I had a conversation with the Author in the comments of my review on Amazon. I am reprinting that conversation here. I need to re-read the books because clearly I did not get all of it. Whenever I disagree with an author, I want to make sure that I am communicating their argument correctly, in a way that they would agree that I have understood. Farley was kind enough to dialogue with me to move me closer to understanding what he was trying to communicate. The conversation is at the bottom.
Takeaway: The overall point, that Jesus plus anything else is no longer the Gospel, is right. But his method of dismissing most of scripture, including much of Jesus’ own teaching, makes it so I am hesitant to recommend it.
It took me about 3 years, but I finally got around to reading this book (or most of it anyway.) A friend asked me what I thought of it and gave me a copy, but we were never able to schedule a time to talk about it, and I did not read it until now.
Farley grew up in a legalistic church background. He reached a crisis of faith when he realized he never could share the gospel with enough people, he never could live righteous enough, he could never become holy by his own power.
It seems that he found the real gospel at that point, and since then has tried to share with others the freedom that he feels from a gospel that requires nothing of him. Much of the early part of the book is trying to distinguish the Christian relationship to the Jewish law of the Old Testament. I have some quibbles with this part, primarily because he wants to completely separate our works, righteousness and faith. I think he goes too far here because there is a relationship between them once we have accepted the gospel. Once we have submitted to grace, a right relationship with God will lead to righteous actions. Not all righteous actions (sin still has power in our lives) and our own actions are not salvific nor completely of our own power. But as James (and Jesus) say, a life without any fruit is one that has not truly been saved.
Farley is right about many people’s problems with Christian freedom. “Freedom from the law can make some of us uneasy. When boundaries are removed, we’re left to make up our minds concerning what is and what isn’t profitable.” But it seems we are left with little else at this point. He discounts being able to learn much from the Old Testament except how much we have been saved from. And we do not have much of Jesus’ teachings because he asserts that they were being taught to a Jewish ‘Old Covenant’ audience. Farley even believes much of Paul’s teaching is referencing his life before Christ. He is deft, but in the end, Farley’s bible is no more the scripture than if we were given than the Jefferson Bible or any of the other attempts to make the gospel more palatable.
One last example, Farley reference Paul’s use of the ‘flesh’ in several places. He notes that the NIV translates sarx (the transliterated greek word) as ‘sinful nature’. He is concerned that this is a bad translation and that most other English translations use the more literal term ‘flesh’. Farley’s concern is that the NIV is introducing the idea of sinful that is not present (although I would say it is understood in context) in the Greek term sarx. He says, “The phrase sinful nature can lead to inaccurate and harmful ideas about the new heart, mind and spirit that we have in Christ…The NIV rendition is an expansion of the term.” He is right, the literal translation is flesh. But using the term flesh also conotes that our bodies are the root of the sin and that to really moved away from the controlling power of sin, we should be moving away from our physical bodies. This then introduces gnostic heresies. This shows some of the many problems of translation. There is always interpretation embedded in translation, and attempts to count one heresy can introduce another. This is one of the main reasons that scripture has to be read as a whole.
I stopped reading a bit more than half way through the book. I went to Amazon and read through some reviews. Overwhelmingly, the reviews were positive. It is clear that there is a large segment of the church that is trying to add to the gospel and has bound people into a legalism that is not what was intended. Almost weekly, I see people baptized at my church (they have a couple minute video of their story before the baptism) and many of the stories are very similar. “I attended church much of my childhood but I never understood the gospel. I tried to live life on my own at college, but then was introduced to the grace of Christ.” Details are different, but the basic message of Farley’s book really is important to people that have been kept from truly understanding the power of Grace. But his method of getting to the message is important too, and it is a method that I cannot endorse.
I am working on, and will link to a review of “Jesus Way: A Conversation on the ways Jesus is the Way” by Eugene Peterson. In many ways, from about 1/3 in, it is the book that Farley should have written. It is clear about Christ as the Son of God and the gospel of Grace, but it also takes very seriously the whole of scripture to get there. I will update this with a link when the review is live.
3. In “The Naked Gospel”, the term “sarx” (“flesh”) as used in Romans 7 and Galatians (“deeds of the flesh”) is never, never equated with the physical body. Our physical bodies are God’s temple, and they are not evil in any way. “The Naked Gospel” takes careful measures to show Gnosticism as heresy, especially in the section on 1 John 1.
4. This reviewer stated several things that are untrue, and he admits that he did not read the whole book.
I did not finish reading the book, so maybe other things would be clarified if I had.
Also, note that the Romans 7 struggle came while he was *under law*, specifically under the “thou shall not covet” law. So my opinion is that, as a believer and as an apostle, Paul knew better than to remain under law. That’s a second reason I think the Romans 7 struggle refers to his life as a Pharisee under the law, before his conversion.
Nevertheless, scholars disagree on this one, and it’s just my opinion. But I’ve seen many people fall into passivity and excuse-making as they claim, “Look, even Paul struggled in Romans 7, so there’s not real hope for change for any of us before heaven.” I just don’t think Romans 7 is the normal Christian life, because I believe we are not designed to live life under the Law.
Still, we struggle. And yes, we still sin. I just don’t think we should look to Romans 7 as the expected norm. We are told that we died to sin and “how can we live in it any longer?” I think that’s where God wants us to fix our eyes.
Thanks again for your kind words and considerations.
P.S. I know that you think I overcorrect by saying that our bodies are not evil. But believing that our bodies are the source of sin is a Gnostic error. The more accurate belief, it seems, is to say that indwelling sin within our bodies is the source that we battle against (see Romans 7:17, 20). Just commenting on that once more, so that no one falsely accuses you either. We need to stress that our bodies are a “living sacrifice” to God and that they are “holy and acceptable” to Him as His temple.
Grace to you, bro!
Feel free to post our discussion as long as all portions are included. Thanks for the dialogue, Adam. I hope it’s helpful to your blog and if people have questions they can go to my author website anytime at Andrew Farley ORG.