Theological Formation: Probing Cultural Christianity — On Not Hoping for Heaven

Part of what it means to grow as Christians who love the Lord with all our minds is to be constantly reflecting on our beliefs about God, our selves, and the world in light of what we are learning from our study of Scripture, tradition, and reason. Over the following three posts, I will demonstrate some ways that my theological formation has probed the assumptions of cultural Christianity, challenging some of my earlier thoughts about the Christian faith. 

Example #1: Heaven: What About Life After Death?

I grew up believing that the goal of Christianity was for me to make it to heaven. This life and this world didn’t really matter that much, in light of the fact that heaven was my true home. As the classic hymn “How Great Thou Art” puts it:

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation /

And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart.

After all, Chris Tomlin was keen to teach me, this planet was going to be consigned to the trash heap of the universe anyway:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine /

But God, who called me here below, will be forever mine.

(Side note: when I worked through this topic with some of my students, they were more troubled by the notion of God being “forever mine.” Fair enough: the individual and consumerist resonances are there.)

And, to make sure I got the point, the old spiritual “I’ll Fly Away” made the dualism more explicit:

Some bright morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away /

To that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away, oh glory, I’ll fly away in the morning /

When I die, Hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away.

When the shadows of this life have gone, I’ll fly away /

Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly, I’ll fly away.

My body, this earth — it’s a prison, and the goal is for my soul to fly away to a disembodied eternity.

The problem with all of this, of course, is it is not attentive to what Scripture actually says (or the testimony of historical theology, but we need not even go that far afield to fix this one). In his Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright demolished this idea and convinced me of my need for a more nuanced theological method. The notion of our disembodied souls spending eternity with God in heaven is, he made clear, derived from Platonism and not the world of ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

Rather, Wright points out, orthodox Christianity has always spoken of the bodily resurrection as part of God’s new creation. Christ’s resurrection is a sign and a promise of what God will do for us and for the whole world (cf. 1 Cor 15). Heaven, then, is better understood as a realm or reality intersecting our own in any number of significant ways, rather than some place that is spatially far off. Indeed, when Christ returns, heaven and earth will become one (as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer), and He will make our bodies like His own (cf. Phil 3:20-21). 

So what happens when you die but before you are resurrected? The Bible in fact has much less to say about this so-called “intermediate state,” a temporary place of restful happiness with the Lord (note the Bible does not use the word “heaven” for this) until we are resurrected to share with God’s work in the new creation (cf. Rev 21-22). The practical consequence of all this is that the work that we do in this life and in this world is actually bringing forth, into the present, God’s ultimate renewal of all things. More careful attention to what Scripture actually says, rather than what popular Christianity often presents, would have clarified this for me and been the basis of a more nuanced theological method.

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Theological Formation: Sources of Authority in the Anglican Tradition

I was recently ordained to the diaconate in the Anglican Church in North America, and as a way of connecting my own spiritual journey with my study of the church fathers, I’d like to share a few thoughts on how my theological method has evolved from a more simplistic “me and my Bible” approach to the path of theological formation that I am walking today.

Theological formation is the process of shaping our minds to “think Christianly” about God, ourselves, and the world around us. Most of us uncritically hold some beliefs and reject others without any articulated theological method by which to discern what we believe to be true. In the Anglican tradition, there are three sources of authority by which we approach the task of theology: scripture, tradition, and reason. The image of a “three-legged stool,” popularly (but probably incorrectly) attributed to Richard Hooker (d. 1600), suggests that these three need to be kept in balance with one another; this is typical of the Anglican via media that tries to balance Catholic and Protestant approaches to theology.

Source #1: Scripture

In a largely evangelical Protestant context, we don’t need to be convinced of the centrality of the Bible for our theological method. We know, after all, that the Bible is the Word of the Lord, inspired by God, containing everything we need for salvation, and our primary source or “norming norm” for theology and ethical behavior. That being said, we do at times run the risk of constructing our theology on a wobbly one-legged stool. Christian Smith criticizes evangelical “biblicism” for failing to take into account the reality of “pervasive interpretive pluralism,” which is his way of saying that (as has been true through all of Christian history) all differences of opinion and even heresies claim in their own way to be “biblical.” To put it another way, when sola scriptura becomes nuda scriptura, our stool is about to collapse under the weight of our own idiosyncratic interpretations.

How, then, do we read the Bible well? At minimum, we need to avoid proof-texting and other forms of eisegesis (reading our own culture and views back into the text). A good approach to biblical interpretation is to examine the historical, cultural, and canonical context of the passage at hand in order to find what the original author meant (invest in some good commentaries!). We would of course do well to draw on humbly listening to tradition and reason to help guide our readings (see below), to allow ourselves to be shaped by the reading of Scripture in the worship of the Church, and to remember that a truly Christian reading of the Old Testament takes into account the authorial intent of its ultimate Author, the Holy Spirit, so that Christ becomes the “hermeneutical key” for understanding it.

When we turn to the question of application, shifting from asking “what Scripture means” to “what Scripture means for us,” I have been helped immensely by N.T. Wright’s “five-act” hermeneutic detailed in his Scripture and the Authority of God. Scripture is not a set of “timeless truths” or “inspiring ideas”; rather, the Bible has an underlying structure that can help us make sense of how to apply the Bible. For Wright, we live in the fifth act of a play, and as such are in continuity and discontinuity with previous acts (Creation-Fall-Israel-Jesus-Church). The New Testament is thus viewed as the foundation for this ongoing fifth act; “the first scene is non-negotiable, and remains the standard by which the various improvisations of subsequent scenes are to be judged.” Thus, “our task is to discover, through the Spirit and prayer, the appropriate ways of improvising the script between the foundation events and charter, on the one hand, and the complete coming of the Kingdom on the other.”  

