Gospel Allegiance

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 18 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

The gospel hasn’t changed. But maybe our view of it needs to. Matthew Bates writes that the heart of the gospel is not justification by faith. It’s not just trusting alone in Jesus’s death on the cross. He says that the cross is not presented in the Bible as the theological center of the gospel. 

Rather, he says the crux of the gospel found in the Bible is that Jesus is the Christ, the king, and deserves our allegiance as such. In short, Jesus is the saving king.

Bates gives a 10-point gospel-allegiance model, set within a royal framework:

The gospel is that Jesus the king 
1. preexisted as God the Son, 
2. was sent by the Father, 
3. took on human flesh in fulfillment of God’s promises to David, 
4. died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 
5. was buried, 
6. was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 
7. appeared to many witnesses, 
8. is enthroned at the right hand of God as the ruling Christ, 
9. has sent the Holy Spirit to his people to effect his rule, and 
10. will come again as final judge to rule.

Bates says the purpose of the gospel is allegiance to Jesus the king in all the nations. Our response is allegiance alone, expressed in repentance, trusting loyalty, and baptism. 

"The gospel is the good news about Jesus the saving king. We are saved by allegiance alone. Jesus’s singularly effective allegiance comes first. Our imperfect allegiance follows and depends on his. The result is saving vindication, resurrection unto new life."

Overall the book is informative, if not heavy on detailed explanation and multiple scripture references, almost to the point of tedium. But Bates emphasizes his point that our view of the gospel must change because "nonbiblical versions of the gospel are wrongly splitting the one true church." 

"Every knee will bow and every tongue confess, not that 'Jesus died for my sins,' but that 'Jesus the Messiah is Lord.'"

A quick reading of this book will get you the main point, but to really absorb it in its fullness, plan to read slowly. 

My thanks to Net Galley for the review copy of this book.
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From the outset, the reader is immediately alerted to a problem: by and large Christians are missing the mark as to what the gospel actually is. For Bates the solution is found in the Bible and a recovery of what it has to say about salvation.

When it comes to grace, faith, and salvation, we all bring our personal baggage and preconceived notions to these highly-biblical concepts. Bates makes the simple claim that what we mean by these words (in the English language) may not be at all what the NT authors had in mind.

Though much ink has been spilt and many sermons dedicated to describing the gospel, Bates insists that “we need better language and a new model to more accurately convey what Scripture teaches about salvation” (Introduction).

The author writes, “Today the church must contend with false gospels announcing that God wants to make us rich, or physically healthy, or psychologically balanced, or well connected, or militarily powerful, or tolerant of others.”

Though some of his conclusions prove to be somewhat provocative (some would accuse him of tampering with something that should be left alone), his tone is warm as he does not seem to have written a provocative book for the sake of writing a provocative book. Though this does not make one’s argument foolproof, his concern for the church and her well being is noteworthy and admirable. It is also refreshing to read a scholar who does not seem to talk down to you but exhibits genuine humility.

The heart of the matter is the language Bates uses: “saved by allegiance alone” rather than what many are accustomed to: saved by faith alone.” As Bates points out, the Greek word pistis can mean ‘faith’ or ‘faithfulness’ (or allegiance), though English translations prefer to translate ‘faith.’ Bates has noted so far that though he does not think every use of pistis should be translated as ‘faithfulness,’ there are some passages where ‘faithfulness’ makes sense. 

Rather than taking the easy way out, Bates is calling the church to dig deeper, to attempt to uncover what we many times mute or obscure in our presentation of God’s gospel. Misunderstanding the gospel just might mean misunderstanding the heart of God and the very nature of God, and that is why this book comes recommended by me.

“While we may agree that the Bible’s vision of salvation manifests a beautiful simplicity, it is not simplistic.”
In ch. 1, it is pointed out how some dogmatically insist that the gospel is not about dogma but rather about social action; that is, the gospel is about good deeds rather than the right words. Sometimes St. Francis of Assissi is appealed to, allegedly saying that we ought to ‘preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.’

