One can at least draw attention to implications of the gospel preached and the demand preached in our churches, not the least of which would be 50% church attendance, common attendance being sitting in a pew and leaving as soon as “church” is over, a firm belief in God’s unconditional love while believing God does not really care all that much about obedience and discipleship, and an abysmal perception of Christian theology. One of the most recent ironies is the simultaneous love of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, at least as (mis)described by Eric Metaxas, and a seeming unwillingness to embrace Matthew Bates’ Salvation by Allegiance Alone who follows Bonhoeffer’s idea of “costly grace.”
Anyway, we turn to Bates’ second chapter called “Faith is not.” Since he defines faith as “allegiance,” I call it Allegiance is not.”
Bates opens the chapter with these hard hitting observations and questions: “Christianity is all about the human response of faith, or so popular teaching and perception would have us believe. Undeniably, faith is essential to Christianity—right? Or is it? I would argue that like rot in an apple, much of the malaise in contemporary Christianity stems from a rotten core” (15). “At the center of Christianity, properly understood, is not the human response of faith or belief but rather the old-fashioned term fidelity” (15).
What is faith not?
1. Allegiance is not the opposite of evidence assessment.
After telling a story about some Mormon missionaries in the room, Bates: “Faith or belief was being put forward as the opposite of reasoned judgment in consideration of the evidence. Indeed such evidence was deemed immaterial in advance! Faith was reckoned not just an alternative but a superior way of knowing what is true and what is false. Judgment could be rendered on the basis of inward feelings alone” (17).
I find this at times in the science-faith discussion, as in “I believe in Gen 1-2 regardless of science.”
2. Allegiance is not a leap in the dark.
Bates: “This stepping-out-from-security definition captures an essential component of biblical faith but simultaneously introduces a dangerous half-truth when it is coupled with an irrational leap-in-the-dark notion” (19). “Yet—and now for the way in which this leap-in-the-dark idea is a dangerous half-truth—it must be remembered that neither Noah nor Abraham launched out into the void, but rather each responded to God’s command” (19).
So what is it? “The key point is that true pistis is not an irrational launching into the void but a reasonable, action-oriented response grounded in the conviction that God’s invisible underlying realities are more certain than any apparent realities” (20).
3. Allegiance is not the opposite of works.
He grew up in typical conservative evangelical Christianity in N California where the typical gospel was preached and always concluded with this: “And now the warning: the only thing that you must not under any circumstances do is believe that you can earn your salvation through good works, for this was the mistake of many Jews in Paul’s day and is still the error of Catholics today” (21).
He asks: “Furthermore, if we were to determine that in appropriate salvation-oriented contexts in the New Testament pistis most likely means faithfulness, or fidelity, or allegiance, then might not pistis by its very definition include concrete acts that are inseparable from allegiance? In other words, we might come to discover that faith and [a specific kind of] works are not mutually exclusive after all” (22).
4. Allegiance is not an “It’s all good” attitude.
This is the George Michael kind of faith. But… “You might begin to think of faith as equivalent to “maintaining a positive mindset” (22).
5. Allegiance is not reducible to intellectual assent.
Gnostics had this idea.
“In more recent times the so-called free-grace movement approaches this notion of salvation by knowledge. This system asserts that all God requires of a person for eternal salvation is to hold a specific minimalistic belief as factual—that Jesus died for my sins. And the weight of emphasis here is on personal, intellectual assent (“I agree”) to the truthfulness (“reality”) of a proposition (“that Jesus died for my sins”). In short, if you mentally agree that Jesus died for your sins, then nothing else is required for your salvation you are on your way to heaven” (24-25).
Bates warns: “Advocates of free-grace salvation have correctly recognized the primacy of God’s grace and the necessity of holding certain doctrines as “true” or “real,” but by effectively reducing faith to intellectual assent, they have introduced a dangerous error” (25).