A New Book by Matthew Bates
Matthew Bates received his Ph.D. from a Catholic school (Notre Dame) and he teaches at a Catholic school (Quincy University). He indicates in the introduction that he hopes “this book will ultimately contribute to the healing of that long-festering wound between Catholics and Protestants” (p. 6). Bates’s theology is, as he suggests, consistent with Roman Catholicism (though he identifies as Protestant). His hope is to win over Protestants to works salvation.
In a blog I cannot review the whole book. I will save that for our Journal. However, I want to focus on one major point Bates makes.
For years I have suggested that Lordship Salvation teaches that faith in the Bible is always being persuaded of the truth of something, except when the issue is salvation from eternal condemnation. Of course, that makes no sense. Why would faith in Scripture always be persuasion except when it comes to justification/regeneration?
Bates is the first author I’ve seen who openly states what I’ve been saying they teach. Here is what he says in the introduction:
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…Allegiance is the best macro-term available to us that can describe what God requires from us for eternal salvation…But we do not need to avoid the words “faith” and “belief” entirely. For example, they do carry the proper meaning in English for pistis with regard to confidence in Jesus’s [sic] healing power and control over nature; moreover, these terms are suitable when pistis is directed primarily toward facts that we are called mentally to affirm. Our Christian discourse need not shift in these contexts but only with regard to eternal salvation (p. 5, emphasis added).
So belief in the deity of Christ is persuasion. Belief in the Trinity also is being convinced. Accepting that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is belief. Being convinced He is coming again is belief. Indeed, every time you see the words belief or faith in the Bible the issue is persuasion, except in the most important contexts.
Think of what Bates is saying. He is suggesting that John 3:16 has long been misunderstood. The issue is not “whoever believes in Him,” but “whoever lives a life of allegiance to Him.” Similarly, Bates would have us understand that faith in Eph 2:8, “By grace you have been saved through faith,” means “By grace you have been saved pledging your allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In any place which speaks of justification or regeneration by faith alone, the issue is not faith, but allegiance, commitment, following, obeying, serving.
Frankly, I am amazed at how a major Evangelical publisher like Baker Academic would publish a book defending salvation by works. Times have really changed.
I was also a bit surprised that leading Lordship Salvation people like John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, R. C. Sproul, and J. I. Packer did not endorse this book. It is endorsed by Scot McKnight of Northern Seminary, Joshua Jipp of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Michael Bird from an ecumenical school with Anglican roots (Ridley College, Melbourne), and two men from Catholic Institutions, Gary Anderson (Notre Dame) and Michael Gorman (St. Mary’s Seminary, the first Catholic seminary established in the U.S.). Maybe this book goes too far even for many in the Lordship Salvation camp. Or maybe when leading Lordship Salvation advocates read this book they will praise it.
One review that has come out is by Thomas Schreiner of Southern Seminary at The Gospel Coalition website. Schreiner initially praises the thesis of Bates: “His [Bate’s] emphasis on submission to Jesus as King, the enthroned Lord of the universe, nicely captures the New Testament emphasis on what it means to be a Christian…I also sympathize with his emphasis on allegiance; too many Protestants reduce faith to mere verbal agreement. Many are mistakenly assured they’ll enjoy eternal life apart from obedience if they accept Jesus as Savior. Bates convincingly demonstrates that such a reading doesn’t accord with the New Testament’s emphasis on works, for works clearly are essential for the reception of eternal life [emphasis his]. We must maintain our faith until the end to be saved.”
However, Schreiner somewhat reverses himself when he writes,
“Despite the advantages of the word “allegiance,” though, I still believe “trust” or “faith” is better since “allegiance” puts the emphasis squarely on the human subject—on what we do, on our commitment. “Allegiance” captures the importance of subsequent good works, but it leaves something out as well, for faith is fundamentally receptive. We receive the gift of righteousness with an empty hand, and this conception is absent when we put “allegiance” in place of “faith.” Similarly, the notion that true faith or trust inevitably leads to good works handles the New Testament witness in a more fitting way.”
Schreiner seems to want it both ways. We should speak of justification by faith alone, but we should teach that works clearly are essential for the reception of eternal life. That sounds like doublespeak to me.
It will be interesting to see more reviews.
Salvation by faith alone is too radical for many today. Salvation by works alone is a message that finds widespread acceptance in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox circles.
I’m glad to stand with the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles. I have allegiance to the message they taught. Of course, I’m not born again because I have allegiance to that message. I am born again because I have believed that message. Fidelity to the message is a discipleship and eternal rewards issue.
Sadly, many today have abandoned that message. While they surely are convinced that salvation by allegiance is what the Bible really teaches, they have been deceived. May the Lord use us to free people from the bondage that this works salvation message produces. Ironically, the message of works salvation does not save. Only the faith-alone in Christ-alone message saves.