Matthew Bates argues in Salvation by Allegiance Alone that “our contemporary Christian culture often comes prepackaged with functional ideas and operative definitions of belief, faith, works, salvation, heaven, and the gospel that in various ways truncate and distort the full message of the good news about Jesus the Messiah that is proclaimed in the Bible.”
The gospel message is distorted when it focuses on the cross to the exclusion of the resurrection and ascension, and when it fails to see that “Jesus is King” is central to the gospel proclamation. The notion of faith is distorted when it is reduced to belief, especially when belief is set up as a polar opposite of good works. Belief and trust are elements of faith, but the over-arching idea is fidelity or allegiance.
In place of the truncated gospel message, Bates insists that “the gospel is the power-releasing story of Jesus’s life, death for sins, resurrection, and installation as king,” with that “good news about the enthronement of Jesus the atoning king as he brings these [Old Testament] stories to a climax.”
Jesus’ life and death was a life and death of utter fidelity to His Father, and the announcement that the faithful Jesus has become King is a summons to respond with fidelity to the God who has given His Son. Instead of translating the Greek pistis as “faith” or “belief,” Bates argues that it should be understood as faithfulness or fidelity. Evidence from the books of Maccabees and Josephus is brought forward to show that a call to “faith” is a call to allegiance to a King and his cause. When a person in Josephus urges people to “repent and pisteuo,” he is saying, “turn away from your present course of action and become loyal to me.” “Allegiance” is a better macro-term than “faith” or “belief.”
Bates argues that this understanding of pistis best fits the New Testament. Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 at the beginning of Romans. Habakkuk’s term “‘emunah means faithfulness, trustworthiness, steadiness, reliability, and so forth, not faith or belief. Paul’s habit was to use Greek translations of the Hebrew, not the Hebrew itself.” To say that the righteous man will live by pistis means that “the person who gives pistis (yields allegiance) unto Jesus as the king is declared righteous by God and will live (participate in eternal life by being raised from the dead).”
According to Paul, the gospel’s power is “from faith to faith,” a phrase that Bates renders as “by pistis for pistis.” He suggests, somewhat tenatively, that “‘By’ is instrumental in a specific way. It means ‘by the fidelity of Jesus,’ as this fidelity was directed primarily to God. Jesus showed trusting allegiance to God and this ultimately resulted in his becoming the king of heaven and earth.” The second phrase states the end or aim of Jesus’ pistis: “‘for pistis‘ means ‘for fidelity to Jesus as king.’ That is, Jesus’s faithfulness to God was purposed toward facilitating our allegiance to Jesus as the king.”
Thus, “in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed (1) by Jesus’s allegiance to God that ultimately led to his enthronement, and (2) in order to bring about our allegiance-yielding response to Jesus as the king.” Preaching this gospel, Paul aims to bring about the obedience of pistis, the obedience that characterizes loyal allegiance, among the Gentiles.
One of the virtues of Bates’s re-interpretation of faith is that it might “ultimately contribute to the healing of that long-festering wound between Catholics and Protestants.” Bates, a Protestant teaching at a Catholic institute, hopes that “matters that have traditionally divided Catholics and Protestants—the essence of the gospel, faith alone versus works, declared righteousness versus infused righteousness ” might be “reconfigured in ways that may prove helpful for reconciliation.” This will involve revision on both sides, since “both Protestants and Catholics alike generally were invested in this slightly skewed scheme in the sixteenth century—indeed these problems extend at least in part all the way back to Saint Augustine in the fifth.”
Bates’s provocative book contributes to a Protestant revision by outlining a biblical gospel of Jesus’ kingship that summons us to join Him and be loyal to Him and His kingdom.