Friday, July 22, 2005

Aussies & Centred Sets

There was a PDF made available (for a time) regarding the Australian FORGE group's response to D.A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, and how they felt it interacted with the Australian emerging church.

The PDF was taken down from numerous blogs later, at the request of those who had originally posted it. I was able to read the original PDF because I downloaded it first thing this morning, but in deference to the requests to not spread it further, I won't be commenting directly on it. 

However, it did get me thinking about how difficult it is to stay as a "centered set" movement.

This is an excerpt from Bill Jackson's The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard, which I think describes what the emerging church is currently grappling with.
Centered Sets

1. "Fuzzy sets describe groups that have no organizational center. A group of little league parents might perceive themselves as a group in that they have a common interest, but no core values define their existence.

2. "Centered sets describe groups that have joined together a common center articulated by core values. People in a centered set want to go the same place and generally agree on how they will get there and who will lead them. There is a lot of latitude for collegial disagreement on non-core issues and flexibility in forms.

3. "Bounded sets describe groups that not only have banded together around a common center, but that have also clearly defined rules about beliefs and practices. The number of people who can get in the group becomes narrower because the parameters are more defined.

"John [Wimber] explained that from the beginning he intended that the Vineyard be a centered set of like-minded churches... John also taught that historically groups couldn't remain in centered sets forever because the rules that determine the insiders and outsiders will eventually have to be defined. His desire, however, was to keep the Vineyard a centered set movement for as long as he could.

"In order to evaluate trends and views emerging in the movement, [Wimber] generally chose to let them alone until they could be studied biblically and examined for long-term fruit. In describing this philosophy he used the analogy of growing a bush. It is a temptation to trim a bush back too soon before a gardener knows what he has. This means letting the thing go for awhile, thus having to endure a period when the bush looks messy and untrimmed. Then, when the course the branches are taking is clear, that which is unwanted is trimmed back. This allows for more growth in the rest of the plant."
The term "insiders and outsiders" is a red flag for many, simply because the narrow-minded line-drawing of some denominations has turned a lot of people off.

But it doesn't have to be a negative thing for groups to more clearly define who they are, what they stand for, and their missiological intent. It only gets negative when we assume that our way is the best (or only) way, and that anyone not doing or articulating things as we do, is therefore "not getting it".

If we can go about clarifying what we stand for, without stating it in terms of "we're not them", then a generous ecclesiology can continue. It's not bad to eventually become more of a bounded set in terms of theology and missiology, as long as the attitude towards other practioners remains that of a centered set.