A Multi-part Interview With Matthew Bates on His New Book, Part Three

Note: Previous parts of the series are posted here.

Q –  Your book is very thought provoking. I can imagine that if could have grown exponentially and become quite a large volume. What did you leave out that you now wish you had included?

AServing up regrets? I’ll take four helpings, please. And my book has only been out a couple months, so I’ll probably be back in the buffet line soon. Dessert will follow with a cherry on top.

First, a more thoroughgoing defense of corporate rather than individual election. My sense is that most biblical scholars affirm corporate rather than individual election. So, I felt that there was no real need to defend this view. However, given their large stake in systematics, I should have realized that Calvinist-Reformed theologians would desire more evidence. Presently Reformed theologians are clinging to “both” regarding to individual/corporate election, but the studies showing this is unlikely for late second temple Judaism and early Christianity are multiplying. Since I didn’t include them in the book itself, now I can only point readers to studies such as A. Chadwick Thornhill, The Chosen People; N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God; Brian J. Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10-18; “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner,” JETS 49 (2006), 351-71).

Second, I wish I had given a clearer articulation of how boasting properly fits into a biblical theology of salvation. “Faith,” “grace,” “works” and “boasting” tend to be packaged together in systematic articulations of salvation theory, especially those that want to make Ephesians 2:8-10 the premier statement of how salvation functions. The problem, however, is sixteenth-century rather than first-century understandings of these terms are all too often in play. I worked on the first three, and although the savvy reader of my ch. 5 can probably extrapolate how boasting fits, I didn’t tackle it head-on (see the subsections on “The New Perspective on Paul” and “Works of Law as Rule Performance”). In any case, it must be remembered that Ephesians 2:8-10 is not an articulation of the gospel; that is far too imprecise. Rather the gospel is a specific story about Jesus how Jesus came to be the atoning royal Messiah, the Lord of heaven and earth.

Third, although I think at times this is transparent enough, I wish I had been clearer that my argument really hinges on the presence of the “embodied loyalty” nuance with regard to the pistis word group (not in all passages, just in certain ones). That is, it does not ultimately turn on whether or not “allegiance” (or the like) is the single best translation of pistis or pisteuö in any given passage. My point is that loyalty or allegiance is part of the semantic range of the word pistis, so when we are speaking about Jesus the Christ, it is problematic to evacuate allegiance entirely—which is not quite the same thing as saying allegiance is the best translational choice.

Fourth, I think my articulation of why Abraham was justified by pistis could have been sharper. I’ve sought to nuance that more here [https://academic.logos.com/abrahams-allegiance-to-king-jesus-part-4-of-the-matthew-bates-interview/]. This is important, I think. So, check it out.

Q – Who has played the most influential part in your theological development?

AUmmh… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because it is tricky to deny God’s causal agency in any of our human endeavors. And because it sounds pious while implicitly asserting that my work is divinely inspired. Just kidding, of course. I only joke because in reality such things are very serious business for me. I am definitely a praying theologian. And I truly do hope that the Lord has helped me by taking the best I could offer and minimizing inevitable errors and follies.

I work at the interface of biblical studies and systematic theology, but my formal training emphasized the former. On the biblical front I was heavily impacted early in my career by Gordon Fee (whom I studied under at Regent College). Beyond Fee, many of the usual suspects could be named, but I’ll single out Justin Martyr and Irenaeus as ancient worthies and N. T. Wright, Richard Hays, Richard Bauckham, Michael Gorman, and David Aune (my Doktorvater) as modern influences. Systematics is a growth area for me. I wish I could tell you that I was cool enough to spend lots of time reading Karl Barth, as that would sound impressive. This past year I’ve enjoyed new offerings by Fred Sanders, Oliver Crisp, Scott Swain, and Kevin Vanhoozer, among others.

Q– The pedagogical thrust of your work shines brilliantly on every page but is especially noticeable in the ‘For Further Thought’ sections at the end of each chapter. If readers have questions about the questions you pose, where would you recommend they find guidance?

AThanks for the compliment. I do hope that individual readers, students, and church groups find the questions stimulating. I did get to test some of them out in the classroom. The questions really vary.

Some questions are more content related and can be answered by re-reading. For example, “Can the grace of the Christ be prior without it involving the eternal predestination of individuals?” And, “How could grace be prior yet still demand actual obedience (including good works) for salvation?” These answers can be found by re-reading a portion of the chapter. For those that want to go deeper, further reading could be undertaken in the literature cited throughout the chapter.

Other questions are more personal or communal. For example, “How does our time-bound status affect our spirituality?” And, “Do you struggle more with the past, present, or future? Why?” The book’s content has bearing on these answers but does not give a direct answer. The reader must seek to synthesize the book with other knowledge/experiences.

Finally, others involve application, “Give at least two specific, practical suggestions that might help your local church (or another congregation that you know about) shift from a salvation culture to an allegiance culture during this forthcoming week, month, or year.” These are designed to help connect the head to the hand, so that Jesus’s kingly rule can be made tangible.

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