NOTE: A copy of THE NAKED GOSPEL by Andrew Farley, was provided me, free of charge by Zondervan, for review purposes.
Andrew Farley, author of THE NAKED GOSPEL, found himself going into what may be suspected to be clinical depression. He writes in the beginning of THE NAKED GOSPEL:
"I found myself lying on the floor of my apartment, sobbing for hours on end: "God, I'm doing everything I'm supposed to do, and I still don't feel closer to you. In fact, I feel worse than ever! How could this have gone wrong? I can't see any way out. Help me."
I think that others have been there and in fact, Farley brings up a couple of famous people, one of which was Martin Luther. He writes:
"[Luther] was constantly overcome with guilt. He was infatuated with self flagellation and made countless attempts to atone for his never ending list of sins. In addition to whipping himself until he bled, he would sometimes lie on the snowy ground all night long in the dead of Winter until eventually, he was in such a state of shock that his colleagues would have carry him to safety."
Farley goes on to mention Mother Teresa's 40 year period of spiritual dryness - quoting her out of context, he suggests that she had a difficult time finding "meaning and purpose" and a "stable relationship with God".
It's not surprising that Farley doesn't understand the complexity of the spiritual dryness of a saint like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as he's not a Catholic but in the case of Martin Luther, although I have read suggestions that he was a bit too heavy handed with the self punishment when he was an Augustian priest, enough to "worry" his superiors (this I found in an article in the Encyclopedia Americana years ago), in all fairness to him, there is no evidence he spent his whole life in such a mode. Farley doesn't document his claims about Luther so I can't research it further. At the least, Lutherans will take exception to these statements as Luther is, understandably, sort of a hero to those members of the church he founded in the 1500's.
There is no doubt that Farley is a scholar and a brilliantly intelligent individual. In fact, the text of his book, reads similarly to articles I have found in Mensa publications (the IQ group).
For in order to cure his clinical depression (which likely was NOT "caused" by his religion - chances are, the religion was only how he expressed it!), Farley ends up deciding that all laws in the Bible, including the entire teachings of Jesus, are null and void for Christians.
The "harsh teachings of Jesus", he explains, are just too difficult to live by and besides, since Jesus had not died on the cross yet, Jesus was merely speaking to those under the "Old Covenant". The New Covenant began, says Farley, when Jesus died on the cross. He writes further:
"Jesus tells His audience to cut off their hands, to pluck out their eyes and to be perfect just like God...in short He is discouraging his contemporaries as they seek to achieve righteousness through the law." (p. 231)
And concludes that:
"God intended us to be dependent on Him with no concern for morality and ethics...if we get life from the Spirit, then we're not designed to live by the Jewish law, religious rules, a moral code or even Christian "principles"
Farley who is a weekend pastor of a (must be) free spirited church in Texas and a linguistic professor in his day job, leaves no stone unturned, even explaining away the faith plus works passages in James (i.e. "show me your faith without works and I'll show you the faith which underlies my works" and "faith without works is dead").
"we need to recognize that this passage in James does not seem to be referring to a post salvation experience." p 199
Farley ignores Jesus' statement however that "I came not to destroy the law but to fulfill the law" and makes mention that we should not follow a dead religious teacher (Jesus the man) but the resurrected Christ who is "fused within us". And that we should realize that when Christ is dwelling within us, our wants will be what Jesus wants.
If this is sounding more and more like "New Age" to you, yes, I believe this is very similar to New Age which is really an adulterated mixture of agnosticism and Buddhism with a bit of paganism thrown in. New Age teaches people to look within for the Christ or god or deity within us and to follow that, thus deciding for themselves what is right and wrong. The theological name for this is "moral relativism".
In fact, Farley's gospel sounds very much like the famous New Age "Course in Miracles" which gives similar advice albeit not cloaked in Christian terminology. So even though Farley claims a new (and of course, better) type of Christianity, his ideas are not really new at all and may in fact, be anathema to mainstream Christians.
Farley's complete dismissal of the teachings of Jesus may be, to most mainstream Christians, definitely a serious problem. And Farley's distinct separation of what he calls "Jesus the Man" who taught the Jews how to live according to their law (not applicable to us, says Farley), from Jesus resurrected who indwells, seems to be teaching against traditional Christology. This is not a new type of heresy, having first appeared in the 2nd or 3rd century of Christianity, the on going argument about whether Jesus had two natures, human and Divine or just a Divine nature or just a human nature.
The Catholic church settled the issue in the 4th century by declaring Mary the "mother of God" thus establishing that Mary was not the mother of a nature (i.e. Jesus' human nature) but rather the mother of a Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus who is all Man and all God. Even poorly understood by some Catholics, calling Mary the "mother of God" is really saying something important about Jesus rather than Mary.
Farley's doctrines are very earth centered, another area in which it very much resembles "New Age" thinking. He writes:
"if we merely had a ticket to Heaven, there'd be no power to live in the present." p 181
"it's very difficult, if not totally unrealistic to live for something far off in the future. "
He calls mainstream Christianity a "Lackluster Gospel", writing:
"We're inundated with a lackluster gospel that advocates partial forgiveness, a pressure filled motivation for behavioral change, and the promise of earned rewards in Heaven or a cash return on earth. This counterfeit is the reason that the church sometimes doesn't appear much different from the world." p 192
He feels that all the law in the Bible (which he contradictorily still insists is the 'Word of God') can cause people to sin.
"The law causes sin to increase, not decrease. " p 232
But, I may ask, if the Bible is the Word of God, how could following it, cause people to sin? Lack of desire to follow the Commandments has led many a person into New Age thinking which seemingly comfortably tells us sin is outdated and we are "free", however, it seems that Andrew Farley has gone a step further in bringing New Age thinking into Christianity.
He seems to have forgotten some of the basics like "sin is a moment of pleasure and a lifetime of pain and virtue is a moment of pain and a lifetime of joy" (Bishop Sheen).
Although this book might make interesting reading for agnostics and atheists, especially those into intellectualizing, it seems not appropriate for people really trying to find Jesus through Christianity.
While Farley may feel he is making Christianity palpable to the typical Post Christian hedonist (and he well might be doing this), I have to question his theology as it seems to agree more with New Age philosophy than traditional Christian theology but I guess if that is what it takes to bring him to God, then God can work through that also.
For some, however, the book might seem a way out of the "boring" rules of Christianity and they should keep in mind:
"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Timothy 4:3)
Everyone has their own path - I must say, the book did keep my interest all the way through although I can say that also about the "Course in Miracles". This isn't MY path to God but it's always interesting to read about the paths of others and we can always learn something!