A few days ago, Peter Leithart published a brief summary of Matthew Bates’ book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone. My musings here cannot be a fair rebuttal to Bates, since I have not read his book, and it is really not a rebuttal of Peter’s point either, because he largely limits himself to summarizing what he thinks Bates might be up to. Peter does say that Bates’ “provocative book contributes to a Protestant revision,” indicating that he does believe there is something promising and new here. So I can go as far as this. As far as the summary is representative of a proposed new take, there are reasons to be dubious. This is because a key question is left unaddressed.
Protestants know and affirm that we are justified by faith alone, sola fide. But what is the qualitative nature of the faith that justifies? It is a gift of God, lest any should boast, and this means that the faith involved is the kind of faith that God only ever gives. When a man is justified by faith alone, it is never by a faith that is alone—it is “ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love” (WCF 11.2). In short, justifying faith, a saving gift from the living God, is by definition not dead. Dead faith gets nothing in the stocking but coal. But that ought not to worry us, because God never tried to save any man by giving him dead faith.
So as far as the word allegiance is concerned, there certainly ought to be no problem. For classical Protestants, nothing about this is new. Living faith is certainly qualitatively loyal. The historic Protestant handling of this teaches that the faith that justifies is composed of three elements of knowledge, assent, and trust—notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Fiducia certainly involves loyalty and allegiance. But there is certainly something in this to be wary of.
Allegiance as a qualitative element in the gift of faith that God gives is not problematic. But if this is emphasized while also denying point-in-time justification and the classical, evangelical doctrine of the new birth, an enormous problem is created. Allegiance over time is a difference kettle of fish, a kettle that was not filled up from the catch that Peter hauled up from the right side of the boat. Qualitative allegiance is one thing, and performance allegiance is quite another. Performance allegiance (sanctification) is a fruit of justification, not a root of it. Performance allegiance is nothing other than the perseverance of the saints in holiness. Again, there is nothing new here.
The emphasis in this portion of Peter’s summary is mine.
“Jesus’ life and death was a life and death of utter fidelity to His Father, and the announcement that the faithful Jesus has become King is a summons to respond with fidelity to the God who has given His Son.”
So everything rides on whether justification is punctiliar or not. Are we talking about justification over time? If we are, then the pressing (and suffocating) problem is this. How much fidelity? How far short of Christ’s utter fidelity can I fall, and still have my fidelity recognizably loyal? How much disloyalty in real time (i.e. sins) before my loyalty is just a hypocritical pretense? How much white sand can I put in the sugar bowl before it isn’t a sugar bowl anymore? If we answer this wrong, we have done nothing but clamber back on the medieval merit wheel, where we can run and run hard like so many caged squirrels.
And so this is why the classic doctrine of regeneration is essential. True regeneration is punctiliar, just like the moment of justification. Notice I said moment of justification. At 10:15 am, Murphy is unregenerate and unjustified. At 10:20 am, as measured by William Perkins’ special ordo stopwatch, he is both regenerate and justified. The Holy Spirit quickened him, he repented and believed, and God justified him at that moment, totally and completely.
As long as we have a robust doctrine of conversion, we have no problem seeing that allegiance is an essential part of the gift given at that conversion. Regeneration, justification, and conversion are words that represent different aspects of this moment, but let us put them all under the heading of “getting saved.”
If we look at the faith Murphy exercised in that nano-moment, we see that it necessarily contained the quality of allegiance. How do we know that it contained the quality of allegiance? We know this because it was given by God, and that is the only kind of faith that God ever gives. It was therefore obedient faith before it had done any obeying. It was loyal before any allegiance was displayed in the real world, in real time. It had these qualities inherent in it because it was alive.
If Murphy flakes later, if he apostatizes, if he ends his Christian walk in a giant fireball, then it is absolutely essential that we trace the problem back to his conversion, which we now recognize as spurious. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19).
So, justification by allegiance? Obviously. Justification by allegiance? God forbid.
