Why the Gospel? by Matthew W. Bates deals with the purpose of the gospel. In this review, get perspective about using it in your church context.
The Book in Three Sentences
Why the Gospel? by Matthew W. Bates answers the question why does the gospel matter for our lives today? He takes his previous work about what the gospel is and applies it to why it matters. When we see the gospel’s primary purpose in terms of glory, it reframes everything we do from our work to our worship, from our discipleship to our evangelism, from our new birth to the new creation.
Full Review (Adapted from Video Review)
I’m Chad Harrington with HIM Publications, and I’m reviewing Matthew Bates newest book Why the Gospel? By the end of this video, you’ll know what it’s main message is, what I think of it, and whether or not you want to read it.
Matthew Bates has written a lot on the gospel, salvation, and faith, and he’s added a ton of value to the conversation. Through his books Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Gospel Allegiance, and The Gospel Precisely, he’s taken what others like Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright have been saying, among many others, and articulating it in a clear, punchy, and helpful manner.
Now his Why the Gospel? does something refreshing.
In it he applies vital gospel theology to the layperson in spectacular fashion with practical application and group discussion questions—all in a short, concise manner.
He takes his main point from Gospel Allegiance and The Gospel Precisely, that the gospel is essentially the declaration that Jesus is the Christ, and runs that through the question “Why does that matter?” He addresses the common question I hear today, “What does that mean to me?” and answers it from a scholarly perspective, while keeping the cookies on the low shelf by referencing pop culture stars like Lady Gaga in the book. When you can reference Lady Gaga and cite Cyprian in the same book, you’re a special author.
He begins by reiterating the importance of Jesus’ name as Christ and identity as King, and how his identity as King best frames the gospel. Then, he addresses in a fresh way six “mal-formed” gospels to point out the negative implications of not having your gospel right. In contrast, he then states his most direct conclusion of the book: “Why the gospel? The gospel’s clearest purpose in Scripture is bodily allegiance to King Jesus in every nation” (p. 37).
Perhaps the most interesting, neglected, and compelling “why” in this book is glory.
The gospel exists for not only God’s glory, Bates writes, but also for our glory. He defines this as “gospel fame.” I’ll let you dig into his reasoning in the book. I loved it and was very inspired by how he framed it.
This launches him into the rest of the book, which he frames around the concept of glory, in six stages he calls “The Glory Cycle” (p. 57):
- God’s glory
- Humans given glory to rule
- Failure to carry glory
- The gospel launches glory’s recovery
- Transformative viewing for glory’s recovery
- Reigning gloriously with the King
He essentially frames the gospel narrative, story, and purpose through the framework of glory, which takes you through the first five chapters of seven, in glorious fashion.
But I must say the payoff really comes in chapters 6 and 7.
He pulls the previous five chapters together with very down-to-earth cultural exegesis and application. I was blown away by his incisive analysis of the church today and what we need to do differently in light of the King Jesus gospel.
He addresses the six major reasons David Kinnaman states in You Lost Me that people are leaving the church and runs them through the Why the Gospel? filter, coming out on the other side with some cutting critiques of the modern church.
What I love about his heart, though, is that he’s not being critical of the church; he’s trying to help, issuing a valuable prophetic call of sorts to say: Hey, church! We’ve missed some vital issues. Here’s why and here’s how a better gospel theology can help inform our practices as the people of God. He comes in with punch and gentleness along with exegetical acumen, which is a rare combination among the prophetically gifted.
I’ll give you just one example: in the section of chapter 6 titled “Mind and Body Reconnected,” where he addresses the challenge of hypocrisy in the church today. That is:
Many who mark “none” for religious affiliation on the surveys say they aren’t Christians in part because they see Christians as hypocritical.
Bates addresses this from a gospel perspective and says that understanding the King Jesus gospel rightly—and our response to it through our allegiance—helps us reduce hypocrisy in the church. He writes, “Hypocrisy happens when what you say you believe does not correspond with what your body does” (p. 135). The answer is: live faithfully out of allegiance to King Jesus. This isn’t just a practical problem, Bates posits, it’s a gospel understanding problem.
That’s just one example. He also aptly prescribes how a better understanding of the gospel and our response to it informs how we disciple people and how discipleship and evangelism work together.
I highly recommend this book. Published by Eerdmans in May 2023, it’s only 174 pages.
My Challenge with the Book
I think the most controversial part of this book is likely going to be on page 88, where Bates titles a section “Discipleship Is Saving.” He writes, “To enter salvation and arrive at its final goal we must choose to follow and apply the Master’s way of life and teachings. God’s atoning rescue happens as we undertake the life-unto-death-unto-new-life pattern that Jesus exemplified.”
Had it not been for his continued emphasis on imperfect obedience, sections like this would have fallen on deaf ears. He made it clear, however, that it’s not our obedience that saves us but Christ! He states it like this: “Final salvation depends on imperfect but authentic discipleship. We must learn from King Jesus so that our faith extends into obedient doing. We are saved by allegiance to the King since allegiance unites us to the King and his benefits” (p. 89).
