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.