By Shane Kastler
Andrew Farley's book "God Without Religion: Can It Really Be This Simple" is an eclectic mix of bad theology and boring personal illustrations used ad nauseam to explain the aforementioned bad theology. Mix in some accurate statements here and there regarding the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law in Christ and you have a nutty little book that's sure to please the itching ears by bashing “religion” (though the book of James commends true religion) and confuse many well-meaning Christians who assume a glib young man with a Ph.D. must know it all. But upon further review, you'll find his Biblical exegesis is shoddy; many of his theological views to be unbiblical; and most of his conclusions to be very extreme. To be candid, I believe much of Farley's teaching to be heretical and would thus avoid it all together. But like most heretics, there is a certain amount of truth in what he says.
I'll begin with his writing style, which was "trendy and conversational" to the point of being distracting. Perhaps the self-proclaimed expert is trying to “dumb it down” for the unwashed masses; but the over abundance of exclamation points and one word rhetorical questions makes for a painful literary journey, where you're expecting to see an “LOL” or a “TTYL” on the next page. In addition to the painful writing style, Farley bores you to tears with repeated, drawn out, personal illustrations to try and clarify his points. The result of this is that the reader frequently has the urge to roll their eyes and say to themselves “alright, alright, I get the point. Enough with the cutesy story about your grandma.....and the 3-D movie you went to as a kid.......and the time the dog followed you home......and how a Christian is like Wayne Gretsky.” While the occasional illustration can be helpful. Reading a book that is as chalk full of them as this one leaves the impression that the writer has very little of substance to say; which I think would be true in this case.
There are a couple of things I would avoid in any spiritual teacher. First of all, if any teacher actually encourages you to disregard the very teachings of Jesus; rest assured you have a heretic on your hands. It's eerily reminiscent of what the serpent asked Eve in the garden, “Hath God said?” Farley's ludicrous notion that Jesus' “Sermon on the Mount” was only intended for Jews who were under the Law is not a novel teaching at all. Hard core Dispensational theologians held to it a hundred years ago. But there's not a shred of Biblical support for such a notion. Indeed, in order to accept Farley's teaching you would by necessity have to reject Jesus' teaching in the great commission. Which states that we are to “go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20) It goes without saying that a big part of “all that I have commanded you” would include the Sermon on the Mount.
You see a lot of similarities between Moses receiving the Law and Jesus giving His Sermon on the Mount. In both cases, they ascend a hill. In both cases they speak for God. In both cases, they address many of the same issues. Moses was receiving the “Old Covenant Law” and Jesus was dispensing the New Covenant Law. They are not one and the same and they do represent two different covenants. But Jesus' whole point is that under the New Covenant the standard of conduct is higher because in the New Covenant we have the miracle of a new birth (regeneration; John 3:3) and we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who actually gives us the desire and ability to obey. Old Covenant Jews did not have this.
Farley is correct to say that we are not under the Old Covenant Law with its 613 commands and that the Law has been fulfilled in Christ in it's entirety. But he takes the idea of “freedom from the Law” to a ridiculously unbiblical conclusion by also applying it to New Testament commands. When Paul speaks against the Law he speaks of the Mosaic Law. But the commands of Christ and the New Testament writers are very much applicable to the believer. Paul says that he was not under the Law of Moses; but that he was under the Law of Christ: “To those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.” (1 Cor. 9:21) Paul also uses the phrase “law of Christ” in Galatians 6:2.
Farley takes Paul's arguments against the Mosaic Law and broadens them way beyond what Paul actually said or taught. Farley cites Romans 7:7-8 (NASB): “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.” Then he argues that this refers to ANY commandment (Old or New Testament). In other words he says any time you are commanded to do anything you inherently have a desire to disobey it. But Paul isn't saying that. Paul is specifically talking about an unregenerate person; and he is specifically talking about the Law of Moses. It's frightening to consider how Farley can talk so much about the importance of “context” and then so frequently rip passages such as this one out of context. For a person who is born again, the commandments of JESUS are not burdensome at all (1 John 5:3); but rather we have a desire (because of the indwelling Holy Spirit) to do them. Jesus said, “my sheep hear my voice and they follow Me.” (John 10:27) and “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) What Jesus taught is not only different from what Farley teaches. It is the exact opposite.
