“Those who think they know the Gospel best are frequently the most surprised by its true shape, content, boundaries, and purposes.” -Matthew Bates, The Gospel Precisely
The purpose of apologetics as an outward defense of the Christian faith must be intimately tied to the Christian call to make disciples. This means that a proper apologetic must have as its foundation that same firm ground that Scripture gives for evangelism and discipleship. This firm ground, known to us as the Gospel, or the good news, must be both the foundation and the destination of all of our apologetic conversations, as it is this good news that “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16)!
Our main task, then, should be ensuring that we have developed an accurate account of this “good news” that is God’s power for salvation! This is where Matthew Bates, author of The Gospel Precisely, argues that many in the Christian faith have operated with an incomplete message. For Bates, “the gospel remains at the heart of the church, beating for the sake of the world…we dare not get it wrong” (TGP).
In The Gospel Precisely, Matthew Bates seeks to offer an accessible, short, and faithful presentation of the “good news” as described in passages like Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 15, and Philippians 2. Why is this important, though? Succinctly put, Bates believes that the church is inundated with both false gospels from the outside, and incomplete gospels on the inside, that have hampered the churches ability to accurately herald the news that God has given to His people. He argues that, “the more precise we are in our grasp of the Gospel, the more readily we can avoid false gospels, embrace the true one, and share it effectively” (TGP).
Much of the focus of this book, which seems to be its strongest suit, is its emphasis on the incomplete message that lies at the heart of many Christians’ understanding of the good news. What is this incomplete message, then? Bates argues that it lies in a hyper-focus on one aspect of the good news, which has been extrapolated by many to now be the good news. Many gospel plans, witnessing tools, and books on the subject have boiled the Gospel down to “Jesus died for my sins”, which Bates calls an “incorrect foundation” that could “skew the whole building”. The sacrificial death of Jesus, according to Bates, is an integral part of the message, but cannot become the message itself, because Scripture does not frame it as so; instead, the foundation must be that “Jesus is the saving King” (TGP).
Jesus as King, or Messiah, is the focus and foundation of Bates’ “good news”, and he makes a compelling case for why this is the most biblically accurate way to present the Gospel. We will not dive deep into those arguments here, but I will share the ten points that Bates’ provides to give a fully orbed depiction of the “good news”:
“The Gospel is that Jesus the King:
1). Pre-existed 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.”
Assuming agreement on these ten points as integral to a fully-orbed Gospel presentation, how specifically can Bates’ treatment help believers in the realm of apologetics? I will highlight three specific areas of theology and apologetics that are addressed and clarified by Bates’ “Gospel Allegiance” model, that are not found in the message “Jesus died for me”.
1). This model places a premium on a firm grasp of Christology.
Early church history paints a clear picture of the foundational theological issues that surrounded the first few centuries of Christendom. Most of those issues seemed to revolve around the person of Christ. What does it mean that Jesus is fully God and fully man? How should the incarnation be understood? The Gospel Allegiance model presented in Bates’ work, as well as his fleshing out of its claims, helps to build a firm Christological foundation for the Christian who places their faith in the Gospel. By beginning with a picture of who Jesus is, not simply what Jesus has done for us, the foundation of faith is set with eyes focused firmly on God the Son, sent to earth by the Father. As we consider the christological disagreements that separate many offshoot faiths from orthodox Christianity, it becomes clear that many heresies and cultish twistings of Scripture’s depiction of Jesus are immediately cast aside as “not the good news”. When we begin with “Jesus died to save me from my sins”, we leave room for poor Christology to sneak in the back door of our faith and possibly take root. If we begin with Scripture’s clear picture of the nature of Jesus, then we leave no such door open. This foundation can only serve to help us defend the faith from the pretenders that posed an issue in the first century, and still pose an issue today in various forms.
2). This model refuses to separate the work of Jesus from God’s promises in the Old Testament.
Much can be said about various views concerning how to interpret covenant promises in the Old Testament in relation to the New Testament. Though I would argue that progressive covenantalism gives the most complete answer to this complicated subject, it is clear on a foundational level that when the “good news” is spoken of in Scripture, there is reference to how Jesus fulfills and interacts with God’s promises to Abraham and David especially. It can be easy to implicitly sever these connections by speaking of the Gospel in a way that removes mention of these fulfillments. Yet, a clear presentation of the “good news” seems to necessitate reference to Jesus as fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham and David. The good news explains how God is going to use Abraham’s descendants to bless the whole world, and finds in itself the fulfillment of the everlasting Kingdom of peace that will be instituted by one on the Davidic throne (Isaiah 9). This foundation, when applied to defense of the faith, only serves to help to answer those questions about the continuity of the testaments, the unity of God’s plan for humanity and His people, and a proper defense of God’s trustworthiness and covenant-keeping.
3). This model connects unmerited salvation to the expectation of faithfulness.
One of the biggest struggles that comes as a result of preaching and teaching that salvation is unmerited and given freely is that there can be an overreaction wherein one then assumes and spurns the need to be faithful and “work out their salvation”. This “easy-believism”, as it is often referred to, can be frustrating to see in the lives of those who claim Christ. Yet, when we frame the Gospel in a way that describes the good news as “you can be saved and go to Heaven”, we implicitly give no reason for pursuit of faithfulness and Christo-conformity. When the Gospel is framed as “Jesus is the saving King who calls for your loyalty and trust”, and justification is but an aspect of the news laid before us (albeit it an important one), then living to please the King and be a good citizen of the Kingdom follows as a natural response. When Jesus is not just our Savior, but also our King, we easily recognize the call to live with an “allegiance” that is empowered by our trust in Christ. As we defend the faith, this call to be “image-bearers” of Christ will only help us to speak and act in ways that mirror the truths that we are defending. Our outward witness will become less and less a stumbling block for those to whom we are giving a defense, and will serve as a beautiful picture of who Jesus is for those
All in all, Bates’ The Gospel Precisely serves as a fresh but faithful presentation of the Gospel as seen in Scripture, driving believers to lay their eyes on the person and work of Christ as the foundation of the “good news”, as opposed to an individualistic, self-focused statement on justification. This book is well-suited for lay reading, and has been useful in my church in a small group setting, for building this foundation of Jesus as King. As we consider how best to defend our faith and share the Gospel well, I highly recommend shaping the message of the good news in the way presented by Bates, not for the purpose of being novel, but with the goal of being most faithful to how Scripture frames the message that is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16)!
For His Kingdom,
All quotes referencing Bates are taken from Matthew Bates, The Gospel Precisely, Renew.org, published through Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09C2TD9QF/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1