Saturday, September 9, 2006

Patron Saints & Centred Sets

I'm not normally one for having a "patron saint"; I usually focus more on honouring the people who have had a profound influence on my life, such as George Mercado.

In my early Christian walk, however, I could point to two men (neither of whom I have ever spent any significant time with) who had a huge impact on me through their music and lifestyles: Larry Norman and Keith Green (although, since I have all of their albums, Resurrection Band should also be mentioned).

But if I were to have a patron saint, in some respects I'd have to go with Larry Norman. Primarily for something that was said about him many years ago, that Larry was "too rock and roll for the Christians and too Christian for the rock and rollers".

It is precisely Larry's "radical middle" status that most resonates with my own journey.
  1. Too charismatic for the evangelicals, and too evangelical for the charismaniacs.
  2. Too "emergent" for some, while not "emergent enough" for others.
  3. An ecclesiastical anarchist, and yet unwilling to completely write off the "institutional" church.
Don't take this to be a traditional artistic self-pitying lament of "nobody understands me". Far from it. It's more about knowing the waters you're called to paddle in (a delightful metaphor that Jamie Arpin-Ricci loves to use), and recognizing the shape of the paddle you've been given. Or perhaps it's more akin to knowing which stars you are to navigate your own ship by. I love this quote from Bill Jackson's Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard:
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."
I think there's great value in being a "centred set" as Wimber describes it, and as St. Larry of Norman modelled it. Living in the radical middle. Embracing the tension.


  1. I'm tracking with you big guy. This must be why I like you!


  2. Great post Robby. I find myself echoing a lot of what you say about not "fitting" in with any of the labels. It's not even that I'm that much of a rebel - I'm not - but rather that these labels tend to restrict my horizons in terms of the breadth of who God is calling us to be.

    Oh, and love the paperclip pic for "tension."

  3. Keith Green on Youtube..

  4. Recently found this article.. written 1991.. long before anyone had thought of “purple theology.” But then Anabaptists have more right than mainline evangelicals to a critical perspective on culture… The article title.. “Mennonites.. Neither Liberal nor Evangelical”

  5. Nice Post Robby!

    Larry is an odd bird, I think that is a pre-req for sainthood. :-)

  6. you already know this but your journey in faith resonates deeply with my own. The "radical middle" really says it all for me. I've never necessarily liked "balance" because it's kind of a passive word. I like McLaren's "above the line" but radical middle really does say it all. I wish David and I could hang out with you and your wife some time, here and there along my path with God, I find people that just "strike me" in a deep way and I know that you at least have done that to me. Maybe God will grace us with that opportunity some day :) And hey, David is Canadian so that should say something ;)

  7. Great explanation - glad you are trailblazing, dude - I'm right behind ya.
    +Reminds me of a line from my "Conservative, charismatic, contemplative" blog entry: "I know there is a middle somewhere, I see it every time the pendulum swings by.
    +I think the term radical middle implies an acceptance/embracing of radical extremes. Otherwise we are just hanging out in a flacid, passive, grey-ish netrual zone. I think there is a diffence. Know what I mean? I want it all!
    +Funny to see you and Stan Biggs over at Len's site. Two old friends.
    Keep swingin'!

  8. i sit in a very similar place

    funnily enugh it makes you unattractive to both groups at times!

    and i am big KG & LN fan too - must be similar ages