Thursday, May 18, 2023

Book Review: Why the Gospel? by Matthew Bates

Matthew Bates' latest book, Why the Gospel?: Living the Good News of Jesus with Purpose continues to build on the foundation laid by his previous three books: Salvation by Allegiance Alone (2017), Gospel Allegiance (2019), and The Gospel Precisely (2021). In particular, "Why the Gospel?" picks up on some key themes introduced in the short small group book "The Gospel Precisely" and develops them with a more thorough theological study, while maintaining the accessibility of that short book and of "Gospel Allegiance."

In the first of seven Chapters, Bates explains how the gospel is first and foremost a message about a divine Messianic King. Yes, the gospel includes personal salvation and the forgiveness of sins, but those gospel benefits come about specifically because Jesus is the King who can give those gifts to His subjects.
Chapter two discusses six misshapen or malformed images of the gospel and how they each fail to live up to the fulness of the biblical gospel of the Christ. Chapter three describes the two aspects of God's glory -- His intrinsic glory, and His ascribed glory as acknowledged among His human image-bearers. Bates introduces what he calls the "glory cycle," which explains the purpose of and need for the gospel message. The glory cycle is as follows:
  1. God's glory
  2. Humans given glory to rule (as God's images on earth, representing the Creator King)
  3. Failure to carry glory (due to sin and rebellion, Rom. 3:23)
  4. The gospel of King Jesus, the perfect image of God, launches glory's recovery
  5. Human beings who view King Jesus transformatively begin the restoration of the acknowledgement of God's glory in creation
  6. Those who have followed King Jesus and been transformed into His likeness reign gloriously together with the King, fully restoring the knowledge and expression of God's glory in the cosmos
The fourth chapter fleshes out step 4 of the glory cycle in detail, providing a helpful comparison of various models explaining how the atonement provided by Christ's sacrifice works. The fifth chapter goes in-depth into stage 5 of the glory cycle.
Chapter six deals with some of the objections people such as the "nones" (those with no particular religious affiliation, but who may consider themselves "spiritual") have to the Christian message. Bates demonstrates how a more accurate presentation of the gospel being first and foremost about King Jesus, and our response of allegiance to Him, can deal with many of the objections that are raised regarding Christianity.
The seventh and final chapter points out how reversing some of our most common gospel presentations can actually provide a clearer picture of the biblical gospel. For example, instead of saying, "Because he offers you forgiveness, Jesus is your Savior. Accept his salvation. Next he wants to be King of your life," we can reverse the order and say, "Jesus is the King. Accept his kingship, because through it Jesus is offering you saving rescue, including the forgiveness of your sins." Such a reversal of the presentation puts the focus of the gospel back on Jesus the King, rather than on what I as a human being can "get out of the deal."
I highly recommend this book.
(To go along with this volume by Matthew Bates, I suggest reading Carmen Imes' new Being God's Image: Why Creation Still Matters, and Joshua McNall's How Jesus Saves: Atonement for Ordinary People. These three books came out within a three month span this spring, and fit together nicely for those interested in studying the purpose for which God created human beings as His images and earthly representatives, and how we can return to fulfilling that purpose through the sacrifice of King Jesus and the gospel of His kingship.)

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