This raises another question, how far would Leithart have to go towards works based justification before you would say he no longer represents the reformed faith?
And if at 10:20 Perkins were still in the womb, a month-old fetus?
That changes nothing, right?
The quality of the “three elements of knowledge, assent, and trust” — all there?
If one is disposed to believe that infants are saved, they can simply tweak Doug’s formulation to say that knowledge is necessary to salvation for all those who are mentally competent. Hodge, for example, took this route. It seems to me that we should beware of drawing massive theological conclusions from the basis of the salvation of infants. You may be using the salvation of infants to argue for your view now, but wait five minutes and a universalist will be using the salvation of infants to argue for his universalism. But how can you say belief in Christ, of… Read more »
Noah — let’s hear the argument! I say infant salvation is no exception, but the rule. Be innocent as infants. Except you become as one of these. Your implied (at this point) argument requires assent-by-mind, if not by poisoned, spiritually dead mind! How can I say belief is necessary for a fetus? — because belief quality can and does reside in the heart & soul of every infant, and God doesn’t need a microscope to discover the dna of his/her condition. And His needle/probe injecting faith is ever-so delicate and small enough to get in there. But let’s hear some… Read more »
I would be delighted to provide any logic you wish. What—in one sentence—is your question?
More than one question would be required to ferret a syllogism out.
However I am happy to deliver sequential questions.
Let’s start with this one.
What level of cognitive ability provides sufficient capability for the reception of faith?
If that is your question, I have no difficulty answering it: I don’t know.
Why would I need to?
You’ve said “knowledge is necessary” — what would be the content of the knowledge that is necessary?
The simple Gospel. The kind that can be written with a crayon on the back of an envelop and that any mentally competent child can understand. Of course, some people lack any mental competence whatsoever. Unborn infants and those in a coma are traditional examples. In those cases, I freely acknowledge that God may sovereignly save the mentally incompetent apart from the normal means of repentance and faith. Hence, I am open the possibility that all infants who die before they are mentally competent to possess saving faith are nevertheless saved. If this is so, their salvation would constitute a… Read more »
Awesome. We’re getting somewhere.
This simple writable understandable gospel: it consists of one or more propositions?
If so, what are they?
Okay, I’ll play along.
To answer your first question: Let’s say the Gospel consists of multiple propositions.
To answer your second question: You can find some of the key propositions in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
And were those same propositions available to that other earlier namesake Noah?
Okay clever. I had assumed you were asking about salvation in the New Testament era. Quite obviously, Noah Sr. could not have been called upon to believe events that had not yet occurred.
Since you seem to be some form of inclusivist, here’s one for you:
According to the book of Acts, Cornelius was “a devout man…who feared God with all his household, gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually” (10:2).
Question: Was Cornelius saved before Peter came and preached the Gospel to him?
Fair question but I was rolling the train home so if I may, let me first get the million dollar last couple questions to you:
How is salvation accomplished after one is presented with those propositions? —
Let’s assume they are properly understood by the hearer and validity/veracity is agreed to.
What also must occur?
If you say he must then have ”faith”, then tell how he does that?
Is it a request he must generate toward God, asking to be included among the saved?
Well, if it is the million dollar question, you’ll have to forgive me for not being able to give a million dollars worth of answer in a comments thread.
For starters, faith seems to involve, in addition to knowledge, assent and trust. That is the definition of saving faith, a crisply as I can give it.
If you’re looking for a full deep dive on why Reformed theologians use the knowledge-assent-trust definition of faith, I’d be happy to point you to some longer works. But I sense you are well-read on this issue.
Dear Noah — I was going with million dollar to signal that this might be where the crux of the matter lies. Now you’ve said that once a person gets introduced to some critically important propositions, they must take that information and “involve” it somehow with their assent and trust. If you could linger a bit on this, can you tell me how it can be that a person at war with God comes to the point where she, now given some info about what God is up to, puts down her arms and assents and trusts in her former… Read more »
Are you familiar with the doctrine of regeneration?
