I’ve reviewed some specific sections and issues from Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel. He wrote the book in order to relieve people from the bondage of legalism which can come from misunderstanding the gospel. That is a great thing. But Farley seems to misunderstand the gospel in a different way.
He begins the book by inviting theological discussion. Theological disputation is an important thing, but it must be done properly. Where Farley, and his book, ultimately fails is how he pursues theological disputation.
His book is filled with exegetical and hermeneutical errors. Texts are often taken out of context. His method of interpretation is profoundly flawed. He ignores texts that may have something to say about his points. When talking about how we won’t stand before God at the Great White Throne, he tosses out Matthew 25 due the fact that it took place before the Cross. Nor does he refer to Romans 14:9-12.
9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: ”‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
He fails to make theological distinctions which are of great importance. As a result of this, he has a one-size fits all approach. For him, all roads lead to justification. One of my professors, Richard Pratt, often told us that you have to use the right medicine from the medicine cabinet. We are to rightly diagnose the problem, and then give them the proper practical theology to address that problem. If you have heart problems, taking medication for erectile dysfunction can be deadly. There is no one medicine for all problems. The gospel has many elements to it (regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification etc.), and we must give them the proper one. To offer the medication of justification when they have a sanctification problem is part of what keeps Christians in immaturity.
Another problem that disturbed me was the consistent use of the straw man argument. Farley consistently portrays those with whom he disagrees in the worst possible light. For example, he hones in on those who think we must confess our sins (post-conversion) and that the Spirit convicts us.
Convict means “to find guilty.” Within a judicial system, conviction is followed by sentencing and then punishment. Inside the word conviction is the term we usually reserve for a person who is incarcerated- a convict. So should the verb convict be used to describe interaction between the Holy Spirit and children of God? Probably not.
He’s right, IF that is the only meaning and intended use of the word. As a professor of applied linguistics, you would think he would know this and explain this. But he stacks the deck so his view sounds reasonable and the other view does not.
One definition of convict is to make aware of one’s sinfulness and guilt. As a Christian, I remain sinful (Farley would disagree) and do wrong things (he’d agree). The Spirit convicts me, in part, but making me aware of my wrong-doing in specific areas. He is not condemning me, but humbling me and leading me to repentance (most of the churches are told to repent in Revelation 2-3). Moreover, conviction can refer to a firm or fixed belief. The Spirit convicts us in that sense too. He established firm and fixed belief in us about what the Bible teaches and how we are to apply it. These are the ways in which most Christians use these words- not in the way Farley claims.
As a result, this book- while well-intentioned- can do much harm to those lacking a sufficient biblical theological background to make the distinctions that Pastor Farley fails to make. I hate sounding like a nit-picky, fault-finding guy. But this book presents too many problems on too many fronts.
I’ve noted other books that may be of good use in understanding regeneration and justification. A book that may be of good use in understanding sanctification is Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. It is built on the reality of our union with Christ. So, in some ways it is what Farley tries to do without the many theological errors that Farley embraces. We do live out our new identity in Christ, being assured of His love for us due to the substitutionary death of Christ. This would be a more fruitful use of one’s time and money.