While my first review of Matthew Bates’ latest book dealt with his Introduction and opening chapter, here I will deal with the book as a whole. Gospel Allegiance brings out important questions, many of them being questions Christians have debated for some time. While these may not all be new questions, Bates poses them in a new light, which is why this book is important for students of the Bible (and especially of the New Testament world) to read.
The author points out a basic gap between what the word “faith” has evolved into visa vis what the Greek word pistis would have meant to the authors of the New Testament and their immediate audience. “Ancient words have their own meanings that do not map perfectly medieval, Reformation-era, or modern words or definitions.”
Faith, in our naturalistic-leaning setting, now carries the unfortunate connotation of being anti-evidence, as being “blind” and illogical. Bates insists that faith in the New Testament does not carry such connotations; if modern evangelicals continue to mainly use such language, we may be guilty of misleading people and misrepresenting the gospel, “wrongly mak[ing] people think that Christian faith is irrational and arbitrary.”
I find Bates’ point relevant especially in light of the “Science vs Scripture” debate and dichotomy. I am reminded of Ken Ham who authored a children’s Bible insisting that the earth is 6,000 years old. (This is done in the name of faith of course.) “Faith” has become a loaded term, and in in some circles it has taken on the connotation of “stupidity” and “naivety.” While I don’t think we should cater to intellectuals (this would be very “Corinthian” of us), we ought to take great care to preserve what the biblical authors would mean by certain words rather than accept what they (over time) evolved into.
Bates’ solution is to point to a word like “allegiance.” The question is, Why this word? Is it really better than our cherished word “faith?”
Bates finds a word like allegiance to be more holistic, carrying connotations of “faithfulness, reliability, fidelity, and commitment.” He finds support from various passages, one example being Acts 16: “When Paul tells the Philippian jailer, “Pisteuson on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, both you and your household” (Acts 16:31 AT), context demands that this involve an embodied switch in the jailer’s loyalty, no longer to the emperor’s magistrates” but now to Jesus as Lord (bold mine).
Bates notes that a contemporary of Paul’s, Josephus, commonly uses pistis in terms of allegiance. Besides this, there is also such usage found in the Apocrypha and Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). Bates is quick to point out that pistis does not always mean “faithfulness”—we must let context decide.
In chapter 3, the author stresses the kingship of Jesus, and how often this is left out of our gospel presentations. Christians, for one reason or the other, don’t really talk about Jesus as king, unlike the New Testament authors. What is usually mentioned in our presenting the gospel is the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death, while the enthronement of Jesus to God’s right hand and the fact that he has been exalted as king is often left in the dust (or reduced to a mere footnote). “This must change if we are to get the gospel right.” (When “Christ” is mentioned in the New Testament, this is a reference to the kingship of Jesus.)
A very important section graciously deals with John Piper’s objections to those who see Jesus’ kingship (rather than justification by faith) as the center/heart of the gospel.
“Although Piper has wrongly forced euangelion [Greek for gospel/good news] to carry improbable meanings, he is correct to insist that Paul’s gospel absolutely must include the good news of forgiveness from sins.”
And yet, as Bates rightly points out, the “overarching framework” of the gospel is that “Jesus is the saving king.”
The author points out that the way evangelicals present salvation as instantaneous can be at odds with how salvation in the New Testament is often presented as a process (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). A common notion is that salvation occurs instantaneously when one utters a prayer and/or has a profound and deep experience with God. But what if we are both saved and being saved? While the notion of being saved may very well rub some evangelicals the wrong way, this is one way the the New Testament authors frame salvation.
Another discrepancy between the evangelical presentation of the gospel and that of the New Testament is our emphasizing of the individual: Christ died for your sins whereas in the letters of Paul the emphasis is on a community: Christ died for our sins. Although we enter the church individually, upon our entering we become a corporate identity.
What I most appreciate in Gospel Allegiance is the author’s gracious and warm tone. My hope for this book is that rather than further divide believers, this be a conversation starter regarding the role of works in salvation, sanctification, and the nature of the gospel.
Who is this Book For?
