Christians can be adept at drawing lines, determining what it means to be "a good Christian" and judging those who stray out of bounds. Other times they erase all the lines in favor of a vague and inoffensive faith. Both impulses can come from positive intentions, but either can lead to stunted spiritual life and harmful relationships. Is there another option?
The late missionary anthropologist Paul Hiebert famously drew on mathematical theory to deploy the concepts of "bounded," "fuzzy," and "centered" sets to shed light on the nature of Christian community. Now, with Centered-Set Church, Mark D. Baker provides a unique manual for understanding and applying Hiebert's vision. Drawing on his extensive experience in church, mission, parachurch, and higher education settings, along with interviews and stories gleaned from scores of firsthand interviews, Baker delivers practical guidance for any group that seeks to be truly centered on Jesus.
Baker shows how Scripture presents an alternative to either obsessing over boundaries or simply erasing them. Centered churches are able to affirm their beliefs and live out their values without such bitter fruit as gracelessness, shame, and self-righteousness on the one hand, or aimless "whateverism" on the other. While addressing possible concerns and barriers to the centered approach, Baker invites leaders to imagine centered alternatives in such practical areas of ministry as discipleship, church membership, leadership requirements, and evangelism. Centered-Set Church charts new paths to grow in authentic freedom and dynamic movement toward the true center: Jesus himself.
"When Jesus prayed for his future followers, he had only one thing on his mind—our miraculous, attractive, authentic, and authenticating unity. Mark Baker's book Centered-Set Church is helping this generation of believers become the answer to Jesus' prayer for his body and his bride."
"When it comes to discerning what it looks like to live a Jesus-centered faith in a Jesus-centered community, it isn't an overstatement to say that Mark Baker's teaching and modeling of 'centered-set' Christianity completely revolutionized my vision of Christian formation within the local church. For years I'd hoped he'd put words on a page that could guide congregations—beyond the reach of his seminary classrooms—and finally . . . it is here! Centered-Set Church is a must-read for any church desiring to authentically follow Jesus without the trappings of religiosity or relativism. While many churches in North America have a track record for focusing on rule-based boundaries, this book paints a vision of a church transformed by a simple yet costly idea: What if Jesus were truly the center of a church's values, programs, community life, and discipleship? Without a doubt, that church's witness would be absolutely transformed. Church leaders and Christian readers, put this book at the top of your stack!"
"Centered-Set Church is an immensely practical book brimming with eloquent theology and a lively hope in the loving spirit of Christ active in the world. It's not often that you find the practical and the lyrically beautiful so entwined. Baker embodies the traits he suggests the church needs to embrace to maintain a centered approach. Though clear about his vision, he presents his case with humility and vulnerability—something you don't often find in church manuals. I wish I'd had this book when I planted a church years ago. I highly recommend it to anyone involved in Christian community—church planters, lay leaders, and anyone who longs to glimpse the gracious love at the center of Christian faith."
"How can we hold beliefs and values without falling into gracelessness, self-righteousness, and conditional acceptance of others? In this excellent resource for churches, Mark Baker offers a practical alternative to help your community of faith keep firm convictions without drawing lines that promote polarization and judgmental attitudes. Highly recommended!"
1. Drawing Lines and Erasing Lines
Part One: Defining the Paradigms
2. Bounded, Fuzzy, and Centered Churches
3. Responding to Questions About a Centered Church
Part Two: Foundation of a Centered-Set Church
4. The God of the Center
5. Foundational Elements
Part Three: Discipleship in Community
6. Centered Exhortation
7. Centered Character: Qualities of Jesus
8. Centered Intervention: Imagining Possibilities
9. Practicing Centered Intervention
10. Journeying Together Toward the Center
Part Four: Centered Ministry
11. Firm, Not Bounded
12. Imagining Centered Alternatives
13. The Richness of the Centered Way