Not long ago I was at a church in the South and a recent convert named Mike told me he had a bone to pick with the church. He was drawn to Christianity by the message of grace. "I was told that being a Christian wasn't about anything I had to do; it was about a sacrifice that had already been done on my behalf. But now that I'm on the inside, I'm told I have to do stuff all the time. I have to go to church, I have to read the Bible, I have to give money, I have to volunteer.

"I feel like the victim of a bait-and-switch."

So I had him read an article on bounded-vs.-centered sets by anthropologist Paul Hiebert titled "Sets and Structures: A Study in Church Patterns."

Not really. I'm not sure it's quite right for Mike. But it is a real article, and it sheds light on Mike's problem in a brilliant way.

Paul (Hiebert, not the apostle) said that much of how we approach church and the spiritual life depends on our deep assumptions about what it means to be Christian. He talked about two different ...

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