According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, November 14, 2011

Classic Evangelical Epistemology, Part 3


Bounded or Centered Set?
Part 3a
August 17, 2011 in Bible Thoughts with 18 Comments

As I have been in my grudge match to the death with the Rule of Faith as a “rule,” one critique I regularly find myself bringing is that it creates a bounded set. My instinct has been that so conceptualizing the Christian faith is not only a category mistake but ethically disastrous.

In short, once we have defined Christianity as a set of beliefs that must be maintained in order to be faithful Christians, then Christian ethics boils down to maintaining “the faith” that is so delineated.

What should Christians do? Defend the borders.

I have recently stumbled upon the work of Paul Hiebert. Here is what he says about bounded sets:
  1. The category is created by listing essential characteristics something must posses in order to belong to the set
  2. The category is defined by a clear boundary
  3. The objects form a homogeneous group
  4. “Bounded sets are essentially static sets”
  5. Within Western conceptual categories, bounded sets tend to be ontological sets, reflecting an absolute, unchanging nature of reality.

Two things strike me here: the quote, point 4, is the one that I most often rail against here. Christian theology is not a static set, but something dynamically in process in the ongoing story of the church. 

The church has to grow up to the fact that things are not simply givens, so we cannot take an 1800 year old statement as the defining marker of who we are and what we should do.

But here’s the other problem, as Hiebert lays it out. On point 2, the category is formed by a clear boundary.

What does this mean in practice? He says:
Most of the effort in defining the category is spent defining and maintaining the boundary. Not only must we say what an apple is, we must also clearly differentiate it from oranges, pears, and similar objects that belong to the same domain but are not apples. The central question, therefore, is whether an object is inside or outside the category.

The ethic entailed in a bounded-set system is defining and maintaining the boundary.

When we envision Christianity as a bounded-set, we are consigning ourselves to a lifetime of boundary guarding. Absent from all this, of course, are other measures of Christian fidelity–such as embodying the self-giving love of Christ or even walking in accordance with the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount.

Christianity-bounded by the “Rule of Faith” becomes, throughout Church History, a self-referential religion, concerned with keeping itself together, and keeping out the heterodox.

This is not to say, of course, that it is without biblical precedent. There were, after all, the disciples who bravely fended off the would-be intruders upon their bounded world: “Lord, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, but he was not with us, so we forbid him!”

So what is a centered set? Stay tuned…

About J. R. Daniel Kirk: Professor at Fuller Seminary, resident of San Francisco, consumer of dark chocolate, brewer of dark beer, reader of Flannery O'Connor, watcher of the Coen Brothers, listener of The Mountain Goats.




Bounded or Centered Set?
Part 3b  
August 18, 2011 in Bible Thoughts with 16 Comments
…a centered set is created by defining a center or reference point and the relationship of things to that center. Things related to the center belong to the set, and those not related to the center do not. Kingship groups… are relational categories.

Relational categories.

That’s more like it.

We all belong together, not because we are circumscribed by a common speech recited on Sunday mornings that tells us how to read the Bible, but because we are all related to Christ, and to God as God’s children, in Christ.

That is a better way to conceive of our identity.

Centered sets have a couple of advantages over bounded sets in terms of being a conceptual framework for Christianity. There are two variables that this way of conceptualizing relations can account for.

One: some folks will be closer to the center than others. All might be in some sort of relationship, but there are degrees of proximity to the defining center.

Two: people might be in motion toward or away from the center.

Part of the flexibility of this is that individuals aren’t the only ones who might be related to a Christian center (= Jesus). Whole churches, denominations, or even the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church might at times be closer, at times farther, at times moving toward and at times moving away from Christ.

If Christ is the center of our set, the church resumes its rightful place as people who are always in a dynamic relationship with him rather than being erected as a static framework that, itself, defines the set.

Both in its move from the church as defining agent (Rule of Faith) to Christ (the center of our centered set), and in its recognition of the inherently dynamic nature of all relationships and reality, the centered set more faithfully depicts what Christianity is, and therefore opens up better possibilities for interpreting the Bible and acting faithfully in the world.


About J. R. Daniel Kirk: Professor at Fuller Seminary, resident of San Francisco, consumer of dark chocolate, brewer of dark beer, reader of Flannery O'Connor, watcher of the Coen Brothers, listener of The Mountain Goats.  

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