What do I think of Matthew Bates’s book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
What is the gospel? Many pastors today write books on the topic and talk about how central it is and how important it is to be proclaiming the good news. Sadly, many of them don’t have the good news right, and these are not the liberals. These are conservative God-honoring pastors who truly want to build up the church. The gospel becomes all about what happens individually in a person’s life. Justification by faith is said to be the gospel or in some cases I’ve seen such as saying Calvinism is the gospel.
My wife and I once attended a church where the pastor at the end of every sermon gave a call to accept Jesus as savior. Unfortunately, it seemed like the whole goal every time was to get someone to go to heaven. It’s as if it’s decided that the whole point of Jesus coming and dying and rising again is all about the next life and not here.
Matthew Bates says this must change. Now while it sounds like he’s wanting to change the gospel, what he’s wanting to change is our perception. He wants the gospel to go beyond forgiveness of sins. He’s not opposed to that as it’s certainly included in the message and he’s not opposed to justification by faith, but what is the gospel?
The gospel is about Jesus coming and living and dying and rising again and thus, being the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and everyone else for that matter. We treat Messiah like it’s a name. I have even had atheists ask me why a Jewish guy would have a Greek last name, as if Jesus was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. The religion of Islam stresses that Jesus is the Christ, but it gives no content to this whatsoever.
When we say Jesus is the Messiah, we mean He is the king and He came to institute the Kingdom of God on Earth. Our response to this is not intellectual assent which is normally meant by faith. Instead, what is required is a life of allegiance. This does not mean that we earn our salvation, but that our lives model what we say we believe.
The kingship of Jesus means that we are not just agreeing with a proposition, but living lives of loyalty to the king. When we get the gospel wrong, we make the gospel be all about what happens to us. The gospel is all about what Jesus did and who He is. You could give a gospel presentation today to people that would not require Jesus being the Messiah or being the king. We are doing something wrong at that point.
Bates’s message then is that this a more biblical way of viewing salvation. Salvation is something that God does in us, but we willingly submit to him with a life of faith lived outward in allegiance to him. Bates does take on some of our modern pastors who emphasize too much justification by faith. He doesn’t disagree with them, but he does say that we need to move beyond that. He does have some problems with Catholicism, though he does not say Catholics are not Christians and is concerned when any Christian is restricted from partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
This is stuff I have already believed, but once you see it spelled out, it’s hard to not see it in other places. When I hear someone give a gospel presentation or read it now, it seems so lacking. While this is something I have even done a sermon on, it is something that needs to be stressed. We have made Christianity be about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is reducing Jesus down to the buddy Jesus idea, and not about Jesus being king. When I introduce myself at a Celebrate Recovery meeting, I do not describe myself as a faithful believer in Jesus, but rather as a faithful servant of king Jesus.
I hope more pastors and more Christians read Bates’s book. Bates is doing the church a great service. He is taking the material of scholars and giving it to the public on these issues in a way that is easy to understand. This book is highly readable for the layman and I recommend it greatly.