THE NAKED GOSPEL?
by Bob Wheeler
The Naked Gospel
237 pp., p.b.
We live in a stressful world, and there are many books on the market today that attempt to address the anxieties and fears of believers. Unfortunately not all of them are biblically sound. The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley, is a case in point.
Dr. Farley is a pastor and best-selling author, as well as tenured professor of linguistics at Texas Tech University. In spite of such credentials, however, his book The Naked Gospel, has some serious deficiencies.
The book arose out of his personal experience. In Chapter 1 he tells of how he struggled with a sense of spiritual inferiority in spite of evangelizing compulsively. His depression grew worse, he dropped out of college and sought help from a variety of Christian therapists. It was later able to return to school, but it was some time after that that he decided that the root of his problem was a misunderstanding of the gospel. The true gospel, he concluded, was designed to set one free from what he calls a false religiosity.
At one point in the book he lays out four basic propositions that form the core of his argument:
- “Your relationship to the law is now all gone.”
- “Your old self is now all gone.”
- “Your sins are now all gone.”
- “All obstacles preventing closeness are now all gone.”
On the first point he makes some radical assertions. He claims that “the law,” as he calls it, is only for unbelievers and that “Now we don’t have to fulfill any of the law” (p. 57). “Principles, rules and standards – no matter how ‘Christian’ we believe they are – are poor substitutes for a live animated by God himself” (p. 58). At one point he even goes so far as to say that “Christians are even free from the Ten Commandments” (p. 57), and suggests that the Sermon on the Mount was not intended for Christians (Chapter 12). He quotes numerous passages from Galatians, Ephesians and Hebrews to support his contentions.
But when Paul uses the word “law” in a negative sense, his readers with Jewish backgrounds would have understood the Torah, the law of Moses, a conditional covenant with a host of minute ceremonial regulations. But Farley wants to extend the term to mean written laws and commandments in general. “But this is what Christian maturity is,” he says, “since we’re in Christ and he’s in us, we don’t look to external rules to determine our every move; instead, we’re urged to move away from religious bondage and to a journey toward a beautiful freedom, never looking back . . .” (pp. 92-93).
The passages cited make it clear that we are no longer under the Mosaic Covenant. But it does not logically follow from this that there is no universally binding moral law which all of us, as human beings, are bound to observe.
“He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
(Micah 6:8; NKJV)
Farley’s next two points are that “your old self is now all gone,” and “your sins are now all gone,” again quoting passages from the epistles. The second of these two points is especially problematical. The problem here is that Farley does not distinguish between the imputed righteousness we receive in justification and the infused righteousness we receive in sanctification. Thus he tries to argue that at the point of conversion one becomes perfectly righteous in actual practice. “. . .God calls us righteous because we actually are righteous” (p. 105, emphasis his). If we ask the question, then, why do Christians still sin, he replies that it is not the Christian who is sinning, but a “sin principle within the physical body” (p 119). “Sin is in us, but it is not us” (p. 119, emphasis his). And since all of our sin has been forgiven at Calvary, Farley argues that it is not necessary to confess our ongoing sins to God. “. . .no amount of dialoguing with God about our sins will bring us more forgiveness. No amount of asking God to forgive us will initiate his cleansing in our lives” (p. 135). I John 1:9, he says, applies only to unbelievers.
Moreover Farley denies that there are any special rewards in heaven for Christians who are especially godly and faithful in their present lives. “At no time are we told to live an upright life in order to garner a more righteous standing or to collect prizes in heaven” (p. 182).
How, then, do we live the Christian life? According to Farley it is a matter of “having Christ’s life naturally flow from your personality” (p. 191). He even goes so far as to say that it is pointless to seek God’s will in our decision making process. “God is not interested in controlling our every move” (p. 210, emphasis his). “We are free to live from our wants, since we, together with our hearts, minds, hobbies and interests, are now set apart in everything we do” (p. 212).
Farley concludes by saying, “. . .if others have already come to know a life of dependency on the risen Christ but still get tripped up by how much they’re not doing or not giving, we can rescue them from measuring themselves through a reminder of our freedom from a law system” (p. 218).
There is an element of truth to much of what Farley has to say. His is right to remind us of the finished work of Christ on the cross, the reality of the new birth and the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer making him a new creature in Christ Jesus. But the fact of the matter is that the New Testament is filled with written commands and exhortations that we are expected to obey. Most of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, and when a believer commits a sin it involves a more or less conscious decision on his part for which he is personally responsible.
We are to strive to please God in all that we do (I Thess. 4:1), exercising spiritual discernment to determine what is in accordance with God’s will (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 5:10, 15-17; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9,10). If we keep Christ’s commandments we abide in Him (I John 3:24) and He promises to answer our prayers (I John 3:18-22). But if we sin we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). The argument throughout the epistles is that we should walk in a manner that is consistent with our standing before God.
Ultimately we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (II Cor. 5:9,10) where our works here on earth will be tried (I Cor. 3:10-15). So we should run to win the prize (I Cor. 9:24-27), have confidence at Christ’s coming (parresia at the parousia – I John 2:28; 4:17) and receive an unfading crown of glory (I Pet. 5:4).
In the end Farley’s book comes across as a bit of clever sophistry, an attempt to rationalize not taking responsibility for our own actions; and, we are afraid, will have the effect of leading unsuspecting believers astray. It is, therefore, a book that we would not recommend to others.