Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Tag: identity

How do we decide whether someone is a Christian?

You may have heard comments about “bounded sets” and “centered sets” in missions conversations. Since introduced by Paul Hiebert in 1978, these terms have been part of many missiological discussions. Frequently, in a somewhat reductionistic way, “bounded sets” are seen as Western and traditional and “centered sets” are seen as more progressive.

Let’s review what we are talking about. Bounded sets are defined by the boundaries used to describe the set. For instance, either conversion or baptism might be the boundary for a bounded set of the category “Christian.” According to this way of categorizing people, in order to be considered a Christian, you would have to have a conversion experience or be baptized. Often the list of characteristics that define a Christian are expanded to include things like: going to church regularly, not drinking alcohol, having assurance of salvation and espousing orthodox theology on all major doctrines.

What do we call ourselves?

What label do we use to identify our religious commitment? What label should a convert adopt? These are common questions in Muslim ministry contexts. Many other ministry contexts also grapple with this issue. An internet search for ‘”Christian” or “Jesus-follower” as a label produced over 2,400,000 results (no, I didn’t read them all!). Should we call ourselves “Christians,” “Jesus-followers,” “Christ-followers,” “Born-again Christians,” or some other label?

The problem with labels is that they carry different meanings in different contexts, even within the same culture. In this post we will discuss the labels “Christian” and “Jesus-follower.” Both of these labels are subject to diverse understandings.

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