Is "In/Out" Better than "Near/Far"?
Most of us Americans (or generally Western thinking types) are used to thinking in terms of categories. And our categories usually are bounded sets. Think of a circle or a box with clearly-drawn, fixed boundaries or borders. This means our concern is whether or not a thing is "in" the category our "out". An apple is an apple and will always be in the apple category. It might be red or greed or yellow. It might be a Fuji or a Braeburn or a Golden Delicious -- but those are subsets of the major category "apple". A potato is not an apple.
Now, we bring this kind of thinking with us wherever we go. Politics. Morals. Groceries. Cars. People. Everything seems to fit into a category. Or, rather, we have our categories fixed, and then we sort everything into this category or that one based on our opinion of whether it's "in" or "out".
We even do this with Christianity. Is this person a Christian or not? (this has been asked recently about Rob Bell or Joel Osteen or President Obama or Governor Romney).
This isn't an entirely wrong approach. The Bible uses bounded-set language. Paul talks about people being in Christ or outside of Christ. The Apostle John talks about crossing a boundary when he says, "We know that we have passed from death to life."
So, it's okay to think like this. It's even appropriate to periodically examine ourselves to make sure that we actually are in the faith. But what if there's another way of thinking? What if in/out isn't the only way to categorize things?
What if, instead of asking whether someone is in or out, we began thinking in terms of how near or how far they are to Jesus?
What if, in addition to being viewed as a bounded set, Christianity could also be viewed as a centered set?
That might change some things -- about how we view "them" and about how we view ourselves.