."  Paul Hiebert

I can look back on my own life and see so clearly when the walls fell and I turned toward the center.  Right at that moment:  "God delights in you."

I had spent all my life trying to define all the rules and live within them, and that one phrase blew down the prison walls:  "God delights in you."

The funny thing is, I didn't know how revolutionary it would be, to believe that God delights in me.  I thought I was just adding one more good thing to all the good things.

I could do both, I thought:  trust the Love AND keep all the rules just to be on the safe side.  

It turns out, though, going toward the Center means I can't keep patrolling the walls. 

It makes me think of that scene in The Last Battle, where they're finally through the stable door and into Real Narnia.  The Unicorn says:

"I have come home at last!  This is my real country!  I belong here.  This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it til now... Come further up, come further in!"  CS Lewis, The Last Battle

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