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The Naked Gospel

 The Naked Gospel: Truth You May Never Hear in Church

(Hey, I am dyslexic – and I write this blog on the fly, so if there are typos, please edit them out in your mind, cause I am not going to be a perfectionist.  Okay?!)

In the early pages of his book The Naked Gospel, Andrew Farley offers a warning to those who might read his book. “You might throw this book down in disgust; you might pick it back up again in curiosity; you might shake your head in frustration as you wonder, ‘How could I have missed this before?’ or ‘Is this guy crazy?’” (page 15)

I have to say that none of these thoughts came to mind. Without any intent of being pejorative, I think the reason this book is not as shocking as Farley might suppose is that it is not as fresh or radical as he might believe. There is a strong movement afoot advancing the theological framework that Farley calls “the naked Gospel.”

Bob George calls it Classic Christianity.

Charles Trumbull speaks of the same theological premise in his book Victory in Christ: Dead Unto Sin And Alive Unto God.

Eighteenth century missionary Hudson Taylor called this theological framework “the exchanged life.”

Neil Anderson has written extensively about this subject, as has
Bill Gillham,
Andrew Murray,
Watchman Nee,
David Needham,
A.W. Tozer, and others.

On the modern evangelical front,
Philip Yancy,
Max Lucado,
and Tony Evans
have also written very compelling books rejecting legalism, and advancing grace.

Chuck Swindoll has called the experience “a grace awakening’ in a book by the same title.

Perhaps the most articulate spokesperson for this movement is author and speaker Steve McVey, whose book The Grace Walk is very similar in style and scope with Farley’s book. I commend Steve’s website at http://www.gracewalk.org

What Farley brings to the table, among other things, is a neat new moniker for the movement: The Naked Gospel. What a wonderful book title! I wanted to immediately pick it up and start reading. I am a fan of nakedness, especially when my wife is involved, but I digress.

As I am writing this review, I am drinking “naked” juice – juice with no additives or preservatives.

The book title made me want to start reading.

The book jacket comes complete with a fig leaf, and the back cover intro book reads,

“Jesus plus nothing. 100% natural. No additives. It’s the truth you may never hear in church.”

Whether they agree with all the author’s conclusions or not, readers will quickly understand and relate to what Farley is addressing. So much of what happens in most churches comes out of a “Jesus PLUS” mentality.

The PLUS may mean that we dress up Jesus with many outfits that make us feel better.

Jesus PLUS “join this church.”

Jesus DRESSED UP in our preferred “translation” of the Bible (i.e. you must read the KJV).

Jesus PLUS our morality code (i.e. don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do).

Jesus DRESSED up in our religious traditions “worship rules.“

Jesus PLUS “don’t forget to give your tithes and offerings” (probably the biggest PLUS in most churches).

The Naked Gospel is Farley’s reaction to all these additives to genuine Christianity (which is simply salvation by grace, through faith). The reaction is intense because the additives often create a performance based legalistic religion that is Christian in name only. That was certainly Farley’s experience. His story makes him sound like the poster child for the adverse effects of guilt laden religious practices. At one point Farley shares how he faced a spiritual and emotional breakdown due to his inability to live under the heavy yoke of legalism. It was out of this experience that Farley began to understand “the naked gospel.”

But it’s not just “salvation” that’s at issue with Farley. It’s also “sanctification.” In many (dare we say most) churches, spiritual progress (growth, maturation, development) is a matter of fixing ourselves through personal development, spiritual disciplines, or missional faithfulness. Farley disagrees. Sanctification is God’s work through us, not our work for God. While not a passive process, the action on our part is submission and surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is NOT, Farley would assert, the result of our effort to achieve something for God.

Many will read this book and accuse Farley of antinomianism (anti-law). A careful reading of his book, however, should dispel that notion. Farley does not reject the law, he rejects legalism. If the law is seen as a means of self-improvement, or as a method of controlling behavior (either our own or that of others), then the law becomes a tool for legalism. That Farley rejects – as should we all – but that it is not the same things as opposing the law. He simply rejects is as a tool for spiritual or personal growth.

Instead, Farley draws on the writings of Paul and the author of Hebrews (whoever that was) to affirm a difference place for the law in the Christian worldview. The intent of the law (so says Paul) is to be a “nursemaid” bringing us to an awareness of our brokenness and our need for grace (Jesus). Once we have Jesus, however, the law is superseded by the indwelling Spirit. Instead of being written on exterior tablets of stone and parchments of paper, the desires of God are written on the heart. Christianity becomes a spiritual exercise of inside-out transformation, rather than a human enterprise of outside-in obligation, expectation, and religious duty.

Several years ago I experienced my own “grace awakening.” Much like Farley, I experienced a sense of brokenness and frustration. I was doing all I could to please God, thinking that my actions would earn God’s favor (a text-book definition of legalism). No matter what I did, however, the results were always the same: frustration and an overwhelming sense of failure.

In my study, sitting in a dark corner, tears rolling down my face, I prayed. I’d been there for the better part of a day, but in my mind, I’d been there for more than a year. In many respects, things were going well. I served a growing congregation. I was married to a lovely woman and had two healthy, happy children. Yet things were not right. Despite taking all the advised actions for self-growth and personal rest, I still felt overwhelmed and on the verge of burn out. “God, I don’t know what else I’m suppose to do. I am doing everything I know that you want, but nothing seems to be going right. I need you to answer one question. ‘What is it that you want from me?’”

In the moments that followed, I heard God communicate very clearly. “I don’t want anything from you. I just want you. You are my child and I love you.”

In the days that followed, I realized that the Gospel was a “Jesus plus NOTHING” arrangement. If I never preached another sermon, taught another Bible study, cared for another homeless person, said another prayer, or gave another dollar, I would still be loved and accepted by God. Then something else began to happen. Christianity had become a “have to” arrangement for me. I have to preach, give, care, and share. Not anymore. Now I wanted to do those things. Overwhelmed by God’s amazing grace, I wanted to do all those things and more. It wasn’t out of obligation and expectation, but love. I realized that I didn’t have to live FOR God. It was better than that. I realized that Christianity was lived FROM God.

The law has become much more beautiful for me because I now see it as an expression of God’s heart. It’s not a obligatory burden or self-help book. It’s a means of better understanding the transformational work that the Holy Spirit is undertaking in my life. Those who read Farley’s book carefully will see that this is his view of the law as well.

The book is not without some difficulty. Like many who write from a “naked Gospel” perspective, the crucifixion and/or Pentecost becomes a dividing point between the Old Covenant and New Covenant. This appears to place Jesus and his teachings in a subservient position behind Paul. While I doubt that this is Farley’s intention (nor that of those who advocate this theology), it seems to me that more thoughtful reflection needs to be given to this concern.

That said, I think that Farley’s book (and that of others writing from this perspective) needs to be taken seriously, especially from those in the emerging church movement. If the emergent church movement does not find its life’s source in God’s grace, I fear it will become just another experiment in legalism. It might be a more socially conscious form of legalism, but it will be legalism none-the-same. In the long run, then, it will only serve to leave and new line of religious oppressed people struggling to do what they think God expects, rather than living with a powerful passion that genuinely transforms the world.

If you’d like a copy of Andrew’s book, click here:The Naked Gospel: Truth You May Never Hear in Church

This blog is also posted at http://viralbloggers.com/2010/02/the-naked-gospel-by-andrew-farley/

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One Response to “The Naked Gospel”

  1. George Algozzini says:

    A fine and fair review. However, to those that are not pre-exposed to those other writers or to a clear concept of grace as I was it is a truly amazing and life changing book.

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