Book Review:God without Religion: Can It Really Be This Simple?
Reviewed by: John W. Frye.
SMcK: I read this book and needed a second set of eyes because of what I saw. So I asked John to read it and to see what he sees, and I asked John because he knows the dispensational theology better than I do and he also knows, as is evident below, the historical Keswick convention’s development of sanctification. What follows is John’s review, but I agree with everything he says. I was deeply disturbed by this book and by the radical proposals it makes. The theory of the Christian life in this book does not sit comfortably with how the Bible tells us — yea, commands us — to live. It takes one idea and drives everything else out.
Keswick 2.0: Farley’s God Without Religion
I’ll begin this review with Andrew Farley’s closing story. Imagine that the spirit of Wayne Gretzky, the “Great One,” who accumulated numerous awards, set hockey records and was inducted in the Hall of Fame indwells you. You’re on the ice in an NHL game and Gretzky’s spirit is in you. How will you play the game? Will you ‘try’ your best to play with your limited abilities or “depend on Gretzky to play the game through you by faith” (257)? There you have Farley’s book in a metaphor.
Farley opens the book by comparing religion to extortion. Religion is “spiritual burglary” which robs us of life in Christ. In his resistance to religion whereby we try to save or improve ourselves, Farley makes no reference to James 1:26-27 and “true religion.” In Part 1- “Mennonite Motorboat” religion is caricatured as trying to live the new Christian life in old ways. The illustration is a Mennonite buggy pulling a motorboat. Religion and God do not mix. In Part 2-”Divine Slot Machine” we get the caricature that God exists for us and if we put in the right “works”, then good things will happen. In “Two Ministries of Christ” we learn that Jesus raised the bar of the Mosaic Code to an impossible height in order to heighten the sense of sin, but also promised a new way (new covenant) for living without religion, but by faith alone. In “God’s Fat Greek Wedding” Farley describes how outsiders, Gentiles, partake in the new covenant. In Part 5 “Frank Lloyd Wrong”, using the analogy of his purchase of a Frank Lloyd Wright home, Farly describes how wrong it would be to try and improve the Wright home. Religion is an attempt to “improve” on only what the Spirit can do. Parts 6-7 describe the futility in trying to mix religion and new covenant life. The only way to view the law/Law is with the 3D glasses of the new covenant. If we look at the Gospels/Law without the 3D glasses, we will see blurred images that hurt our vision. The book ends with the illustration of leaning on the spirit Gretzky to help us succeed in the “game” of life with Gretsky’s spirit being analogous to the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Books like Farley’s put a reviewer in a tough spot. Who can be against living the victorious, free from sin, grace-permeated, Spirit-empowered Christian life? I’m all for that. The odd thing in this book is the packaging of selected Scriptures to come up with a “simple” formula. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was reading classic Keswick, exchanged life, Jesus-is-all theology. Farley attempts to distance himself from that view of sanctification by eschewing “Let go and let God,” but look at his closing story. Do you see what I see? “Let go and let Gretzky.”
Farley doesn’t want to take sin lightly. He hammers that “the wages of sin is death.” But what is sin? Sin is the programming of the flesh/old man that is still operative in our bodies. As a “new man/person” the Christian is free not to choose sin. The unsaved can only choose sin and dressed-up sin is “religion.” But wait. There’s more. Sin is a “rat in the house.” Sin is a “force” in us that attempts to control us if we allow it (156, emphasis mine).
Christian living is living by faith that we “have the mind of Christ.” Christians must replace lies with truth about their new identity. We must see ourselves at all times as God sees us, that is, as righteous as Jesus Himself. By receiving and believing all of these truths we will be freed from all works, all human attempts, all self-improvement agendas. There is no need to hear Paul exhort Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). We will have God without religion. Jesus is now our life. Keswick 2.0. There are two levels of Christians: those who are saved but attempting to grow by “religion” and those who believe the simple Keswick schema as presented by Farley.
I did like Farley’s discussion of predestination in the section titled “God’s Big Fat Greek Wedding.” He makes a good case for corporate election, that is, God dealing with people groups, not the classical Calvinistic election of some individuals and, thus, rejection of all others.
What stunned me was this: “The cross provides a whole new perspective on the law of Moses and on Jesus’s harsh teachings, Moses 2.0” (89). And “Here it is: we can interpret Jesus’s teachings as literal but contextualize them as being directed at people who were still under the law (Galatians 4:4-5)” (91, emphasis his). What? The naivete of this is frightening. Farley assumes everything about Judaism is “religion” and, therefore, bad. Farley, like so many, reads Martin Luther’s struggle with Catholic “works” righteousness into 1st century Judaism. I doubt that Farley has pondered the concept of covenantal nomism. It might be good for Farley to meditate his way through Psalm 119 and get a Jew’s view of the Law. According to Farley, the New Testament does not begin with the Gospels, but with the cross of Jesus. The Gospels have no application to the church because the church is living under or in the new covenant. Tell that to Darrell L. Bock whose NIV Application Commentary on The Gospel of Luke offers loads of edifying teaching for Christians. Scot McKnight won’t like the fact that the Great Commandment (the Jesus Creed) isn’t for the church, either. It was announced by Jesus pre-cross and to those under the law. Who does Farley think the Gospels were written to? Why do we even need them? As shocking as this may sound, I get the impression from Farley that all we need from Jesus before his resurrection is his blood. Farley has created dispensationalism 20.0! Sprinkled throughout the book is the phrase “the kingdom of God,” but it appears that Farley has a view of kingdom and it isn’t clear to us what it is and how the church is related to it.
Let’s follow Farley’s teaching to its logical end. If we don’t need the Gospels, then why do we need any of the Bible at all? Farley cobbles together a bunch of victorious Christian life verses and basically says, “Live them out” or more pointedly, “Let Jesus live them out through you by faith.” Wouldn’t reading the Bible be religious? If the Spirit of Jesus lives in us, then He’s all we need. Isn’t the Living Word Who is in us far better than the cumbersome written Word with all those “laws” in it? In Farley’s view we have 43 books ‘under the law’ (if we include the Gospels) and only 23 new covenant books. Out of those 23 books, all we need is a neat package of verses boiling it down to “Jesus only.” Farley’s book offers a glaringly individualistic view of the faith. It offers a very me-centered spirituality. There is hardly a place for the church-as-community in Farley’s view of the Christian life and not even a mention of the mission of the church in world.