I agree with his conclusion with its precise nuances when it’s taken in the context of the book as a whole, but I think it will be challenging to many to embrace this and talk about it casually among church members. While I think this will make for a great small group book, it will definitely need some pastoral guidance. I would recommend that leaders going through The Gospel Precisely with their group or church before this book to minimize confusion and to maximize what Why the Gospel? is all about.
My Favorite Quotes from Why the Gospel?
Read below my favorite quotes from Why the Gospel? by Matthew W. Bates. Page numbers are included in parentheses, and topics are included as hashtags.
- “Jesus Christ is a claim not a name.” (p. 9) #christ
- “A supplemental passage makes it explicit that death and resurrection were not the endgame but ultimately were purposed toward something even more climactic: Jesus’s attainment of ruling authority. Paul declares, ‘For this very reason, the Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living’ (Rom. 14:9-12, AT). Here the purpose of the cross and resurrection is Jesus’s attainment of sovereignty over the dead and the living.” (p. 23) #authority
“The gospel is king first.” (p. 28) #gospel
- “Why the gospel? The gospel’s clearest purpose in Scripture is bodily allegiance to King Jesus in every nation.” (p. 37) #allegiance
- “Yet it is glory together. If we are narcissistic enough to think that the fame and honor that God intends for us are about brand me, this passage should disabuse us of any such self-centered delusions. It is about Jesus. The gospel will indeed bring us fame, but it is King Jesus first. Moreover, it is about his church. It is a shared fame. We as individuals will enjoy it. But it will be a fame for God’s people that depends upon and is inextricably linked to King Jesus’s fame.” (p. 41) #glory
- “I hope you choose to become famous not by chasing the wind, but by trusting that honor will come as a by-product of allegiance to the King. I hope that you’ll become famous by acting locally as the King’s agent. In so doing you will achieve a virtuous fame that lasts—a shared glory with the King and his people.” (p. 47) #fame
- “We are so self-absorbed that we have trouble even beginning to think about salvation from a God-centered point of view.” (p. 65) #salvation
- “Christus Victor is the dominant image for atonement in the New Testament, because the picture of Jesus as the victorious King is invoked every time the term Christ is applied to the resurrected and enthroned Jesus.” (p. 86) #atonement
- “Final salvation depends on imperfect but authentic discipleship. We must learn from King Jesus so that our faith extends into obedient doing. We are saved by allegiance to the King since allegiance unites us to the King and his benefits.” (p. 89) #discipleship
“If we don’t want to be a disciple of Jesus, then we won’t be.” (p. 107) #discipleship
- “Jesus anticipates that obedience will not come automatically. His words, ‘teach them to obey,’ indicate an imperfect process. Jesus knew that our obedience would not be flawless or instantaneous. Obedience is part of the learning dimension of discipleship.” (p. 113) #obedience
- “While we do not enter into a right relationship with God by performing the letter of the law—whether the law of Moses or the new law given by King Jesus—nevertheless obedience to the King’s royal law proves to be life-giving. … Disciples keep Jesus’s royal law not to earn salvation, but because they are allegiant. Disciples are able to do this not through legalistic rule-keeping, but through following the Spirit’s lead.” (p. 114) #relationship
- “It will involve setbacks, failures, and acts of disloyalty. But Spirit-led obedience to Jesus is the hallmark of discipleship and eternal life.” (p. 116) #discipleship
- “Hypocrisy happens when what you say you believe does not correspond with what your body does. Allegiance to a king better holds together mind and body than does trusting a savior for two reasons. First, unlike trust, allegiance demands your entire” (p. 135) #allegiance
- “Because the gospel is political and has a social vision, Christians do not need to be less political. Christians need to be more political—but in a way that aligns with their King’s power-in-weakness approach. The key is to recognize how and where Jesus’s kingship is functionally operative today.” (p. 138) #politics
- “The true loyalty-demanding gospel of King Jesus changes the focus within conversion from quantity to quality. The shift is from counting the number of souls saved to the quality of restored humanity.” (p. 141) #conversion
- “If a doubter continues to give allegiance to Jesus—the King revealed in the gospel—then that person is saved despite whatever doubts they harbor. Even on his or her most doubt-filled days, the doubter can still choose to give loyalty to King Jesus and his ways.” (p. 152) #doubt
“Our work can be a new-creation signpost.” (p. 154) #work
- “We must re-aim today by asking people to swear loyalty instead of merely asking them to trust.” (p. 161) #loyalty
- “Evangelism is most effective at the point where God’s gospel purposes collide with our deepest human longings.” (p. 168) #evangelism
This is a list of resources mentioned in Why the Gospel? that might be useful for future reading.
- Nijay Gupta, Paul and the Language of Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020).
- Scot McKnight, Reading Romans Backwards (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2019).
- Michael J. Gorman, Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2022).
Relevant HIM Publications Books
- The Discipleship Gospel by Bill Hull and Ben Sobels
- The Discipleship Gospel Workbook by Ben Sobels and Bill Hull
See also my review of Gospel Allegiance by Matthew W. Bates here.