I received a free copy of Andrew Farley’s book, The Naked Gospel, a few weeks ago in the mail from Viral Bloggers and didn’t know a whole lot about it. The subtitle is enough to stir intrigue – “the truth you may never hear in church.” Sounds in line with a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading. Even the section titles are interesting enough, “Obsessive-Christianity disorder,” “religion is a headache,” and “cheating on Jesus” to name a few. I set out with high hopes of the book.
About half way through, I kept waiting . . . waiting . . . waiting . . . two-thirds of the way through I actually went to the Viral Bloggers website to seek out some of my fellow reviewers in hopes of finding something positive to say. What I found there, instead, reinforced the opinion I was forming.
The premise to Farley’s book is well-intentioned. He confesses to having been consumed with an unfulfilled religiosity that had basically created a monster. He had become a stereotypical evangelical preacher/evangelist and was serious about it – heartfelt, ambitious, and (mildly successful. However, in the midst of all that – he felt as though he was missing something. For the most part, a beginning exercise that prefaces the gist of many evangelical books gracing the new release shelves as of late. However, in my opinion, Farley falls far short of following through.
In hindsight, I think there is a great deal of similarity between what Farley attempts to do with his book and what David Dark does in his book: The Sacredness of Questioning Everything in attempting to get beyond a rules-based “Uncle Ben” (from Dark) kind of God who is lurching in the dark to zap his people for their sins. Unfortunately Farley isn’t nearly as adept in navigating this premise. I don’t wish to question Farley’s ambition or the the relevance of this “naked gospel” for himself and others who have benefited. I am glad that he has found rescue from the oppressive and guilt-ridden past. However, there are so many glaring weaknesses, for me, I did not find this book enjoyable or helpful much at all. To summarize some of my biggest disappointments:
– I found Farley’s Reformed theology to be an obstacle to overcome. I certainly have no problem reading material that stands outside of my own preference or belief, but I found Farley’s Reformed take to be trite and lacking in several areas.
– While I applaud Farley’s desire to rescue Christians from the guilty pretense of salvific works and moralism, I was disappointed by his exclusively individualistic focus. The communitarian (essential – I would say) aspect of faith is all but absent. Salvation remains the outlook solely of the individual for Farley.
– Farley’s perspective of sin was also something I found too narrow. Related to the above point, Farley seems to completely overlook the communal nature of sin. What of the sin inherent in the powers and principalities? What of the addictive powers of sin? I could say more about this shortcoming, but I’ll leave it at that.
– The disconnect Farley draws between the old law and new law (old and new covenant) is much too sharp. To relegate Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount as simply convicting the Jews of the impossibility of keeping the own laws with no real moral implication for Christians today since we’ve been relieved of the law (I think that is a fair take on Farley’s presentation) was seriously lacking for me. His Reformed bias didn’t do much for me and his treatment of James as well.
– Beyond the theological and ideological shortcomings I saw in The Naked Gospel, if I would have resonated better with Farley’s writing style I could have become more engaged. Instead, I found Farley to be often trite with many shallow and random illustrations that didn’t flow well and were often over-explained. I found myself saying, “OK, I get it.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait to be done with this book and move on to something else. There were times when I felt like I was reading some kind of Reformed version of Joel Olsteen – probably more from his style than from his theology. A few words synopsis: Not what I expected, Good intention with poor follow-through.