Friday, March 4, 2011 | By: Zachary Bartels

What About Bob?


So, in this former post, I described in very general terms a man who claimed to be a Christian. I told you that he wanted your sincere opinion—recognizing that only God really knows who his elect are—as to whether or not Bob fits the bill.

Seventeen people weighed in, and one cyber-troll used the meta as a forum for taking cheap shots at the one and only Frank Turk1. Of the useful comments, there was a wide range of perspectives represented.

  • Several people were concerned by the fact that he felt the need to ask. If he was unsure of his faith, that might be a point of concern, they said. Turns out Bob was just asking so that we could have this discussion.
  • Rachel over-thought the heck out of it, but warmed my heart and convicted me by viewing this hypothetical scenario as an opportunity to bring glory to God. (Sadly, I sometimes find myself doing the opposite, and viewing real opportunities to share God’s love as academic exercises.)
  • Pastor Kit deemed Bob Chalcedon-compliant (assuming that he truly believes what he says he believes).
  • Αναστασία wondered why baptism had not come up in his summary. Others wondered why church membership was not part of the equation. Still, these were generally hopeful that Bob is a true Christian.
  • Ruth wrote, “Bob believes and has confessed that Jesus is the Son of God. We are saved through faith by God's grace. Isn't it that simple?” and cited Ephesians 2:8-9.
  • Brad systematically laid out Bob’s affirmation of basic Christian doctrine, his acceptance of the Gospel, his desire to know God, his apparent penitance, and the fact that he is “testing his election.” He concluded, “I can comfortably say that Bob shows signs that he has been regenerated via the spirit.”

This is more or less what I expected. And my basic plan for the follow-up post was to agree that Bob seems to be a Christian . . . and then to give additional details for several possible Bobs, all of which could fit with the information given us by Bob himself—at least from Bob’s perspective:

  • Bob is a hard-core fundamentalist who thinks everyone who uses real wine for the Eucharist (and everyone who uses the word Eucharist) is going to hell.
  • Bob “loves Jesus, but not the Church.” He never gathers together with other believers, thinks of his relationship with God in purely vertical, individualistic terms, has not been baptized, and never receives the Lord’s Supper.
  • Bob is a faithful Roman Catholic who attends mass twice a week.
  • Bob is a homosexual, who lives with his partner (who also describes his own faith in similar terms).
  • Bob is actual Rick Warren. He’s been working undercover at your workplace.
  • Bob is a universalist. (How timely.)

Despite Otternam’s suspicion that he was being “played by some technicality,” my real aim was to spark thought (and maybe conversation) about how we define a brother or sister in Christ. And, while it’s an easy copout to just say, “Only God knows his/her heart,” Scripture tells us how to deal with believers and unbelievers, true brothers and false, in a way that assumes we can make some distinction. It is an important discussion to have. And I’ve noticed that people usually have one set of criteria when dealing in generalities, and an entirely different (and more fluid) set when dealing with specific people. I am no exception. My list of essentials can tend to grow or shrink depending on the situation.

I know I’m not alone here, because I’ve seen many other Christians doing the same thing. You might even be mentally adjusting your list now, based on the above Bobs.


1. Are we over-simplifying the marks of a true disciple when we quote Romans 10:9 or Ephesians 2:8-10 removed from their epistolary homes, thus making for a very big and diverse tent?


2. Do we tend to selectively add non-essentials to the requirements for a disciple in order to keep certain people out, because they make us uncomfortable or challenge our own cultural-religious presuppositions?


3. Something else entirely?

That’s what I was going to write, but then a friend of mine re-tweeted that post and I got another wave of answers, which were far less certain about Bob’s salvation (even without the above fill-in-the-blank specifics). They wanted to hear the word “repentance,” rather than talk of “feeling bad” or “being sorry.” They wondered about fruit in this man’s life. I might sum up their collective reservations by quoting a guy name Daniel (whose animated avatar I could not stop staring at): “ Tares believe that the truths are true, and that they are saved - not because they have repented of their rebellion and are trusting God to save them, but because they have been fortified in (and by) an incomplete (and therefore false) gospel.”

I have a sneaking suspicion that these “Turkish” responses throw a wrench into the works of my planned follow-up, but I’m not sure of the full ramifications of said wrench.

