Friday, February 05, 2010

The Naked Gospel (Second Thoughts)

Andrew Farley, in his book The Naked Gospel, makes the outrageous-sounding claim that the real Jesus-life is not a life of trying to obey Old Testament laws, to include even the Ten Commandments. Now that is the kind of claim that makes me fear for Farley's life. Surely even now, as I write, Farley is hiding in some cave deep in a forest in northern Alaska where no Christian Evangelical can be found. But as a Jesus-follower myself I think his claim is, essentially, biblical and correct. It's rooted in the biblical distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. (Farley - please prepare a spot for me in your cave...)

It's not that the law is sinful. As Paul says, in Romans 7:12, "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good." The "law" is not flawed. "But its perfect standard when combined with human effort results in failure. In short, the law is perfect, but it makes no one perfect." Therefore, whatever else Real Christianity is, it is not a life of constantly striving to follow the laws of God that God laid down in the Old Testament. Yet this is precisely how many Christians view it, teach it, preach it, and live it. When that happens, it's not good news, and it fundamentally misunderstands the Real Gospel. Note this: real Christianity is not about (no longer about) striving to measure up to the perfect laws of God. If you haven't got this point, then Farley's book presents it well.

Paul writes to Timothy, "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is not made for the righteous..." (1 Timothy 1:8-9a) Farley says: "The law still exists and has a purpose today. But it's not designed for Christians as a tool or guide for daily living. Its sole purpose is to convict the ungodly of their spiritually dead state." (61)

The Holy Spirit is not given to Jesus-followers so that we might comply with the law. Jesus has already met the requirements of the law - See Romans 8:3-4. Paul tells us that, as we are now "in Christ," we are "dead to the law." "Through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God." (Galatians 2:19) In Romans 7:4, 6, Paul writes "you also died to the law through the body of Christ."

What's going on so far in Farley's book? Here are a few things I am thinking.
  • I think of Jesus' final words to his disciples in John chapters 14-16; viz., about abiding in him as a branch is connected to a vine. It's in this tight abiding-relationship with the Triune God that the stuff of God is imparted to us (peace, joy, revelation, power, purity, righteousness).
  • When someone is truly "born again," an inner revolution happens inside of them so that they won't need a commandment like "Do not steal" because their heart is being transformed into one that will not steal.
  • Keep abiding in Jesus, and your stealing will stop. For such people no external command is necessary.
  • Paul gets this exactly right in Romans 13:8-10 - "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."
  • That is precisely why, for the Real Follower of Jesus, the person who lives in Christ and Christ in that person, true, righteous laws like the Ten Commandments are not needed.  
  • Farley's audience is evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. He is exposing those groups to the real Gospel. For those of us no longer involved in the raging "Paul and the Law" discussions this issue is but one part, albeit a core part, of the Gospel unveiled ("naked" Gospel). I'm guessing there will be a lot of the real Gospel that does not get exposed in this book. So for now I'm thinking - cool, but it's not going to be naked enough for me. (Farley - hopefully you're not naked in your Alaskan hideout.)