Faith qua allegiance (part 2)

For me, allegiance is a central Christian concept, and it has been throughout my adult life.  In this first post on the word-concept allegiance, I traveled through a bit of personal historyreferring to the relationship of allegiance to human government, songs by Ray Boltz and Rich Mullins, and the influence of Lee Camp.  In the last two years—and especially in the last few months—the place of allegiance has been bolstered considerably in this believer’s thinking.  Allegiance has been inextricably connected to faith itself.

Life can bring great serendipities, synergies, and dovetailings.¹  I note the following that have come in the same phase of my life:

  • a heightened awareness of theological positioning around the word “faith” (and also sovereignty and free will), due in part to a men’s discussion group
  • persistent thoughts about allegiance to God’s Kingdom in a group study of Matthew
  • our home group’s study of Galatians
  • an academic blog’s feature of Dr. Matthew Bates’s 3rd book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Amazon catalog reference here).

Product DetailsWhile I have been mentally and hermeneutically challenged in all of the above, the connections are nevertheless satisfying.  Prior to applying this to my present study of Galatians, I’d like to highlight key portions of the lengthy interview with Matthew Bates (see here for part 1).  Here are the lead paragraphs:

Not since the Reformation has there been a challenge to the five solas as persistent and potentially persuasive as Matthew W. Bates’ third book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).  This book has generated a groundswell of controversy that continues to build as more theologians, pastors, and laypeople are exposed to Bates’ nuanced proposal.

Bates’ thesis, at once radical and obvious, is this:  in the New Testament writings, the Greek word pistis, or “faith,” is better translated as “allegiance.”  He does not intend for every instance of pistis in our Bibles to be retranslated, but for him, there are specific contexts, especially in Paul and the Gospels, in which the only reasonable rendering is “allegiance,” as in the kind of fidelity or loyalty that one would give to a king.

Note that Bates is especially focused on the gospels and Pauline letters, and also note that allegiance is connected to divine sovereignty, something to which most Christians would give assent, to one level or another.  Next, here is a crystallization of what I take as the crux of the issue, from part 2 of the interview:

Interviewer:  Of the Reformation solas, only yours seems completely dependent upon human agency.  All the rest are due to God’s agency, whether that be scriptura, gratia, doxa, fides (as a gift from God, Eph 2:8), or Christos. How would you respond to the criticism that your sixth sola fails to meet the standard of the others due to misplaced agency?

Matthew Bates:  First, I am not arguing for a sixth sola, but primarily seeking to advocate for a truer understanding of sola fide (by faith alone).  My exploration seeks to uphold the solas while seeking greater precision with respect to their true biblical boundaries.  I do conclude that sola gratia (by grace alone) and soli Deo gloria (for the glory of God alone) need to be nuanced in particular ways in order to stay faithful to the biblical vision.  This is because grace and boasting have both been misunderstood with regard to works (of Law).  As far as I am aware, I am not seeking to add distinctive shades of meaning with regard to Christ alone or Scripture alone.

Second, in Salvation by Allegiance Alone I never state that pistis is solely dependent on human agency rather than God’s agency.  In fact, quite the opposite:

Grace in the sense of God’s prior activity precedes ‘faith,’ for God first had to bring about the good news before it could be proclaimed and before allegiance to Jesus as Lord could be confessed (Rom. 10:9–14).  Moreover, God is the creator, and every good gift comes from God (James 1:17), so we must affirm God as the ultimate source of ‘faith’ and all else. (p. 105)

What is being claimed is that faith, enabled by grace, is the only contribution that we make to our salvation. (p. 122)

So I do assert that in some sense the ability to render allegiance to Jesus the king is either due to God’s agency, or is at least a gift bequeathed to our libertarian agency in the wake of the Christ-event.  Yet since Scripture puts far more emphasis on our agency with regard to pistis than God’s agency, throughout the book I frequently speak about our own human agency in giving pistis to Jesus the king (emphasis mine  -bc).  In so doing I am trying to give the same weight of emphasis that we find in Scripture.  Yet I deliberately leave the nature of God’s agency with respect to our own underdetermined.

This matter of agency is key for systematic theologians whose formulaic approaches almost make it a spiritual crime to acknowledge a human response to God—or, dare I suggest it, a human initiative in some sense.  Yes, “while we were yet sinners,” God took action.  But that notion does not negate the fact that we now owe God allegiance.  If allegiance is something God enables, fine, but as far as I know, I choose to give it, and I am glad to give it, in my human weakness, when I am at my best.

