Gospel Allegiance
November 13, 2019

Matthew Bates argued in Salvation by Allegiance Alone (2017) that “faith” (Greek pistis) doesn’t merely mean “belief” or even “trust.” It includes those, but connotes loyalty and allegiance. We’re saved by staying loyal to Jesus.

In September, Bates published a follow-up, Gospel Allegiance, where he explains in more detail how this affects our understanding of the gospel, grace, works, and the inter-denominational conflicts that surround these issues.

Bates’s book develops a thesis about the content of the gospel. The biblical gospel isn’t “Believe and you shall be saved” nor “We are justified by faith and not by the works of the law.” It’s an announcement about what God has done through Jesus.

Specifically, it’s the announcement that God has made Jesus king (cf. Romans 1:3-4); it’s the message, “Jesus reigns as the Christ,” the anointed Davidic King, who rules through His Spirit.

As Bates observes, this runs counter to a great deal of Evangelical preaching and teaching. Contrary to many Evangelicals, justification by grace through faith, as normally understood by Protestants, isn't the gospel. It's an implication of the gospel, but it isn't the royal message itself.

(If, by contrast, "justification by faith" is a way of describing the atoning work of Jesus, the revelation of God's royal justice through Jesus' faithful work in the cross and resurrection, it is a summary of the gospel. This is how I expound justification by faith in Delivered from the Elements of the World.)

Bates is right that the church's witness and ministry is greatly weakened when it misses the heart of the gospel, when it fails to proclaim the good news as a royal proclamation and a royal summons. Bates's thesis also has profound ecumenical implications, not least because, by his definition, every branch of the church affirms the gospel.

The other leg of Bate's book is his discussion of faith. He admits that the basic meaning of pistis is “trust,” but, relying on Teresa Morgan’s Roman Faith and Christian Faith, he says that in the royal context of the gospel, the word takes on the sense of “loyalty” and “allegiance to the king.”

In such contexts, “faith” is outwardly directed and embodied, not a psychological or emotional state. Grasping this helps us see the global political scope of the gospel: Paul preaches so that the nations become loyal to King Jesus (Romans 1:5).

Bates sometimes overstates. He says “faith” is external to the gospel, the response to the message and not part of the message itself. But Jesus’ gospel begins with “Repent,” and when Jesus sums up the gospel in Luke 24 it includes the proclamation of repentance to the nations. At least in these passages, the call to faith and repentance is internal to the gospel.

Bates’s atonement theology sometimes edges toward an exclusively exemplarist position in which Jesus’ pistis opens the path for us to imitate and follow.

These reservations aside, I commend Bates’s book and his project. He calls our attention to the neglected center of the gospel, without which the gospel cannot fully effect the power of God unto salvation.

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