In this episode, Kurt talks to Dr. Matthew Bates on the issues of salvation, justification, faith, and allegiance.
Kurt: Well, Good day to you, and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill, where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. I’m so glad to be with you here today. We’ve got a very fascinating topic in Christian theology to think about. We’re going to be talking about salvation and the different ideas behind how one is saved and to help us think through these issues joining me on today’s show, Dr. Matthew Bates, who is the assistant professor of theology at Quincy University. Matthew. Thanks for joining me on the show today.
Matthew: Thanks Kurt. It’s wonderful to be with you.
Kurt: So there’s this book that you’ve written, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, and I’m familiar with it and I’ve been able to check it out a little bit and I see that you’ve gotten some flack from some people that I think misunderstand you, but essentially you’re saying that we’ve really misunderstood faith and that one is not saved by, if I can say this, faith alone, that there’s more to it than that, there’s more that it entails. Tell me a little bit about the book before we sort of get more into the nitty-gritty if you will.
Matthew: Alright. It is fair to say that I am arguing that we’re not saved by faith alone, that is if we understand faith in the way that it’s popularly understood today and that’s part of the discourse of the book. It’s to parse some of that out and I would want to affirm on the other hand that we are saved by pistis alone, if we want to understand the word pistis which is the Greek word behind faith and if we have a proper understanding of all the shades of meaning that pistis would entail, I would still want to contend that we are saved by pistis alone. It’s traditionally translated faith, but part of the point of the book is that those translations are limited and that there’s a limited range of English language ideas that have come to be associated with faith in our contemporary culture, but the word pistis is a little bit bigger or richer word and that we need to recover some of those dimensions of pistis. In particular then, in one of the things I’m arguing is a neglected dimension of pistis is loyalty and that the word pistis in Greek in its ancient context and its Latin equivalent Fides involved notions of loyalty, embodied loyalty, that we need to recover when we’re thinking about faith.
Kurt: So for you then, it’s not so much, the beef isn’t so much with the word faith itself, but it’s how in our context today the word faith means, say XYZ, and for what you understand, that ancient word which is translated faith, that means XYZ but also ABC, is that a good way of looking at it?
Matthew: Yeah. That’s a pretty good way of looking at it. I do think that maybe our English language usage of faith though and of especially as its been associated with belief has moved along a trajectory in our current English language culture that makes it hard to recover that word anymore. I think it may be best to abandon ship and to choose a different word. Yes. I think you’re right. If we were really careful in terms of how we were going to define faith and we were going to make sure it doesn’t just mean XYZ, but also XYZ and ABC, then we could potentially recover it, but I think that we’re fighting a tremendous uphill battle and there are better words available for us at this point.
Kurt: Okay, so help me understand a little bit here with the contemporary usage of faith. What do you take it that it means and what do you think are some of the problems with the contemporary usage?
Matthew: Okay. Maybe it’s best to start in this situation with what I think faith isn’t, in that there’s a lot of misunderstandings around that. One of the things I would argue is that it’s not the opposite of evidence-assessment. Sometimes it’s thought that we have faith on the one hand and we have evidence on the other and what God really wants for us is to believe despite what the evidence might say.
Kurt: Just willy-nilly.
Matthew: That’s right. Just willy-nilly. God says them and if God says them we should just believe them willy-nilly without really thinking about what kind of structure is behind that, so trying to work on that and to realize that is the kind of faith God is calling us to if He’s calling us to faith, it isn’t the opposite of assessing the evidence. Typically that’s been called fideism, sort of the philosophical name for that, the problematic view of faith, but nevertheless its got a grip in popular culture. Many people understand faith that way.
Kurt: Especially for listeners here of the podcast. We’ve got a number of episodes on apologetic topics and so people that are listening definitely experience that where either they know someone or they personally have experienced people saying, like myself, I grew up in, you’d often hear especially a youth pastor, for some reason it’s youth pastors, they say, “You just have to have faith.” A question is brought to the youth pastor and they don’t know how to answer it. “Oh. You’ve just got to have faith.” That doesn’t seem too pleasing to people and so their deep questions and meaningful and important questions go left unanswered and sadly it can be a stumbling block for them as they mature. You’re right. That term faith does sort of have this shortcoming. For you though, there’s something more to it. Loyalty is a big aspect to pistis, that Greek word. Tell me more about that.
Matthew; The Greek word pistis then involves ideas of trustworthiness, of loyalty, of faithfulness, of fidelity. We might tend to think about it more in the cognitive realm. Faith is belief or something like that and we might even reduce it down to intellectual assent or we might try to move in Kierkegaard’s direction and we’ll leap in the dark and that’s what God wants, is for us to just take a leap in Him in the dark. Those kinds of ideas obscure the proper meaning of pistis which includes a bigger range. The technical term for this would be the semantic domain that scholars would use to talk about pistis, but it’s probably about somewhere around 20% of the time, the word occurrences in the New Testament actually can’t be translated faith or belief. They have to be translated faithfulness, and they are. This would be something that’s typical in the English language translators. The translators are making choices when they translate it. They translate faithfulness quite freely with regard to pistis in certain kinds of context. My question is that why in other kinds of context are we excluding the loyalty notion that is connected to pistis? Is it because of our anxieties around faith and works, especially those of us who are Protestant?
