Faith Boundaries?

July 23, 2007

One of the questions raised by postmodern and emerging church thought is the issue of boundaries in faith. Evangelicals have traditionally placed strong emphasis on what has been called “bounded set” thinking, i.e. strong sense of boundaries between “the saved” v “the lost” or “born again Christians” v “nominal Christians”, etc. This reinforces their (our: I see myself as an evangelical)  sense of group identity as against liberals, Catholics and people of other religions or none.  It is also used to motivate people to evangelism. But it can also lead to attitudes of superiority or self-righteousness and the evangelism can take the form of pressure tactics!

Now recent writers are saying we should adopt more “Centred set”  thinking: instead of placing so much emphasis on boundaries, we should ask ourselves, “How close am I to Jesus?” (in life-style as well as devotionally). Instead of producing a Yes/No answer, such a question places me on a graded line and everyone will have a different answer. This also tends to break down boundaries between “us” and others.

Emerging church thinking thus blurs the boundaries. And this has good gospel support. While Jesus challenged people strongly about their relationship with God and their life-styles, he also held church at parties hosted by sinners or very new disciples (e.g. Matt.9:9-13) and often challenged the boundaries drawn up by the Pharisees.

However, I can’t go all the way with this approach. Because there are places where the Bible clearly engages in dualistic thinking (heaven v hell, saved v lost, light v darkness); e.g. 2 Cor.6:14-18.

We should break down every barrier people put up that might hinder someone coming to Jesus. But we mustn’t compromise on his call to radical discipleship and holiness. Christians should be different, but engaging and welcoming and accepting. Like Jesus.


4 Responses to “Faith Boundaries?”

  1. Pete Aldin said

    I often wonder whether it’s a matter of heart-orientation. God looks favourably upon the good works of Cornelius and sends him a messenger to congratulate him (and lead him onward of course into a truth he is very close to already). While He sends a “Messenger” to the Pharisees to tell them their good works stink and that they are far from the truth.

    The Pharisee and the Tax Collector is also another time where Jesus challenges the traditional boundaries.

  2. Markk said

    Nice post. I’m enjoying this blog a lot.

  3. Jon Newton said


    I agree with you about heart orientation. But what impresses me greatly is how Jesus refuses to be trapped within the Pharisees’ boundaries in his mission to reach all. Religion tends to cut people off from each other and God, e.g. I can’t go there/talk with that person/etc because they’re Muslim/New Ager/etc. I think my experience at the MindBodySpirit festival in Melbourne helped me see that the Holy Spirit is bigger than that and is already at work in people’s hearts in ways we cannot know. Cornelius is a good example of that, and Peter had to learn to follow Jesus across the boundaries to reach him.

  4. Ben said

    Really enjoying this blog too. It’s a very important issue, i’m glad you’ve got the brains to make it a bit simplified for young’uns like myself 🙂

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