Bates notes that we appeal to this many times out of convenience; sharing the gospel is quite uncomfortable, proving to at times be highly inconvenient. Yet the notion that we “spread” the gospel without words is in serious contradiction with Scripture. While “Our good deeds can amplify the gospel message,…the message itself must first be verbally proclaimed by someone in order for our actions to reinforce it.” (Bates next adds that there is no evidence that St. Francis ever said such a thing.)

The gospel is not about our action in the world but about Christ’s action towards us. Thus the author points out the flaw in reducing the gospel to being about “vague Christian activities.”

Equally troubling and erroneous to Bates is the Roman’s Road approach, as well as the popular notion that justification by faith is the heart of the gospel. The author finds that a Roman’s Road approach (which seems to focus on just a few verses in Romans) misses the point of the gospel while also promoting cheap grace (a “just do this and you’re good to go!” culture within our churches).

I appreciate that Bates seems to be avoiding both quick fixes (something quite popular in a Western context) as well as oversimplifications. His desire is to let the text say what the text has to say.

In ch. 1, the author shares his heart and reason for the book: “Nothing is more vital than the pure gospel. The church must safeguard, display, and invite others to experience this treasure.”

While many will accuse him of tampering with the very foundation of the gospel, I see what Bates is doing and I get it. 


The author points out a basic gap between what the word “faith” has evolved into visa vis what the Greek word pistis would have meant to the authors of the New Testament and their immediate audience. “Ancient words have their own meanings that do not map perfectly medieval, Reformation-era, or modern words or definitions.”

Faith, in our naturalistic-leaning setting, now carries the unfortunate connotation of being anti-evidence, as being “blind” and illogical. Bates insists that faith in the New Testament does not carry such connotations; if modern evangelicals continue to mainly use such language, we may be guilty of misleading people and misrepresenting the gospel, “wrongly mak[ing] people think that Christian faith is irrational and arbitrary.”

 

I find Bates’ point relevant especially in light of the “Science vs Scripture” debate and dichotomy. I am reminded of Ken Ham who authored a children’s Bible insisting that the earth is 6,000 years old. (This is done in the name of faith of course.) “Faith” has become a loaded term, and in in some circles it has taken on the connotation of “stupidity” and “naivety.” While I don’t think we should cater to intellectuals (this would be very “Corinthian” of us), we ought to take great care to preserve what the biblical authors would mean by certain words rather than accept what they (over time) evolved into.

Bates’ solution is to point to a word like “allegiance.” The question is, Why this word? Is it really better than our cherished word “faith?”

Bates finds a word like allegiance to be more holistic, carrying connotations of “faithfulness, reliability, fidelity, and commitment.” He finds support from various passages, one example being Acts 16: “When Paul tells the Philippian jailer, “Pisteuson on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, both you and your household” (Acts 16:31 AT), context demands that this involve an embodied switch in the jailer’s loyalty, no longer to the emperor’s magistrates” but now to Jesus as Lord (bold mine).

Bates notes that a contemporary of Paul’s, Josephus, commonly uses pistis in terms of allegiance. Besides this, there is also such usage found in the Apocrypha and Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). Bates is quick to point out that pistis does not always mean “faithfulness”—we must let context decide.

 

In chapter 3, the author stresses the kingship of Jesus, and how often this is left out of our gospel presentations. Christians, for one reason or the other, don’t really talk about Jesus as king, unlike the New Testament authors. What is usually mentioned in our presenting the gospel is the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death, while the enthronement of Jesus to God’s right hand and the fact that he has been exalted as king is often left in the dust (or reduced to a mere footnote). “This must change if we are to get the gospel right.” (When “Christ” is mentioned in the New Testament, this is a reference to the kingship of Jesus.)

A very important section graciously deals with John Piper’s objections to those who see Jesus’ kingship (rather than justification by faith) as the center/heart of the gospel.

“Although Piper has wrongly forced euangelion [Greek for gospel/good news] to carry improbable meanings, he is correct to insist that Paul’s gospel absolutely must include the good news of forgiveness from sins.”

And yet, as Bates rightly points out, the “overarching framework” of the gospel is that “Jesus is the saving king.”