Kurt: Yeah. For me, one of the ways, I haven’t had a stereotypical Christian walk with the Lord. I never saw myself as buddy buddy with Jesus as other people did or at least in terms of how they communicated that experience and for me, one of the ways that I would communicate my experience is that Jesus is the king and so when you think of one’s relationship as a king to, say, a servant, there are ideas there that are not present in other relational aspects so when I came across your proposal here, it immediately resonated with my religious experience, that because I view Jesus as king, these notions that you’re talking about, loyalty, trustworthiness, they’re already there, and so I don’t have some of the doubts that people have when they communicate their religious experience in another way. So this is all to say I think there are some great applications to come forth from your proposal, but tell me a little bit about how it is that we should see Jesus as a king as He’s proclaiming the Gospel?
Matthew: Yeah. That’s a great question and really if you think about the kind of positive proposal my book is making. On the one hand it’s that faith in certain contexts means something more like loyalty or allegiance. The other part really and a lot of the evidential structure for that comes from a reassessment of the Gospel. We think we know the Gospel. It’s something so basic. We have Gospel-centered churches and Gospel-centered this or that, but whenever we get real precise about the Gospel, and yes very precisely articulate it, you’ll often get something quite different from what the Bible says whenever it defines the Gospel. We get defintions of that in a couple places that are more precise. We do have some in Paul’s letters and then also we have Jesus’s own proclamation of the Gospel and both of those are resources we can look at and beyond that we have the early apostolic preaching. At the heart of my proposal is the idea that the Gospel includes the idea of Jesus’s kingship, that I think Christians have been very ready to see that Jesus is the Lord and Jesus is the king and this is something so obvious from the New Testament. There’s very few who would resist that idea, but on the other hand that’s usually been viewed as extrinsic to the Gospel. It’s not something that’s intrinsic to it.
Kurt: Yeah. You don’t see people working those thoughts out into application.
Matthew: Yeah. Or even as part of a evangelistic necessity as people articulate the Gospel. It tends to be a Romans Road approach or historically has been. We need to believe that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and this includes you, right? And so in light of this what you really need to do is believe that Jesus died for your sins and that’s sufficient for you and that you can trust in nothing else other than Jesus’s sufficiency and then if you believe that….
Kurt: You’re set to go.
Matthew: Yeah. You’re set to go. Exactly. That’s the Romans Road gospel and you’ll notice that what it doesn’t include is the idea that Jesus is Lord. That might get tagged on in the end. There might be kind of belief that Jesus is savior and Lord, but then there’s confusion over what to do with it because most of the time the belief part has gotten reduced to a cognitive sort of idea. Believe with your head. People always say that you need to confess that Jesus is Lord and have some notion of a commitment to Him, but it’s not really viewed as actually really important or foundational to the gospel. A lot of the energy of my book (Muffled out around 12:10) is to help people to see that it’s not just important to the gospel, it’s important the climax of the gospel. We don’t want to neglect the atonement and say that’s it’s not important, but actually if you look at the articulations of the gospel very carefully in the New Testament, the climatic moment in terms of the gospel presentation is the idea that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of God the Father and has become the king and He’s now beginning to rule and in light of that, we are to respond to Him with pistis, which I would understand then to be not just a cognitive assent or a confession in some sort of way, but a very kind of specific acknowledgment of His kingship and then loyalty to Him.
Kurt: Perhaps you can enlighten us a little bit. I know sometimes preachers, pastors, will use this language and it’s in our creeds as well, to be seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. What does that mean exactly for one to be seated at the right hand?
Matthew: The dominant language from this is borrowed from Psalm 110 which is this very powerful Psalm, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” As scholars have tried to get a handle on the meaning of this, they’ve looked at actually ancient thrones and things like that to see what metaphor might be involved there as the Psalmists were speaking about this. Actually, royal thrones in the Ancient Near Eastern world involved more of a bench where you might just have the king sitting in the center, but then at the same time you might have a righthand man or things like that that would actually share in the royal throne. The idea of sitting down at the righthand of God would be sort of keeping the idea of God Himself, God the Father as being the great king of all kings, but then Jesus being installed as the king of all kings alongside of Him and sharing in His royal rule in some way, participating in it, and so we would want to see this as both of a statement of Jesus’s participation in God’s unique prerogatives, but also the station of power from which the kingly authority is exercised, so that He’s acting as the viceregent and ruling over all that’s placed in His hands and so we would understand Him to be the king of both Heaven and Earth.
