Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. By Matthew W. Bates. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017. 234 pp. Paper, $24.99.
Matthew Bates received his Ph.D. from a Catholic school (Notre Dame), and he teaches at a Catholic school (Quincy University). But Bates says, “I am a Protestant” (p. 6), though he does not mention his affiliation. He says that in the past he has worshipped with “nondenominational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, and Evangelical Free Churches” (p. 6). He indicates that he hopes “this book will ultimately contribute to the healing of that long-festering wound between Catholics and Protestants” (p. 6). He later suggests that “once it is agreed that salvation is by allegiance alone,” Catholics and Protestants may well be reconciled (p. 9). Certainly, his theology is consistent with that of Roman Catholicism and with that of many Protestants as well, although most Protestants at least affirm justification by faith alone. Bates rejects justification by faith alone.
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 in Scripture would faith 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 Lordship Salvation teaches. 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. So is belief in the Trinity, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and that He is coming again.
Indeed, every time you see the words belief or faith in the Bible the issue is persuasion, except in the most important contexts. In any place which speaks of justification or regeneration by faith alone, the issue is not persuasion, but allegiance, commitment, following, obeying, and serving.
Bates is suggesting that verses like John 3:16 have long been misunderstood. The issue is not “whoever believes in Him,” but whoever obeys Him (p. 96). 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 through continuing to show loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ (pp. 3-5).
Note this doublespeak statement in which Bates claimed that Paul taught works salvation and opposed work salvation:
So, in sum, for Paul, salvation requires the performance of concrete works (deeds) in loyal submission to Jesus as the king…but Paul stridently opposes the idea that good works can contribute to our salvation when performed as part of a system of rule keeping apart from the more fundamental allegiance to King Jesus (p. 121).
See also the section entitled, “Discipleship Is Salvation” (pp. 205-213).
Bates rejects Thomas Schreiner’s view that works are not the basis of kingdom entrance, but they are the necessary evidence that one will enter (p. 109). Instead, Bates suggests that when Paul rejects works salvation in Eph 2:8-9, he was rejecting works unrelated to allegiance as king. But since according to Bates pistis is allegiance to Jesus, and allegiance to Jesus is works, thus “Pistis is not the polar opposite of works; rather pistis as ongoing allegiance is the fundamental framework into which works must fit as part of our salvation” (p. 109). Note the words “ongoing allegiance.” Bates believes that a life of good works is necessary to gain “final salvation.”
Schreiner has reviewed Bates’s book at The Gospel Coalition website. Schreiner initially praises the thesis of Bates. He appears to be in essential agreement, saying, “works clearly are essential for the reception of eternal life” (italics his).
However, Schreiner feels that Bates has gone too far: “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.” He goes on, “We receive the gift of righteousness with an empty hand, and this conception is absent when we put ‘allegiance’ in place of ‘faith.’”
Bates has a fairly long defense of faith as allegiance (pp. 77-100). However, it is unconvincing. He gets off to a bad start with Protestants when he cites 3 Maccabees 5:31 as proof that pistis in the NT refers to allegiance (p. 79). Why cite an Apocryphal book to prove what the NT teaches?
As part of this discussion, Bates makes the puzzling claim that while pistis is not intellectual assent, “believing certain facts is required as a
minimal starting point” (p. 93). He says such belief “is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for salvation” (p. 93, emphasis his).
What is “the bare minimum of facts to which one must cognitively agree” (p. 93)? Bates has a rather long and surprising list. One must
believe that “Jesus the king 1) preexisted with the Father, 2) took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David, 3) died for our sins in
accordance with the Scriptures, 4) was buried, 5) was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 6) appeared to many, 7) is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and 8) will come again as judge” (p. 93). This same 8-essentials list appears and is explained on pp. 52-75 and is mentioned again on pp. 196-197.
Wow. That is a big list. A person must believe in Jesus’ eternality as part of the intellectual assent requirements. He must believe that God promised David that the Messiah would be God in the flesh. He must believe in Jesus’ burial and His post-resurrection appearances to many. And one must believe that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God as Lord.
How can Bates have it both ways? How can saving pistis be intellectual assent and not be intellectual assent? It is one or the other. It cannot be both. He repeatedly argues that it is not intellectual assent. Then as part of the “Dimensions of Allegiance” (pp. 92-100), he says that pistis is intellectual assent to certain truths.
It should be noted that not a single translation ever renders pistis as allegiance. In the NKJV approximately 237 times in the NT it is translated as faith. In less than ten verses is it translated variously as faithfulness (twice, Rom 3:3; Gal 5:22), believe (once, Heb 10:39), fidelity (once, Titus 2:10), and assurance (once, Acts 17:31). The NIV translates pistis as something other than faith ten times, with four of the ten being synonyms for faith (faithfulness, four times; believers, twice; believe, twice; trusted, once; and proof, once). I found nearly identical results for the RSV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, and LEB.
