Discipleship and Community
Mark D. Baker
Paperback: IVP Academic, 2022
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.
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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com