Kurt: So even, and I don’t want to go too far down this line, but it seems as we reflect more upon how it is that Jesus is the king and the authority He has there are Trinitarian issues that find themselves in how Jesus relates to the Father and those sorts of questions.
Matthew: For sure. I think an important thing to think through in the framing of the gospel itself is even the Trinitarian dimensions of it. If we kind of reduce the gospel down to some sort of forgiveness transaction and that what God really wants from us is to believe in the atonement or to believe in Jesus’s all-sufficiency, however we want to define that, believe that it’s His righteousness, not ours, or however it gets reduced down, it tends to neglect the Trinitarian dimension. The full gospel involves the incarnation which involves the idea of the Father sending the Son to take on human flesh and then it’s a story about Jesus, that Jesus was incarnated into the Davidic line and that He came into human existence, He already existed, but came into human existence through the virgin Mary. As part of His human life then, He was a teacher, He dies for our sins, He’s buried, He’s raised on the third day and all of this in accordance with the Scripture, and He is seen by many witnesses and then ascends to the right hand of God the Father and that’s where I say the climatic energy really centers and then He’ll return again as judge, but the idea of Him especially being seated at the right hand, if we inspect what does He do there. The first thing He does is pour His own Spirit so when we want to think about the Trinitarian dimensions of that, then as we think about the full Gospel is that the Father sends the Son on His incarnational mission so that the Son as He reascends to the Father can send the Spirit.
Kurt: Does that get into issues pertaining to the great schism over how the Spirit comes from from the Father and of the Son?
Matthew: Yes it can certainly. You might find those who would be wanting to make sure the proper ordering is preserved there. The filoque clause is what’s being referred to as famously in church history there was a point of tension between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the western church that emerged over an additional clause to the Nicene Creed that involved the language “And the Son”, that the Spirit was sent not just from the Father but the Father and the Son and that was added by the western church without the full approval of the eastern church and then became then a source of ongoing strife which is still not fully resolved.
Kurt: That’s right. Among other issues that were happening. Let’s not get too far off track. We’ve got this proposal here that we are saved by allegiance and all of that that it entails. I take it however that there are some concerns that people might have. Surely your critics have already hammered you on this. Some of it I take it you anticipated in your book. For example, one of the questions would be, if salvation is a gift of grace, how is it that allegiance is a gift?
Matthew: I did anticipate that question and did my best to close some off those concerns with the best answer I felt like I could give. I think that sometimes people have overly narrow views of grace that don’t reflect the ancient reality of gift-giving or a full understanding of gift-giving, and in particular, I rely on John Barclay and his fine book that’s just come out. His book is called Paul and the Gift and Barclay really does a masterful job of analyzing the concept of grace and showing that it was in fact multi-faceted in antiquity and that its multi-faceted dimensions to more or less degree were adopted by the interpreters of Paul down through the ages. Some picked up some aspects of his idea of grace. Some picked up others. Some emphasized portions of grace that Paul didn’t emphasize. Some heightened dimensions of grace beyond anything that Paul ever did himself, but Barclay splits out the concept of grace and one of the things that’s really helpful in so doing is he shows for instance that the idea of the non-circularity of grace is something that was not perfected in antiquity and by that non-circularity I mean, the idea that I give a gift to you, let’s say I give you a really expensive watch. “There you go, Kurt. Thank you very much.” You might actually feel obligated to give me something back. You’re like “Matt Bates is so generous. I gotta get him something.” You won’t send me a watch, but you might send me something back because you feel you’re kind of obligated, and if we feel that pressure today of obligation to give back, it was quadruply so in antiquity. There was enormous pressure, your honor and shame culture, your honor was at stake if you didn’t reciprocate and so we don’t know of any kind of gift-giving in antiquity that didn’t involve the need to reciprocate, so one of the misunderstandings of grace would be that especially as this moves into the Reformation and modern era, is there tends to be an understanding of interpretation of grace in Paul, that if you give a gift it has to have no strings attached. That’s the only kind of grace that matters. Barclay shows that that idea has no floating in the ancient world at all. No one around Paul believed that nor did Paul believe that and so if you accepted the Christ gift then that doesn’t mean as part of accepting it that you weren’t obligated to give something back. What are you obligated to give back? Your allegiance is what you’re obligated to give back. That’s what I’m understanding. There’s much more that could be said about grace. We’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg.