Though the noun pistis does not occur in John’s Gospel, Bates finds it there. For example, he paraphrases John 3:16 in this way, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever gives pistis unto him should not perish, but have eternal life” (p. 96). Similarly, he paraphrases John 3:36 as, “Whoever has pistis in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (p. 96).
In both cases, the Greek has the verb, pisteuō. Indeed, the verb pisteuō occurs a whopping 100 times in John’s Gospel alone. That is why it is often called the Gospel of belief. (No one calls it “The Gospel of Allegiance.”) Strangely, in Salvation by Allegiance Alone we do not find a discussion of pisteuō, other than passing references to it (pp. 37-38 note 16, 97, 103). Bates explains why:
In Greek, the noun pistis has the same root as the verb pisteuō (traditionally, “I believe, have faith, trust”). But unfortunately, there is no verb directly associated with “allegiance” in English, making my thesis more cumbersome to discuss in English than in Greek. So in this study, when appropriate, the verb pisteuō has been rendered “I give pistis” or “I give allegiance” (and the like) as a way of foregrounding pistis and the allegiance concept (pp. 37-38, note 16).
I do not find “I give pistis” to be less cumbersome than “I obey,” “I am devoted to,” “I loyally follow,” or “I submit to.” Bates understands “whoever believes” to mean “whoever obeys.” Why hide that by saying, “whoever gives pistis”?
Bates gives almost no consideration to pisteuō in John’s Gospel, the only evangelistic book in the Bible.
In Scripture, believing is always being persuaded that something is true. When Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26), was He asking her about her allegiance to Him? Clearly not. Interestingly, Bates never discusses John 11:26 (or 11:25-27 or anything in John 11). Nor is John 5:24 discussed in the book. Nor Acts 16:30-31. Nor Eph 2:9. Nor Rev 22:17. John 3:16 gets only a passing comment (p. 230). In fact, very little exegesis is done in this book.
According to Bates, “final salvation” (an expression he uses often; see pp. 6, 7, 8, 9, 91, 100, 105, 110, 112, 140, 185, 191, 204, 205, 207, 213) is conditioned upon our continued allegiance. He praises the Catholic view that “a person’s initial justification does indeed stand at the fountainhead of a lifelong process of becoming increasingly righteous” (p. 185). He says that:
All too often Protestants have treated these [“initial righteousness” and “subsequently enjoyed righteousness (…sanctification)]” as separate, self-contained categories, with the righteousness of “justification” alone deemed relevant for an individual’s final salvation, and the righteousness of “sanctification” regarded as merely the inevitable outworking of a prior justification” (pp. 185-86).
He summarizes, “So Trent, in stressing the necessity of perseverance in good works, offers helpful directives that Protestants should consider, even if some of its specific formulations are problematic” (pp. 186-87). Bates fails to point out that the Catholic Council of Trent anathematized anyone who says that justification is by faith alone.
Bates both denies eternal security and to some degree dodges the question (pp. 190-91, 204). The following statement is quite strongly against it:
As nearly all Christians agree, perseverance in allegiance is required. If the union were to be severed by an unrepentant cessation of pistis (allegiance to Jesus as Messiah-king), then the continuing presence of the union-securing and fruit-producing Spirit would be decisively ruptured; the born-again person would experience spiritual death. The individual would no longer be justified, righteous, or innocent before God; eternal life would no longer be a present possession (p. 190, emphasis added).
After that quote, Bates indicates that “Christian traditions disagree about whether or not such a severance is possible.” That is confusing. If
nearly all Christians agree, how could many disagree? Bates goes on to say that though not all agree (evidently with him) that salvation can be lost, he repeats, “Christian theologians are nearly unanimous: it is necessary for an individual to persevere in pistis through the course of her or his lifetime in order to attain final salvation” (pp. 190-91). Scripture teaches that salvation was final the very moment a person believes in Jesus for it (John 4:10-14; 5:24; 11:25-27; Eph 2:8-9).
Bates honestly says, “Allegiance cannot be quantified, but Scripture does give us general measures to help us weigh whether our imperfect
allegiance is genuine” (p. 127). This is the same sort of reply that one hears from Lordship Salvation authors all the time. Obviously with such a view, assurance of one’s eternal destiny is impossible before death (see also pp. 27-29, 203). Of course, if we must persevere in righteousness to get “final salvation,” then even if a person had “general” evidence that his allegiance currently was genuine, he could not be sure he would persevere in that allegiance. This is a double whammy of non-assurance. You can’t be sure you have enough allegiance right now. And you can’t be sure you will persevere in the allegiance necessary to get “final salvation.” There can be no assurance before death for those who follow Bates.
There seems to be some momentum in scholarly circles for the view that Jesus and His Apostles taught works salvation. First, there were books by Paul A. Rainbow (The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification) and Alan P. Stanley (Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works?). Now this work by Matthew Bates.
One has to turn the teachings of the Lord and His Apostles upside down to come up with works salvation.
I do not recommend this book.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society