Salvation by Allegiance Alone – Interview with Matt Bates (Part 3)

Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017)

MIKE BIRD: For obvious reasons, I like how you tie Christ’s resurrection to justification and prefer “incorporated righteousness” to “imputed righteousness.” How do you differ from standard accounts of justification?

MATTHEW BATES: Well, Mike, I’m not sure what you are hinting at here with your “obvious reasons.” But with regard to incorporated righteousness, I do cite an obscure Australian biblical scholar in the footnotes a few times in my chapter 8. Hmmm…

The biblical witness can perhaps best be understood by juxtaposing it alongside classic Protestant and Catholic treatments. In the book, in light of the biblical evidence, I discuss some limitations to imputed righteousness (the dominant Protestant model) while still accepting it if union is explicitly foregrounded. Meanwhile, I reject Catholic imparted righteousness yet accept infused righteousness, if properly qualified. Chapter 8 in the book has the rationale and details. However, in the end I think it best for the church to prioritize new language that better reflects Scripture’s own emphases: in-the-Christ righteousness or incorporated righteousness. I am not sure who has suggested incorporated righteousness, but, wow, it’s brilliant.

I urge that “the righteousness of God” is both the justifying verdict rendered over Jesus that resulted in his resurrection and a gift that we receive in Christ when we come to share in it. Our justification happens when we come to participate in Jesus’s justification through allegiance alone; thus justification entails resurrection-effecting liberation and ontological change. Here I bring together discussions by Joshua Jipp (Christ is King), Douglas Campbell (The Deliverance of God), and Charles Lee Irons (The Righteousness of God), while adding my own insights. I also embrace some traditional Reformed theology (e.g. John Piper and Thomas Schreiner) but disagree with the “covenant faithfulness” interpretation by N. T. Wright.

I also show that “justification” was not considered by Paul to be a “step” in a person’s order of salvation. The Reformed tradition has been deeply invested in trying to systematize the true order by which salvation comes to be applied to an individual—the ordo salutis. A traditional version of the Reformed ordo salutis begins with God’s unsearchable decree to save and to damn specific individuals, and then proceeds to speak about how God comes to apply salvation to those individuals that have been elected through calling, regeneration, repentance/faith, justification, sanctification, and then, finally, glorification. It is important for the Reformed scheme that God is the primary actor in each step of the ordo salutis, otherwise human works contaminate the process. Then humans would have a “boast” before God. The problem is, I contend, that the Bible nowhere articulates an individualized ordo salutis, nor can “justification” be considered a step or stage in the order.

This, I believe, is the reason why Thomas Schreiner (here), Douglas Wilson (here), and some others are upset by my book. It is perceived as a threat to aspects of traditional Reformed theology.

Let the reader understand: faulty sixteenth-century definitions of “faith,” “grace,” “works,” and “boasting” get smuggled into proof-texts such as Ephesians 2:8. We must use first-century meanings here and elsewhere. I have sought to develop and explore such first-century meanings in Salvation by Allegiance Alone.

In the end, the reader will need to decide for his or herself whether “justification” as part of an individualized ordo salutis can safely be maintained. But, speaking as one by and large trained in the Reformed tradition, this and other challenges to the Reformed edifice are mounting. Just one example must suffice.

As I discuss in Chapter 8, Paul does not speak of God’s extension of saving election to individuals before creation, but only to the Christ, the Son, and the church in him. That is, even though God is involved in stimulating personal salvation, foreordained election is not individualized by Paul. Reformed theologians might prefer a both-and approach to individual/corporate election, but numerous studies have shown that such a view is quite unlikely in our New Testament texts (see e.g., 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). In particular, Schreiner’s attempt to defend both individual and corporate election has been refuted by Thornhill’s recent monograph, and there has been no successful rejoinder. If it has not already happened, corporate-but-not-individual election in Paul is rapidly becoming the standard view among biblical scholars. This may not sit well with certain theologians, but any who doubt corporate-but-not-individual election will need to do business with the above mentioned studies.

So, I stress “the righteousness of God” is both the justifying verdict rendered over Jesus that resulted in his resurrection and a gift that we receive in Christ when we come to share in it. “Justification” is not a stage of salvation that the individual must move through, but describes our past, present, and future status only when we remain united to Jesus, the already having-been-justified Messiah.

MIKE BIRD: How does thinking of faith as allegiance lead to a better gospel invitation?

MATTHEW BATES: I have stories and practical suggestions in Chapter 9. So I’ll keep my answer here short and sweet.

Allegiance alone leads to a better gospel invitation because (1) it more accurately represents biblical teaching about the gospel and the necessary human response than the standard “Romans Road” model, and (2) it forces us to realize that discipleship to Jesus is not an optional extra.

We are not first saved when we come to trust that Jesus died for our sins, and then placed into a discipleship program with the hope that we might (optionally) “mature.” This evangelism-then-discipleship model reduces the gospel to a personal forgiveness transaction and fails to take into account the fact that Jesus’s becoming king is part of the gospel. A holistic allegiance-alone model refuses to separate evangelism from discipleship.

We are saved by allegiance alone.

Thanks, Mike, for the terrific questions and the stimulating dialogue.

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