Kurt: Yeah. I think that it becomes clear that while Jesus loves us where we are at, He requires us to change. Right? I think here of the woman caught in adultery. Regardless, I know that passage isn’t in the earliest manuscripts, but I think from that story, what does He conclude? He says to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” So He still has a requirement. You’re right here. With this gift giving there’s this obligation and I think a lot of us feel bad then because we still do it to this day. We ask for help from our friends or family. “Can you help me with this house project? I need help with my electrical work.” All of a sudden you feel bad so you want to help them in some other way instead of just being able to accept the gift. What you’re saying here is that in this culture, all the more so was this reciprocal feeling in existence and so…
Matthew: We might even go farther than that. We might even say you couldn’t accept the gift without returning a gift. There was no in way which an acceptance could be predicated on a non-circular gift. You had to give something back. Whether that was just some public expression of gratitude, it didn’t have to be a gift in kind, but to not reciprocate would have been in fact a rejection of the gift.
Kurt: Wow. Fascinating. What would you then say to people that God’s love is unconditional?
Matthew: We want to separate between unconditional and maybe unmerited. We wouldn’t want to say it’s unmerited. There’s nothing we could do to deserve God’s grace, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unconditional. I would say the unconditional language is flat out wrong. I would say demonstrate to me from the Scripture that it’s unconditional. I think we need to think about what unconditional means, in the sense of non-circular is what I mean. In the way we were talking about. An exchange gift being demanded.
Kurt: But it seems commonplace in evangelical churches to talk about the unconditional love of God and that for you is a big folklore. It’s folk-myth.
Matthew: Well, when we talk about God’s unconditional love, that’s not necessarily the same as His grace, but I think that what we do is we abstract grace too much. We don’t think about, we think of it as a concept. What is in view with grace, specifically the Christ gift. It’s not a vague thing. It’s something that is given, it’s a very specific act of grace that’s given, a specific gift. The Christ gift is given and we can participate in that Christ gift by accepting it and to accept it involves certain conditions of acceptance and so we would want to say that God’s love is unconditional. I think that He doesn’t stop loving us, but we have to just be very careful in how we parse out these different ideas I think.
Kurt: Right. Right. That really seems at least for me just a surprising feature that what you’ve called the, how did you phrase it, the non-circular reciprocal gift.
Kurt: I think that would be foreign to a lot of Americans today even though we know what you’re talking about because we’ve experienced that, but you’re right. We’ve sort of abstracted this notion and we think for Paul it’s sort of this unreciprocal idea and that is inaccurate as it pertains to Paul’s thought.
Matthew: Yeah. We can think of some others ways in which God’s gift, the concept of grace, like for instance, the idea of God’s grace being prior. One way we could be to talk about perfecting grace is that a good gift is one that comes before you even need it and Paul is going to argue the Christ gift is like that, that it does come before we needed it and in fact it was something that God prepared in Christ for His church before time even began and so it was something that God gave far prior. How that connects to the individual is another matter as Paul may connect that more to groups than to individuals. Nevertheless, the idea of the priority of the gift would be something that we could talk about. We could also just talk about the gifts as effective gifts, like a really good gift is one that actually does something helpful for you. Right? If I give you a watch, maybe you don’t even wear a watch anymore because you have a cell phone and you don’t even like wearing jewelry and so I gave you an uneffective gift that does nothing for you….
Kurt: And everybody has someone in their life for whom they are obliged to give a gift, a Christmas gift, and you know the person’s not going to do anything with it.
Matthew: That’s grace, but it’s non-effective grace. Paul’s going to argue that the grace of God is effective. It achieves something for us. They’re going to be confusion over this especially in evangelical circles too as people think if it’s grace, it’s just a good gift and you can focus on the unmerited nature of it which is true. They don’t realize that God gives the gift for a purpose. Right? The gift is to be transformative and that grace rules over us now and so it’s not a gift that isn’t without effect in our lives, that’s going to be transformative.
Kurt: Before we head to a break here, I do want to cover this idea of gift as a priority which you mentioned. I know that for some people there might be concern there that it’s really the work of the individual in being an allegiant supporter of Christ and so how is then that we recognize salvation and God’s grace is a gift of priority and what does that mean?
Matthew: The gift of priority then would be mainly the giving of Christ Himself. That’s what the Scripture would stress. A lot of concern especially within Reformed circles about wanting to make sure that even if we have faith the faith itself is a gift because everything comes from God, I think we would want to say probably on an ultimate level of systematic theology it’s probably true to say that God is the one who gives us the gift of somehow or another to respond in grace with faith, but it’s certainly not something that’s emphasized in the same way that it’s emphasized in certain dimensions of Reformed theology. The priority of the gift is not focused on individual faith. The priority is focused on Christ. Christ is the one who has come as the Christ gift and has been the faithful one for us and that’s really the focus of the Christ gift. It doesn’t focus so much on the gift of our personal faith as if that’s really what Paul wants to teach is that God gave us. He might have, probably did, but it’s just not something the Bible spends much energy talking about. The focus of attention isn’t there.