Source #2: Tradition

In our context, which tends to view the Protestant Reformation as the retrieval of “true New Testament Christianity” (as if everything between the New Testament and the Reformation was all a giant mistake), we are naturally skeptical of tradition. But the importance of tradition can be seen in the simple fact that for the first centuries of Christianity, there was no set New Testament; rather, the teachings of the apostles was handed down from generation to generation of church leaders. It was only in the fourth century that the canon of the New Testament was fixed, with the books chosen for inclusion selected in large part on the basis of their alignment with this apostolic rule of faith. The importance of tradition can further be seen in the fact that certain core doctrines, such as the Trinity, are not explicitly present in Scripture (though they can be deduced from it). Thus, though Scripture remains “first among equals” as a source for theology, we cannot rightly interpret Scripture apart from tradition.

A helpful, albeit oversimplified, test of whether something is in line with church tradition is to apply the Vincentian Canon (attributed to Vincent of Lerins, d. 445), which defined the catholic faith as “what is believed everywhere, always, and by all.” As helpfully articulated by Lancelot Andrewes (d. 1626): “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period — the centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after — determine the boundary of our faith.” Thus, with respect to tradition the weight of emphasis falls on the patristic period, with the creeds of Nicaea (325) and Chalcedon (451) representing the most important summaries of early Christian theology.

Source #3: Reason

We are called to love the Lord our God with all of our minds, and therefore we don’t need to be afraid to include reason, rightly understood, in our theological process. As with tradition, reason does not trump Scripture; rather, reason can be understood as guiding our contemporary application of Scripture and tradition. The idea of “reason” is difficult in our postmodern context of “individual truth,” but to the extent that God has created us as rational beings, we are called to critically apply our minds to the project of making the truths of Christianity (revealed in Scripture and tradition) known and relevant today.

For Richard Hooker, the need for reason came about in response to the Puritan belief that since Scripture alone was authoritative, only those practices explicitly authorized by Scripture should be allowed into the worship of the church. Hooker argued instead that because human society is always evolving, the church must also adapt accordingly to new circumstances, and this evolution must be guided by reason as guided by Scripture and tradition.


Whereas Roman Catholicism views tradition as equal to Scripture as sources of authority, and while radical Protestantism regards Scripture as the only source of authority, Anglicanism seeks a third way: Scripture is the ultimate, unique, and supreme source of authority, but where Scripture is silent or unclear, tradition and reason can help us rightly interpret the biblical text.

Next time: how does this method work itself out with respect to some important theological issues?

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Book Announcement: How the Spirit Became God

I’m excited to share with you readers that I am under contract and currently in the process of writing a new book, provisionally titled How the Spirit Became God: Biblical Interpretation and the Birth of Pneumatology. In this book, I aim to make more accessible some of the insights concerning the development of early Christian pneumatology that I began to explore in The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. The title is a play on Bart Ehrman’s famous book How Jesus Became God and seeks to explain the historical process by which the Holy Spirit came to be recognized as the third person of the Trinity (thus, I am not suggesting that there was a time when the Spirit was not God; rather, it’s a matter of the Spirit being acknowledged as such).

Much more to come!

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OnScript Podcast, feat. Bates and Hughes

The good folks over at the OnScript podcast have posted an interview they recently recorded with yours truly on my 2018 book, The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. It’s a wide-ranging and sometimes shocking interview with host Matthew W. Bates (I believe at one time I sing some lines from the children’s television program Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, so that’s worth the price of admission right there). Check it out here!

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The Works of Justin Martyr

Note: As a service to fellow researchers, I am going to post summaries of the works of the church fathers I examined in my book The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. These sections were included in my original dissertation but were cut from the published version. Original footnotes are included as endnotes below; in conjunction with the essential bibliographies and critical biographies I have posted, this should help those looking to get into the literature on the early church fathers. I have been struck by how many published sources read the primary sources with a fairly uncritical lens; in these summaries, like any good historian, refuse to take primary sources at face value. 

The Works of Justin Martyr

Eusebius lists eight works he ascribes to Justin: two apologies, five additional (non-extant) treatises, and the Dialogue with Trypho.[1] The first apology listed by Eusebius is almost certainly what we know as 1 Apology, the earliest of Justin’s extant writings. This apologetic writing, as Eusebius notes, is directed to the emperor Antoninus Pius and the philosophers Verissimus and Lucius.[2] This defense of the Christian faith, most likely intended for a non-Christian Roman audience, appeals for justice, refutes spurious charges by Christianity’s opponents, and presents the basics of the Christian faith.[3]

The short document that scholars refer to as 2 Apology presents more of a problem, as the second apology listed by Eusebius was said to be addressed to Antoninus Verus (that is, Marcus Aurelius, 161–180 CE), which does not match what we know of 2 Apol., a document neither addressed to this emperor nor even a complete, independent work in its own right. As such, most scholars have argued that 2 Apol. is in fact an appendix to its lengthier predecessor.[4] More recently, however, Denis Minns and Paul Parvis have claimed that 2 Apol. is in fact a collection of unrelated fragments, thus envisioning Justin as a writer who “kept tinkering with his original apology, adapting it and perhaps expanding it” even while keeping notes for quick reference during his public debates.[5] In any event, the major concerns of this document are to respond to recent injustices that had occurred in Rome under the prefect Urbicus and to the claims of the aforementioned Crescens.[6] In light of the internal evidence of these texts, most scholars date both Apologies to the years 151–155 CE.[7]

Justin’s only other authentic, extant work is his Dialogue with Trypho. This lengthy writing purports to record a debate lasting two days between Justin and a Jew named Trypho in which Justin seeks to convince Trypho that Christianity is the true philosophy and that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.[8] While the text suggests that this debate happened shortly after the end of the Bar Kochba revolt (ca. 135 CE),[9] most scholars, on account of Dial.’s quotations from 1 Apol., date Dial. after 1 Apol. to ca. 160 CE, while Justin was in Rome.[10] The work is addressed to a Marcus Pompey,[11] though the most common modern scholarly position is that this work was written to a group of Gentiles considering becoming Jewish proselytes.[12] Another strand of scholarship has argued, however, that Dial. was also intended for a combined Jewish and Christian audience in light of purported missionary activity between the two communities during this time.[13] However, we must bear in mind that at this time Judaism and Christianity in many places existed side-by-side, with the boundaries between the two not always sharply defined. As Daniel Boyarin has plausibly insisted, the more sharply defined borders that emerged as early as the late first century were “constructed and imposed” in a complex process of mutual self-definition that transformed somewhat socially differentiated groups into what we now think of as distinct religious communities.[14] As such, it is likely that the best lens by which to read Dial. is one in which Justin is actively engaged in publicly constructing a Christian identity that is distinct from that of the Judaism that he believes to be a threat and competitor to his adopted faith.[15]

Complicating all scholarly study of Justin is the fact that his writings are preserved (alongside other writings falsely attributed to Justin at a later time) in a single manuscript, Paris 450, which dates to September 11, 1363.[16] Not only does this manuscript show evidence of a corrupt text,[17] but there are several major lacunae of uncertain length.[18] The standard critical edition of 1–2 Apol. is that of Charles Munier (2006), while the standard critical edition of Dial. is that of Miroslav Marcovich (1997).[19]

[1] Hist. eccl. 4.18 (SC 31:195–97).

