Biblical books like Ephesians and Luke give us examples of inclusion, but the language of inclusion is not itself scriptural language. Where does the language of inclusion come from? And how did it come to be dominant in mainline Protestant circles?

I really don't know, but I hear it all the time. I hear inclusion and inclusivity, and statements like, "We are an inclusive parish." When I looked up the word inclusion, I found that part of its root meaning has to do with commitment. And so if I am to be included in a family, a congregation, or a club, then there's some commitment on my part to what that group stands for. And then there's some commitment on their part to be with me.

I think that we are, as Christian congregations, called to be always welcoming the stranger. But inclusion is more serious than welcoming because it has to do with commitment. I get nervous when I hear people say, "Everybody is included here." I want to say, "Yes, but what do you stand for?"

You talk about how a commitment to the essentials is necessary before we can choose how to work things out. How do we decide what the essentials are?

First of all, it's a community exercise to determine the essentials. It's not something that Caroline and David figure out on their own.

Also, it must be done prayerfully.

And there are certain basic documents. For me, it's the baptismal covenant, those five promises we make. Does this respect the dignity of every human being? Does this proclaim by word or deed the good news of God in Christ? Does this work toward justice? Just keep asking all those questions. Does this do that? And so we must have community and prayer and prayer in community. And we must have some plumb lines against which we measure things.

In the most primitive version of the gospel, Jesus announces, "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel." Repentance and invitation go hand in hand in the most basic level of Christian faith.

I honestly hadn't thought about it in quite those terms. But I think this business of commitment touches on it. If I'm going to commit to becoming one with you, with your community, then if repentance is turning, in some way I'm turning both away from and toward. If I have to make a serious commitment, then that would be another way of talking about repentance. I'm turning from who I still am and turning in a new direction and walking in your door. Your part is to help me with that.

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Related Elsewhere:

Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality is this month's selection of Editor's Bookshelf. Elsewhere on our site, you can:

Read an extended review of Good Fences.
By the book online from Christianbook.com and other book retailers.

More information is available from the publisher.

Earlier Editor's Bookshelf columns include:

Freeing God's Children
Building Alliances to Save Lives | Why evangelicals' partnership with others to fight persecution worked—and where the coalition is heading. (Sept. 22, 2004)
Operation Human Rights | How evangelicals got outside their comfort zone to help the oppressed overseas. And interview with Allen D. Hertzke. (Sept. 22, 2004)
Evangelicals' Conflicting Interests in Fighting Persecution | It took more than a concern for human rights to motivate churches' and ministries' powerful grassroots. An excerpt from Freeing God's Children. (Sept. 22, 2004)
Da Vinci Code Rebuttals
Da Vinci Dissenters | Four books try to break, crack, or decode the deception. (June 15, 2004)
Speaking in Code | A roundup of the many anti-Da Vinci Code books from Christian publishers. (June 15, 2004)
Parody: Da Vinci Rejects | What other publishers could have done to respond to Dan Brown's bestseller. (June 15, 2004)
Does Christianity Teach Male Headship?
Creating Husbands and Fathers | The discussion of gender roles moves beyond 'proof-text poker.' (July 19, 2004)
Raising Up Fathers | An interview with Maggie Gallagher
One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus
Discovering Unity | Two theologians are bullish on evangelical futures. (Jan. 20, 2004)
Mission-Driven Faith | An interview with Thomas Oden and J.I. Packer (Jan. 20, 2004)
A Season in Bethlehem
Thugs in Jesus' Hometown | A Season in Bethlehem shows how the city lost its historic harmony. (Nov. 17, 2003)
The Erosion Continues | Joshua Hammer talks about the implications of Christians' Holy Land exodus. (Nov. 17, 2003)
The Creed
Ground Rules | The Creed defines the game of faith without exhausting its excitement. (Oct. 22, 2003)
'We Live What We Believe' | Luke Timothy Johnson talks about the importance of the creed—even for non-creedal Christians. (Oct. 22, 2003)
Excerpt: The Countercultural Creed | What are Christians really doing when they stand up and say "I believe"? (Oct. 22, 2003)
In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity
The Church's Hidden Jewishness | Hebrew thinking in a Greek world. (Sept. 15, 2003)
'Normalizing' Jewish Believers | How should Christianity's Jewish heritage change how Gentiles relate to their faith? An interview with Oskar Skarsaune (Sept. 15, 2003)
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Sing Me to Heaven and My God And I
Thanks for the Memoirs | Two authors write about pain and God's elusive presence. (Aug. 19, 2003)
Choosing a Partner, Not a Future | Margaret Kim Peterson, author of Sing Me to Heaven, discusses her marriage to a man dying of AIDS and the theological lessons she learned. (Aug. 19, 2003)
Excerpt: A Green and Dying Tree | I saw the fruit of healing prayer even as AIDS was taking my husband's life. From Sing Me to Heaven. (Aug. 19, 2003)
Excerpt: The Unintentional Ethicist | How three assumptions about God can shape the moral choices we are called to make. From My God and I. (Aug. 19, 2003)
For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery
Getting Western Civ Right | Christian theology is the catalyst, not the brake, for progress in Western history. (July 18, 2003)
Progress Through Theology | An interview with Rodney Stark, author of For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of Slavery. (July 18, 2003)
The Truth About the Catholic Church and Slavery | The problem wasn't that the leadership was silent. It was that almost nobody listened. (July 18, 2003)
Political Visions & Illusions: A Survey & Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies
American (and Un-American) Idols | Sacrificing community at the altar of freedom. (June 16, 2003)
Avoiding Rights Talk | An interview with David Koyzis, author of Political Visions & Illusions. (June 16, 2003)
Being the Body
Connecting Colson's Dots | Being the Body ties together Charles Colson's varied strands of advocacy. (May 19, 2003)
Survival Through Community | An interview with Charles Colson, author of Being the Body. (May 19, 2003)
The Resurrection of the Son of God
Life After Life After Death | The Resurrection of the Son of God is a "ground-clearing exercise" of historiographical obstacles. (April 17, 2003)
You Can't Keep a Justified Man Down | An interview with N. T. Wright, author of The Resurrection of the Son of God. (April 17, 2003)
Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song
Converting 'Amazing Grace' | The story behind America's most beloved song shows the God-centered vision with which it was written. (March 31, 2003)
Amazing Myths, How Strange the Sound | An interview with Steve Turner, the author of Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song. (March 31, 2003)
Blessed Are the Cynical: How Original Sin Can Make America A Better Place
Paradox Lost | Blessed Are the Cynical shows what happened to sin. (Feb. 17, 2003)
Getting Cynical About Ourselves | An interview with Mark Ellingsen, the author of Blessed Are the Cynical. (Feb. 17, 2003)

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