The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church by Andrew Farley begins with an epigraph by Arthur Bury from 1691, making the claim that the naked gospel “was the gospel which our Lord and his apostles preached,” which is what I expected this book to do. I expected to read a new take on Jesus theology, in which I would learn a bit more about what Jesus said and did and the ways in which those actions were revolutionary. I would have loved this book if that had been what it really did. What I got instead was a whole different story involving Paul, a Jew who supposedly grew to have no use for his traditional religious upbringing, and those people who came after Paul who also saw no need for relationship with the Jewish Scriptures. How, can I ask, does this present “the gospel which our Lord and his apostles preached”? Instead, possibly the epigraph should have been a quote from Origen who thought that Paul “taught the Church which he had gathered from among the Gentiles how to understand the books of the Law” and then ignore them. It seems as if Farley spends quite a bit of time discussing Paul and Paul’s aversion to his own tradition, which doesn’t seem like a Naked Gospel, but more of an interrogation of Paul. That being said, this book isn’t all bad; it just wasn’t what I expected.
Farley provides an excellent critique of our desire to remain staid in our own complacent following of hollow rules that we perceive make us good Christians. However, I am not sure that early Christians would agree with his reading of the meaning of old and new and the ways that he argues Christians are called to live a new life without considering the laws or the Jewish Scriptures. It makes no sense to advocate the very heavy disregard for the early Christians’ previous religious experience, especially because there is substantial evidence to the contrary. In fact, the very people Farley discusses—Peter, Paul, and the other apostles—did not leave the Jewish faith. They merely reconfigured their previous beliefs to fit with their newly acquired faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Particularly, Matthew adheres to his Jewish roots as he tried to convince both Gentiles and Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. Making such an adamant break from discussing Jewish traditions and religion is a major weakness of Farley’s text. I do agree with his assessment that Christians need to learn to avoid “the painful symptoms of un-necessary religion” (31), but does this need to be done by completely breaking away from tradition or previous manifestations of religious worship? I think not. Even Paul, who Farley quotes sometimes very out of context, references his own religious and secular traditions as well as the religious and secular leaders of his time.
The main tenet that Farley proposes with which I agree is the idea that we are free from sin. We are always already forgiven, and too many Christians don’t realize it. They are crippled by the perceived necessity to keep accounts of their sins and to compulsively ask forgiveness for those sins, sometimes to the point of unhealthy self-reflectivity and analysis. I love the song “Everything Glorious” by David Crowder Band, because it makes this claim so well. I think Farley is getting at the same question as Crowder: “You make everything glorious and I am Yours, so what does that make me?” According to Farley, “It’s important to understand that we’re joined to the risen Christ, not to a dead religious teacher” (180). I would even take this a step further and say that we are the risen Christ. Whatever is to be done on this earth now, is to be done through us as we are the manifestation of the work that Jesus did on the cross. We are required to be Christ to people: “Genuine growth occurs as we absorb truth about who we already are and what we already possess in Christ” (187). I concur.
In short, I liked this book because it challenges several commonly held beliefs in contemporary Christianity, such as the idea that we have to change who we are to be perfect Christians. As Farly writes, “Having Christ live through you is really about knowing who you are and being yourself. Since Christ is your life, your source of true fulfillment, you’ll only be content when you are expressing him” (194). I agree but my main complaints about this book can speak directly to this idea: what if the way you experience Christ living through you includes a love for and an adherence to those “Old Testament” ideas that he claims are null and void? Can we really claim that the naked gospel is a gospel void of any sense of tradition or Jewish scripture, relying solely on tradition and reason to inform our actions as Christians? I don’t think so. I don’t think this is really “Jesus plus nothing.” It’s more like Jesus nothing with a heaping helping of misread Paul. I would recommend this book, simply so people could wrestle through all of these ideas as Farley adeptly challenges the reader to think critically about a variety of ideas.
You can read this and other reviews of the same book at Viral Bloggers.