Faith as Allegiance

When I was introduced to faith as allegiance last summer it was like a strobe going off inside my head.  It provided some much needed illumination to clarify some pretty muddled thinking.  I got to the idea through reading about Greco-Roman history via both modern and ancient authors.

I’m currently reading Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King [1].  The author’s route (so far) is through readings of biblical texts.  The book is a subject of discussion on Jesus Creed, where Scot McKnight is excerpting and commenting on sections of the book.  The posts are worth reading.  They help flesh out the idea, as do the broad range of comments, which include some objections [2].

Faith as allegiance might be a difficult idea to engage because we moderns don’t understand it.  The notion of Christ as King is completely alien way of thinking, other than in some sort of distant theoretical sense.  There aren’t very many kings any more, and with some exceptions, they are pretty much figureheads without any actual power.  This is a good thing, given the sketchy history of hereditary human monarchies.  But it leaves us with a much weaker image of what loyalty to someone’s person actually looks like.  What loyalties we have tend towards ideas and systems.  Or possibly to perversions like wholly corrupt state cults of the The Dear Leader.

And at a personal level what we think of as loyalty is often mere affinity.  We are committed to friends and spouses because we like them.  When we no longer like them it seems to be perfectly fine to go find new ones.  We demonstrate little understanding of the choice often articulated in marriage vows,  forsaking all others.

My suspicion is that our poor understanding of loyalty predisposes us to treat faith as purely cognitive at the expense of the relational.  Following Christ becomes a matter of accepting the correct propositions, accompanied in varying proportions by having the right emotions and experiences.  We are committed to the idea of Jesus, or the feeling of Jesus, instead of to the person of Jesus.

To be clear, faith is not some sterile choice.  The first and second century faith language of pistis/fides does not pull apart into ideas and experience in such a tidy way.  Trust is enmeshed in it.  And allegiance seems to be the binder that holds the thing together.

The contrast of a pair of Lenten vignettes might help us understand this a bit better.

There is Judas’ betrayal, which was rooted in divided loyalties.  In addition to following Jesus he was serving his own interests.  In his role as the treasurer for the little band of disciples he was also skimming a bit of coin for his own benefit.  This was a small betrayal.  But the difference between this and the larger payoff by the authorities was only a matter of degree.  Unfortunately for Judas the actual implications didn’t register until after sentence was passed by the Sanhedrin.

Gerard van Honthorst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On the other hand, there was no question where Peter’s loyalties lay.  From stepping out of the boat in the storm to whacking off an ear in the garden, he was ready to do whatever the moment called for to follow his teacher.  While this played out in some impulsive and highly dysfunctional ways Peter was “all in” at a very personal level.  But he lacked the courage and strength to follow through and buckled from the fear of storms and people.   And after the arrest of Jesus denied knowing him.

If faith is grounded in allegiance then an aspect of grace might include the mercy shown Peter for his frailties.  Which means there is hope for the rest of us.

—————-

[1] Matthew W. Bates, with a forward by Scot McKnight.  Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2017.

[2] Jesus Creed, at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/ (I’ve commented on a couple but they are pretty much exploratory):

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