Kurt: It’s fascinating that you had that distinction. In my own doctoral work, I’ve dealt with this distinction between the history of salvation, Christ of the gift, in terms of the history of salvation or in the Latin, historia salutis, versus the individual’s own salvation which deals with the order of salvation or the ordo salutis, so this very distinction which you’re making, I’ve also been writing a little bit about in my research on Vincent of Lorens. Good. We’ve got to take a break, but when we come back I want to explore, you brought up Reformed circles and what not, I want to talk about more how your proposal, how it jives with the Protestant Reformation and what that means for the doctrine of justification so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you have enjoyed the first half of today’s show, then I want to encourage you to go to this website, thedefendersconference.com because on November 3-4, Defenders Media is presenting its annual conference in Bolingbrook, Illinois and this year’s theme is 500: The Protestant Reformation where we will be discussing themes and ideas associated with that momentous event and we will be looking at some of the good things to come forth from that era, but also constructively considering some of the shortcomings as well and so we’re bringing in a number of different speakers from across the country to come in, Dr. Jerry Walls, Dr. Richard (Unsure who this is at 33:05), Dr. James Payton, and a number of others and we’re going to be talking about issues in Reformation theology and also we will have tracks on evangelism and apologetics so it should be a great time and I hope that you’ll be able to join us in two weeks. Again, if you want further information you can go to thedefendersconference.com. Back to today’s discussion. I’m here with Dr. Matthew Bates and he is the author of Salvation By Allegiance Alone which is published by Baker Academic and if you’re interested in purchasing the book, we’ll be sure to put a link on our website for this episode and it’s thus far been an intriguing discussion. In the first half, we were learning more about your proposal Matt and the difficulties that come from a contemporary use of the word faith and how as we place ourselves back in the New Testament cultural context, we can learn some things that we are missing due to our own cultural context and it’s really important to place ourselves if were there so the aspect of gift giving has some notions to it that are in the literal use of the word, foreign, to us. Foreign and old I guess you could also say. Outdated, not in a bad way. Just in a different way. So we want to try our best to understand what Paul means. I’m sure, and as I have seen online, your proposal might be concerning to some, at least I’ll say, not to me, not yet, but help us to clarify some things. The Protestant Reformation, which this year we’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of that, grace, faith, and works, were key themes to that. Does it seem here that your proposal regarding allegiance would maybe do away or revise some of the work that the Reformers did?
Matthew: I think that it probably does force us to renuance the way in which the Reformers articulated some of these things. I don’t know that it would cause us to do away with the Five Solas. It’s probably true that we have to be more precise about sola fide and sola gratia, the faith alone, the grace alone, and what those actually mean. We got into the grace alone last time and a little bit into the faith alone. I think that happened, at least this would be my rough analysis, is that in the Reformation era both on the Catholic and Protestant end, there were certain ideas about what the gospel is, and especially as Luther so stridently put forward his gospel of justification by faith and sort of argued that this is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls and fronted justification by faith as the gospel, that became the terms of the debate that was accepted within Roman Catholic circles as being a definitive discussion about salvation. I think what didn’t happen is that the precision around the gospel, there was some lack there. Justification by faith was made to be equivalent to the gospel. Sometimes Luther says that. Sometimes he gets something closer to what I would regard to be a proper articulation of the biblical gospel, but he doesn’t very often. More often he centers around justification by faith as the gospel. The problem with that is that neither one are the gospel. I would argue that faith is actually the means to the gospel or the way in which we respond to the gospel. It’s not the gospel itself, but it’s actually our appropriate response to the gospel. We give our loyalty to Jesus, the king who’s proclaimed as part of the gospel. Meanwhile, justification is not part of the gospel either except inasmuch as it does pertain to Jesus’s justification. When the Bible talks about the gospel and defines the gospel it actually doesn’t include our justification clearly within it. It’ll talk about Jesus’s death for sins, his burial, his resurrection on the third day. I would argue that actually that the resurrection portion of that entails the idea of justification, but it’s Jesus’s own justification. That’s what’s being discussed there so we talk about Jesus as being declared the righteous one as part of His resurrection. That was a vindication of His actions so He’s being declared to be the righteous one by God through that activity of raising Him and how we connect to that is part of the order salutis.
Kurt: So for some very strong devout Protestants, justification is an imputed righteousness for the sinner. Does your proposal here have any objection to that and if not, if you accept that proposition, and now we’re getting a little technical here, how would you nuance that idea?
