Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ. By Matthew Bates. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2019. 269 pp. Paper, $17.99.
This book is a follow up to Salvation by Allegiance Alone (SAA; cf. pp. 18-20). It is more of the same. The first book taught works salvation, but Bates did not come out and say that directly in SAA; he does in Gospel Allegiance (GA).
By my count he mentions “final salvation” at least fourteen times (pp. 116 [3x], 150 [2x], 183, 194, 195, 196, 200, 201 [2x], 224, 225). You can have some sort of salvation now—we might call it probation—but that initial salvation is not secure. In order to get final salvation, you must persevere in good works.
Bates says straight up that “good works are saving” (p. 183). That is a heading. In that section he writes, “Paul repeatedly says good works will determine final salvation on the day of judgment” (p. 183). For proof he quotes Rom 2:5-8; Matt 16:27; 2 Cor 5:10; and several other texts.
Earlier he wrote that: “All major Christian denominations and groups—Lutheran, Baptists, Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Mennonites, Catholic, and Orthodox (all except free-gracers)—agree that good works are necessary for final salvation. Both Protestants and Catholics believe this, though they have different ideas about how” (p. 150).
Bates presumably is aware of the rewards explanation of Matt 16:27 and 2 Cor 5:10 that Free Grace authors have given, though he does not discuss or try to counter that interpretation. However, he definitely is aware of and does discuss the hypothetical interpretation of Rom 2:5-8. His discussion is not convincing.
The Greek word misthos means wages or reward. Bates does not give it or passages which use it much attention. He does cite two passages which use that word: Rom 4:4-5 (p. 127) and 1 Cor 3:14 (p. 188). Without doing a word study, and without even mentioning the Greek word, Bates does say in passing concerning Rom 4:4-5, “Grace is wages without work” (p. 127). But that is exactly the opposite of what Paul says. Paul says, “To him who works, wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…” Paul says grace is not wages. Bates says grace is wages. Paul says wages are payment for work done. Bates says grace is wages without works. It is hard to see how he could make such a statement regarding Rom 4:4-5. It seems he has imposed his theology on the text.
As is common for many Evangelicals today, Bates makes no distinction between the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment (GWTJ). In his view there is one “final judgment” for believers and unbelievers. The purpose of that judgment is to examine works to see who will get into the kingdom. Bates writes, “In Revelation, although the Lamb’s book of life is ultimate, nothing in context suggests that the books of deeds are totally irrelevant to eternal life. On the contrary, they seem to explicate or supplement the Lamb’s book in some way. Consider: If allegiance to Jesus the king determines individual listing in the Lamb’s book, then it makes sense that books of deeds recording the quality of allegiance for each would be present at the final judgment to serve as evidence for the presence or absence of each name. Final judgment includes deeds” (p. 187).
His view means that in practice, no one in Christianity will know where he will spend eternity until he appears at the GWTJ. Presumably, Bates believes either in soul sleep or that all people are held in torment in Hades until the Great White Throne Judgment. If people died and appeared in heaven in the presence of Jesus and God the Father and the angels, they would be sure that they were eternally secure long before the GWTJ. Of course, if an Evangelical died and found himself in torment in Hades, one would think he would conclude he did not have everlasting life. But Bates does not discuss this question.
There are two major practical problems with the view of Bates. First, he is proclaiming a false gospel (Gal 1:6-9), which misleads. His gospel is not the saving message of Jesus and His apostles. Second, his message makes assurance of everlasting life impossible. If a born-again person reads his writings and is moved away from believing the promise of life, then he will lose his assurance and will be thrown into despair and legalism. I am surprised that two NT scholars, Scot McKnight of Northern Seminary and Amy Peeler of Wheaton College, endorsed this book. I would think that Evangelical NT scholars would reject a clear and unequivocal treatment of works salvation.
I do not recommend this book.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society