Salvation By Allegiance Alone

In the days ahead, I’m hoping to post a series of reflections on the chapters of Matthew W. Bates’s book Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King.  When I first heard of Bates’s book about a year ago, I knew that it was a title I would have to read.  His main thesis seems to overlap in some significant ways with some of my own thinking emerging from my reflection upon the themes of discipleship, apocalyptic theology, and the pistis Iesou Christou (faith in/faithfulness of Jesus Christ) debate, alongside of my dissertation work on the theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Stanley Hauerwas.  Furthermore, the title of the book resonates in some interesting ways with a sermon I preached that will be appearing in a forthcoming book.  In that sermon, based on Romans 1:1-7, I suggest that the Gospel can be understood as “the Neverending Story of King Jesus.”

In the introduction to the book, Bates suggests that it’s time to come to terms with “faith.”  While much of contemporary Western Christianity is chock-full of faith-talk, it is not always clear how faith is functioning in this discourse.1   Nor is it always obvious what the relation is between this talk of faith and what the New Testament describes as pistis (often translated in our English Bibles as “faith”).  Bates describes the rationale for the book as being grounded in the desire “to demonstrate that our contemporary Christian culture often comes prepackaged with functional ideas and operative definitions of belief, faith, works, salvation, heaven, and the gospel that in various ways truncate and distort the full message of the good news about Jesus the Messiah that is proclaimed in the Bible.”2  There are echoes here of John Howard Yoder’s much earlier critique of evangelical Protestantism’s tendency to confuse the Gospel with the benefits of the Gospel 3  “Surgery is necessary,” according to Bates’s diagnosis. 4  The prescribed remedy involves “not just an excision of “faith” language but also a transplant.  With regard to eternal salvation, rather than speaking of belief, trust, or faith in Jesus, we should speak instead of fidelity to Jesus as cosmic Lord or allegiance to Jesus the king.”5

Bates helpfully summarizes the argument of the book in the following manner:

  1. “The true climax of the gospel—Jesus’s enthronement—has generally been deemphasized or omitted from the gospel.
  2. Consequently, pistis has been misaimed and inappropriately nuanced with respect to the gospel. It is regarded as “trust” in Jesus’s righteousness alone or “faith” that Jesus’s death covers my sins rather than “allegiance” to Jesus as king.
  3. Final salvation is not about attainment of heaven but about embodied participation in the new creation. When the true goal of salvation is recognized, terms such as “faith,” “works,” “righteousness,” and “the gospel” can be more accurately reframed.
  4. Once it is agreed that salvation is by allegiance alone, matters that have traditionally divided Catholics and Protestants – the essence of the Gospel, faith alone verse works, declared righteousness versus infused righteousness—are reconfigured in ways that may prove helpful for reconciliation.”6

In the days ahead, we’ll see how these aspects of Bates’s argument play out.

  1. Doug Harink has a very insightful discussion of how “faith” has often functioned in modern Protestantism in Paul among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology beyond Christendom and Modernity (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2003), 25-65.  The chapter, entitled “Justification: Beyond Protestantism,” is worth the price of admission alone.
  2. Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 2-3.
  3. John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism (Scottdale, PA, Herald Press, 1971), 31-32.
  4. Bates, 3.
  5. Bates, 4.
  6. Bates, 9.

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