Why the Gospel?, Matthew W. Bates (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2023.
Summary: Instead of asking what the gospel is, explores why has God made this proclamation of good news, centering on the kingship of Jesus and what this means for those who place allegiance in him.
Matthew W. Bates has written several books contending that our idea of what it means to place faith in Christ are inadequate to the biblical meaning of faith, which he contends is allegiance, an unqualified allegiance to Jesus as King [I have reviewed Salvation by Allegiance Alone and Gospel Allegiance]. In this work Bates further elaborates on this idea.
He begins with an intriguing question. Why the gospel? He observes that there are many discussions of what the gospel is, indeed that this is what his previous books have addressed. What he believes we rarely consider is why the gospel and that when we do, our answers focus on things like forgiveness, getting us to heaven, freeing us from rules, improving society, reuniting us with God, and so on. He contends that these are not wrong, but not first. What is first is that we need a king and Jesus is the king we need and the king has come! We are lousy kings of our own lives and anything else to which we give our allegiance is no better. Jesus is the only worthy king, most notably in fulfilling prophecy, in the life he lived and the victory of the cross and resurrection, rescuing us from our bondage to sin and death.
Bates then proceeds to elaborate the purposes of God in sending Jesus to be our King. God wants to make us famous! The salvation that comes through Jesus the King comes with eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10). It is not merely that God seeks his own glory through Jesus the King; He intends that we share in that glory, that we enjoy everlasting honor and fame. Over two chapters he describes a “glory cycle” beginning with God’s glory, humans given glory to rule over creation, our failure to carry that glory in the fall and human sinfulness, Jesus as the perfect image of intended human glory launches glory’s recovery, as we gaze on the glory of Christ, we are transformed, recovering our lost glory, and finally, we reign gloriously with King Jesus in the new creation.
His final two chapters work out the implications of these ideas, first for “nones” and then for our proclamation of the good news. He believes this “King first” gospel addresses the hypocrisy so repellant to “nones.” Allegiance to a king isn’t simply a matter of “trust” but allegiance involves both mind and body, not permitting us to profess one thing and living another in our bodies. For those objecting to politicized Christianity, this is not an apolitical message but rather one that is more political, asserting the rule of Jesus over all, yet one that is non-coercive, that suffers with and for the suffering, and seeks restoration. The King Jesus gospel calls people into authentic relationships of mutual discipleship and to a holistic vocation that sees Jesus’s calling in every human endeavor.
The implication for our proclamation is to “flip” the message. Instead of, for example:
“Because he offers forgiveness, Jesus is your Savior. Accept his salvation. Next he wants to be King of your life.“
“Jesus is the King. Accept his kingship, because through it, Jesus is offering you saving rescue, including the forgiveness of your sins.“
He offers a number of examples of invitations focusing on different aspects of the gospel, each with a “typical” and a “King first” focus.
I have not seen Bates address this, but the “king” language is triggering for some. In some minds, it represents an imperial, colonial age that is past. For others, it seems averse to democratic ideals. The male-gendered character of “king” also evokes patriarchy. Very clearly, the kingship of Jesus is different and the idea of a good king runs through so much literature, for example, The Lord of the Rings. Addressing the cultural resonances of the term would be helpful.
That said, I appreciate the focus on Jesus as King as the center, the why of our gospel, rather than simply the results of his kingly rule. Beyond that, Bates focuses on something far beyond our needs, that is our destiny to share in the glory of the King and to rule with Him. I suspect few Christians think about the idea that this is what they have been both made and redeemed for, nor for how this ought to infuse our vision of our daily lives on this good earth.
Lastly, I’ve long objected to the way we have often presented a “two stage” salvation, first Jesus as Savior and then Jesus as Lord or King. Bates frames this so well in observing that all the things we associate with salvation are the gifts of the King for those who turn from other allegiances to follow him alone.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.