 

The author points out that the way evangelicals present salvation as instantaneous can be at odds with how salvation in the New Testament is often presented as a process (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). A common notion is that salvation occurs instantaneously when one utters a prayer and/or has a profound and deep experience with God. But what if we are both saved and being saved? While the notion of being saved may very well rub some evangelicals the wrong way, this is one way the the New Testament authors frame salvation.

 

Another discrepancy between the evangelical presentation of the gospel and that of the New Testament is our emphasizing of the individual: Christ died for your sins whereas in the letters of Paul the emphasis is on a community: Christ died for our sins. Although we enter the church individually, upon our entering we become a corporate identity.

 

What I most appreciate in Gospel Allegiance is the author’s gracious and warm tone. My hope for this book is that rather than further divide believers, this be a conversation starter regarding the role of works in salvation, sanctification, and the nature of the gospel.

 

Who is this Book For?

I recommend this carefully-written book to anyone who is serious about studying what Scripture says about discipleship, faith, and the gospel. A call to abandon naivety and to take upon ourselves a more well-rounded and robust (and well-thought out) faith, Gospel Allegiance ultimately beckons us to return to what the Bible says over and against what we’ve been told the Bible says.
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My review of Matthew W. Bates’ new book “Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ”.


Goals of the book:
We’ve all probably heard something about the “centrality of the Gospel”. It’s almost a fad in a lot of Reformed circles at this rate to put “Gospel-centered” in front of new books and programs. And, for the most part, this is an admirable practice that captures the importance of the Gospel. Think, for example, about the introductions to both Mark and Romans, and how both frame the Gospel as one of the central elements of the Christian faith. Think about the long discussion of the Gospel that Paul writes in I Corinthians 15. Or think about how zealous Paul is to defend the central tenets of the Gospel in Galatians.

Because the Gospel deserves our central focus, and because it has become a sort of “marketing” term for some groups, it seems like it is extremely important for us to understand what the Bible actually teaches about the Gospel. Have we truly understood what the Gospel is about? Matthew W. Bates is concerned that we have misunderstood the Gospel. Not only have we missed the central message, he says, but we have made secondary matters primary matters. This book serves as a corrective to these misunderstandings. Bates hopes to break the fog that has clouded our vision of the Gospel and shine a bright light into the center of the Gospel, showing us what is truly of central importance.

What does this book offer the Church?:
One of the most important things that this book offers is its central vision of the Gospel. The book is very concerned with showing us that the Gospel is about Jesus becoming King in his resurrection. It’s paramount that we understand the Biblical storyline in the context of the Kingship of Jesus, not through other lenses that may obscure the point of what God is doing in the world with Jesus.

The book is popular level, but tries its best to help the average reader understand quite a few concepts. These definitions are never too difficult or scholarly, but don’t treat the reader like they are less intelligent. Some definitions that are explored in the book include “gospel” and “faith”. Bates has written previously on the concept of “faith as allegiance“, and readers who find the chapter in this book interested would be well-served to check out his previous book on the subject.

How successfully does this book meet its goals?:
For the most part, I think Bates succeeded in showing how important it is that we understand what the Gospel truly means. If there’s something that disappointed me in the book was how many times Bates aimed his discussion at specific people. Now, if someone is wrong, they’re wrong and that should be explained. But it seemed like there was quite a lot of ink spilled writing about specific authors that Bates disagreed with. He respectfully engages with their ideas, never resorting to name calling, but it felt weird to read about how many people were wrong when I would’ve probably liked to see more space dedicated to building up his own ideas. (This may also be my own sensitivity, reading far too much tension into a normal practice with no malicious intent behind it. But I should think that if I were uncomfortable at times, so might other readers be. Especially since most of these people fall within similar camps, it could alienate a section of readers.)

In general, I think this is an important book to work through and engage on a somewhat deeper level. Readers familiar with Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel will find some familiar ideas here, but also may find themselves stretched as well. Readers outside of Bates’ camp might be turned off by the first few
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I thought this book was one which provided support for a more holistic worldview.  For me personally it provided detailed and nuanced support for my life as a Christian. The points he makes throughout  this work are well argued and provides significant historical context throughout. It was an exciting experience to read this book and to share important parts with my wife and friends.