Could you explain it in layman’s terms vis-a-vis the previous questions?
Specifically is the agent of regeneration dependent upon the amount or type of knowledge the receiver possess? Or their consent?
The logic of Romans 10 is that to be saved you need to hear the gospel and believe in order to be saved.
That is what we know. It at least applies to those who are able-minded. If you want to carve out an exception for babies, it wouldn’t overturn what we are told in Romans 10.
We have no clear statement for infant salvation.
Hi geoff — thanks for your contribution to the thread — You say Romans 10 informs you that we, the able-minded, need to hear the gospel and believe in order to be saved? Can you tell in layman’s terms how the able-minded are able to “believe in” the information/propositions they hear? Our friend Noah above says we must take this info that we heard and combine it with assent (presumably agreement) plus trust (presumably acceptance of and love for the offering party = God). Do you take the position that we who were once enemies of God accomplish this transition… Read more »
To clarify: Neither I nor any Reformed theologian I have read hold that saving faith consists, in the believer’s experience, of three successive psychological states: knowledge, trust, and assent. Rather, the one act of faith always involves simultaneously these three elements.
I think we’ve exhausted what we can profitably cover in three paragraph comments. (And apologies to our host Doug for getting a bit off topic here.) If you want more, read John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Your questions are good but deserve long, detailed answers—which my schedule and this medium preclude.
Sorry to exhaust you.
Whether consecutive or simultaneous, the “act” of faith you’ve been promoting has been what you’ve supposed an informed unbeliever produces.
Better to say it is what the Spirit generates, independent of any capacity of the recipient.
And therefore neither fetal or Alzheimer state is a change of the rule of how God saves.
@PerfectHold:disqus Not exhausting at all. The conversation has been interesting. I’m just acknowledging that these issues are deep and your questions are good. So I can’t give as full an answer as I would if we were chatting over coffee.
I think you’ve accurately portrayed the difference between us: I believe that, except for possible exceptions in cases of mental incompetence, informed faith is necessary for salvation. You believe, if I’m following you correctly, that a person may be saved through Holy Spirit-regeneration in the absence of such informed faith.
Faith, given by Spirit, alone, yes.
And if you hold to two ways to God — the above for infants and yours for the rest,
What does that say about God’s justice?
I emphatically do not hold that there are two ways to God for those who are mentally competent. As Paul makes rather clear in Romans 10:13-15, the rule is that without informed faith salvation is impossible. I simply hold that God would be within his rights to make exception to this rule and save infants without faith in the normal sense. For this reason, I affirm the possibility of infant salvation. I have no problem acknowledging that the eternal state of the four siblings I lost before birth is a divine mystery. I do not know what God has done… Read more »
Given God is “within His rights” to save uninformed unfaithful infants, would He (hypothetically, of course) also be within His rights to save, say, an aged Mayan in Guatemala in 100AD?
Good question. There’s some debate among Reformed theologians here. But let’s just say arguendo that God would be within his rights to save the Mayan in Guatemala in 100AD apart from an informed faith. Let’s also say, just to make it fun, that he would be within his rights to save every third person born except those who wear green hats, all bakers, and anyone whose favorite candy is licorice. Let’s leave to one side whether this is actually the case. But just for the sake of a good time, let’s pretend it is. Now, where does this get us?… Read more »
You keep excluding faith?!
Faith is not dependent upon information.
Or age or ability.
In fact, its reception occurs always in opposition to whatever holds an infant or Mayan or you in bondage.
Faith is never chosen.
That’s an interesting claim. What are the top two or three passages that lead you to this conclusion?
I know of no passages that allow faithlessness.
All passages recognize or presume it.
I’m referring to your claim that “faith is not dependent on information.” What are the two or three top passages that convinced you that saving faith does not require any information?