Matthew W. BatesWith respect to the word “gospel” (ευαγγέλιον | euangélion), Bates makes the statement, “We can’t make decisions about what ‘good news’ means on the basis of our feelings about what sort of ‘news’ would be better for us.”  Bates then points as an example to a popular author who “is allowing systematic concerns about what would be better for us to override first-century meanings.”  Taking what I believe would be classified a synchronic (within a time period) linguistic approach, Bates says, “The meaning of first-century words must be determined by first-century usages.”  He would say the same about the word “faith” (pistis | πίστις ).  In other words, it doesn’t really matter what what a 21st-century regurgitation of a Lutheran “faith alone” theology conveys to the modern Protestant ear.  Recovering as much of a first-century sense of “faith” (pistis) as possible is key to understanding what Paul and others meant when they wrote of “faith.”

Whatever one makes of Bates’s book,² there can be no doubt that coming to grips with a fuller range of meaning of “pistis” is key to a more adequate understanding of New Covenant “faith.”  And so, when I come to Galatians and struggle hermeneutically with whether in 2:16 or “pistis” means faith (RSV, ESV, NIV, etc.) or faithfulness (NET Bible and some more recent commentators), I now have another viable option:  allegiance or loyalty.

I might now paraphrastically expand some Galatians phrases to include the allegiance idea.  Consider a few more traditional English renderings, followed by the “new possibility” in each case.

2:16

ESV:  we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, …

NET:  we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, …

New possibility:  we know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through the Jesus Christ’s faithful allegiance, and we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by Christ’s allegiance, and not by works of the law, . . .

2:20

New possibility:  I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by loyal trust in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

3:2

ESV:  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, . . .

New possibility:  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would later justify the Gentiles by their faith-filled allegiance to Him, . . .

3:22

ESV:  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

New possibility:  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise that emanates from Jesus Christ’s faithful allegiance might be given to those who also believe loyally.

3:26

CSB:  for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

New possibility:  for through faithful allegiance you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

New possibility (expanded):  for through faithful allegiance —first, that of Jesus, and now, your own—you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

Whether this season is more filled with Santa and snowmen or shepherds and angels for you, consider allegiance to the King.  Perhaps the thoughtless use of phrases such as “newborn king” or “little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay” bothers you a little, as it bothers me.  Still, I affirm that Jesus did become Lord and Christ.  He became King.  And having faith in Jesus implies allegiance to Him as King.


¹ One such dovetailing was when we first engaged in the serious study of Paul’s letter to Philemon—a letter written to a “house church”—with a home fellowship that met in our living and dining room.  What serendipity, right?  (Or providence, if you prefer.)  I’ve written about that more than once.  Try these two:

Community in Philemon
A mini-odyssey with small groups (3 of 6)

² I myself pored over the serial blogposts and am about to order the book but but have not read it yet.

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7 thoughts on “Faith qua allegiance (part 2)

    • Brian Casey 12/24/2017 / 6:52 am

      Appreciate your reading, Steven. In due time, I’d be interested in how you could incorporate the concept of allegiance (now recognized as possible, within the range of meaning of “pistis”/faith) into your strong notions on free will. I suppose allegiance would for you simply be something God chooses to give us, but maybe you will have other thoughts eventually. Merry Christmas.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Steven Colborne 12/24/2017 / 8:12 am

    I’m not sure I know enough about the original language, and textual issues in general, to be of any assistance in the discussion. I am tempted to add Bates’ book to my reading list but to be honest with you I have a huge amount of reading to do and not sure when I would get around to it.

    However, if you write further articles on the subject I will read with interest, and if I feel I can add anything helpful I’ll leave a comment.

    Thank you Brian and a very Merry Christmas to you too! God bless.

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    • Brian Casey 12/25/2017 / 12:56 pm

      I understand about having too much you want to read!

      After I get the Bates book, I might have more to share about the linguistic side of things — the textual issues are more my home; I can generally recognize a text-based argument that holds water or doesn’t. I was intending to ask you more about the theological side . . . assuming that Bates is right that faith can and should incorporate the allegiance idea, is that a fairly simple addition to your framework? In other words, is it simply that God enables the allegiance to be shown by the human?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Steven Colborne 12/28/2017 / 2:40 am

      Hi Brian. Well, I tend to look at these things on two levels. Yes, ultimately, I believe God is in control and that everything that happens is by His will. So whether faith, or allegiance, it comes from God.

