Jesus – Archetype of Bounded Set!


Jesus the archetypal bounded set thinker

Much of what I have read on the Church and this topic essentially says that it is more helpful to view others without the confines that Bounded Sets impose and instead to use a Centered Set that puts everyone on a type of scatter plot in their relation to Christ.  However, I think that this is an artificial construct in that in the end the question still remains “Is that person a believer, a member of God’s Kingdom, or are they saved”.  The real question is “does it ever matter if an individual accepts Jesus as their Savior or not?”  If not, then Centered Set is fine, but if it does matter then a person is actually Saved or Not, which would necessitate a Bounded Set.  On one side of the set you are outside of God’s saving grace, not because His power doesn’t extend that far, but because that person has not accepted the free gift of salvation.

So, how did Jesus approach this issue?  Did he see and thus speak on salvation in terms that were all inclusive or exclusive?  Here are some quotes from Jesus that illustrates His view:

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30) This is also found in Mark and Luke.

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26).

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

“The Son of Man will send out his angles, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).

There are many passages that illustrate Jesus as stating that there are clear boundaries that exist between Heaven and Hell.  But her is a final one:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”  (Matthew 7:21-23).

Now Jesus did not simply ascribe to following the law for the sake of the law, so in that sense he eliminated false Bounded Sets that the Pharisees constructed.  After Jesus convinced the Pharisees that they were unable to stone the women that was caught in adultery because none of them were without sin, He said “Then neither do I condemn you”, Jesus declared.  “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

So, I believe that Jesus clearly viewed Salvation in Bounded Set terms with a clear delineation between those who are saved and those who are not.  He also taught that many of the issues that the Pharisees championed as a holiness test were wrong, like washing hands before eating, picking grain on the Sabbath, doing good on the Sabbath, among others.  The Old Testament was a very rigid Bounded Set with the law, but Jesus was able to reach across the boundaries and to defeat sin and Satan.  His example is how we are to approach the issue, but reaching across the divide but to ignore the divide does not make it less real.  Deny gravity all you want, but if you walk off a cliff you will realize your mistake soon enough.  We are to love and minister to people who are not within the kingdom and to realize that God wants ALL people to enter His kingdom, but if Scripture is our guide, then we must recognize that everyone will not make it.




2 thoughts on “Jesus – Archetype of Bounded Set!

  1. I definitely understand this perspective on Jesus and his teaching as it’s essentially the air evangelicals breathe. I think there are some possible things to keep in mind, which I’ll try to bring up briefly.

    First of all, Bounded Set and Centered Set are essentially frameworks through which to try to approach and understand theology, and are not really theology in themselves. And any such framework, like any good metaphor, has it’s limitations. So while I feel that ultimately Centered Set seems most helpful at this time as an approach to relating with people and their life stories and appreciating where they are in their faith journey, I also fully acknowledge that likely God’s perspective transcends these two frameworks significantly.

    Second, I’m not sure the “real” question should be “does it ever matter if an individual accepts Jesus as their Savior or not?” This leads to formulaic dogma that everyone must say the sinner’s prayer. However, the criminal on the cross does not engage in any quite some formulaic interaction with Jesus, but in the moment forms a genuine connection with Christ and is offered grace. Or reaching back into the old testament (quite the pre-sinner’s prayer period), a prostitute named Rahab has one defining moment in her life, it would seem. She makes the choice to help the Israelite spies by hiding them and helping them escape. And suddenly she’s included in Jesus’ genealogy. It’s a fascinating story, with many interesting troubling questions to ponder (such as, what if everything I’m doing with my life is more or less meaningless, it’s just about being available for that one moment when maybe my life story intersects with the larger story of what God is doing in our world?).

    Third, the context of many of the above quoted passages from Jesus is missing. In so many instances, Jesus is addressing the already profoundly religious. In a very real sense, I gather that Jesus’s sternest warnings throughout the Gospels are not for the non-religous, but for the already religious, and as such should be of more concern to me personally in my walk of faith rather than a weapon to be wielded against the non-believer. The passage in Matthew 7:21-23 is a perfect example. Who seems to be at real risk of judgement in the end? Well, it seems to be the people who insincerely called upon the Lord’s name as they sought to minister in such a way that brought glory to them. And even when Jesus addresses the woman caught in adultery, it’s interesting that he waits until the religious folk have taken a hike, and then privately instructs her to go and sin no more. If I may be honest, I find this above method of “arguing Scripture” problematic as anyone of us can prove just about anything with hand-picked verses stripped of context. I’m more interested in the larger context of the narrative of Scripture (otherwise I might be confused about whether eating meat sacrificed to idols is a sin or not; or if I, as a gentile, can even be a follower of Jesus). What seems to be the authorial intent of a whole book, the context of the story being told, and the ultimate point being driven home?

    Fourth, it is worth remembering that Centered Set thinking is not about claiming there is no judgement day. Again, as I pointed out in a different post, Centered Set is not relativism. My point is simply that salvation may in fact be more nuanced and complex than we in our post-enlightenment modernist fixation with transforming everything into propositional statements and formulas are comfortable with. I think asking the question “does it matter if an individual accepts Jesus as Savior or not” falls right into that thinking. I’m not able to judge what anyone else accepts or does within themselves and before God. That’s up to Jesus (which maybe puts him in the position to be able to look at things as more of a bounded set than I am able to, or even expected to). Throughout Scripture we see unlikely people drawn to Jesus who do not follow formula, but who ultimately seem to have meaningful interactions and even relationships with him.

    So I feel the above assessment of Jesus as “the archetypal bounded set thinker” is short sighted. This is not the whole story of Jesus’s teaching and of the narrative arc of Scripture. It is a worth while question to ponder, but only connection to the larger context of Scripture. Of course, we also have to recognize and address the influence of Greek philosophy and other major voices like Luther, Calvin, and others in how they have shaped our various faith traditions, which become the [imperfect] lens through which we read Scripture and seek to understand Jesus.

  2. I appreciate your point on taking Scripture in context and I agree that we must not attribute a statement given to a specific person or group as applying universally unless we can deem that it was so intended. I will go over your response in more detail later but I am going to rephrase my question “does it ever matter if an individual accepts Jesus as their Savior or not?” into three questions:

    1. Is there an afterlife?
    2. If so, are there any requirements to enter “it” (heaven)? (If not, then this discussion is a philosophical argument concerning how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, meaningless).
    3. If there are requirements to enter “heaven”, how are we to obtain knowledge of them?

    I will then look at the passages I quoted and others and attempt to determine if those statements by Jesus are culturally and historically bound or are they applicable to all people for all time.

    Two last points to ponder concerning people in the Old Testament and those people that have never heard of Jesus and thus had no ability to “accept Jesus as their savior”.

    1. 1 Peter 4:6 and 1 Peter 3:18 – 20 might answer the question
    2. Natural revelation

    Points to ponder

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