Because I think you favor the New Testament, here are a couple from that area. Faith tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of knowledge one has the ability to acquire. Bring a little child before Jesus and what does he say about faith potential in one of that knowledge base? Nicodemus knew quite well where Jesus was going when he said one had to be born again. What? And do nothing with all of this knowledge? Go back to the fetal stage and there get on the road to New Life? Both cases are references to the work… Read more »
Okay, I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t some text in defense of your position I was missing.
Thank you for a pleasant conversation. I will now stop hogging Pastor Wilson’s comments section.
For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. — Psalm 51:3-5 The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth. – Psalm 58:3 Infants are just as much in need of a savior as anyone born of Adam and Eve. None of us is born outside of the… Read more »
maybe a little category confusion —
When one says God “needs” to inject faith first — this is not a statement of what He “needs” or first requires out of some dependency.
It is more rather like saying God “needs” to die for our sins before He can let us in — it is a statement about the nature of things that reflects how He is.
God needs to inject faith because that’s how He works.
Having faith is what reflects who He is and what He does.
(Andrew, husband of Wendy) Infants in Christian households hear the gospel from conception onward (right?). Now, do the Bible doctrine (not the Baptist assumption) of infant capacity. Hint: was Jesus ever an unbeliever? When did He get saved? He’s normal; the rest of us are weird.
Hi Andrew of Wendy!
How does what iiCh (infants in Christian households) hear differ from what iiUh (infants in Unbeliever households) hear?
“So, justification by allegiance? Obviously. Justification by allegiance? God forbid.”
I though I was with you through this, Pastor Wilson, but something just went over my head.
hold for correction
(probably “Justification WITH allegiance … or … by faith)
Thanks, PH. I thought I had suddenly lost the ability to think.
I think Doug is showing that the prep ‘by’ can be used pretty loosely. Kinda like you can find 10 different renderings of ‘ἐν’, such as ‘in’, ‘by’, ‘with’, etc.
Chris, are you advocating an exegesis of Wilson’s writing utilizing an examination of it in the original Greek?
Ha! Just trying for the life of me to make sense of that last sentence myself.
He seems to be saying that the statement is fine, as long as we have a right idea of what allegiance is.
Maybe it’s this: the first sentence has a small “j” and the second sentence has a capital “J”.
That is because the second J is the beginning of the sentence and Wilson wrote “So” at the beginning of the first. I am confused myself.
Maybe he means, “Justification by the allegiance God gives us as a gift? Obviously. Justification by the allegiance we generate by our own efforts? God forbid.”
That would seem to make sense.
Sorta like Proverbs 26:4 and Proverbs 26:5. The statement is either completely true or completely untrue, depending what you mean by it.
Good one, Dunsworth. I think the point of the contrast in Proverbs 26:4 & 5 is that being in the presence of a fool is a Catch 22. No good can come of it, so the best course of action is to vacate the area or (better yet) avoid it in the first place.
I don’t think that’s what Wilson meant here.
I don’t think it’s entirely that. That’s certainly part of it, but I think the point is also that the response depends on the details of the situation.
Okay, I’m with you on that. I still don’t know what Wilson meant, though.
I think it simply summarizes the post. There is a sense in which justification is by allegiance, and there is a sense in which believing that is deadly. You have to get it right, not just use it like a slogan that explains everything by itself.
Is it not the same as saying “are we are saved by works? Obviously. Are we saved works? God forbid.”It is Christ works that saves the same as it is Christ allegiance that justifies!
Edwards calls “Performance allegiance” “evangelical obedience” and says that Evangelical obediences are also exercises of justifying faith.
Hoe much disloyalty in real time will God accept? He tells us to keep accepting disloyal brothers who ask for forgiveness Seventy Times Seven. If thats’ what we should I accept I suppose God will accept more.
is this hypothetical disobedient alliegant person never apologizing? Never repenting?
Jesus seems to say a single grain of fidelity in a sandjar can move a mountain.
Loved the image of sand in the sugar jar. A teaspoon of sugar in your coffee that contained even one grain of sand would be very noticeable when you got to that last sip.