      But I also believe that in the ‘human dimension’ (for want of a better phrase) we have the illusion of free will – which is a mode of mind under God’s control – where we make decisions and believe certain things and act in certain ways. There seems to be a place for this in God’s grand game, and in this dimension we can have discussions and debates about theology or whatever.

      So from that second perspective, I can debate faith and allegiance with you, though the problem is I don’t have my head fully around the arguments at the moment so wouldn’t like to comment further.

      I apologise that I can’t be of more assistance at this stage. I’ll look forward reading more, either by reading Bates’ book or your future posts.

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    • Brian Casey 12/28/2017 / 6:36 am

      Thanks for the additional reply, Steven, despite your confessed lack of comfort (?) in relating linguistics to theology in this area. I appreciate it. I gather you and I are both pretty intent on blog dialogues follow-up but please don’t take this lengthy reply as an effort to draw you out some more at this time. I’m just giving my thoughts both to you and to others who may say.

      Word meanings have intrigued me for as long as I can remember, and I’ve read just a bit in linguistics as a discipline. I have studied a good deal more in biblical hermeneutics. For me, the crux of interpreting a text that mentions “faith” is the working definition of “pistis.” As Matthew Bates put it, roughly, we shouldn’t allow 21st-century usage to be the primary determinant of our understanding of a 1st-century word. It might even turn out to be the case that a biblical writer altered, by usage, the sense of a 1st-century word. Words may be seen to have changed in meaning over time, so, while diachronic etymological studies (looking at changes through periods of time) can be revealing, I would generally ant to reside primarily in synchronically oriented consideration of a word like “pistis” — since most of the NT documents had their origins within a relatively brief period of time (30-100 years, depending on who you ask). Put another way: learning what Paul and his contemporaries could have meant when they used the word “pistis” is more important than learning what Augustine or Luther or Wright thought about how a related Latin or German or English word is worked out in the human dimension.

      English-speakers and English Bible versions most often render “pistis” as “faith.” This English word has a set of presuppositions, contexts, and a practical range of meanings. I would presume that most western languages’ synonyms are fairly close here, but perhaps an Aboriginal or Zulu or Inuit word would be markedly different. Anyway, the presuppositions and understandings of a word like “faith” those come into play, to a greater or lesser extent, when folks like Luther and Calvin and Wesley and Wright and Piper discuss scripture and theology. But if “faith” doesn’t mean faith, or rather, if it doesn’t necessarily mean what English-speakers have put in the ball of wax when they use the word faith, then the playing field is altered. If “faith” can also mean allegiance and loyalty shown, then certain Baptisty phrases, for instance, come up lacking or at least are up for scrutiny.

      Zooming out now … off the top, your thought seems attractive — that, in the human dimension, “the illusion of free will” exists. In other words, “God is in control” always feels right and worshipful and creaturely-obeisant, which is basically good in my book. Two basic beliefs are that there is a God, and I am not Him! I tend to be equally drawn to the ideas of the open God — the God who truly and with sovereign intent shows His willingness to engage and allows His human creations a real free will. There is always something that appeals to persons of “faith” (see what I did there?) like you and me when God is placed on the throne in worship and in existential thought. But I’ll have to see what new thoughts come — from you and others — in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Steven Colborne 12/29/2017 / 12:27 am

      Hi Brian! Thank you for explaining a little more about your motivations in relation to hermeneutics, etc, and the “pistis” issue. I think it’s a fascinating area of study. I do understand the important implications that nuances in the usage of a word can have. Allegiance implies more commitment than faith, which is important in relation to issues such as ‘eternal security’ or the ‘perseverance of the saints’ and whether a Christian can lose their salvation, as well as other issues.

      My main focus at the moment, in my reading and writing, is on trying to help people to understand my arguments for a God who is in control of everything and the implications for theology if this is true. As you may have gathered this is a particular passion for me! But I’m interested in your work and research and would like to keep in touch and see what conclusions you come to.

      Did you get a chance to read my essay entitled ‘An Almighty Predicament’? It’s a free download from my Essays page. The reason I ask is because I spent a lot of time on it trying to capture the essence of my beliefs about the God/world relationship, and if you were to read it I could rest assured that you understand my theological perspective. I don’t know whether you have the time or interest to read it, but if you do, I’d be delighted 😊

      Also, if you’d ever like to email me about anything, feel free. My email address is on my Contact page. Thank you so much for the discussion, I’m currently reading ‘The Blessing of Humility’ by Jerry Bridges and I appreciate your humility in our communications! God bless you!

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