I’m rather late to the metaphorical party on this one – Salvation by Allegiance Alone was published in 2017 – but this book is one of the most compelling presentations of the Gospel as being for the whole of life that I have ever read. Bates starts from the common problem area that many Christians – particularly ‘evangelicals’, as broadly understood’ – today believe that because they once prayed a prayer and call themselves Christians, they are, and are eternally. Bates, whose specialism is trying to understand what the Early Church thought and believed, and inviting us today to consider that, suggests that whilst this may be important, and part of the gospel, there is a lot more to unpack and explore.
Salvation by Allegiance Alone is a superb book. It is both excitingly radical and reassuringly traditional; as Bates writes towards the end, “The gospel was given as an unchanging, permanent proclamation by Jesus and the apostles to the church for the sake of the world“, and as culture changes and mutates (As it has always done), “The gospel can never be modified, but it can be clarified, and it must uniquely inform each generation“. This book clarifies the gospel by focusing on what the message is, and what that message means. There are a range of huge ideas touched on, that I cannot cover in this review, but one important aside is that Bates possibly offers a way for historical divides in the church to think meaningfully about reconciliation, over issues such as justification. This is because this book is rooted in the gospel as it is explained by Jesus and the apostles, as a message/announcement that invites a wholesale rethinking of everything.
The word ‘allegiance’ is a vital part of this book, and this allegiance is to Jesus as King. Bates writes that “a true gospel invitation must summon the hearer toward a confession of allegiance to Jesus as the king of cosmic Lord“, in such a way that it cannot remain a private, personal matter. Bates’ clarification of the gospel meshes well with the Apostles Creed, and in many (refreshing!) ways is not new, but there is a robust emphasis on Jesus as king, and thus on the Kingdom of God being a key part of understanding the gospel. Intellectual assent and personal piety remains important – but this is a reminder that saying yes to Jesus is a big deal, echoing Jesus’ role in the bigger story of creation. Bates writes that “when the full gospel is presented, the call to action is organically embedded in the story” – inviting those of us who will pursue Jesus to do so wholeheartedly and in line with the presentation of the announced Kingdom of God.
One key chapter which was music to my ears dealt with humanity as the image of God. Taking an approach that listens to the whole of Scripture, Bates reminds us that “Not only is Jesus the full image; he is also the original image… Jesus is not merely the recovery of God’s intentions for Adam and Eve. Jesus surpasses mere restoration in the way that a house in all its splendour surpasses its architectural blueprint“. This is a Jesus-shaped gospel, as it is a Jesus-directed creation that we find ourselves in. Bates suggests this ‘allegiance’ as an important way of making sense of debates over words like faith/fulness and righteousness, and I found his arguments compelling. The invitation to joyfully place oneself under the Lordship of Christ is beautiful: “the end goal of salvation is that through allegiance we become fully human – that is, that we flawlessly mirror God because we have been fully conformed to the image of Jesus Christ“. This is a process/journey that we are invited into, repeatedly, rather than a one-time barcode (thanks to Dallas Willard) that we collect and wait for God to scan at the end of days.
If you’ve followed this review you will likely see that I am a big fan of this book. There wasn’t anything in my initial reading that I felt was wrong or made no sense – and the Jesus-focus is vital. I think this is a book well worth reading for those involved in thinking about what the gospel is and what it means for us – especially those of us who resonate with the language of kingdom. This book could be a catalyst for meaningful ecumenical dialogue on issues of justification – but is perhaps most helpful as a clear unpacking of what it means to believe the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
For my more Reformed friends, Thomas Schriener’s review for the Gospel Coalition is positive, with some quibbles. I link to it for interest.