What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Matthew Bates has written a book with a certainly interesting title. One can expect based on that that people on both sides will be tempted to go after him. (Cue James White having a twelve part series on his show about this.) That would be a shame if it happened because a lot that needs to be said is in this book.
Bates is not wanting to undermine grace, but he is wanting to get rid of a sort of system that is more centered on getting people to get saved instead of getting them to realize Jesus is their king, which would include salvation. We are at a point where we want to get people to sign on a proverbial dotted line and then lo and behold, our work is done. A church group will go out and witness in the streets and get one person to commit their life to Jesus, most likely to get his evangelists to shut up, come back to church shouting success, and that person will never ever darken the doors of a church. Discipleship is not a part of the process.
Bates starts with going after the term faith and that we really shouldn’t use it. I agree with him on this. Faith is a term that has been so misunderstood in our day and age that it leads to more problems. Bates looked at some bad definitions of faith. He wrote about Mormons who wanted someone to believe on faith based on the burning in the bosom. I would have liked to have seen in this section of bad usages of faith the fact that new atheist writers regularly describe faith falsely. People like Dawkins and Harris call it belief without evidence. Peter Boghossian called it pretending to know things you don’t know.
Another good one to look at would have been the Word of Faith movement. Bates looks at this some with saying some people think faith is positive thinking, but this is certainly that and going beyond in a more twisted way. This faith results in the death of children because, hey, you’re not supposed to go to a doctor. Have faith.
With this, it’s time to return to the full Gospel. The Gospel is not me-centered. It is Jesus-centered. It depends on what God has done in Jesus. He gives the Gospel eight parts. Not all have to be explicitly mentioned, but they are all part of the story. Jesus pre-existed with the Father, took on human flesh to fulfill the promises to David, died in accordance with what Scripture says, buried, raised on the third day again as prophesied, appeared to many, sits at the right hand of God as Lord, and will return to judge. This is indeed much more thought out than “Jesus died for my sins.”
It’s also important to realize Jesus taught this Gospel. Too many times when we want the Gospel, we jump straight to Paul. The Gospels pretty much tell us about how Jesus lived, but if you want to know about salvation, you really need to go to Paul. This is not to be anti-Paul or to say that Paul and Jesus contradict, but it is to say we should look at what Jesus said about the Gospel.
Bates then goes on to say that true salvation is allegiance. This is not to make people think of works salvation, as he gets into when he answers questions. We could say one does works not to earn salvation, but because one has sworn allegiance to Jesus as king.
Some of this part to me is still unclear. We do know that John wants us to know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13) and we don’t want to have people living in fear of their own salvation. At the same time, we don’t want to undermine obedience to Jesus. As someone in a ministry position, I do know for instance of many men who come to me and who want to be good Christians, and yet have the struggle of dealing with pornography. Bates does recognize we still have entangling sin and he himself has some sins he is struggling with, but I wonder how this would be handled in a pastoral situation, but more on that later.
The next major section is on new creation. Bates says we have too often made Heaven the goal of Christianity. I couldn’t agree more. Some of my biggest problems with funerals today has been the emphasis on Heaven. Don’t get me wrong. There is a glorious after-death waiting for us. The problem is that the grand coming of it is not until the resurrection and it’s not in a place far far away. It’s right here on Earth. God is going to recreate this world and it will be better than ever before.
Bates then says we need to restore the idol of God. Some people might wonder what he’s getting into with a chapter like this, but he’s entirely correct. Bates says that in ancient Hebrew terminology, we being in the image of God would mean we are the idol of God. We represent God. No piece of wood could ever do that. The main example of this is, of course, Jesus.
When we restore humanity to its rightful place, we will also treat one another better. Each of us is someone who bears the image of God. To treat your neighbor unjustly is to treat God unjustly. To love your neighbor rightly is to love God rightly.
The final chapters are much more theological and the systematic theologians will love it. This is looking at the ideas of righteousness and atonement. Those who are curious about the New Perspective on Paul will find an interesting look here at the material.
I would liked to have seen more on the pastoral side in the book as it is written for the lay audience. I could picture a mother reading this and saying “So does that mean when my son accepted Christ at a young age that it was illegitimate because allegiance was not sworn?” I do not think Bates would say this, but I think there needed to be something like that there. I do agree that we need allegiance brought in. We said the pledge of allegiance to the flag every day in school. Why not to our Lord every Sunday in church?
While there are points of clarification that will be brought out later, Bates book is full of good material that needs to be learned. It is a call to return to discipleship. It is a call to remember Jesus is indeed your friend and you have a relationship with Him, but He is your king and deserves no lesser treatment.