I have well over 3,000 books in my library and this book is definitely in the top ten. It should be used in Churches to educate parishioners on what the gopel is..The author expands the view of what the gospel is, wit an emphais on enthronement as follow:

The Gospel
The gospel is that Jesus the king

1. preexisted as God the Son,
2. was sent by the Father,
3. took on human flesh in fulfillment of God’s promises to David,
4. died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
5. was buried,
6. was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
7. appeared to many witnesses,
8. is enthroned at the right hand of God as the ruling Christ,
9. has sent the Holy Spirit to his people to effect his rule, and
10. will come again as final judge to rule.

I highly reommend this book as it brought coherence and correspondence to my Christian worldview.
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Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ. Matthew W. Bates. Brazos Press. Grand Rapids. 2019. 272 pages. ISBN 978-1587434297

Matthew W. Bates is Associate Professor of Theology at Quincy University in Quincy, IL. He received his Ph. D. from the University of Notre Dame. He earned his undergraduate degree in Physics and worked as an electrical engineer and designed infrastructure for wind farmsi. Personally, I prefer religious leaders, especially academics to have “real world” experience. I feel that having a broader education and experience outside of academia is vital for seasoning a person for ministry.

An Overview of Gospel Allegiance

Professor Bates has stirred the hornet’s nest again. Gospel Allegiance continues the debates that he began with Salvation Allegiance. These are books that most people either love or hate. If you love them, you are probably excited to hear a Christian talking about Christ the King and his coming kingdom. If you hate these books, you are probably afraid that he is perverting the simple Gospel of Faith in Jesus. Gospel Allegiance is not the kind of book that will receive three stars on Amazon. You are more likely to see rebuttals on the one and five star reviews on Amazon.

Gospel Allegiance is divided into three parts, “Part 1: Discovering the Gospel Allegiance,” “Bridge: Gospel Clarified – Gospel Mobilized,” and “Part 2: Advancing Gospel Allegiance.”

The opening illustration of Chapter 1, “Getting the Gospel Right,” sets the tone for the book and it will set the teeth of many on edge. Bates tells the story of sharing the Gospel, “repent and believe that Jesus died for his sins,” with a Chinese friend named Mao. Bates says “that Mao heard only a rough approximation” of the Gospel. For many readers that will be enough for them to close the book and quit reading. Some may make it a couple of pages further in and slam the book down when Bates says, “Among biblically informed pastors and scholars, the is the most common error: claiming that our justification by faith is the gospel or its center.”

I think that it would be a shame to quit reading so early. Much of what Bates presents will be novel to many of his readers. I have been an active Christian for forty years and a pastor/teacher for the last thirty. In that time, I have been surprised at how little that I have heard about Jesus as the Messiah/Christ and his coming kingdom. I have heard some about Heaven, but not much.

Bates continues his assault on the sensibilities of his readers that are new to his ideas in Chapter 2, “Not Faith but Allegiance.” In Chapter 2 Bates analyzes the meaning of “faith” and “believe” through the Scriptures. He discusses the range of meanings that the Greek words behind faith and believe had, as well as the changes in the meaning of the word faith in English. Bates seems to be quite balanced in his presentation with one caveat that I will go into in the Summation. I found this chapter to be very useful. I would recommend this book for this chapter and the next.

Bates defines exactly what he means by “The Gospel” in Chapter 3, “The Full Gospel of the King.” He includes 10 elements in his definition.

“The gospel is that Jesus the king

preexisted as God the Son, was sent by the Father, took on human flesh in fulfillment of God’s promises to David, died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, was buried, was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, appeared to many witness, is enthroned at the right hand of God as the ruling Christ, has sent the Holy Spirit to his people to effect his rule, and will come again as final judge to rule.”

In his 10 item list, Bates emphasizes number 8 while most evangelicals emphasize a variation of number 4. While some may disagree, I believe that this places Bates within the mainstream of evangelical Christianity. It is a matter of emphasis, but this may be a charitable reading.

