10 December 2022

Shift in gospel focus brings a fuller, richer theology

Author Matthew W. Bates. Picture. http://matthewwbates.com/

By The Reverend Dr Fergus J. King 

5 February 2022

The Gospel Precisely may serve both as a summary to the core of the gospel appropriate for new Christians, and as a reality check for those who think they know it all.  

The work distils Matthew W. Bates’ two earlier technical books – Salvation by Allegiance Alone and Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ – into a format for use in parish study groups or their equivalents. 

Bates starts by questioning the value of a phrase like “Jesus died for my sins” as a full expression of the gospel. Certainly, it contains truths, but these are partial and may be distorted.  

With this summary, it becomes easy for the Christian faith to become little more than an insurance policy, or a glorified personal development course. Central to the problem is that it puts “me” at the forefront – and such self-centredness is an orientation which leads away from God, even if couched in the right religious vocabulary. A focus on “my being forgiven” ignores the social, political, and cosmic dimensions of the gospel.  

Our understanding of faith also gets challenged. We may focus on orthodoxy (believing all the right things), or on trust (the personal relationship with Jesus) in our different expressions of Anglicanism.  

The brutal truth is we need both of these, and then must add allegiance (expressing loyalty by the way we live) to this. 

Bates addresses these shortcomings by focussing on the Christ, rather than on ourselves. Glory or respect is properly God’s. What should lie at the heart of the gospel is a phrase like “Jesus the Christ is King” (cf. Romans 10:9). In this, the person of Jesus is identified with the role of the Christ and given the kind of allegiance expected by a king, albeit one who suffers and gives his life for his people. This is better expressed in a gospel which embraces 10 stages, from Jesus’ pre-existence to his coming to rule as judge.   

The shift in focus is crucial. It frees us from ourselves, and puts God at the heart of the gospel. Vitally, it asks us to look afresh at God, and ally ourselves with his person and nature. And, because God is essentially a God who loves and sends, it asks us how we can love and be sent on his behalf to continue to make this good news known. 

The five chapters of this short book explore these significant themes, with questions for reflection and discussion provided so that even the most inexperienced can work through the material. Some will find Bates’ challenge to the limits of “Jesus died for my sins” a hard place to start, but the journey he then describes replaces it with something fuller and richer.  

Try it if you don’t believe me. I am prepared to wager that paddling in Bates’s “Jesus is King” theology, will prompt many to test the deeper waters of Gospel Allegiance

Matthew W. Bates, The Gospel Precisely: Surprisingly Good News about Jesus Christ the King (renew.org, 2021).  Available from amazon.com.au. 

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