Let’s sort this all out together, shall we?

1 This is sort of a roadshow that makes its way around the reformed blogosphere; it feels a little bit like Cool Hand Luke, but, being more like Drago than Dragline, I don't think Turk’s ever going to get tired of knocking him back down.

5 reader comments:

All Saints Episcopal Church said...

It seems to me, rather than worry about Bob's specific standing before God (let's all be taking the planks out of our own eyes first on the salvation question, anyway ...), that this could form the basis for how one conducts ecumenical conversations between a variety of people who all claim to be Christian. (And until Jesus comes back to sort us all out, face it true believers, even YOU don't know for sure...)

My theology professor used to talk about "who was in the room" when you wanted to have such a conversation. Unitarians ... not in the room. Mormons ... probably not.

But if you believe in a Triune God, believe that Jesus Christ, God incarnate in a human being, died for us on a cross and was raised on the third day, and that that particular action somehow reconciles, justifies, right-wises, restores, saves humanity, creation and everything.

Then maybe you could start to have conversations about how you worship that Triune God and how you experience the power of Christ's saving action in your life and in the life of the world.

So I see Zach's "Bob" as someone who might open up the conversations for us, across denominations.

ZSB said...

Seriously, twenty-two comments on my initial, uber-simplistic question about Bob, and only one on the tricky gray-area follow-up?

Boo! Hiss!

Erin said...

Okay, I'm going to attempt a response that will a.) make sense, b.) not fall into "capital H" Heresy, and c.) sound moderately intelligent.

I stand by my original understanding that Bob has believed in his heart and confessed with his lips the necessary things about God and Jesus to be a Christian. I agree that many people (myself at times) add non-essentials, sometimes purposely to keep others out, but more often, I think, out of a sincere desire for those "uncomfortable" people to experience a sure salvation and a full Christian life. (I can think of a few people in my life who apparently believe as I do, but who don't go to church and don't read the Bible and I admit that I am nervous about their claims to believe and I wish they would surround themselves with strong believers so they could grow in their understanding and love.)

That said, perhaps these non-essentials are more about sanctification than salvation. Salvation is simple. We want to complicate it so that we feel better about getting it (we feel like we have to earn it somehow), but it is fairly simple in its barest form. Christ died that we may live and we partake in His sacrifice by believing He is who He says He is. A child can understand this and does not need to dissect theological minutia in order to get to Heaven.

But a Christian does not stop there. The marks of a disciple do include church attendance, the fruit of the Spirit, partaking in Communion, and many other things. But if a guy on a submarine repents of his sins and confesses his belief in Christ just as the sub is torpedoed, and then he dies before he has a chance to go to church or get baptized or attend a potluck, I'm fairly certain that man is saved just as much as the elderly woman who spent her entire life doing everything the perfect Christian woman should as the outward sign of her inward belief.

So we might be over-simplifying the marks of a true disciple when we boil things down to Rom 10:9 or Eph 2:8-10, but I think we can say that a person who believes as Bob does is a believer. Our conversation with him might then turn to ways he can take part in being a true disciple, encouraging him in the areas in which he is deficiant, and therefore helping him gain assurance of his own salvation (which he apparently lacks). One of our jobs as Christians is to spur one another on toward greater righteousness and help one another when we fail or fall short.

chamblee54 said...

1- Mr. Turk will, indeed, never tire of shooting himself in the foot.
2- I was amiss in not answering the general question of the discussion. It seems to me that a Christian is anyone who wants to call itself one.
This is why I like the phrase Jesus Worshiper. It is self explanatory...if you worship Jesus, in violation of the first commandment, then you are a Jesus worshiper. Also, while many use the terms Jesus and Christ interchangeably, there is a bit of doubt as to whether or not Jesus was, in fact, the Christ.
3- When you call me a cyber troll, you say more about yourself than you do me.

ZSB said...

Word on the street is that you were banned by Justin Taylor and Challies. That's troll material. I don't ban anyone; I just delete completely irrelevant comments. In that case, I should probably have deleted your comment on the first Bob post. To come in from nowhere and trash my friend in a meta that has NOTHING to do with him in an attempt to pick a fight with him/me/whoever is the very definition of cyber-trolling.