Dr. D.G. Hart has posted and linked to an interesting piece by the Christian Curmudgeon on the issue of center-bonded set and boundary-bonded sets. As the Curmudgeon quotes from an article written in 1996:
The traditional paradigm is called “boundary-set thinking.” Boundary setters write creeds and confessions and use them to judge where people stand in relation to the truth. Those who affirm the creed or confession are inside the boundary. Others are outside.
The new paradigm is called “center-set thinking.” Center-set thinkers are concerned not with boundaries but with direction. Jesus Christ and the gospel are the center and the question about any person is not, “Is he inside the boundary?” but, “Is he moving in the right direction?”
But it is at this very point that the new paradigm has a problem. Who is the Jesus at the center? The Jesus of Arius or Athanasius? Which gospel are we moving toward? The gospel of Rome, Geneva, or the Crystal Cathedral?
This was in response to the damage control piece written by D. A Carson and Tim Keller in light of the MacDonald-Jakes controversy, where these sociological terms were used.
In this distinction between center-set and boundary-set thinking, we see the naive underpinnings of the New Calvinism and the Gospel Coalition. The entire dichotomy between the center bound set and boundary bound set is basically invalid. If there is no boundary, then the center is everywhere. One can imagine a circle (boundary) where the center is in a dot or tiny circle in the middle (since dots when magnified are actually tiny circles). Taking the same circle and magnifying it magnifies the initial dot as well to become a small circle. If however we erase the boundary line, then the center must necessarily expand infinitely and encompass everything.
We can see therefore that claiming to be center-set thinkers without the setting of any form of boundaries logically entails the denial of a real center since everything now is "the center." Carson and Keller and the entire New Calvinist movement are however not universalists and therefore they DO have a boundary to their set, the reality which is however amorphous and categorically denied. Whatever such a denial is, it is manifest deception since one claims to have no boundaries but actually does have boundaries. Unintentionally, Carson, Keller, the New Calvinist movement and anyone who identifies with this view of theirs are in violation of the 9th commandment, for they bear false witness against themselves and deceive others by claiming to have center-set thinking without defined boundaries.
Instead of deceiving people, it would be better for them to adopt confessionalism. Confess what you believe and make the boundaries known, instead of lying when one denies the presence of boundaries. When one states that there is a "robust definition at the center," that implies of course the demarcation of the boundaries within which such robustness lies put it at the center and not at the side. Try coloring a small yellow circle, and through drawing a larger circle around it, one could make the smaller yellow circle either at the center or at the side or even at the edge of the larger circle. To speak about "robustness at the center" without defined boundaries is mere shibboleth and means nothing at all.
Center-bounded set thinking therefore is impossible if boundaries are absent. Center-bounded sets imply boundary-bounded sets and vice versa. If the New Calvinists continue their naive thinking of sets, soon the center will disappear altogether but will become and encompass "all in all," heresies included.