Matthew: Yeah. Great question. The traditional idea within most Reformed and Lutheran circles about righteousness is as you say, it’s imputed. The image that’s often been associated with this is the idea of a garment covering over your filth. Right? That Jesus’s righteousness is like the shiny white sheet or whatever it might be that then is imputed to you, so it’s applied to you, and then it covers over your sin so that you’re simultaneously just and a sinner. God the Father looks upon you and what does He see. He sees Jesus’s righteousness which acts as a sort of a shield over you and He doesn’t actually see your filth so that you then are simultaneously just and a sinner. I do think there are some limitations to that idea, especially the idea of it covering over us like a garment or the idea that language is associated with imputation. I think that’s actually to mix metaphors. Paul does talk about us being clothed with Christ and uses that language but not specifically with His righteousness. There’s sort of been a mixing of metaphors to try to describe this idea of an active imputation of Christ’s obedience to us. What has happened is it gets a little bit loose with the Bible’s own metaphors and language. The Bible does talk about reckoning or calculating righteouesness to us. That could be a way of a bookkeeping metaphor that there’s accredited or accounted righteousness. I do think these metaphors, especially an idea of a calcuated righteousness to us, they do work within a model of imputation, but only if that’s first understood to involve union and that union with Christ is more primal. But if we’re going to talk about imputation, we need to contextualize that first within a broader framework and union with Christ and only then can we make sense of imputation, so we might be able to give it a small piece of pie as part of a valid way of describing how it is we connect with the righteousness of God, but if we don’t qualify it we’re at some risk from departing of the Bible’s own way of speaking about these things.
Kurt: Fascinating. You said there that when Jesus was resurrected, and maybe I misheard you or correct if I’m mistaken, you said at that point Jesus was declared righteous? Tell me more about that idea and that notion.
Matthew: Okay. So the idea behind justification language or righteousness language, dikaiosune is righteousness in the Greek, dikaio is the verb. Scholarly studies have suggested that this means to declare righteous. This was a fight in the Reformation era about whether it means to make righteous or declare righteous. Linguistic evidence has clearly supported the idea that it’s a declaration of righteousness. What has happened though is I think there has been a desire especially within some rings of the Reformation to a declaration without allowing any room for any kind of actual transformation in the person who’s received declaration, and I don’t think that’s very easily sustained. An example of this would be in Romans 6, I believe it’s verse 7, I’d have to look it up. I don’t have Scripture in front of me, where it talks about us having been justified from sin and so this language here of having been justified from sin. In context, sin is being personified as a power or force and it’s quite clear this involves the idea of liberation from sin. This is not just a declaration of innocence, but this is actually a liberation from sin’s power. We might think of this in terms of, to kind of get philosophical on you, in terms of what philosophers call performative utterances. This goes back to John Austin and others who are part of the Oxford philosophical school that stress ordinary language. Anyway, as part of this performative utterance is that words don’t just mean things. They can do things. If I’m a judge and I’m a legal judge and I say to you “Not guilty.” My words have a certain locution, a certain meaning as an utterance. You could analyze what the word guilty means and not and you could think through that, but it also does something. It actually caused your situation to change if I’m a legal judge, you actually were declared innocent at that moment, and you had certain privileges and rights that were conferred on you through the utterance. We might want to think about the declarative activity of God as being like that. When God declares Jesus to be just and declares us to be just in Him, that that declaration has to go beyond just a bare statement to doing something. There’s also what we would call the perlocutive effect as well. There’s a result that comes out of the statement, the attending context of the statement, and the effect are all part of the utterance itself. We would see some liberation that happens through justification language.
Kurt: So here you’re basically proposing name it and claim it. If I see a ferrari then I can….
Matthew: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. Yes. Name and claim whatever you want, Kurt. See if you get it.
Kurt: Of course, there’s the fine distinction here between persons having certain authority to declare certain things.
Matthew: If you’re a pseudo-judge it doesn’t work if you declare someone to be innocent. You actually have to be a real judge.
Kurt: Darn. I’ve been wanting that Chrysler Pacifica, that new hybrid minivan. We’re starting to grow out of our microvan. We’ve got a Mazda 5 at home.
Matthew: I just grew out of our minivan. Our family has the seventh on the way.
Matthew: We’re out of minivan land and we’re in real hogman land. We’ve got the church bus going on. Twelve passenger, four-transit. We, in fact, just got it registered yesterday. We had to get a special plate, like a D-plate.
Kurt: Is that right?
Matthew: This vehicle weighs so much you have to have this more expensive plate and we’re like great.
Kurt: Don’t come to the toll roads here in Chicagoland because they might charge you more if you’ve got another axle.
Matthew: Another extra axle on there. If you haven’t seen a Ford Transit yet, start looking around, you’ll see them. They’re kind of this newer style looking van.
Kurt: Okay, so here with your proposal, there is again concern, and I bring up concern just because I’ve seen some of the articles people have written, even some of the interviews that you’ve done. You’ve had some people accuse you of holding to a Catholic view. Could you explain what that means, where they’re coming from when they say that, and how they are mistaken?
Matthew: Sure. I think the best way to explain the reactions to my book is there’s been a palpable nervousness in some quarters. There hasn’t really been any accusations of heresy or anything like that, but especially…
Kurt: You mean not yet. Not yet.
