Tag Archives: faith

Book Review: Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King, by Matthew W. Bates

Salvation by Allegiance AloneIt’s no secret in scholarship that the English language does not have words that carry the same meaning and connotation of the Greek word pistis and its various forms and conjugations; however, that doesn’t stop most from using “faith” in its place wherever found. The driving force of Matthew W Bates’ Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King is the reevaluation of pistis as “allegiance” rather than “faith” in its greater context. I do not doubt that many will find Bates convincing in this regard, especially those already aware of the political context of Scripture; however, there are several major points I find in need of revision in this thought-provoking work.

First, Bates argues that the oft used arguments for “salvation by faith alone” have not only been theologically wanting but also damaging to the way in which hearers may then perceive and read Scripture and live (or not) as citizens of the kingdom of God. Studying in both Presbyterian and Catholic contexts, Bates feels he is uniquely positioned to speak in a bridging manner for Protestants and Catholics, particularly regarding the place of “works” or “living out one’s faith,” as some describe it, in conjunction with faith—or, as he argues, one’s allegiance to Jesus as Lord. His arguments are sound and point out philosophical, theological, and practical flaws on both sides of the traditional arguments that overemphasize faith or works in such a way that diminishes the other. However, after so doing, he comes back to “allegiance alone” (hence the title), perceivably unable to escape his traditional Evangelical roots, even after arguing for a much deeper understanding of an holistic life actively aligned with the king in mind, heart, and action. Perhaps this new phrase is intended to imply this holistic life, but his arguments against “faith alone” can be used against the reevaluated pistis phrase since “allegiance” may be easily misinterpreted and misused in time, as he has demonstrated the case to be with “faith.” I would encourage an holistic understanding and teaching of pistis, as does Bates, but without the wholesale removal of “faith” terminology, arduous as the task may be.

Second, Bates attempts to define the “gospel message” in its entirety according to eight foundational statements found in the Apostles’ Creed:

“Jesus the King
1. preexisted with the Father,
2. took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David,
3. died for sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
4. was buried,
5. was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
6. appeared to many,
7. is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and
8. will come again as judge.” (p# unavailable, emphasis original)

There’s no doubt that these statements are either explicitly or implicitly made by Jesus and/or the apostles; however, I find his argument utterly unconvincing, stemming more from creedal theology rather than an holistic approach to the New Testament’s use of euangelion and its varied forms—basileia (kingdom) isn’t even included in Bates’ gospel message, that which is most associated with “gospel” in the New Testament.

Third, Bates argues that we are “idols of God” solely based on characteristic similarities between “image” and “idol” and the nature of idols in ancient Egypt as articulated by John Walton. No linguistic evidence is provided—contrary to the positive evidence for the pistis/allegiance argument—for a shift from “image” to “idol” in his desire to “restore the idol of God” (humans who properly reflect God, Jesus noted as being the prime and only perfect example this side of the new heavens and earth), but that does not stop him from making the switch and henceforth referring to those aligned with Jesus as idols. Not only is it unconvincing, I find no positive or helpful reason for its inclusion in the book. It simply appears to be an attempt to cram into the book a second linguistic wrench of controversy for the academy and ends up detracting from the greater message.

Finally, pairing “allegiance” and his “gospel” creed, Bates encourages Christians to use and recite the current form of the Apostle’s Creed as the true and proper “Pledge of Allegiance” with ever-increasing frequency in order to proclaim, teach, and remind people of the gospel (as defined by Bates) and with whom they are aligned. Certainly reciting and affirming creeds is not my dispute. They may proclaim truth and serve a purpose, and it’s the purpose and degree of complete truth claimed by the authors and perpetuators that I question. Bates is not the first to put forth an alternative pledge that counters those nationalistic in nature (Shane Claiborne being one of the most recent), and it sounds like a good idea. Jesus is lord; Caesar is not. We (well, some of us) get that. My reservations for using at least this pledge in particular (or really anything as the pledge) should be apparent in my questioning of Bates’ presentation of the holistic gospel message above.

Given the aforementioned observations and reservations, I find the overarching thesis to be an important one in need of further discussion within the academy and local churches alike. A proper understanding of the political context within and with which Scripture is written can only help us more fully understand whose we are, for whom we live, and what a life lived with that perspective may and ought to look like.

*I received a temporary, pre-published digital copy for review from Baker Academic via NetGalley.

Book Review: Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, by Makoto Fujimura

Silence and BeautyWith a mix of exposition, critique, biography, and memoir, Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering wrestles with Shusako Endo’s 1969 novel, Silence, providing empathetic insight into the past, present, and hopeful future of Japanese culture. Though many may disagree with and even criticize both Endo’s and Fujimura’s theological perspectives regarding Catholicism and authentic Christian faith in Japan both past and present, one need neither agree nor disagree in order to benefit from taking this journey with Fujimura. Yes, there may be times when one questions the validity of arguments and perspectives expressed in Silence and Beauty, but the reality of shumi-e culture still exists in varied forms, and Fujimura encourages us to see both tragedy and beauty in the brokenness. One may be left with more questions in the end, but they are questions worth asking and wrestling with.

For those who have not yet read Endo’s novel, Fujimura provides a synopsis at the end of the book (Appendix 3). There’s also a glossary of Japanese terms and definitions since they are not all defined in the text. I recommend reading all three appendices and the glossary before taking the journey. This will only take a few minutes and will serve you well.

