Last week I received a review copy of The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley. The text on the back begins, “Jesus plus nothing. 100% natural. No additives. It’s the truth you may never hear in church.” As my regular readers know, I have my own book coming out in the next few months on the “Jesus plus nothing” Gospel, even using that exact phrase. So, as you may surmise, I was quite interested in what Farley had to say.
The book is not at all what I expected. Farley appears to be a fairly young guy, and the title and back cover text is fairly provocative. So, I expected something a bit edgy, or at least bold. However, on the whole I found it to be rather tame (possibly the work of an overly conservative editor?). The book is a fairly quick read–even armed with a highlighter and stick-on tabs (my usual way to read non-fiction), it only took 2-3 hours to finish.
Bottom line, I agree with most of his conclusions, although I’m still on the fence about some of the ways he gets there. While I stay pretty close to Paul’s arguments in Galatians, Farley relies more heavily on Hebrews, which I found quite interesting. One of the problems for me is that Farley doesn’t necessarily “show his work;” that is to say, he doesn’t lay out all his thinking from point A to point B (the book itself seems a bit disorganized), and doesn’t always provide a lot of context for the verses he quotes. At least for me, reading many of his arguments left me scratching my head:
- For example, his discussion of covenants is based on the Hebrews 9 passage, and he does not address Paul’s discussion of the Abrahamic covenant in Galatians. According to Farley, all covenants are like wills, not taking effect until the death of one of the parties. However, this is not the case with the Abrahamic covenant (and with other OT covenants), where death was not a requirement, but a penalty for not keeping the covenant. As the concept of a required death is important to Farley’s thinking, I would like to have seen Galatians brought into the discussion.
- On pages 97 – 100, he says that it takes zero sin to make us sinners. We are born sinners, without having sinned. However, while I think I know what he is trying to say, I disagree; I believe we are born with a nature that is defective, prone to sin. However, as Paul says, “all have sinned” and that is what makes us sinners.
- He also seems to believe that Christians no longer sin; it is “sin” living in us that sins.
- In pp 110-114, he tries to explain how our “flesh” is not our old self, nor is it our sinful nature. I don’t think he succeeds. I think “flesh” is simply acting out of human effort, rather than being the work of the Spirit. However, Farley says things like the flesh “is something that is with us, but it’s not us.” He seems to be saying that Christians are automatically morally 100% pure, even though we often choose to follow the flesh (whatever it is) rather than the Spirit. So, “living a life of dependency on the Spirit is really nothing more than being ourselves.” Again, I think I know what he’s trying to say, but I don’t think he succeeds.
- On p143, he states that Jesus’ death satisfied God forever, implying that he believes in a Calvinistic, wrathful God. I don’t think it was God who had to be “satisfied.”
- He explains the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us as we forgive those…”) as being an Old Covenant prayer, no longer applicable. While I would agree that much of Jesus’ preaching was indeed preaching the Old Covenant to show our need for a real savior, I have a different understanding of our need to forgive.
- Finally, he tries to reconcile James with the rest of the NT by saying that “Faith involves a decision–a work,” so that faith without a decision to believe is a dead work. I don’t think this works at all; rather, James seems to be talking about what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit. Basically, if you’ve no fruit, you don’t have the Holy Spirit (and faith).
This isn’t to say that this isn’t a book worth reading; he does bring out a lot of good points that could be very helpful to a great many people. And, as I said, I do agree with his basic conclusions:
- Jesus took care of our sins, once for all.
- The Gospel is that we are saved by Jesus, plus nothing else.
- We live our lives by grace; again, Jesus plus nothing.
So, if readers only understand these points, the book has been worthwhile. However, I suspect that people will require some deeper study in order to be firmly grounded in these truths.
My book with Ken Blue, which comes out this summer, takes a considerably different approach, following Paul’s logic and structure in Galatians. Stay tuned for more information as to when it is to be released.