Salvation By Allegiance
After Peter preached on Pentecost, the crowd was cut to their heart and asked, “What must we do to be saved?” Peter’s response is foreign to evangelical ears, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
What about “faith?” What about “just believe?” Why include baptism?
How we got here is beyond my abilities and this review, but a cursory reading of the Scriptures suggests a gap between preaching in Acts and popular presentations of the Gospel. Into this chasm comes Matthew Bates’ “Salvation by Allegiance Alone,” who says, “our contemporary Christian culture often comes prepackaged with function 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.”
In most ways, this is an outstanding and helpful work, but there are several caveats and shortcomings.
First, Bates lays out what faith is not, and this is a helpful section that needs to be read by all Christians (and unbelievers). In summary, faith is “not the opposite of evidence assessment” or “believing things we have no evidence for.” It is not a “leap into the dark” in Kierkegaardian fashion, or “The opposite of works,” or an “’it’s all good’ attitude,” or “reducible to intellectual assent.” All of these I have heard at one point or another in discussions with Christians (and non) about what the Bible teaches about faith. If it is none of these things, then what is faith? Per Bates, “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. Stepping out in faith is not intrinsically good in and of itself, as if God is inherently more pleased with daring motorcycle riders than with automobile passengers who cautiously triple-check their seatbelt buckles; it is only a good when it is an obedient response to God’s exercised sovereignty.” Bates does a good job demonstrating the historical context of “repent and believe,” seeking to show notions of “embodied-allegiance” is in the historical backdrop of this language rather than “original” to the Bible alone.
Second, this pistis is exercised in Jesus the King. The story of Jesus is “how he preexisted with the Father, took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David, died for sins in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried, was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, appeared to many, is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and will come again as Judge.” If you read through the sermons in Acts, I believe you will find this a faithful presentation of their “Gospel preaching” and it is not limited to atonement theology.
There is a lot more to review in this book, but Bates concept of “corporate” opposed to “individual” election is going to fall short for most Reformed thinkers. Also, Bates seems to have a thrust to ecumenical dialogue between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Yet, I would suggest that “embodied allegiance” will not allow me to give any allegiance to the Bishop of Rome, but to King Jesus alone. Point being: even if one grants a shift in the definition of faith and the Gospel as understood by Bates, it doesn’t necessitate a union between Roman Catholics and Protestants.
Finally, and maybe I missed it, but I don’t remember a good discussion of Abraham’s faith from Genesis 12-15. This, I believe, bolsters Bates’ point. Abraham served “other gods” (Joshua 24:2), but he changed his allegiance from “others gods,” and went from country, kindred, and father’s house to follow the Lord (akin to Jesus’ calling Mark 10:29). This concept of “other gods” could easily be developed more fully to spell out the not of “allegiance,” because we have a tendency to operate “belief” or “faith” in the context of a secular rather than “religious” culture. If you have a world of many gods, like Abraham was in, what does “faith” in YHWH look like? Does it look like intellectual assent? Or is it a change in allegiance from Pharaoh to YHWH?
I think Bates book is quite helpful and pushes the discussion forward, but there are quite a few areas that can and need to be developed more fully to make it more useful.
So, returning to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, why “repent and be baptized?” Both of those are indications of a change in allegiance. Baptism, rather than being something tagged on “after one is already saved,” it is intertwined with the move from allegiance of “other gods” to a new King.