[2] Cf. 1 Apol. 1.1 (SC 507:126); see Minns and Parvis, Justin, 34–41, on the formal addressees of this work.

[3] Barnard, Justin Martyr, 14–17. Minns and Parvis (Justin, 44) take Justin’s primary purpose for writing to be petitioning for relief from unjust Roman persecution of Christians, but note that 1 Apol. could also be useful for winning and instructing new converts (Justin, 46). See Minns and Parvis, Justin, 46–54, for an extensive plan of 1 Apol.

[4] So, e.g., Chadwick, “Justin’s Defence,” 277–78; Osborn (Justin Martyr, 11) sees 2 Apol. as an appendix to the first edition of 1 Apol.; Barnard (Justin Martyr, 18) also sees 2 Apol. as a supplement to 1 Apol. that was “called into existence by a specific injustice.” So also Rokéah, Justin Martyr and the Jews, 2; Allert, Revelation, 32 n. 143; Miroslav Marcovich, Iustini Martyris Apologiae pro Christianis, PTS 38 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1994), 8–11. On the history of scholarship concerning the problem of 2 Apol., see Minns and Parvis, Justin, 21–24.

[5] Minns and Parvis, Justin, 27­–28. They also suggest that, for codicological reasons, 2 Apol. 14–15 (SC 507:364–68) should in fact be placed at the end of 1 Apol. (Justin, 28–31). On the issue of how to classify 2 Apol., see further Paul Parvis, “Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: The Posthumous Creation of the Second Apology,” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds, ed. Sara Parvis and Paul Foster (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 22–37.

[6] Minns and Parvis, Justin, 54­–56.

[7] Barnard, Justin Martyr, 19; Allert, Revelation, 34; Osborn, Justin Martyr, 8; Marcovich, Apologiae pro Christianis, 8–11. Minns and Parvis (Justin, 44) more narrowly specify that they were written in 153 or 154 CE. Rokéah (Justin Martyr and the Jews, 2) dates them later, in 155 CE.

[8] The extent to which Dial. reflects an actual conversation between Justin and Trypho is an open question, though I agree with Barnard’s solution (Justin Martyr, 23–24), which finds some historical basis in an actual debate with Trypho ca. 132–135 CE that Justin subsequently expanded and reworked ca. 160. This in turn raises the question of the identity of the “historical Trypho,” of whom we can say little with confidence apart from that he is almost certainly not to be identified with Justin’s contemporary Rabbi Tarphon; cf. Barnard, Justin Martyr, 24; Osborn, Justin Martyr, 12–13; Demetrius C. Trakatellis, “Justin Martyr’s Trypho,” HTR 79 (1986): 289–97. On Trypho’s Judaism, see Allert, Revelation, 84–87. Going a step beyond what most scholars seem prepared to accept, Timothy J. Horner posits the existence of a so-called “Trypho Text,” from which we can deduce the character of Trypho and relate him to second-century Judaism in Asia Minor; see Timothy J. Horner, “Listening to Trypho”: Justin Martyr’s Dialogue Reconsidered, CBET 28 (Leuven: Peeters, 2001).

[9] Dial. 1.3 (PTS 47:70).

[10] So Barnard, Justin Martyr, 23; Rokéah, Justin Martyr, 2. Osborn (Justin Martyr 8) proposes 155–160 CE; Allert (Revelation, 34) thinks any date betweeen 155–167 CE is equally plausible.

[11] Dial. 141.5 (PTS 47:313); cf. Dial. 8.3 (PTS 47:85).

[12] See, e.g., Jon Nilson, “To Whom is Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho Addressed?” TS 38 (1977): 538–46; Miroslav Marcovich, Iustini Martyris Dialogus cum Tryphone, PTS 47; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1997), 64–65; Oskar Skarsaune, The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition—Text-Type, Provenance, Theological Profile, NovTSup56 (Leiden: Brill, 1987), 258–59. Older scholarship tended to maintain that Dial. was written to Gentile Christians; cf. Chadwick, “Justin’s Defence,” 278; Barnard, Justin Martyr, 24 n. 1.

[13] See, e.g., Theodore Stylianopoulos, Justin Martyr and the Mosaic Law, SBLDS 20 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1972), 10–20, 169–95; Allert, Revelation, 37–61; Rokéah, Justin Martyr, 6–11. For still another view of the audience of Dial., see Charles H. Cosgrove, “Justin Martyr and the Emerging New Testament Canon: Observations on the Purpose and Destination of the Dialogue with Trypho,” VC 36 (1982): 209–32, esp. 217–18, who argues for an exclusively Christian destination.

[14] Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, Divinations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 1–2. This view is thus distinct from the traditional notion of the “parting of the ways,” which presupposes the preexistence of these two discrete religious entities.

[15] This is not to say that Justin did not have multiple audiences in mind as he composed Dial., which I believe to be almost certain. Still, Boyarin and other recent works on early Christianity have rightly stressed the need to take this process of self-definition seriously, as opposed to simply accepting that the way that Justin and other apologists presented the world was an accurate representation of reality.

