As Bates argues, the gospel can’t be reduced to the formula “Jesus died for our sins,” since the gospel centers on the truth that Jesus is King. He’s the resurrected and enthroned Lord over all, and we’re called to express our allegiance to him as our Lord. According to Bates, there are eight elements to the gospel.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting the Ninety-five Theses in the city of Wittenberg. One question that arises is whether the five solas—which rightly capture some of the major theological emphases of the Reformation—should be nuanced after 500 years of reflection and study.
Matthew Bates, a gifted young scholar who teaches at Quincy University, thinks that an adjustment would be salutary, suggesting we revise “faith alone” and reformulate with the slogan “allegiance alone.” As those who believe in Scripture alone, we should be open to reforming and sharpening what we have held in the past, and Bates challenges us to look at the Bible anew.
Allegiance and the Gospel
In this new book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, Bates considers afresh the nature of salvation and the gospel. He argues “faith” and “belief” aren’t always the best terms to translate pistis and pisteuō in the New Testament. Instead, with regard to salvation it would be better to speak of allegiance to Jesus as King, so that faith has the idea of fidelity. The advantage of allegiance is that it includes the idea that good works are necessary for final salvation. Bates rightly maintains that faith can’t be defined as mere intellectual assent, a leap in the dark, or wishful thinking.
The notion that faith is best rendered by “allegiance” is supported, according to Bates, by a look at evidence in Second Temple Jewish literature. He then argues for this meaning in key Pauline texts, saying that the notions of mental assent, “professed fealty,” and “embodied loyalty” better account for what is meant by salvation or justification through pistis. Hence Paul teaches “embodied allegiance” to Jesus as King. Bates prefers “allegiance” to “trust” since he thinks the latter doesn’t sufficiently capture loyalty to Jesus as the enthroned King. According to Bates, we’ll be judged on the last day on whether we were genuinely loyal to Jesus, not whether we kept an itemized list of commands.
As Bates argues, the gospel can’t be reduced to the formula “Jesus died for our sins,” since the gospel centers on the truth that Jesus is King. He’s the resurrected and enthroned Lord over all, and we’re called to express our allegiance to him as our Lord. According to Bates, there are eight elements to the gospel:
- Jesus pre-existed with the Father;
- He became incarnate and fulfilled the promise to David;
- He died for our sins according to the Scriptures;
- He was buried;
- He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures;
- He appeared to many, showing he was raised from the dead;
- He is seated at God’s right hand as Lord; and
- He will come again as judge.
Bates particularly stresses that Jesus is enthroned as King and Messiah over all the world.
Salvation as a Gift and the New Creation
Bates emphasizes we can’t earn salvation; it’s a gift of God. At the same time, however, he rejects individual election and contends corporate election more accurately captures the biblical witness. In any case, grace is effective and transforms our lives. Though Protestants often say our works are the necessary evidence and fruit of our faith, it’s better, Bates says, to speak of allegiance to Jesus as the enthroned and reigning King, and thus works are “integral to final salvation” (110).
Bates takes issue with the notion that Christians simply go to heaven after death. The New Testament picture has more vigor and strength than this popular conception of heaven. Believers are raised from the dead and live as citizens in the new creation. We’re awaiting a transformed universe and look forward to ruling with King Jesus to fulfill the purpose for which God originally created human beings. We will not be ethereal creatures floating on clouds, but persons with transformed and immortal bodies residing in a new universe.
Bates rightly sees how the enthronement of Jesus as King anticipates a new universe where we’ll reign with and under him. Bates also suggests everything true and good we’ve done in this world will be preserved in the coming new creation. As those created in God’s image, we have purpose in our lives even now. If we follow the path of idolatry—if we fail to live in the way we’re designed as those made in his image—we deface the world and damage other human beings. Jesus is the full image of God, and we’ll be conformed to his image even if there is some discontinuity between us as human beings, since Jesus is the exalted and enthroned King.
When it comes to justification, Bates roots it in the vindication of Jesus. Jesus was condemned as a messianic pretender, and his death on the cross signified to the Jewish religious leaders that he was cursed by God. Yet God reversed the judgment of those who condemned Jesus and demonstrated his vindication (justification) by raising him from the dead. Christians are also justified (right with God) when they’re incorporated into Christ. Those belonging to Christ through union with him are declared to be in the right with God, because Jesus’s vindication is also theirs.
Bates also questions the order of salvation (ordo salutis), which is common in Reformed circles, arguing it’s more indebted to systematic than biblical theology. He defends imputation in the sense that believers are united with Christ as our enthroned King. While Bates endorses imputation, he also suggests that imputation may possibly be lost so that some who are now justified, according to Bates, may actually lose the status of justification and end up experiencing final damnation. He says justification is forensic, but also says righteousness is infused (though infusion isn’t gradual but instantaneous upon declaration of allegiance).