We are saved by faith when we trust that Jesus died for our sins. This is the gospel, or so we are taught. But what is faith? And does this accurately summarize the gospel? Because faith is frequently misunderstood and the climax of the gospel misidentified, the gospel’s full power remains untapped. While offering a fresh proposal for what faith means within a biblical theology of salvation, Matthew Bates presses the church toward a new precision: we are saved solely by allegiance to Jesus the king. Instead of faith alone, Christians must speak about salvation by allegiance alone. The book includes discussion questions for students, pastors, and church groups and a foreword by Scot McKnight.
Baker have sent a copy for review. The table of contents can be viewed at the link, along with a few endorsements. The foreword by McKnight is important as it sets the tone for the volume and in a sense guides the reader to have certain expectations of the work: to wit, that it will mirror in many, many respects the work of McKnight himself.
It is, indeed, fair to say that McKnight’s influence is evident throughout. Other chief influencers are Michael Gorman, John Piper, Thomas Schreiner, and of course NT Wright. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and even Philip Melanchthon are also spirits hovering around the house from time to time. But clearly, as suggested just above, most dominant is McKnight’s ‘King Jesus’ trope. Phrases like ‘The gospel centers on Jesus the King’ (p. 44) abound.
As the work unfolds the aim of our author is unveiled- to unseat the predominant notion among many Christians that Jesus died on their behalf because of their sins and to replace it with the notion that Jesus is the King who demands their allegiance. Of course this plants the seed of ‘works righteousness’ in the mind of astute and historically aware readers. The nagging question that sits at the forefront throughout the experience of reading this book is the question of ‘sola fide’.
Bates is aware of this and addresses it in the fifth chapter in a lively but eventually unconvincing way primarily because he is far too dependent on the misreading of Paul (and the Reformation) of the so called ‘New Pauline Perspective’.
In sum what the author offers us is a distillation of the notions of Wright et al regarding Paul, and McKnight et al regarding Jesus, and as is tragically the case with the work of Wright and McKnight, Bates too suffers the weakness of being unpersuasive.
That isn’t to suggest that the book has no merit. It certainly does. It is an intriguing journey from traditional Christian orthodoxy into the realm of transformed terminology leading readers into a land familiar to Postmodernism but thoroughly foreign to both the New Testament itself and the history of Christianity for 2000 years. This book’s chief merit is that it shows exactly what happens when modern categories are superimposed onto ancient texts.
Some will agree with it. Especially those enamored with the viewpoints of Wright and McKnight. Those with more familiarity with Scripture and the Reformation will be left feeling both disappointment and sadness as the last page silently meets the back cover because the volume could have accomplished so much, and doesn’t.