[16] Goodenough (Theology of Justin Martyr, 80), notes the existence of some checks on Paris 450 in the form of later quotations and an independent fragment of 1 Apol. 65–67 contained in Codex Ottobonianus Graecus 274, which dates to the fifteenth century. Concerning the physical characteristics of this manuscript and an argument for its original provenance (Mistra or Constantinople), see Minns and Parvis, Justin, 3­–5. There is also one complete manuscript of the Apologies, Codex Phillipicus 3081, but this is widely recognized to be an apograph of Paris 450 (Minns and Parvis, Justin, 6).

[17] According to Minns and Parvis (Justin, 19–21), the scribe of Paris 450 was himself using a damaged manuscript and thus often had to resort to contextual guesswork to fill in the gaps. Cf. Osborn, Justin Martyr, 12.

[18] Perhaps the most notorious are the presumably very lengthy lacunae after Dial. 74.3 (PTS 47:198) and in 2 Apol. 2 (SC 507:326). Allert (Revelation, 34) suggests that the introductory dedication that would have preceded Dial. has been lost. On the ancestor of Paris 415 as a “leaf-shedding manuscript,” see again Minns and Parvis, Justin, 28–31. On the transmission of Justin’s writings, see further Marcovich, Dialogus cum Tryphone, 1–7; idem, Apologiae pro Christianis, 1–8.

[19] Charles Munier, Justin: Apologie pour les chrétiens, SC 507 (Paris: Cerf, 2006). The paucity of manuscripts of Justin’s writings means that critical editions are very consistent from one to another.

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Tertullian: A Critical Biography

Note: As a service to fellow researchers, I am going to post critical biographies of the church fathers I examined in my book The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. These biographical overviews were included in my original dissertation but were cut from the published version. Original footnotes are included as endnotes below; in conjunction with the essential bibliographies I have posted, this should help those looking to get into the literature on the early church fathers. I have been struck by how many published sources read the primary sources with a fairly uncritical lens; in these summaries, like any good historian, refuse to take primary sources at face value. 

Tertullian: A Critical Biography

As with Irenaeus, much of Tertullian’s life is cloaked in mystery. While ancient sources give a fair amount of details concerning the life of Tertullian, modern scholars have judged these to be largely unreliable for reconstructing his biography.[1] Among the ancient sources, the most complete account of the life of Tertullian is provided by Jerome in his On Illustrious Men. In this work, written in Bethlehem ca. 392 or 393 CE, Jerome provides a brief biographical sketch of Tertullian, noting that he was born to a proconsular centurion (centurio proconsularis) and became a priest and a prolific writer in the African city of Carthage during the reigns of Severus (193–211 CE) and Caracalla (198–217 CE). It was at some time in this period, Jerome asserts, that Tertullian lapsed into Montanism, a heresy which brought him into conflict with the catholics until his death in old age.[2] Eusebius, for his part, portrays Tertullian as an expert in Roman law, and in fact one of the most distinguished jurists in all of Rome.[3] Beginning with the groundbreaking work of Timothy Barnes, however, most scholars have come to accept that most of these details are likely false, and as such we must begin by deconstructing these elements of the traditional portrayal of the life of Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus.[4]

While Jerome seems to have the date and location of Tertullian’s ministry correct, the other aspects of his account of Tertullian’s early life are at best speculation or at worst contradictory to Tertullian’s own statements.[5] In Jerome’s favor, the frequent, familiar references to Carthage in Tertullian’s extant writings demonstrate that he indeed spent the height of his literary career in that city,[6] and Barnes’s dating of Tertullian’s extant works to the period 196 to 212 CE confirms Jerome’s identification of the reigns of Severus and Caracalla as the peak of Tertullian’s literary production.[7] Beyond this, things become more problematic. For instance, Jerome’s claim that Tertullian was the son of a Roman centurion appears to have been an incorrect deduction based on a textual corruption.[8] Likewise, Jerome’s insistence that Tertullian was a priest is contradicted by Tertullian’s own claim that he was a member of the laity,[9] and his contention that Tertullian made a decisive break from the catholic church is increasingly met with scholarly skepticism (see below). Eusebius’s claim that Tertullian was a famous Roman jurist has also been disproven, with Eusebius likely having conflated our Tertullian with a famous Roman jurist by the same name.[10] As a result of this deconstruction, the most scholars can now say with confidence concerning Tertullian’s early life is that he was born to a non-Christian family ca. 160–170 CE,[11] was highly educated and thus a member of the Carthaginian elite, and was married.[12]

Much more, thankfully, is known about the city of Carthage and the early Christian movement there, allowing us to set Tertullian and his writings into historical context. After being razed by the Romans in 146 BCE following the conclusion of the Punic Wars, Carthage was rebuilt by Caesar Augustus, becoming by Tertullian’s day the largest and most prosperous city in the western half of the empire with the exception of Rome itself.[13] Whatever the origins of Christianity in North Africa, Christianity quickly spread, presumably from Carthage, across the cities of North Africa. [14] Over time, the Christians of North Africa came to develop distinctive beliefs and rituals,[15] and it is in this context that we can best understand Tertullian.[16]

Our first tangible glimpse into the Carthaginian church comes through surviving martyrdom accounts that illuminate the distinctive nature of African Christianity. In the Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs (180 CE), twelve commoners from the nearby village of Scilli are brought before the Roman governor in Carthage and interrogated concerning their Christian beliefs.[17] When they refuse to offer devotion to the emperor’s genius, the governor has them beheaded. Likewise, in The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (203 CE), we have the record of several Carthaginians who were arrested on account of their profession of faith in Christ. This group cuts across social classes, encompassing both slaves and the nobly born Vibia Perpetua, whose prison diary makes up most of the text; all are martyred before a great crowd in the city’s amphitheater.[18] These accounts testify to the eagerness for martyrdom among Christians in North Africa as well as the existence of at least sporadic, local persecutions that gave rise to these martyrdoms.[19] The latter text is also of particular importance as scholars have found within it evidence of Montanism, the same theological movement with which Jerome had associated Tertullian and his purported break from the catholic church.[20]

