It’s pretty rare that I come across a book I think every Christian should read, let alone every pastor or teacher!
But I want to tell you about one — a book I found hard to put down. A book that resonated so deeply with so many observations I’ve had for a long time but struggled to synthesize and communicate.
In this book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, Matthew Bates (professor of theology at Quincy University) wants you to rethink everything you think you know about the gospel, salvation, and “faith,” and make sure it lines up with what the New Testament actually teaches.
To do that, Bates takes some of the most important insights of recent New Testament scholarship and makes them accessible for the church at large. The result is something that has dramatically clarified the way I think about and explain almost everything about Christianity — the gospel, faith, salvation, repentance, works, justification, election, discipleship . . . the list goes on.
For some people, reading this book could produce a total paradigm shift. For me, it helped put a finger on what has so long bothered me about a lot of popular-level, contemporary evangelical theology that was just ever so slightly (but oh so significantly) skewed away from what the biblical authors seem to be saying at every turn:
Faith (as the requirement for salvation) is not mental assent or a one-time decision or even simply trust; it is fundamentally a rendering of allegiance to Jesus as King.
I’ve written previously about how the gospel is primarily the good news that Jesus is the saving and risen King. And if that’s the case, then the obvious implication (as Bates points out) is that the only proper response to the gospel is to declare allegiance to Jesus as your saving King! And throughout the course of his book, Bates points out that the biblical term translated “faith” or “believe” often had connotations of faithfulness, loyalty, or (his preferred term) allegiance.
Faith and Faithfulness Are Two Sides of the Same Coin
When we recognize this dimension to the biblical term for “faith” (Greek: pistis) many biblical truths that often throw people for a loop come together in a much more cohesive way. Here are a few that stand out to me as most crucial:
- Even though the apostle Paul so often speaks of “faith” alone as the requirement for salvation (e.g., Ephesians 2:8-9), he also frequently points out that if you continue to live a life dominated by sinful choices and disobedience to God, you cannot hope to be part of his kingdom or have eternal life (see Romans 8:12-13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). This means that for Paul, “faith” can never mean mere agreement with certain facts while never actually living a changed life of loyalty to Jesus.
- James 2:14-21 takes great pains to distinguish an “easy believism” or mere mental assent from actual, saving “faith” (or loyalty to Jesus) that reveals itself through acts of service. This doesn’t contradict Paul, since both are speaking of genuine allegiance to Jesus as King, which is embodied in good deeds.
- Paul, in Romans 1:17, quotes Habakkuk 2:4 — “The just shall live by faith.” Habakkuk 2:4 is not talking about belief, but about faithfulness to the Lord instead of idols. Far from taking this verse out of context and twisting its meaning, Paul maintains that original meaning of “faithfulness” or allegiance to the Lord (through Jesus)!
- We’re supposed to be saved by grace through “faith” alone, but multiple times the Bible tells us that even Christians will be judged according to their works (see, e.g., Matthew 16:27; John 5:28-29; Romans 2:5-8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17)! This shouldn’t surprise us at all, since genuine loyalty to Jesus as King is embodied in good deeds! Our true allegiance will be measured by how we served the King.
These ideas should be elementary to anyone who studies Scripture, but so often (especially in the modern West) we water down “faith” language into nothing more than a single decision (“Just raise your hand” / “pray this prayer” / “fill out this card”) or agreement with a doctrinal statement, when instead the Bible depicts faith as an ongoing, relational dynamic of loyalty to Jesus, made concrete through a changed life of obedience and discipleship under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
But what about the importance of right beliefs/doctrine? Going into the book, I wanted to see what Bates would say about the passages that clearly seemed to be talking about believing certain truths or trusting in Jesus’ power, not necessarily faithfulness or allegiance (especially, for example, in John’s Gospel and 1 John).
Bates addresses this question handily. He rightly admits that there are plenty of occurrences of pistis in the New Testament that are still best translated with “belief” or ‘trust” terminology. And he highlights the importance of believing the truths of the gospel over and over.
But his main thesis is this: “allegiance” makes better sense as an overarching term to sum up what we mean when we talk about a saving response to the gospel, especially since allegiance (by his definition) includes these three important elements:
- Intellectual affirmation of the truth of the gospel and of who Jesus is,
- Confession of loyalty to Jesus as King/Messiah/Lord, and
- Embodied fidelity as his loyal servant/citizen.
My Thoughts After Reading Salvation by Allegiance Alone
If I haven’t hyped it up too much already, let me just say that I think Bates’ book is important.
It’s not perfect — there were some chapters (namely 6 and 7) that could’ve used some reworking to fit better into the overarching argument of the book, even if they were still full of valuable teaching.
But it is a book that has something crucial and helpful to say to the church. Bates’ thesis — whether you agree with it or not! — is one that anyone who claims to understand or present the gospel needs to wrestle with. And his argument is so thoroughly researched and well-defended that it deserves a fair and attentive read.
It could very well breathe new life into the way that contemporary churches pursue evangelism and discipleship. Summoning people to give their full allegiance to Jesus can help challenge those who are lukewarm and mobilize those who are zealous for the kingdom. It leaves no room for us to pay lip-service on Sunday morning but then live like the unfaithful the rest of the week.
I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about the ideas in Salvation By Allegiance Alone in future posts. It contains a lot of food for thought that I’ll be chewing on for a while. But for now I’ll just say check it out! And let me know what you think in the comments!
See you down the path.
Categories: Book Reviews, Resource Recommendations, Theology
Great summary. I think Bates is right to stress the importance of the enthronement along with the crucifixion and resurrection. Does Bates address the eschatological reasons for Christ’s exaltation?
He doesn’t go too deep into eschatology but he does touch on it in Chapter 3. He devotes considerable space to emphasizing that Jesus’ present enthronement and reign at the right hand of the Father is the stage of the gospel we find ourselves living in (hence the importance of allegiance as the only acceptable response to the gospel, and why we mustn’t limit our preaching to only the cross and atonement).
There are about half a dozen messages for Pastors and Evangelists to preach in this paragraph alone!
Even though the apostle Paul so often speaks of “faith” alone as the requirement for salvation (e.g., Ephesians 2:8-9), he also frequently points out that if you continue to live a life dominated by sinful choices and disobedience to God, you cannot hope to be part of his kingdom or have eternal life (see Romans 8:12-13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). This means that for Paul, “faith” can never mean mere agreement with certain facts while never actually living a changed life of loyalty to Jesus.
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