"One day they read aloud an advertisement in huge letters on a distant billboard, and then I realized that something was the matter, for not only was I unable to read the sign but I could not even see the letters. I spoke of this to my father and soon after got my first pair of spectacles, which literally opened an entirely new world to me. I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles...while much of my clumsiness and awkwardness was doubtless due to general characteristics, a good deal of it was due to the fact that I could not see, and yet was wholly ignorant that I was not seeing." - (from a letter written by Theodore Roosevelt, recorded in "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris)
An old man said, "Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if thou art chaste: or thou thyself wilt offend a similar law. For He who said, 'Thou shall not fornicate' said also 'Thou shall not judge.'" - The Desert Fathers
For me the concept of Set Theory when it comes to Christianity is a fascinating, albeit new, concept. If you remember back to your academic days you will recall that set theory is used to determine what items belong grouped together. Most religions of the world, including Christianity, use what is called "circle set theory" to determine who's in and who's out.

Basically imagine a dot on a piece of paper. Now draw a large circle around that dot. everything inside the circle is 'in" while everything outside the circle is "out". Within Christianity we use certain factors to determine who's "in". For example have you "prayed the prayer"? If so you are "in". Do you go to church? If so you are "in". Do you read your Bible? Do you pray? Have you been baptized? And the list goes on and on. Viewing things this way helps us keep things nice and tidy, and it gives us a nice package to present to those who are "out" and are looking to get "in". All you have to do is X, Y and Z. And seemingly the most important is to "pray the prayer", you know admit you are a sinner, ask Jesus for forgiveness, acknowledge that He is the Son of God and died on the cross for your sins, etc. Almost like the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they must answer three questions correctly to cross the bridge or else they were doomed.

Using this thought process one could easily ask the question when did the Apostle Peter go from being "out" to "in"? Was it when when Jesus first called him to drop his nets and follow Him? Was it when Peter first acknowledged that Jesus was the son of God? Was it at the end of John when Jesus restored Peter and told him to "feed my sheep"? What about the fact that even after all of these events in Galatians Paul calls Peter out and tells him that he knows nothing of Christ or the cross? The difficult thing with the 'circle set theory" is that life is messy and complicated. At times people can look at your life and conclude that you are "in' and then at other times like Peter, you can be accused of knowing nothing about Christ or the cross.

I want to suggest that Jesus did not come with a "circle set theory" mentality. In fact he seemed to constantly be at odds with those who held onto this mentality and thought they were "in" while prostitutess and tax collectors were "out". We see this most clearly in the story told in Luke 7 about the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus would even allow such a woman to touch Him. In Matt 21 Jesus said "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the s are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." This totally turned everything upside down. Jesus was saying that it's not doing the right things to get "in" its all about where your heart is. Jesus came with a "center set theory" mentality. He is the dot on the center of the page and the question isn't whether or not you are inside the circle, in fact He eliminated the circle all together. The question now become are you moving towards Him or away from Him? What a radical concept. It means now that the sinner who is all the way at the bottom corner of the page and makes a step in the direction towards Jesus, is closer to Him than the religious person who does all of the right things but their heart is far from Him.

How can shifting from a "circle set" to a "center set" mentality change the way we view "outsiders"? How can it it change the way we view "insiders"? How can this change what it means to have a relationship with God?