Montanism, an anachronistic term for the religious movement better known in Tertullian’s day as the New Prophecy,[21] exploded out of Phrygia ca. 165 CE under the leadership of Montanus, whose ecstatic prophecies (along with those of his two female companions, Priscilla and Maximilla) gave birth to what William Tabbernee characterizes as “a prophetic renewal movement informed by the Holy Spirit.”[22] This movement was charismatic, insofar as its adherents claimed to be inspired by the Paraclete, rigorous, insofar as its members rejected the notion of penitence for post-baptismal sin and insisted on an ascetic lifestyle, and possibly also chiliastic, insofar as its followers may have awaited the arrival of the heavenly Jerusalem and the millennial reign of Christ on the earth.[23] Despite earning the condemnation of the Asian churches, the Montanist movement won adherents throughout Asia Minor and beyond;[24] eventually, the New Prophecy reached Carthage and began to spread across North Africa.[25]

This brings us, finally, back to Jerome’s biography of Tertullian. Jerome seems to suggest that Tertullian made a decisive break from the catholic church, joining with a distinct Montanist sect and launching rhetorical assaults on his former co-religionists. While Tertullian’s writings do indeed show evidence of a deepening attraction to the teachings of the New Prophecy (see below), Jerome again has likely read too much into the life of Tertullian. Simply because Tertullian’s writings are heavily influenced by the New Prophecy, there is no concrete evidence that he actually left the catholic church or formally joined a schismatic group identical to that which was later termed “Montanism.” Instead, there could have been considerable diversity in the beliefs and practices of the Carthaginian Christians without there having been a formal rupture of communion.[26] Tertullian, therefore, very likely saw himself not as a member of a schismatic movement but as a loyal, “orthodox” member of the catholic church; he was, perhaps, a member of a group within the church that had some heated disagreements with others within the church who were less rigorous about their faith and practice, his so-called psychici.[27] As such, as Christine Trevett has aptly put it, “Tertullian the Montanist was Tertullian the Montanist catholic.”[28] Assuming Augustine’s claim that Tertullian later left the Montanists to form a still more rigorous sect to be apocryphal,[29] little is known about Tertullian’s later life or the date of his death, though Barnes’s suggestion that Tertullian died, potentially as a martyr, shortly after completing the last of his extant works (ca. 212 CE) seems plausible.[30]

A final important aspect of Tertullian’s life concerns the extent to which he had access to other early Christian writings. Scholars have little doubt that he had access to the writings of both Justin[31] and Irenaeus;[32] the extent to which either may have influenced Tertullian’s notions of the Trinitarian testimony of the Spirit will be explored and validated in more detail later in this chapter. As for the New Testament, Tertullian cites every book except James, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John.[33] It appears that he often made his own translations from the Greek, although on occasion he may have relied on some pre-existing Latin translations.[34]

[1] For older works that mostly follow Jerome for their reconstruction of Tertullian’s life, see, e.g., Otto Bardenhewer, Patrologie, 2nd ed. (Freiburg: Herdersche, 1901), 157; Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 3 vols. (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1950–1960), 2:246–48. Despite this shift among scholars studying Tertullian, many more general contemporary works continue to rely heavily on the patristic sources for their summary of the life of Tertullian; see, e.g., François Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, trans. Edward L. Smither (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009), 33–41; Philippe Henne, Tertullien l’Africain (Paris: Cerf, 2011), 29–41, 49–53. Though not inclusive of modern works, Gerald Bray, Holiness and the Will of God: Perspectives on the Theology of Tertullian (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979), 8–31, gives an excellent overview of the history of scholarship concerning Tertullian.

[2] Vir. ill. 53 (PL 23:698). For translation, see Timothy David Barnes, Tertullian: A Literary and Historical Study (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 3.

[3] Hist. eccl. 2.2 (SC 31:53). Eusebius also cites Tertullian at Hist. eccl. 2.25, 3.20, 3.33, 5.5 (SC 31:92, 124, 146; SC 41:30–31).

[4] For modern, critical reconstructions of the life of Tertullian, see Barnes, Tertullian, 1–29; Bray, Holiness, 32–65; Heinrike Maria Zilling, Tertullian: Untertan Gottes und der Kaisers (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2004), 21–82; David E. Wilhite, Tertullian the African: An Anthropological Reading of Tertullian’s Context and Identities, Millennium-Studien 14 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007), 17–27. On Tertullian’s full name, see further Barnes, Tertullian, 242–43; Wilhite, Tertullian, 18.

[5] As Henne (Tertullien, 30) cautions, “Jérôme est plus que partial dans ses jugements: il y a les Pères qu’il aime et ceux qu’il n’aime pas, et cela influence très fort sa rédaction.” Despite this warning, Henne’s biography of Tertullian is largely uncritical with respect to the information provided by Jerome and Augustine.

[6] Barnes, Tertullian, 10; see further the list of specific references in Geoffrey D. Dunn, Tertullian, ECF (London: Routledge, 2004), 4.

[7] Barnes, Tertullian, 30–56.

[8] Barnes, Tertullian, 11–21; Wilhite, Tertullian, 19. The first problem with Jerome’s claim is that the rank centurio proconsularis did not, to our best knowledge, exist in the Roman army; the second is that child sacrifice had mostly vanished from North Africa by Tertullian’s day. Thus, the key text of Apol. 9.2 (CCSL 1:102) should be emended from patri nostri to patri nostrae. See, however, the dissenting opinions of James B. Rives, “Tertullian on Child Sacrifice,” MH 51 (1994): 54–63; Henne, Tertullien, 32; Zilling, Tertullian, 30.

[9] Barnes, Tertullian, 11; Wilhite, Tertullian, 24; cf. Exh. cast. 7.3 (SC 319:92); Mon. 12.2 (CCSL 2:1247).

[10] Barnes, Tertullian, 22–29; Wilhite, Tertullian, 20–23. The question of Tertullian’s training and profession is, however, more complicated. The current consensus is that Tertullian was not even a professional lawyer in the first place; cf. David I. Rankin, “Was Tertullian a Jurist?,” SP 31 (1997): 335–42. Instead, Tertullian is often portrayed as a professional sophist (cf. Barnes, Tertullian, 211–32), though some scholars maintain that Tertullian did indeed receive some training as an advocate (cf. Zilling, Tertullian, 33–36; albeit less certainly, Rankin, “Was Tertullian a Jurist?,” 342). Eric Osborn, Tertullian: First Theologian of the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 27–47, claims that Tertullian was in fact a philosopher, but this view appears not to have caught on with other scholars. For an overview of the status quaestionis, see Wilhite, Tertullian, 20–23.

