Book Review: The Naked Gospel

"The Naked Gospel" by Andrew Farley

Disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge by The Ooze Viral Bloggers.

I recently received a copy of Andrew Farley’s book The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church. The back jacket alone was enough to pique my interest:

Jesus plus nothing. 100% natural. No additives. It’s the truth you may never hear in church. The Naked Gospel is a chapter-by-chapter assault on the churchy jargon and double-talk of our day. It puts forth a message that is simple but life changing. With a fresh take on Scripture and an unapologetic style, The Naked Gospel will challenge you to reexamine everything you thought you already knew.

Jesus plus nothing? An assault on churchy jargon? Be prepared to reexamine everything you think you know? Understandably, I was stoked about reading this book.

In the end, the book failed to deliver on the back jacket’s promises.

The Naked Gospel is a good — not great — read. Farley’s primary conviction is to purge legalism — in all its forms — from the Christian faith. The author aims to do this by demonstrating the ineptitude of the “Old Covenant” and the complete superiority of the New Covenant founded by Christ. Beginning with his own upbringing, Farley confronts the myriad paths we seek to earn our salvation by adding something (evangelism, Bible study, prayer, etc.) to the Jesus = Salvation equation. But, as the bold font on the jacket flap declares, the “naked gospel” is Jesus + nothing.

What’s surprising, then, is how much of an emphasis Farley places on the words of the NT epistles. Farley posits that most of Christ’s teachings were addressed to “Old Covenant” thinkers and the purpose of these teachings was to demonstrate to the people their need for a Savior. This diminishes the teachings of Jesus — in particular, the Sermon on the Mount — as archaic and mostly irrelevant to Christian experience; conversely, it elevates the NT epistles as the clearest representation of Gospel-life.

And this is where I fundamentally disagree with Farley. I would argue (vehemently, in fact) that Christ stands as the full revelation of God’s will (Col. 1.19). Christ stands in tremendous continuity with the OT law and prophets; in fact, He claims to be their embodied fulfillment (Matt. 5.17). Farley never deals with this in a satisfactory manner, instead building a case for the inferiority of the Old Testament covenant. For the author, the gravity point in Scripture is found in the NT epistles (in particular, the book of Hebrews). But this is yet another point where I disagree with Farley. I understand Christ as inaugurating the Kingdom reign of God through His ministry (Matthew 4.17; Mark 1.15). Jesus himself claims that His teaching regarding the Kingdom of God is “good news” (Luke 4.43), the very reason He was sent by God. For Farley, the only portion of Scripture that seems important is the material that takes place after the resurrection. (Nevermind the fact that the Gospels were written AFTER the resurrection.)

This is not to say that the text is without benefit. Farley demonstrates the sufficiency of Christ’s death to bring about reconciliation and atonement for those who believe. Readers will come away with a renewed understanding of the nature of the New Covenant. And Farley’s honesty about his own struggles with legalism are helpful and they give the rest of his arguments an air of authenticity. But these merits must be held in tension with what I would consider to be considerable weaknesses to Farley’s presentation of the Gospel.

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