Matthew: But I think especially in Reformed corners there’s been some nervousness, because I think their system is very defined and fine-tuned and some of the issues I’m pressing on here would force them perhaps to reconsider how they’re defining grace, how they’re defining faith, and if you start fiddling around with those it can affect the whole system and we talked about that enough to give you a sense of where some of that nervousness is coming from, but beyond that there’s some nervousness around the ways in which this might disrupt the ordo salutis. The ordo salutis is something sort of cherished in Reformed theology and it’s understood that there’s sort of a progression regarding the individual, that God elected certain individuals before time began and He brings them to a process and as part of this, God and God alone can act. This is what they call monergism. There can be no synergistic interplay between the individual who has freewill and God but a strict monergism meaning God and God alone can act in any and every portion of salvation or then we would have a boast. There’s fear around all that and around defending the monergistic vision. As part of the ordo salutis, you have election and then eventually through various steps you’re probably going to have a statement of regeneration within Reformed theology, but you didn’t do it, but at some moment God zapped you and regenerated you and then He gave you the necessary capacity for faith so that you could then respond to the saving message and then you invested your faith in Jesus and then you could be said to be justified and then once you’re justified, then you’re going to be sanctified and then you’re going to proceed to glorification. One of the things I’m ordering in the book is that this is a misunderstanding, this construction of the ordo salutis misunderstands, the ordo salutis in general and justification in particular. I point out the statements of election are election in the Son and are corporate statements made to the church and so that whenever we understand this idea of God’s choosing before time, this choosing is specifically in the Son and this choosing is specifically the church and that if it is individuated down to the individual level, that’s not clear. That’s something that would have to be argued and I do not think has been successfully argued. I think there are a number of studies that have argued in the other direction and more successfully argued so I speak maybe of Chad Thornhill’s, The Chosen People, that has recently argued this for instance.
Kurt: We’ve talked about election on the show before and I am a corporate election advocate so it sounds like your proposal here is very compatible with my view on election.
Matthew: It would be. Probably.
Kurt: And I formulated my view simply from reading the text. For example, Ephesians 1 is corporate language. We, us, our, you also believed. I’m not sure what your specific view on whether the us is Jewish Christians or the Christian church, but regardless, I am very sympathetic to the corporate view and I very much like how you phrased whether its individuated, that hasn’t been successfully shown and when people make that step they think what’s true of the whole is true of each part of the whole. They’re making a logically fallacious jump, when there is no further evidence to support their position. Sounds like we’re going to be pretty on par on that specific point.
Matthew: That sounds probably true. So then as part of that, the corporate election is making some people nervous and then beyond that, I argue that justification and sanctification are not distinguished in our texts in the way that the Reformed tradition would like to distinguish them. They’re not actually separate stages in the ordo salutis. That actually is a distinction that goes back to Calvin that you can’t really get to through a fair exegesis of Scripture. Beyond that, the language of glorification isn’t future. It’s past, present, and future, just like justification is, so it’s not a linear progression that the individual is being brought through, but rather these are statements about the fundamental identity of the people of God, that we are justified, that we are sanctified, that we are glorified, past, present, and future. So this sort of flattening out of justification and moving it from a stage then in a person’s order of salvation to instead helping it to see that its language that marks off the people of God as the saved people of God, the justified people of God in Christ, only in Christ, so that they can be said to be justified if they’re in Christ so that this language then of the righteousness of God is specifically union language and language that contains to their justification as contingent on union language.
Kurt: Now I’m unfamiliar with Catholic theology on this so is your proposal there taking a few ideas from that tradition on justification then?
Matthew: Well, no. Not really. It’s actually quite different on justification. There’s some overlap. Catholic ideas of justification favor two metaphors. The two metaphors would be impartation and infusion and they’re different metaphors and they’re sometimes mixed, but within Catholic theology, specificially the Council of Trent, the idea is that justification is something that you’re given at baptism so when you’re baptized you are said to be justified and that this is a gift that’s given by grace so you didn’t do anything to earn it and then once you’re given that, it’s your job to nurture it, because it’s been imparted. God’s righteousness has been imparted to you so then the impartation metaphor involves separation, so it’s no longer Christ’s righteousness. It was the righteousness of God or the righteousness, was Christ’s benefit for you that was then applied to you and that made you righteous and then once you got it, you’re responsible to keep it. How do you keep it? You keep it through the sacramental system within Catholic theology. If you commit a mortal sin then you need to undertake penance and then undertaking penance then those sins are wiped away again so that your righteousness is restored so you have to kind of grow it and nurture it. This would obviously be contradictory to Reformed Lutheran, Reformed theology, everything coming out of the Protestant Reformation which would say no, it’s Christ’s righteousness alone and that we share it. It never becomes our own independently and that’s the key point of difference. Catholics argue that it becomes our own independently. Now I do think within the boundaries of that, I do think that some Protestants have favored imputation language and ignored infusion language. Infusion is a very different metaphor. It’s an organic metaphor of liquid and of liquid moving from onne place to another. That’s the metaphor of infusion. You think of a sponge getting soaked in a corner. Right? The liquid coming to move from the wet spots over to the dry spots gradually. That’s an infusion metaphor. Once we’re in union with Christ, right, at that moment of union then we would think of His righteousness being infused to us so that we fully possess it would be the idea. We don’t increase in it. We don’t need any more of it for our salvation or anything like that. All the necessary benefits are there as they’ve been infused over to us, so I think it’s an acceptable metaphor that sometimes Protestants have ignored that they could benefit from because it fronts union.