[11] While many scholars have followed Jerome in assuming that Tertullian’s work is that of a mature, older writer, thus suggesting a birth date ca. 155 CE, Barnes (Tertullian, 58) insists that “nothing forbids the hypothesis that Tertullian was born c. 170.” Indeed, Tertullian’s writings give us no clue as to his date of birth or his age when he wrote them.

[12] Dunn, Tertullian, 4–5. Thus the statement of Bray (Holiness, 9) that “in the end all we can really say about Tertullian’s life is that we know virtually nothing about it” is a slight exaggeration. Tertullian in Ux. 1.1.1 (CCSL 1:373) records that he was married to a Christian, though in Res. 59.3 (CCSL 2:1007) he appears to indicate that he had at some point committed adultery.

[13] Thus Herodian, Hist. 7.6.1 (LCL 455:190). On historical background related to the city of Carthage, see further Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 1–8; Henne, Tertullien, 13–18; Zilling, Tertullian, 61–82.

[14] The first reference to Christianity in Roman Africa is probably found in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses (mid-to-late second century CE). When exactly Christianity was brought to North Africa, and by whom, is the subject of much speculation. For overviews of the scholarly inquiry into the origins and spread of Christianity in North Africa, see Wilhite, Tertullian, 31–35; Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 10–16; Dunn, Tertullian, 13–15; J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen, Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 1–6; David Rankin, Tertullian and the Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 10–16.

[15] Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 17–23, 28–32; Burns and Jensen, Christianity in Roman Africa, 165–621.

[16] As Decret (Early Christianity in North Africa, 34) elegantly puts it: “Through his genius and weaknesses, boldness in the midst of battles, revolt in the face of injustices, excesses, affinity for provocation, preference for paradox, quibbling spirit, and appetite for brilliant and subtle formulas, Tertullian represented an entire people.”

[17] Decret (Early Christianity in North Africa, 10) notes the “remarkable” fact that the names of some of these martyrs were African, whereas the Gallican martyrs were Greek-speaking immigrants from Asia and Phrygia.

[18] For more on the church at Carthage in the time of Tertullian, see Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 17–20; Henne, Tertullien, 19–28.

[19] For an overview of these texts, see Dunn, Tertullian, 15–17; Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 9–10, 23–26. For a recent introduction to these martyrdom accounts from a conservative perspective, see Bryan M. Litfin, Early Christian Martyr Stories: An Evangelical Introduction with New Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 87–109. Recently, Candida Moss, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (New York: HarperOne, 2013) has argued that Tertullian and other early Christian apologists have widely overstated the extent of early Christian persecution and has criticized early Christian martyr stories as “exciting, interesting, and completely untrue” (85), but even accepting a large degree of literary license does not require rejecting the historicity of the event itself. For a mediating position that takes the Christian sources seriously and critically, see Burns and Jensen, Early Christianity in Roman Africa, 7–26.

[20] Barnes, Tertullian, 77–79; Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 13–14.

[21] For this reason, I prefer to speak of Tertullian’s support of “the New Prophecy” rather than of “Montanism,” though following convention I will occasionally use “Montanism” as an imperfect shorthand for the same phenomenon.

[22] William Tabbernee, Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia: Epigraphic Sources Illustrating the History of Montanism, NAPSPMS 16 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), 24. The standard reference work on Montanism is now Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), emphasizing how the condemnation of Montanism likely stemmed from controversy over the nature of authority, with Montanism’s promotion of direct revelation threatening established church leadership. On Montanus and the emergence of the New Prophecy in Phrygia, see further ibid., 26–45, 77–86. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism,” JEH 50 (1999): 1–22, is a further helpful introduction, instead tracing the eventual condemnation of Montanism to its rural roots.

[23] For more on the teachings of the Montanists, see Trevett, Montanism, 86–150. Whether a fervent millennialism was also a defining feature of the movement is a subject of some scholarly debate; see Trevett, Montanism, 95–105; Charles E. Hill, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 143–59.

[24] On the spread of Montanism and the sources available to historians, see further Trevett, Montanism, 46–66. On epigraphic sources, see Tabbernee, Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia. For other important ancient sources for the study of Montanism, see Ronald E. Heine, The Montanist Oracles and Testimonia, NAPSPMS 14 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989). See also the speculative narrative of William Tabbernee, Prophets and Gravestones: An Imaginative History of Montanists and Other Early Christians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009).

[25] On the arrival and spread of Montanism in North Africa, see Trevett, Montanism, 69–72; Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 37–41; Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 43–51.

[26] See further the thorough defense of this position in Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 27–40; cf. Dunn, Tertullian, 6–7; Trevett, Montanism, 68–69; Zilling, Tertullian, 51–53; Douglas Powell, “Tertullianists and Cataphrygians,” VC 29 (1975): 33–54, esp. 33–38. There seems, therefore, to be little warrant for Henne’s claim that in Carthage ca. 210 “les montanistes avaient peu à peu créé leur propre liturgie, leur propre clergé, bien distincts de ceux des autres communautés” (Tertullien, 53).

[27] A modern minority position holds that Tertullian was not even a member of a sub-group within the church at Carthage, as suggested by the majority view described here; cf. David E. Wilhite, “The Spirit of Prophecy: Tertullian’s Pauline Pneumatology,” in Todd D. Still and David E. Wilhite, Tertullian and Paul, vol. 1 of Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 48.

[28] Trevett, Montanism, 69.

[29] Haer. 86 (PL 42:46–47); cf. Barnes, Tertullian, 258–59; Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 37; contra Henne, Tertullien, 53. The term “Tertullianists,” used by Augustine to describe the Montanists with whom he was familiar, was likely simply the name given to African Montanists (as distinguished from those in Phrygia), and thus Augustine is perhaps “producing the confused explanation of an authentic tradition” (so Powell, “Tertullianists and Cataphrygians,” 53; cf. Zilling, Tertullian, 54–56).

[30] Barnes, Tertullian, 59.