“The Bridge: Gospel Clarified – Gospel Mobilized” will be difficult for many evangelical readers. He asks and answers the question, “What response to the gospel is required for salvation? Allegiance alone.” By adding to the Reformation’s solas, Bates will be going a bridge too far for many. Again, some may put the book down without getting to Bates expansion of Allegiance Alone. “This is expressed in terms of repentance from sins, trusting allegiance (pistis) to him as the king described in the message of the gospel, and baptism.” Once again, Bates is back in the fold; yet, for a second time, this may be a charitable reading. I will address these charitable readings in the Summation.

Chapter 4, “Grace in Six Dimensions,” Bates begins to show how the Christian is to live by Allegiance Alone. The first dimension of grace that Bates considers is merit. He shows that the ancient Greeks believed in a merited grace. We do this when considering a gift to a panhandler at an intersection. We ask ourselves what will the spend the money on. Bates goes on to show the Jesus and Paul overturned this idea of merited grace. The other dimensions of grace, as explained by Bates, will fuel your reflections and meditations on Scripture.

In Chapter 5, “Faith is Body Out,” Professor Bates begins examining the implications (bodily works) of Gospel Allegiance on the believer. This is the place where Bates departs most significantly “from other Protestant models,” and he is aware of this departure. Traditionally, faith is seen as “an inward confidence in God’s promises in Christ, especially confidence that a person can be justified by faith.” Under this view, works are an expression of sanctification, rather than justification.

Dr. Bates, however, sees “faith as outward facing.” It is an expression of allegiance because it is allegiance. He then gives examples of faith (pistis in Greek and fides in Latin) being used in the sense of loyalty, fidelity, evidence, and allegiance. This is followed by an examination of Scripture, including the faith of Abraham. Personally, I feel like his emphasis on allegiance began to break down at this point. I will come back to this in the Summation section.

I did find the emphasis on the physical in Chapter 5 interesting, and I will devote some time to thinking about that.

Chapter 6, “How Works Are Saving,” opens with an illustration about assurance of salvation. When he was young, Doug came to salvation using the wordless book in a Vacation Bible School. Then later in Bible college and seminary he began to experience doubts. Bates implies that a proper understanding of gospel allegiance would rectify the lack of assurance, but he isn’t very specific.

At this point, I struggled to follow Bates’s argument because I did not recognize the “confusing love-hate relationship with good deeds” of “Classic Protestant theology.” I admit that Protestant theology has a strain of the tension that he talks about, but I would not call it part of the mainstream of Protestant theology. It seems to me that Bates confuses salvation and judgment.

In the sub-section, “Good Works Are Saving,”Bates quotes Paul, “God will render to each one according to his [her] works...” I am left with the assumption that these are the good works that are saving. However, it seems more natural to me to take these works as the basis for determining the reward for a citizen of Heaven. Bates does bring out “Judgment according to Works” later in the chapter, but I really disagree with his implication connecting the Lamb’s Book of Life to books containing our deeds in Revelation 20.

Chapter 7, “Taking the Allegiance Challenge,” contains Bates’s call to action, to take the plunge. He divides his challenge into three areas, doctrinal, pastoral, and missional. Each of these areas has a corresponding question to guide the reader in the Allegiance Challenge. Can we teach Gospel Allegiance? Is there such a thing as too much Gospel Allegiance? What does discipleship look like under Gospel Allegiance?

Summation

I found myself frustrated over and over as I read Gospel Allegiance. I absolutlely love Professor Bates’s emphasis on Jesus as the Christ, as the King, as the one enthroned. I was fully prepared to like this book at different points, but I just could not do it.

I found Part 1, “Discovering Gospel Allegiance,” to be the most useful. Professor Bates definitely spurred my thinking through this section of the book. Even in this section, there were definitely times that I had to give Bates a “charitable” reading. Based on the rest of Gospel Allegiance, I feel that Dr. Bates intends to be delivering an understanding of the Gospel that is a radical break that Traditional Protestant Theology has taught for 500 years.