Kurt: So this would have implications for Christian ethics and application, that we really can be free from sin. Tell me more about how that would go about.
Matthew: Yeah. The implications of this then would be that when we’re in Christ, we are in union with Him and we’re united to His life, His death, His resurrection, and the important point I think then in terms of the ongoing Christian ethic that you mentioned would be that whenever we are united with Christ in baptism and faith, then we’re buried with Him as it says in Romans 6:1-4, and that we’ve died to sin, the rest of Romans 6 is really about that, right? We also at the same time have the life of God that’s beginning to work in our bodies. It’s actually in our embodiment that the life of God is active and so that we can think of the resurrection power already at work in us so we want to say that there’s still sin lodged in our flesh in some way, this is what Paul really talks about in Romans 7, right? But nevertheless, as we participate in the Spirit, we have died to that sin in Christ and that the resurrection power is at work even in our embodied actions so that our faith which I wouldn’t see as a disembodied thing. It’s not just something that happens with our minds, but actually it’s our allegiance to Christ which involves both mental ideas, confessing of faith to Jesus, but also the embodied loyalty to Him. Why is the embodied loyalty possible? Partly because the embodied loyalty or the allegiance, right, is something that’s empowered by the Spirit as the Spirit is something that cooperates alongside of us as we walk with the Lord.
Kurt: So final question then. What does it look like to practice allegiance?
Matthew: Yeah. This is a great question, because I think it’s a question that really brings out why does this matter at the end of the day? We can be all abstract and theoretical, but at the end of the day I think the quickest payoff for this would be more accurate evangelism. I think that’s essential, that if we understand that to put faith in Jesus is not just to believe that Jesus died for my sins, and not just to believe He’s the Lord, but also to commit ourselves to Him if it involves this understanding that I’m giving my loyalty to the King who is the King who died for my sins, who was raised and justified and then I’m now participating in His life, death, resurrection, and all of that with the hope of future resurrection life. The change is how we do our evangelism I think. The second thing I would say is it also helps us to overcome some traditional dichotomies that have plagued the church. I would say specifically the dichotomy between discipleship and evangelism, that our models in the church have tended to be we need to get people saved, we need to preach the gospel message and get them saved, which we absolutely do need to preach the gospel message and people do need, if this is the term we want to use, they need to get saved, but this is understood to be something separate from discipleship. First we get them saved and then we plug them into a discipleship program so they can grow. That’s the typical model for how churches think about the relationship between evangelism and discipleship. I think what my book shows is that kind of division is completely unsustainable. The only kind of evangelism that is worthwhile is one that invites you to be a disciple, that Jesus is the Lord and the King and that part of what it means to get saved in the first place means you’re committing yourself to a program of discipleship and on the other hand that discipleship isn’t optional to salvation. If you don’t persevere as a disciple you will not reach eternal life. You’re on the road to it and you have the eternal life working in you right now, but perseverance is required in order for the allegiant outworking of our salvation.
Kurt: Wow. That’s definitely I think a powerful application to your proposal here that I think you’re right, the church has divided these aspects and its left people thinking that they’re saved when they’re not. Oh yeah. I once said a prayer and I go to church on Christmas and Easter. Maybe that’s worse than having them not have said the prayer at all because they think everything’s fine when it’s not, so that’s a great application. Dr. Matthew Bates. Thank you so much for joining me on the show today and if you want to check out his book we’ll put a link at the web site. Again, the book is Salvation By Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. Matt. Thanks so much for coming on the show today.
Matthew: Thanks so much, Kurt. It’s been a real pleasure.
Kurt: Thanks. Bye bye. That does it for today’s show. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and partnerships that we have with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. Again, if you are interested in hearing more topics such as this, I want to encourage you to go to thedefendersconference.com web site. Check that ou and I’d love to see you on November 3-4 in Bolingbrook, Illinois at the Campus Church, Bolingbrook campus, where the event will be hosted and it’s going to be just a really fun time for us to learn more about the Reformation themes and ideas from that period. I want to thank our guests today, Dr. Matthew Bates, for enlightening on his perspective on pistis, what faith really is, what it’s about, and maybe how we ought to use a different word in today’s common parlance to refer to those biblical ideas, and finally, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.