[31] Ernest Evans, ed. and trans., Tertullian’s Treatise against Praxeas: The Text Edited, with an Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (London: SPCK, 1948; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 31, claims that Tertullian “reproduces [Justin’s expositions] without the tentativeness and reserve which were natural to that gentler mind.” Tertullian’s debt to Justin is perhaps best evidenced in his Adv. Jud. and Apol. Tertullian references Justin explicitly as a source for his anti-Gnostic polemic in Val. 5.1 (CCSL 2:756).

[32] Barnes, Tertullian, 221. Tertullian also references Irenaeus as a source for his anti-Gnostic polemic in Val. 5.1 (CCSL 2:756). See further J. H. Waszink, “Tertullian’s Principles and Methods of Exegesis,” in Early Christian Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition: In Honorem Robert M. Grant, ed. William R. Schoedel and Robert L. Wilken, ThH 53 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1979), 17–31, here 21. Val. and Praesc. are generally cited as the two works of Tertullian which draw most extensively on Irenaeus.

[33] Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 160. Dunn (Tertullian, 19) lists only 2 and 3 John as excluded from Tertullian’s writings.

[34] Dunn, Tertullian, 20–21.

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Book Review: Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone

batesIn his new book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Matthew Bates argues that Christians “should entirely cease to speak of ‘salvation by faith’ or of ‘faith in Jesus’ or of ‘believing in Christ’ when summarizing Christian salvation” (3). In fact, he proposes nothing less than “to rethink the gospel, faith, and salvation” (8). And, to boot, Bates suggests that his book “will ultimately contribute to the healing of that long-festering wound between Catholics and Protestants” (6). Most books that make such ambitious, even grandiose, claims inevitably disappoint readers hoping for something truly insightful and meaningful. Bates, however, actually delivers on his promise, penning a work that is, at once, sharply erudite, richly theological, and deeply pastoral.

Bates notes up front that he is writing as a committed Christian committed to earnestly wrestling with what God has to say to us through Scripture. Bates makes clear in chapter 1 his concern that many Christians today have an incomplete notion of “faith”; for Bates, “like rot in an apple, much of the malaise in contemporary Christianity stems from a rotten core,” which he here identifies as an overly simplistic rendering of the Greek pistis as “faith” or “belief” (15). Pistis is not, Bates insists, naive fideism, a Kierkagaardian leap in the dark, the opposite of works, blind optimism, or (perhaps most significantly in today’s church context) intellectual assent to a set of beliefs. In particular, as Bates goes on to contend in chapter 2, viewing salvation as simply a matter of mentally agreeing with the statement “that Jesus died for my sins” is dangerously reductionistic (25).

Bates is particularly concerned to demonstrate that the gospel cannot be reduced to a me-centered “Jesus died for my sins,” but rather that the gospel is in fact a story about Jesus the King. In chapter 2, Bates surveys key texts in which Paul describes the gospel (Rom 1:1-5; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Cor 15; Rom 1:16-17) and concludes that the Pauline gospel is “the power-releasing story of Jesus’s life, death for sins, resurrection, and installation as king” (30). Drawing on Ben Witherington, Bates emphasizes the “V pattern” of the gospel in which the preexisting Son of God took on flesh, died, and was resurrected and now takes on “an even more exalted role” as “Son-of-God-in-Power” and “Lord” (37). This gospel, Bates demonstrates from Paul, is not merely an interesting story but one that “unleashes God’s saving power for humanity” (41); Jesus’s pistis to the Father facilitates our pistis to Jesus (43; cf. Rom 1:17).

Likewise, in chapter 3, Bates demonstrates that the Gospels depict a single gospel message including the following specific content (which can also be found in Paul): Jesus preexisted with the Father, took on human flesh, died for sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, appeared to many, is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and will come again as judge (52). The gospel, again, is not about how we are saved, but rather about how Jesus has become Lord; thus, pistis and justification are not part of the content of the gospel, but rather the gospel’s intended response and result (54). For Bates, it is the ascension, when Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father as Lord, “that is the most critical yet most neglected component of the gospel today” (66) and is in fact “the most important part of the gospel for us today” (67). Why? Bates explains (67):

We need to recover Jesus’s kingship as a central, nonnegotiable constituent of the gospel. Jesus’s reign as Lord of heaven and earth fundamentally determines the meaning of “faith” (pistis) as “allegiance” in relation to salvation. Jesus as king is the primary object toward which our saving “faith”—that is, our saving allegiance—is directed.

After all, of all the components of the gospel, Jesus’s reign is the only one which corresponds with the present time in which we live; here Bates draws especially on the work of N.T. Wright in re-centering our understanding of the Gospels as the story by which Jesus became Lord or King.

Having surveyed this biblical data, Bates then reaches the heart of his argument in chapter 4, showing how pistis is best understood as allegiance when it is used in the context of ultimate salvation. Drawing on contemporaneous texts such as 3 Maccabees, Greek Esther, and Josephus, Bates demonstrates that “allegiance” is the best way to understand Paul’s use of pistis in texts such as Rom 3:21; Rom 5:1; Gal 2:16; Gal 2:20; Gal 5:4-6; Phil 3:8-11; 1 Cor 1:21; 1 Cor 15:1-2. Bates also appeals to leading Pauline scholars such as Wright, Michael Gorman, and John Barclay to indicate that this proposal is hardly idiosyncratic. Bates then uses this notion of understanding pistis as allegiance to illuminate otherwise difficult Pauline ideas such as the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; Rom 16:26) or the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21). The clear clincher for his argument, though, is the simple appeal to the indisputable imperial context of the early Christian confession “Jesus is Lord”; as Bates shows, in imperial rhetoric, pistis or fides “had sociopolitical overtones of loyalty to the emperor (or other patrons) as well as reciprocity in receiving benefits in exchange for demonstrated loyalty” (88). What, then, does allegiance to Christ look like? Bates identifies three “basic dimensions”: (1) mental affirmation of the gospel; (2) professed fealty to Jesus as Lord; and (3) enacted loyalty through obedience to Jesus as King (92). Bates unpacks each of these elements in detail and then, in chapter 5, addresses potential objections to his thesis, showing how his proposal is consistent with Christian emphases on grace and free will, ties in with several of the insights offered by the New Perspective on Paul, and allows for even imperfect allegiance to Christ in this life. These discussions are fairly detailed and will be useful for those interested in these topics, but some readers may feel these sections drag a bit beyond what is necessary to make Bates’s points.