There were many opportunities for Professor Bates to build a bridge to Traditional Protestant Orthodoxy, but he never reach a hand across the divide. Instead, he consistently phrased his arguments in ways that seemed designed to emphasize the chasm.

Where I would embrace the solas of the Reformation for salvation which makes us fit citizens for the Coming Kingdom of Christ, I think that Bates would see them as hindrances to salvation by allegiance. There are definitely fault lines between the Gospel Allegiance of Professor Bates and the theologians in the Reformation tradition.

In all of the discussion on faith, I found it surprising that there was not a single reference to Hebrews 11:1 – 3. This is the most systematic exposition of what faith is in the entire Bible.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

(Heb 11:1-3)

Allegiance just doesn’t seem to fit in the idea of faith found in Hebrews 11.

I did not find Part 2, “Advancing Gospel Allegiance,” to be useful in my pastoral ministry. So much of this section is based on the idiosyncratic interpretation of faith. It works if the premise is accepted, but I found the premise unconvincing. As I read through Part 2, I couldn’t help thinking that the Pharisees would love associating faith with allegiance.

I would say that Professor Bates found a new beautiful color (sometimes faith means allegiance) and he tried to paint the whole world that one color. By using his one color, he reduces the beauty and wonder of our salvation.

Overall, while I found parts of the books to be valuable, I cannot recommend Gospel Allegiance by Matthew W. Bates to any but theologians and pastors who like to keep abreast of the current theological debates. Bates seems to have pushed too hard on a good idea.

i http://matthewwbates.com/matthewwbates/ - Information retrieved 13 August 2019.

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The title of this book is intriguing. I've written a book on the Lord's Prayer with the title "Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer". We are faced each day with calls to give allegiance to this or that power. It might be political/governmental. It might be social/cultural, or it could simply be consumeristic. In some ways, these are normal and appropriate. I'm a citizen of the United States, and thus I have a certain allegiance to be given to my country. I'm a fan of the San Francisco Giants, so they require a degree of allegiance. My wife requires it of me as well, but ultimately it is God who deserves my highest allegiance, one that transcends all others. This would seem to be the concern of this book by Matthew Bates, and it is. 

Bates is a New Testament scholar and author of a previous book titled "Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King." I've not read it, but I was asked to read and comment on this follow up book. Bates notes that one need not have read the previous book to understand this one, so I'll take him at his word.

Bate's concern here is to gain a proper definition of the gospel, which he believes is focused on allegiance to Jesus Christ. To get there he defines the Greek word pistis as allegiance, though it is more commonly translated as faith and sometimes as trust. He affirms that these are possible translations, but contextually he believes Paul has allegiance in mind (this is a book focused on Paul). As part of this process, he wants us to take a broader view of the salvation process than is generally affirmed by evangelicals. That is, rather than focusing attention solely on the cross (defined in terms of penal substitutionary atonement), he wants to include the resurrection and subsequent enthronement of Jesus. This, he believes is the true gospel.

As I read I found myself struggling with what to do with the book. Bates' primary conversation partners -- the people he feels get this wrong -- are people like John Piper (who emphasizes faith alone) and John McArthur (lordship). In engaging with these folks, he seems to go back in time to the early 1990s when there was this big debate over "lordship salvation." I left that vision of salvation sometime ago, so that debate is not one in which I'm interested in working through. I've moved in a very different direction, one that Bates alludes to without engaging with in any depth (moderate/liberal views). 

The biblical work is helpful. I agree that allegiance to Jesus is central to the Christian faith. I agree as well that the Protestant aversion to works is mistaken. Luther might not have liked James, but especially in this day and age, James is of great value. There seems to be something lacking here and that is the application to our times. When a large portion of white evangelicalism seems attracted to the message of Donald Trump, we need to hear more about what this allegiance entails. Perhaps he would have been wise to engage the Gospels a bit more. He takes note of Jesus's engagement with Isaiah in Luke 4, but what does this good news to the poor entail if the gospel is focused on allegiance? 

Perhaps this will emerge in a later book. I hope so. I think it will find a ready audience within evangelical circles that find the Piper/McArthur debates less than appealing. As for me, I will find sustenance elsewhere.
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