Gospel Allegiance by Matthew Bates – Book Review

by Editor-in-Chief Michael Brooks

The book reviews that I publish are intended to be concise, helpful, and to-the-point. They are divided into three sections: why I read the book, synopsis and structure, agreements and positives, disagreements and negatives, and reasons to read.

Why I Read the Book

I read this book upon the recommendation by a friend and scholar Robert Coleman. He had read it and asked if I would be interested in reading it. It looked like an interesting read and I did not want to pass up on the opportunity to work through important biblical truth and be sharpened by this book and my brother in Christ.

Synopsis and Structure

The author, Matthew Bates, wrote this book as a follow-up to his more academic work Salvation by Allegiance Alone (2017). Gospel Allegiance is directed toward the popular level to help Church and ministry leaders take his vision into their Churches and contexts. To understand his goals we need to look at the structure of the book as the sections and arguments are integral to what he seeks to achieve.

The book is divided into two major parts. The first part is his critique of our modern evangelical perspective on the gospel and what it is communicated as. Bates asserts that the gospel is not justification by faith, salvation from hell or judgement, forgiveness of sins, or other common summaries. He argues that the Biblical text teaches that the gospel is the story of Jesus the Son becoming the saving king. He argues that the culmination of the gospel is not the cross or the resurrection (although they are absolutely necessary), but the enthronement of Jesus as the “Son-of-God-in-Power”.

In the second part of the book he tackles our understanding of pistis, or as translated, faith. In this section he argues, develops, and applies the thesis that pistis (faith), although commonly translated and understood as an inward belief in God, is better understood as allegiance. He then goes on to make this argument and apply it to the relationship between works, faith, and salvation.

He concludes his work by taking this idea of allegiance into Church life and discipleship culture. His desire is to see discipleship transformed by his model so that the weaknesses of our current discipleship-culture are mended. His work is very practical in intention.

Agreements and Positives

I think the entire work is worthy of being read, although critically and carefully. I believe his emphasis and goals are admirable and even necessary. Many areas and emphases were helpful and extremely beneficial to me in regards to how I think about the gospel, faith, works, and salvation. I commend this book to you with the following recommendations and affirmations.

The first section of the book was heavily critical, thoroughly convincing, but charitably written. He critiques many common understandings of the gospel interacting with teachers and Pastors such as: John Piper, Matt Chandler, R.C. Sproul, Greg Gilbert and others. He does this respectfully but makes his argument convincingly. I am in agreement with Bates–the gospel as commonly articulated is not what the Scriptures emphasize as the gospel. I am in total agreement with Bates that the Gospel, God’s Word, is the announcement of Jesus becoming the Saving King. It is a royal message of the good news that Jesus became the saving King by His faithful obedience culminating in His glorious exultation as the Son-of-God-in-Power.

I believe you can, along with Bates, hold to this understanding and still emphasize the importance of our response to the gospel and its saving benefits. We lose nothing of our cherished heritage but gain Biblical language and understanding of the gospel. In my opinion, the second part of the book is where the problems began to arise. Although there were issues I do appreciate what Bates emphasizes within his framework. That is, the needed emphasis on loyalty to Jesus, obedience, and faithfulness as necessary markers of a Christian.

Disagreements and Negatives

The second part of the book is where disagreements and issues began to crop up. Bates goes on to develop his idea that pistis (faith) primarily means allegiance in the New Testament and then develops the necessary consequences of this conclusion to his understanding of the relationships between grace, works, and salvation.

He builds his understanding of pistis (faith) on this foundational argument: 1) In the ancient world pistis usually means faith as we broadly understand it today 2) But, pistis can mean something like faithful obedience or commitment 3) the gospel is a royal message, and thus, with that in mind NT authors are probably using pistis in a way that is more akin to allegiance rather than faith as belief.

He transforms almost every commonly understood apparatus of salvation, grace, and works under this understanding. The weakness of his claim though, is not in his exegesis necessarily, but in the premise’s of his argument. I think this emphasis of allegiance and faithfulness is a needed emphasis in our churches and theological works. Many protestants have a complicated relationship to works (which he deals with) as it relates to salvation and I think Bates speaks well to that issue. So, Bates does speak a needed message today about absolute loyalty to the King.

The problem is that I do not believe his argument–which leads to his understanding of pistis–is strong enough to convince me to change my entire apparatus of understanding the relationship between grace, works, and faith. Bates helps me nuance my understanding of that relationship and clarifies certain things for me but I cannot accept his understanding of these important doctrines and accept the wholesale changes he requires. Why? Because his foundational argument is too weak and thus his framework (as a whole) is not something I believe the Bible teaches.

Reasons to Read

I recommend this book to ministry leaders and scholars that are willing to read carefully and critically. It will enrich much of your own understanding of important topics as well as offer differing perspectives on key passages.

But, I do not recommend readers to adopt Bate’s framework in regards to faith as allegiance. I believe that–although it is helpful and enriching to an already sound understanding of grace, works, salvation, and the Christian life–it fails in it’s foundational underpinnings and creates problems in its conclusions.

One major reason to read this book is the first section. This first part of the book is worth the cost of the entire book in my opinion. The argument Bates makes that the gospel is a royal message of Jesus becoming the saving King is convincing and Biblical. To those seeking to submit themselves to Scripture, I appeal to you to read this part and be willing to be challenged.

To those looking to work through the complexities of the second half–read carefully, read in a nuanced way, and allow it to properly enrich your walk with Christ.

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