Further resources may be found at silenceandbeauty.com.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules”, by Jacqueline A. Bussie

Outlaw ChristianLutheran professor Jacqueline A. Bussie’s Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the “Rules” reads like an infomercial for the purported latest and greatest form of “just be you” faith and new club: Outlaw Christians. She writes:

Outlaw Christianity: (noun)

  1. a new, life-giving faith for those who ache for a more authentic relationship with God and other people by no longer having to hide their doubt, anger, grief, scars, or questions
  2. an honest, outside-the-law faith for those seeking a hope that really speaks to the world’s hurt (p.xi)

Bussie rightly pushes back against the notions many have of not being able to be really in honest in some Christian circles, having to hide anger, doubt, and scars in the midst of real pain and uncertainty; however, the path taken in this book is not one to recommend. In order to travel this path, one must, as Bussie has, redefine a number of terms to create this new faith club. Rather than revere the Almighty, Bussie encourages the reader to bring God down to a human level as she does, stating that God learns and grows with us, comparing her relationship with him to an angry married couple in which both sides are flawed people just trying to figure things out and get along.

I concur that we can learn from people not like us, even other religions; but if it is not ultimately God honoring and glorifying then it is of no use. However, Bussie seems to take this a bit further down an apparent path of universalism when she writes about our “brothers and sisters of other religions” (137) and redefines sin by stating, “To keep things simple as well as practical and concrete, I now define evil and sin as anything we say, do, or believe (or fail to say, do, or believe) that robs us of our humanity or the earth of its dignity” (129). The emphasis of this book is certainly on oneself and being honest about one’s humanity, reveling in doubt and sharing each other’s pain and suffering, for which Bussie claims there is no other meaning than that it is shared. She reminds her reader that something isn’t sin if it’s honest; so be honest because that’s authentic and authenticity attracts.

So, while being honest and attempting to attract others to this new club of “outlaws” that is said to include Job, Jesus, and God, Bussie demonstrates where she’s really at with God when she states that he “carries a dead child, and that child is Jesus, and all of us too” (157). No, Jesus is risen! Yes, there is suffering, but there’s so much more that can be helpful for potential readers than to bring God completely down to an utterly flawed human level and say something like “he’s just like us, so he understands.” He understands, and has conquered!

To be fair, there are also small sections in the book that praise God and his love, but I think Bussie’s experience with her mother’s suffering and passing is still eating away at her and is the lens through which she sees her life, her students, and the rest of the world. Yes, we are called to participate in changing the world (examples of which are included in the final chapter and may or may not be helpful for a Christ follower), but it is in Christ that we should have our identity, and it is through and for him that we are able.

Given the poor exegesis and evaluation of the book of Job in the second chapter, I would not have gone any further had I not agreed to review this book. However, having finished it in its entirety, I can say that my concerns about its direction were validated. In its sincere desire to help and encourage struggling Christians or those who have been pushed away by hypocrisy, it can be even more damaging than the things it attempts to correct.

 

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith, by Christopher J. H. Wright

The God I Don't UnderstandWhile working through the unread books in my library, I realized I still had one more by Christopher J. H. Wright that I had forgotten about: The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith. Wright here works through four of the big questions people often have when struggling with God and the Bible: evil & suffering, destruction of the Canaanites, the cross, and thoughts on the end of the world. He addresses each of these issues through faith, scholarship, and trust, honestly and humbly admitting his own struggles along the way. The book is easy to read and understand, despite the subject difficulty. (This isn’t necessarily intended for those looking for the kind of thorough academic arguments as found in other works of Wright, but still both a useful and helpful starting point.)

If I ever get the chance to meet Chris, I’m going to thank him and give him a giant, awkwardly lasting man hug. His The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (review) is still my top recommendation (a bit too academic for some, but I encourage taking the journey anyway), with The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (review) in an easy second (more of an expansion on a particular aspect of the former, and much easier to read). The God I Don’t Understand is a helpful addition!

Book Review: Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News, by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment

Bringing Heaven to EarthMany of us have grown up in the “I’ll Fly Away” crowd, getting much of our eschatology (what we believe about end times) from our hymns rather than the Bible, which in turn influences what we believe about how we are to live here and now. If this place is going to blow up and we’re going to fly away, then nothing here really matters, right? Unfortunately, this way of thinking is still pervasive in many churches and schools. Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment grew up in this same vein, have since been convinced of a greater reality of living in the kingdom now, and have provided an easy to read book on why and how that can and should happen. This is Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News.

“Part 1: A Reintroduction to Heaven” begins emphatic, but lighthearted, sports jokes and jabs not spared (just look past them!). Ross and Storment make a simple case for the real connection between heaven and earth and God mission of resurrection and redemption, not rapture. “Part 2: When Heaven Celebrates” gets a little heavier—if that can happen when talking about partying!—but only insomuch as the authors continue drawing the reader into the importance of the topic at hand. Once in “Part 3: Life in the Light of Heaven” the reader should have a broader grasp of what it means to live for God’s glory and the sake of others right now and give up on any ideas that may keep us waiting until we’re in “heaven” to be joyful in this life.

This can be a great primer for anyone struggling with what to do with the good news of the kingdom of God and how heaven, hell, and earth may fit therein. It may be especially helpful for those who are steeped in dispensationalism, a particular theological stream espoused by much company I’ve kept in recent years. If you’re looking for a quick and easy read to whet your appetite to go even further in living as a kingdom citizen now, this can help. Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid!

 

*Disclaimer: I was contacted by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, and received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. I was not paid, nor was I asked to write anything specific, whether positive or negative.