So, ‘simul justus et peccator” doesn’t work? Or can’t I say, along with Paul “it is no longer I who do it, but sin working in me, that is my flesh”
I believe the image is meant to illustrate where we would be if we had to rely on the purity of our own works for justification. Hence, Paul’s lengthy discussions on how we cannot be saved by the law–and Wilson’s sentence following the sugar bowl/sand imagery.
“If we answer this wrong, we have done nothing but clamber back on the medieval merit wheel, where we can run and run hard like so many caged squirrels.”
The effort is not in doing meritorious works, the effort is in remaining faithful.
What’s the difference?
“Caged squirrels” vs. caged Hampsters? ; – )
Faithfulness relates to allegiance. Obeying rules to get into the kingdom is not the same.
How does one demonstrate allegiance?
Faithfulness in word, and obedience
Agreed. And, there is also a whole sermon in taking up one’s cross daily, all the while rejoicing in the suffering, persecution, and sand in the sugar bowl.
Where is Randman when you need him to bring up the “bronze age” merit wheel?
; – )
Man, medieval gets all the dis-credit!
Rand is probably online somewhere arguing that 15 ridiculous felony charges was just in this case:
11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.
Looks like Dave will have to wait a bit longer for his Pulitzer Prize and Profile in Courage! ; -)
Sadly, our host can be just as biased about medieval theology as Randman was.
The second to the last paragraph is key.
I totally agree with all of this, but “salvation by allegiance alone” doesn’t necessarily mean “justification over time” or a denial of grace through faith salvation. However, the point may be that saying something like this begs that important question on justification. I think I have to agree with that.
If Murphy flakes later, if he apostatizes, if he ends his Christian walk in a giant fireball, then it is absolutely essential that we trace the problem back to his conversion, which we now recognize as spurious. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19) And those who are not “of us” were never true New Covenant members either, even though they… Read more »
I think Heb. 6:4-6 helps. Those true, baptized covenant members “…who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit…” etc. yet have “fallen away” are those Doug is talking about here.
I may have more to say later, but for now I’d invite you to read my and katecho’s back and forth on this in a previous blog post:
Starting with where we agree. Living faith is certainly qualitatively loyal. Yes. Performance allegiance (sanctification) is a fruit of justification. Yes. Then comes the question: How much fidelity? How far short of Christ’s utter fidelity can I fall, and still have my fidelity recognizably loyal? How much disloyalty in real time (i.e. sins) before my loyalty is just a hypocritical pretense? How much white sand can I put in the sugar bowl before it isn’t a sugar bowl anymore? If we answer this wrong, It is not the answer that we must avoid getting wrong, it is that the question… Read more »
So much woolly thinking as usual when it comes to this subject. As it was in the first century, *public* allegiance in profession and baptism (with all the risks that entailed) was considered to be *evidence* of salvation. You have to believe that the King exists BEFORE you can swear by Him. If you swear and then trample that oath (His name) underfoot as worthless, then you never believed. Dying and rising in baptism (via immersion, which, you know, actually looks like a burial – if only you guys were as persnickety about baptism as you were about the details… Read more »
And what is a primary problem for ya’ll?
Did anyone else click on this for the climbing photo, or was it just me?… No?
Thomas Schreiner basically says the same thing in the article for the Gospel Coalition. Good to hear. Sounds like Bates is arguing for a watered down version of NPP; and I’ve had my suspicions of Leithart and crew for awhile.
I just read that Mr. Bates’ book is forwarded by Dr. Scot McKnight. That fact alone says plenty. Talk about allegiances…
I think this issue troubles me with friends who have bad theology (unorthodox) but good practice (orthopraxy).
That is not unusual in this age because so many have been fed all kinds of heresies mainly centered on universalism or eliminating all or some of the miraculous in scripture. Some of these folks are building their lives on the rock of Christ’s teachings even though they say they don’t believe what the Bible says. So are they doomed?
Thanks for this.