At this point, the focus of the book shifts rather abruptly, with Bates turning away from his discussion of allegiance to instead probe the notion of salvation more generally. Thus, Bates presents a defense of understanding salvation in terms of the Christian hope of bodily resurrection into the new creation (chapter 6) and the restoration of the imago dei (chapter 7). Those familiar with N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope or the work of John Walton will find much that is familiar here. These chapters make some important correctives to contemporary misunderstandings of these aspects of salvation, but one wonders if the thread of “allegiance” could have been carried through more consistently in these chapters, perhaps yielding more genuinely new insights.

Finally, in chapter 8, Bates picks up the main thread of his argument, seeking to situate his understanding of “salvation by allegiance alone” with respect to different models of justification. For Bates, justification is not simply a matter of a cosmic transaction between Christ and sinner; rather, “an individual’s justification is entirely bound up with the union of the church to Jesus the king” (167). Bates thus (correctly, in my opinion) foregrounds our union with Christ as centrally determinative for salvation, developing his understandings of corporate election and the righteousness of God to reject traditional models of imputed or infused righteousness in favor of Michael Bird’s language of “incorporated righteousness,” which Bates defines as “the saving perfect righteousness of Jesus the Christ that is counted entirely ours when we join the Spirit-filled body that is already united to the righteous one, Christ the kingly head” (190). Bates ties this back to his notion of allegiance in this way (190):

That is, this alien righteousness, this righteous standing that properly belongs to Jesus alone, becomes ours derivatively when we give allegiance to Jesus as the sovereign king, at which moment the life-giving Spirit that already envelops the allegiance-yielding community also enters into us. At the moment of allegiance-generated, Spirit-enabled union, the individual is born again, is declared and truly is fully righteous in God’s sight, and can properly be described as having eternal life because and only because she or he is united to Jesus the king and so shares his totally righteous standing. Paul envisions all of this ordinarily happening as part of the baptismal process.

This leads Bates to challenge the Reformed position on eternal security, instead seeming to suggest that there may be some who will not persevere in allegiance and therefore not maintain their salvific union with Christ; “our ongoing and future justification depends on the maintenance of our righteousness-union with Jesus the saving king” (191).

Finally, in chapter 9, Bates considers some practical implications of his argument for salvation by allegiance alone. His metaphor of a “shield of allegiance” feels a bit cumbersome (it’s a lot to remember and the connections aren’t always immediately obvious), but he succeeds in making the case for providing a better gospel presentation that connects with the actual gospel. Simply put, “A true gospel invitation must summon the hearer toward a confession of allegiance to Jesus as the king or cosmic Lord”; after all, “the present-tense moment of choice in a gospel invitation should always be understood to be a response to the present-tense reality of Jesus’s kingly rule” (199). Bates also highlights some other important points: The focus must be on God and not the self. Tell the whole story of God’s work of creation, redemption, and re-creation, and give an invitation to live into that story. Heaven should be downplayed in favor of the new creation. False assurance of salvation should not be given in light of the need for perseverance. Public “ratification” of this newfound allegiance needs to take place publicly, through baptism.

From there, Bates describes how the “one path to final salvation” is the “path of discipleship” (205), which is of course precisely how Mark and the other writers of the New Testament portray the true Christian life. Bates offers up this insight (206):

A person is not first ‘saved’ by ‘faith’ in Jesus’s death for sins and then, once that is secured, plugged into a discipleship program as an optional extra in hope that he or she might ‘grow.’ On the contrary, a person is first saved when she or he becomes a disciple by declaring allegiance to Jesus the king — that is, when a person agrees to submit obediently to Jesus’s wise and sovereign rule so as to take up his way of life.

What is this way of life? It is, again as Mark clearly demonstrates, the imitation of Christ in his self-emptying and death to self. Finally, Bates turns to the Apostles’ Creed as not simply a summary of Christian belief but “a concise presentation of the allegiance-demanding gospel” (211). Drawing a parallel with the American Pledge of Allegiance (here James K.A. Smith came to mind), Bates offers this as a “trinitarian pledge of allegiance to Jesus the king” (211).

In many ways, Bates is simply restating key insights from the popular Anglican trio of N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and Michael Bird. The success of this work, in my estimation, is his ability to synthesize these different developments and set out a model of salvation that is both deeply grounded in Scripture and the best modern biblical scholarship in a way that will be accessible to students and educated laypeople. Where Bates shines in this book is his exegesis of key New Testament texts, demonstrating a comprehensive awareness of relevant lexical, grammatical, cultural-historical, and scholarly issues impacting interpretation. While some reviewers (e.g., Will Timmins in JETS) have not found Bates’s exegesis as compelling as I have, I think it is important to remember that Bates only wants to foreground pistis as allegiance in the context of passages talking about eternal salvation, and in this sphere the notion of owing allegiance to the rightful and enthroned King makes perfect sense.

There are, however, a few places I wish Bates would expand his argument. For instance, he several times attacks the Reformed position that works flow from genuine faith, arguing that such a formula misunderstands the terms “faith” and “works.” This may be true, but I struggle to see how, practically speaking, this would impact a person’s approach to discipleship; either way, one is compelled to examine one’s life for evidence of good works and therefore true allegiance. I also wish Bates would have given more attention to early Christian literature outside of the New Testament; Bates contrasts his (and by extension his understanding of the New Testament’s) definition of faith with that of Augustine and then that of the Reformers, but his argument could have been strengthened by showing how his definition is evidenced in, say, pre-Nicene Christian literature or by explaining the historical or philosophical context for the change in definition between the New Testament and Augustine. In sum, though, I judge this to be a rich book precisely because I suspect that even readers who disagree with some of Bates’s conclusions or would prefer to see some issues clarified will find much to consider and will profit from his challenge to present (and live!) a more complete and nuanced version of pistis.

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