Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is Everyone Set?

So I decided to take this missional apologetics course from the most popular professor on campus, Dr. Addlefinger, because, as you know, I’m both missionally and apologetically challenged. And this prof is, like, so cool that he has 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 tattooed around his neck in Yiddish. Of course, you can only see it when he isn’t wearing a Roman collar, and even then Jewish people have to keep turning him around counterclockwise to get the whole thing. He also has a tongue ring with one of the Stations of the Cross inscribed on it, but since he eats a lot of garlic (because of all his Wiccan friends) I’m not sure which one it is. What really convinced me to sign up for his course, however, was when I found out that he had his first name legally changed to J-Dog Thugnasty. Other people talk about recontextualization. Dr. Addle—er, I mean, The J-Man—has recontextualized himself right into the wallpaper of the postmodern global living room.

Anyway, we’ve been dialoguing for the past few weeks (The J-Man doesn’t “teach students,” he “dialogues with colleagues”) about all the latest cutting-edge missional approaches, and I must admit that I’ve been struggling with the new relational inculturation methodologies—mostly with how to spell them, but also with how to mine them for good conversation-starters for the heathen I meet at Starbucks. (“Is that a pentagram on your forehead? Did you know that there are technically five gospels, if you include Q?”)

Take all this buzz about applying mathematical set theory to missions. I mean, like, I stunk at math in school so bad that I was one of those kids who whined, “But when will I ever use this in real life?” when the teacher was showing us how to balance a checkbook. I’d rather diagram every sentence in the textbook than try to figure out how a centered set model is more suitable to a postmodern context than a bounded set model. And it seems I’m not the only one.

Anna: “This idea sucks!”

The J-Man: “Well, I’ve come to expect that kind of shallow response from a Baby-Boomer.”

Anna: “But I was born in 1972!”

Phil: “I think what Karen’s trying to say here is that this particular application of centered set theory to evangelism and ecclesiology inappropriately applies the criteria for inclusion in the invisible church to the mode of inclusion in the visible church, simultaneously resulting in an unbiblical methodology for the place of doctrinal catechesis in the life of the local church.”

Anna: “Are you saying I look like I’m over 40?!

The J-Man: “Phil, I think you’re missing the inherently problematic nature of the traditional paradigm. But you might be more persuasive if you use words with more syllables next time.”

Anna: “Wait a minute! You’re the only Baby-Boomer in this room, except for Ishmael!”

Following my entire life’s primary working presupposition that the more inscrutable an idea is, the more an instructor will like it, dialogues like this one convinced me that it was in my best academic interest to get on board with this New Missional Thinking if I wanted my degree program to go smoothly. Besides, I finally figured out that it wasn’t so important what another person actually believed, but only what “direction” they were heading.

Whew! What a load off! Now I don’t have to worry about telling people whether they’re “right” or “wrong.” Instead, I can just say stuff like, “You’re getting warmer…warmer… Okay, now you’re getting colder…”

Anna’s big mistake, on the other hand, was dropping the course before she looked ahead in the syllabus to discover the group field activity later in the semester at a totally rad local watering hole called Slammers, which we were to visit as a group of fully-inculturated missional Christians while avoiding undue syncretism with the bootylicious babes and smooth operators who frequent the establishment. This is one of those places evangelicals do not normally enter unless either (a) their car breaks down at 2 a.m., their cell’s at home, and there’s no other place to call for help in that area code, or (b) they’re on a mission from God to replace its coasters with “4 Spiritual Laws” tracts. Even though both of those pressures were off in our case, our thinly-veiled titillation at the thought of “witnessing” (to use an obsolete term) at such a place quickly turned to very awkward slumping over imitation martinis (at least mine was) punctuated by brief attempts at cross-cultural communication.

Eventually a few of us spotted The J-Man taking in the view near an unused pool table, and we congregated over there next to him, attempting to put the best possible face on our thus-far blundering encounters with the natives.

In a transparent effort to impress the teacher, Drew spotted the pool balls racked up on the table, and blurted, “Look! A bounded set!”

To which Liz added, “Well, we can fix that!” And she removed the triangular rack from around the pool balls.

Unfortunately Jonathan decided to pick up a stick, and taking aim at the cue ball he said, “Watch out, here comes a Mormon missionary,” and shot, scattering the balls around the table.

“But none of the balls are heading back toward the center,” observed Liz.

At which point it suddenly it got very, very quiet, and we became intensely aware that most of the silence was coming from the general direction of The J-Man himself.

I don’t think any of us got a very good grade for that night’s assignment.


E.merge said...

This made me laugh out loud. Very funny. I hope it's not true...

I haven't read further over your blog just yet, but I'm just half way through Frost / Hirsch book The Shaping of Things to Come and have met with this bounded / unbounded set stuff. I hope you might explain it a bit.

Ps. I was pointed in your direction by three other folks now- you must be developing a reputation- watch out.

Liz said...

I think it's cool that Liz was the one who noticed that no one was heading toward the center once the Mormon missionary came on the scene...

Call Me Ishmael said...

e.merge: as I said, math wasn't exactly my strong suit. The only reason I took geometry in high school was because they told me I'd need it to get into college, but I always confused the axioms with the capillaries. When I first heard someone say that set theory could be applied to missiology I thought he was going to demonstrate it on a tennis court. Just my luck that as soon as a prof gets interdisciplinary on me, it's in one of my weakest areas.

Graham Doel said...

Ithis made me cry with laughter... thank you... I only hope it's true!

étrangère said...

This amused me. Set theory is arguably the basis of all mathematics, yet a set is the one undefined concept of mathematics. No-one can agree on a mathematically basic definition of a set! And now someone's trying to base missiology on it... oh dear I'm weak with laughter!

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