I’ve recently been reading Matthew Bates’s excellent new book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, and I plan to write a series of blog posts on some ideas the book has sparked for me. This won’t be an exhaustive overview, and some posts might only be tangentially connected to the book’s content, but I do hope to interact with the book’s main message.
Bates’s primary argument in the book is that the English word “faith” (Greek pistis), which implies primarily belief and secondarily trust, fails to capture the most essential meaning of pistis in the New Testament: fidelity, faithfulness, and allegiance to Jesus the King. From the book’s 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. This, of course, is not to say that the best way to translate every occurrence of pistis (and related terms) is always or even usually “allegiance.” Rather it is to say that allegiance is the best macro-term available to us that can describe what God requires from us for eternal salvation. It is the best term because it avoids unhelpful English language associations that have become attached to “faith” and “belief,” as well as limitations in the “trust” idea, and at the same time it captures what is most vital for salvation—mental assent, sworn fidelity, and embodied loyalty. (p. 5)
This definition of pistis lines up well with the definition of faith (or more technically, the Latin fides) provided near the beginning of Arcana Coelestia, the first published work of the Doctrine of the New Church:
They who have separated faith from love do not even know what faith is. When thinking of faith, some imagine it to be mere thought, some that it is thought directed toward the Lord, few that it is the doctrine of faith. But faith is not only a knowledge and acknowledgment of all things that the doctrine of faith comprises, but especially is it an obedience to all things that the doctrine of faith teaches. The primary point that it teaches, and that which men should obey, is love to the Lord, and love toward the neighbor, for if a man is not in this, he is not in faith. (§36)
Bates doesn’t focus as much on these two great commandments as, say, Jesus Creed author Scot McKnight (who wrote the foreword to the book and is cited frequently), but he does acknowledge their central place for anyone seeking to follow Jesus:
Meanwhile, in an earlier passage from Luke’s Gospel, a certain lawyer asks Jesus how to gain eternal life. When queried further by Jesus, the lawyer is able to state that the two greatest commandments are required: to love God and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. In reply Jesus does not say, “Forget the commandments! Have faith in me alone and you will live!” but rather, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28). (p.12)
None of this is to say that Bates sees belief as unimportant — faith as allegiance does require faith as mental assent. In the next post in this series, I’ll go deeper into that question: what kind of mental assent or belief is necessary as part of allegiance?