I recommend this carefully-written book to anyone who is serious about studying what Scripture says about discipleship, faith, and the gospel. A call to abandon naivety and to take upon ourselves a more well-rounded and robust (and well-thought out) faith, Gospel Allegiance ultimately beckons us to return to what the Bible says over and against what we’ve been told the Bible says.
October 19, 2019 at 9:49 pm
It seems that Bate rightly shifts some of the weight of personal salvation from the cross to the enthronement of Christ. It is quite common in the book of Acts for the apostles to appeal to Christ’s newfound status as king, and not to the cross, in order to explain his ability to forgive of sins. This is a good move, but I wish Bates would also consider the ways in which we have made personal salvation, rather than, say, the submission of the nations to Christ, the heart of the gospel.
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October 21, 2019 at 2:50 pm
Thanks for your thoughts, Alex! I would love to hear more about ‘the submission of the nations to Christ.’ Do you feel this will happen at Christ’s Second Coming, or is this something that will begin to happen before that?
October 21, 2019 at 3:26 pm
Well I’m in an extreme minority on that issue.
Despite the much-needed shift Bates makes from crucifixion to exaltation, he is still operating with a standard evangelical paradigm of the gospel, i.e. the gospel is that Christ saves sinners from post-mortem judgement. This leaves the kingship of Christ with mainly personal rather than political significance. As exalted king, Christ has authority to either save or destroy individuals, to determine their eternal fate, as it were.
Yet I would say the early Christian writers were more concerned with the political and communal ramifications of Christ’s exaltation than they were with the existential and personal significances of it. The existential and personal effects of Christ’s exaltation, i.e. the assurance of salvation conveyed by the pouring out of the spirit onto believers (Acts 2:33), was a sign of the impending political effects, i.e. the judgement of the present order and the salvation of the church in concrete historical-political terms. By enthroning Christ, God had given him authority to rescue his people (as individuals but more importantly as a community) from danger and to judge their enemies, the rebellious nations (Psalms 2 & 110). He would do this dramatically when he came to judge the world and subject the nations to his reign, granting to his faithful followers as an inheritance authority over the nations. They would “rule upon the earth.”
The first Christians thought Christ would return to do this very shortly. So they endured persecution believing that those who ruled the known world (the rulers of Israel and the pagan authorities) would soon be abolished and replaced. In my view, this process by which the kingdom of the world “became the kingdom of the Lord and his anointed” is most convincingly associated with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and with the collapse and conversion of the pagan empire that ruled and corrupted the known world.
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October 20, 2019 at 6:11 pm
Another one was anointed in Israel prior to any king: The High Priest. The Eternal Son has always been king of the whole earth-it was made through Him (I Cor. 8.6). When He gave them Saul as king it was because they rejected His kingship over them. So He chose the line of David to become the High Priest.
Zech. 6.3 states this explicitly: It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two (harmony between the kingship and priesthood in One person I would think).
So this enthronement and ascension is of a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (One with the power of an indestructible life).
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October 21, 2019 at 2:52 pm
Great thoughts! The dual reality of Christ’s kingship *and* Christ’s priesthood is very important and an interesting motif to study.
October 21, 2019 at 8:00 pm
Is there any question that The Eternal Son is an eternal king? I think it can be demonstrated that Jesus is The Eternal King from scripture. Two things He was not: a sacrifice and priest (before His incarnation). Advent was the great mystery revealed by the N.T.
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October 20, 2019 at 6:17 pm
A Rabbi once pointed out that salvation is much like the Israelites understanding of the Promised land of Canaan. They were promised it, so they had it, but they hadn’t physically taken possession of it, so they still had to walk to it. Some of them never made it to what was given to them.
The “corporate entity” we become is the Body of Christ, which is not an earthly body, muck like the Kingdom we are in is not an earthly Kingdom. We, according to 1 Cor. 12 and Rom.12, are a part of the Body “members individually” as well as each other. We come to Jesus individually and stand before God on this same basis. Technically “Christ died for the sins of the world” if we want to impersonalize salvation, but we don’t come to Jesus as a group.
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October 21, 2019 at 2:54 pm
Hey Dwight, I have never heard of that analogy but it seems to make sense with the common narrative of Scripture. Thanks for bringing this analogy and language to my attention!