The Naked Gospel

Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel: Jesus Plus Nothing. 100% Natural. No Additives.. Zondervan, 2009. 237 pages.

Full Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for free by The Ooze Viral Bloggers.

My 2nd free book to review. And another disappointment.

I tend to like controversial titles. It usually means, at the very least, that the author will not be pulling any of his punches. Sometimes that is just the way the editor, who actually chose the title, wants us to feel, but such was not the case in this book. Farley definitely does not pull any punches. One only wishes he was beating up on something other than proper biblical hermeneutics... I'm sorry, but anyone who has to jump from one translation of the bible to another in order to make his point, and refuses to get into the Greek at all, even when doing so would clearly answer the 'questions' he (isn't really) posing...

Before I get into that, what is this book about? Well, Farley had a problem. He was a ridiculously strict legalist. He was dead-set on working his way into heaven. He had such a need to perform that he got to the point that he literally could not sleep unless he had shared the gospel with someone that very day. Then Farley saw the light. He realized that the bible held two covenants: The Old and the New. The Old Covenant was based on Laws, and Rules, and Regulations. Sacrifice and Performance and Effort... yes, all with capital letters. The New Covenant, however, is all about grace and love. According to Farley the Old could have nothing to do with love (despite the fact that what Jesus tells us are the greatest commandments both focus on Love as summarizing the law; this is, I believe, one of the great links between the old and new covenants when properly understood). Right, I can't help myself, I am getting critical even in my summary.

Moving on, the rest of the book is a long and laborious description of the New verses the Old (with a few sections commending the Old for what little it does do just for good measure; after all, Farley doesn't want to be called antinomian). The major innovation which Farley offers within this is that he does not draw the line between these two covenants at the dividing point of the two testaments. Instead, the dividing point is the cross. Thus, everything Jesus did and preached before he died on the cross is still of the Old covenant (allowing Farley to chuck the sermon on the mount and the Lord's prayer in one fell swoop; the ten commandments are long gone at this point, so no worries there either).

Might as well start my critique here... With this new division, it becomes very difficult to determine where the old covenant end and the new begins. Exactly how to tell where this invisible dividing line is seems to be confusing even for Farley, who happily trashes the sermon on the mount, while using Jesus conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 as an example of the New covenant. Given that there are absolutely no indications within any of the gospels, or any of Jesus words, that at some points he is teaching things we can safely ignore and at other points he is teaching things we ought to pay attention to, I think we have to be very wary of a theological system that makes that judgment for us. The reality is that the dividing line is whatever Farley can fit within each of his covenants, and nothing else. Eisigesis for the win!

What about Farley use of scripture? Proof texting all the way. I am particularly fond (oh the sarcasm) of the ways in which 'works of the law', which is well known to be a technical term referring to the identity making practices of the Jews (temple, circumcision, etc.) comes to stand for all of the Law in Farley's view, allowing him, with the help of translation jumping, to read things like Romans 10:4 as if Paul were arguing exactly what Farley is arguing (never mind exploring the actual meaning of a word like telos).

And what about his attitude towards the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, and the like? I doubt Farley is aware of this, but the catechesis of the church was, for centuries, made up of teachings surrounding 3 things: The Ten Commandments, The Lord's Prayer, and The Apostle's Creed. 2/3rd's gone... and the early church was just so terrible wrong.

This is all to say nothing of Farley's gospel, which is essentially the news that we can be free from guilt and obligation, accept the grace of Christ and go to heaven. Now, here is where I want to shift my tone slightly. Legalism of the type Farley describes is a real, if extreme, problem. And many Christians, sadly, do not understand grace or the fact that there is no earning their way into God's favor. Spiritual arrogance is rampant in the church (and while Farley critiques this, I do not think he solves it at all). And all that Farley includes in his gospel is true. Its just not the good news of Jesus Christ. It's part of it, but not nearly all of it. Instead it is a typically modern reduction of the gospel. The full gospel, I think, can be most easily said like this: Jesus Christ is Lord of all and the Kingdom of God is at hand. The rest, and there is lots of 'the rest', follows.

So, what do I think of this book? It is, essentially, a combination of Lutheran two covenant theology with postmodern radical individualism and then taken to the extreme. I strongly disagree with this kind of thinking. What does it say of God that his first covenant is so completely wrong? (yes, I know, Farley, talks about what good there is in the Old covenant; it is after all a great example of what not to do, and a history of what God has been doing, seemingly mistakenly, for thousands of years...)

It is, of course, no surprise that Farley can testify to the 'freedom' that this gospel brings to those who understand and embrace it. They will feel good, and they will feel free in the purely modern sense of that word. But it will not free them to be the little-Christ's, nor will it prepare them for service as priest's and king's in the Kingdom of God.

So, don't read this book. And if all these free books from blog review stuff don't start getting better, I am not sure how much longer I will be doing this :)


Anonymous said...

Good brief and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you seeking your information.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog!!! Don't stop!

Andrew said...

Your welcome, and thanks for the encouragement. I don't plan on stopping (despite the current longish break since my last post)

Anonymous said...

hmmm, forest and trees come to mind......