Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories – 4

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Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories – 3

3. Centered sets:

Could it be that our problem with deciding whether Papayya is or is not a Christian has to do with the way we form our mental category “Christian”?

But there are other ways to form categories. A second way is to form centered sets. A centered set has the following characteristics:

a. It is created by defining a center, and the relationship of things to that center. Some things may be far from the center, but they are moving towards the center, therefore, they are part of the centered set. On the other hand, some objects may be near the center but are moving away from it, so they are not a part of the set. The set is made up of all objects moving towards the center.

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Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories – 2

Conversion and category differences

What does it mean to be a Christian? Before we can answer this question we must look more closely at our own thought patterns—at what we mean by the word “Christian.” This word, like many other words, refers to a set of people or things that we think are alike in some manner or other. It refers to a category that exists in our minds. To be sure, God, looking at the hearts of people, knows who are his. It is he who one day will divide between the saved and the lost. But here on earth, we as humans pass judgments, we decide for ourselves who is a Christian, and, therefore, what it means to be a Christian. What criteria do we commonly use?

Before we answer this question, we must ask an even more fundamental question: what kind of category are we going to use? Modern studies of human thought (see bibliography) show us that our mind forms categories in at least three different ways, and each of the three kinds of categories has its own structural characteristics. For our discussion here we will look at two of these types: (1) bounded sets and (2) centered sets.[1]

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Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories – 1

How much must Papayya ‘know’ about the Gospel to be converted?

by Paul G. Hiebert

Can an illiterate peasant become a Christian after hearing the Gospel only once? And, if so, what do we mean by conversion?

Imagine, for a moment, Papayya, an Indian peasant, returning to his village after a hard day’s work in the fields. His wife is still preparing the evening meal, so, to pass the time, he wanders over to the village square. There he notices a stranger surrounded by a few curiosity seekers. Tired and hungry, he sits down to hear what the man is saying. For an hour he listens to a message of a new God, and something which he hears moves him deeply. Later he asks the stranger about the New Way, and then, almost as if by impulse, he bows his head and prays to this God who is said to have appeared to humans in the form of Jesus. Continue reading “Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories – 1”

Conversion in Cultural Perspective

Conversion is a much discussed topic these days, whether in the context of the much abused concept of proselytism or in terms of a theology and anthropology of missions.

Paul Hiebert, who was a professor of missions and anthropology at Fuller on Pasadena, Ca. and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deedfield, Ill. wrote in 1978 a seminal article on the theme of ‘Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories’.

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