Bates, Matthew W. Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the king. Grand Rapid: Baker Academic, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-8010-9797-3. Pp. xvi–234. Book Cover.
Matthew Bates wrote Salvation by Allegiance Alone primarily to rethink Protestant conceptions of faith, works, and the Gospel. Bates’ book, however, also engages with Roman Catholicism, which makes sense given Bates’ vocation. Bates is the assistant professor of theology at Quincy University, a Roman Catholic institution.
His previous publications include The Hermeneutics of Apostolic Proclamation and The Birth of the Trinity. His scholarly pursuits and his unique vocational position as a Protestant at a Roman Catholic institution give Bates an interesting platform from which he can critique both traditions.
Pistis. Bates’s primarily argument is that the pistis word-group in the Bible should often be translated by the term “allegiance” rather than “belief” or “faith.” In most English bibles, the Greek noun pistis translates as “faith” and the Greek verb pisteuo translates as “trust” or “believe”. Bates feels that these words under-explain the underlying concept of pistis. In English, to “believe” in something is merely to believe something is true. “Trust” has a stronger connotation than belief, but, according to Bates, both words do not fully capture the meaning of pistis (5).
As Bates argues, pistis requires more than the English connotations of faith and trust; it requires allegiance to the king, the Messiah. Pistis has a range of meaning that includes “reliability, confidence, assurance, fidelity, faithfulness, commitment, and pledged loyalty” (3). A brief look at a standard Greek dictionary like BDAG will essential confirm the range of meeting that Bates proposes for pistis.
Gospel. Faith as allegiance only makes sense, however, if we are allegiant to a king or lord. And that leads to a second aspect of Bates’ proposal: a restatement of the Gospel. In Chapters 2–5, Bates sketches out the Gospel from the Bible, which is essentially a recapitulation of the Apostles’ Creed (211). He puts forward the following eight elements as part of the Gospel:
Jesus the king
- preexisted with the Father,
- took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David,
- died for sins in accordance with Scriptures,
- was buried,
- was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
- appeared to many,
- is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and
- will come again as judge. (52 with slightly different spacing).
At first blush, point 1 may seem peculiar. But John’s Gospel (which presents the Gospel!) opens up with the Word’s eternal relationship with the Father. For that reason and for many others, Bates’ first point indeed should be part of the Gospel.
His seventh point is the most important for his argument. Bates cites a number of biblical passages to confirm the centrality of Jesus’ reign at God’s right hand as Lord (e.g., Mark 10:35–38, 40; Matt 19:28; Matt 25:31–32; John 12:31–33). Part of the problem is that each of these passages places Jesus’ reign in the future (except John 12 does seem to directly refer to the ascension). For example, Matthew 19:28 speaks about the renewed world or Matthew 25:31–32 speaks of a time when the Son will return in his glory.
For those who hold to forms of amillennialism or to most forms of inaugurated eschatology, Bates’ Biblical proof for his seventh point will probably fit into their system. But for others (dispensational pre-millenialists or historical pre-millenialists with certain forms of inaugurated eschatology), Bates’ Biblical proof will not be persuasive. A majority of Christians, however, will be able to joyfully affirm Bates’ eight stages of the Gospel story.
Works. According to Bates, Salvation is not primarily the belief in the promise of God that we are justified (187). This notion is a “misplaced emphasis” (187). Rather, our faith or allegiance to Jesus binds us to him, unites us with him. And we must maintain our righteous status through our right-actions in collaboration with the Holy Spirit (187). In short, “perseverance is required” by the Spirit to maintain our link to Jesus (189).
And, according to Bates, it is possible for someone to be “born-again” and then to cease being allegiant, which would mean that the formally born-again person “would experience spiritual death” (190).
Reformed Theology teaches that a person is justified at the moment of belief and that the Holy Spirit empowers Christians to persevere in faith as they grow in sanctification. Bates could mean something like that. But he holds that Scripture does not finely distinguish justification and sanctification, initial righteousness and subsequent righteousness (185–6). He, therefore, communicates something different than the Reformed teaching of the perseverance of the saints.
In short, Bates argues that by faith we are united to Christ and therefore receive his righteousness, and we maintain our relationship with Jesus by our allegiance. If we fail to remain allegiant to the king, then we lose our salvation.
It is easy to see that Bates’ argument kicks against the goads of Reformed doctrine because it highlights so clearly the necessity of good works for salvation. But readers should not impute to Bates the view that our own righteousness saves us. Rather, the righteousness of Christ becomes ours through union, and that righteousness alone is sufficient for our salvation, although in collaboration with the Holy Spirit a person must maintain an allegiant relationship with Jesus (188).
First, although Bates admits that pistis does not always mean allegiance (78), he does seem to privilege this sense of pistis in the Bible. Hebrews 11:1 certainly seems to define faith as a conviction rather than allegiance. From my reading of the Bible, however, allegiance does seem to be an appropriate translation of the word pistis from time-to-time, and I believe (!) that we ought to preach and to explain the idea faith in ways that transcend simple assent that something is true.
I am not sure, however, that allegiance will solve all of our problems. When the Philippian jailor asked what he must do to be saved, he almost certainly meant to be saved from death (Act 16:27–29). Paul and Silas answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Their answers transcended the merely physical to be sure. But Paul and Silas provide the immediate answer (trust Jesus) to the immediate concern (I will die). I am not sure “Pay allegiance to the Lord Jesus” quite captures the scene here.
Second, Bates has created more problems than he has solved when it comes to the questions of works and salvation. The dogmatic distinction of justification and sanctification describes the reality that we are saved and yet we grow in our salvation (Phil 1:6). I grant that the Bible does not always speak of righteousness in neat terms like justification and sanctification, but the words are useful in describing what is happening in the Bible.
But Bates rejects such a dogmatic distinction and strongly connects the maintenance of our union with Christ to our good works (and thus our righteousness actions). The Bible clearly expects Christians to do good works, and they do make our calling and election sure (2 Pet 1:10). But we can do these good works precisely because we already have everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3–4).
By emphasizing the maintenance of our union with Christ by allegiance, Bates proposes a possibly anxiety-producing theological construct without the clear dogmatic reasoning to pastorally guide Christians (i.e., justification and sanctification). Readers could be left wondering how they maintain their salvation and if they have lost their salvation; and their only recourse would be to read a rather nuanced and subtle section in Bates’ book.
I deeply appreciated Bates exegetical arguments, but I am uncomfortable with a number of his theological judgments. The church desperately needs to learn that cheap grace is not enough; we must obey Christ. But I am uncertain if Bates has closed the gaps between faith and works in the Gospel.
Read Salvation by Allegiance Alone to be challenged in your exegetical thinking, to be sharpened in your dogmatic conclusions about the Gospel, and to help you be conversant with current theological language (Bates is indebted to Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, and John Barclay, to name a few). But then make sure you read John Calvin right afterwards because “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17).
I was given a review copy of this book by Parasource, but I was under no obligation to give the book a positive review.