And while we desire to please the Lord we often fall short and the Spirit convicts us of it. This is another reality that Farley denies saying that “believers are never convicted by the Holy Spirit.” But this contradicts Biblical teaching that “whom the Lord loves he disciplines.” And that if we are not disciplined in this way we are “illegitimate children.” (Hebrews 12) Sadly, Farley's notion of how we should never feel “convicted” only describe what the King James Bible calls “bastard” children. That's not what I want to be. How about you? In fact its only true believers who DO feel this conviction of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And when we do, we seek God's forgiveness. Not so we can be “re-saved” but so we can keep a closeness with God. But this is another doctrine that Farley rejects. He says we are “seated with Christ in the heavenly places.” But even a novice theologian knows this is an example of the “already/ not yet” tension of Christ's kingdom. While we are citizens of Heaven; we are not there yet. Yes our sins are paid for and our “ticket is punched” but we still reside in the fallen world and we still wrestle with sin. This is what Paul describes so vividly in Galatians 5; and unfortunately it's what Farley would deny.
Farley devotes three chapters in this book to the doctrine of predestination; and his interpretation of it is absolutely deplorable. First of all he makes the very deceptive claim that “predestination is only mentioned in the Bible a mere four times.” To begin with, even if it were only mentioned ONCE, it's still important. And second of all the doctrine is taught throughout the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. While the word “predestination” might only occur in his English translation four times, the words “elect, election, choose, chosen, predestined, and called” are used numerous times. Certainly this is one of the deep things of God that, to a certain extent, is “past finding out” (Romans 11:33) yet Farley assures us it is “simple” and he has been sent to enlighten all of us theological neanderthals. So while the church has spent 2000 years deeply absorbed in such matters, Farley blows it off as a flippant non-issue that he figured out with ease. (Ah, the arrogance of the twenty-something with a Ph.D.!) He probably should have devoted a couple of decades of study to this topic before he took up his pen to write on it. Because his conclusion is horrendously naïve. He teaches that predestination simply means God chooses both Jews and Gentiles rather than Jews alone. And that the ultimate choice resides with man. This is nothing but classic freewill, Arminianism that has plagued the church for centuries. While Farley sees himself as a brilliant and innovative theological thinker; in actuality he is merely a 21st century re-packaging of the heretics of old such as Pelagius, Arminius, and Charles Finney. Farley declares that God “would never elect individuals to salvation.” But this is precisely what the Bible teaches that God DID DO (Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29-30). Farley is either purposely deceptive, ignorant of Scripture, or a committed ear-tickler. None of which are good.
The one good thing that I think you would see in Farley's teaching is the fact that Christianity is not primarily a list of “do's and don'ts” as the Old Covenant Law, in some ways, was. That Christianity is lived out by the power of the Spirit. And that Christians should look to Christ as their justification. But for all of Farley's talk about the New Covenant, one of the things he fails to mention is the New Covenant promise that “I will write my law upon their hearts” (Jeremiah 31) Of course the law written upon our hearts is not Mosaic, but it is the Law of Christ.
I've come across several other things he has said that are dangerously problematic. He has made the statement that “our sin is no big deal to God.” I would counter that it obviously is a big deal if it cost him the life of his Son. Farley says that once we are saved we should never “repent” again since our sins are paid for. But this is a dangerous downplaying of the reality of indwelling sin in the believer's life. And Farley is confusing the nature of our eternal forgiveness based on Christ's work with the need to grow in godliness, seek the Lord daily, and be watchful for sin in our temporal life. He shockingly claims that 1 John 1:9 “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us” is only written to unbelievers. The truth is that 1 John, like all epistles, was written to the church. Not one iota of the New Testament was written to an unbeliever. And of course, 1 John 1:9 ties in directly with what Jesus taught us about praying “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” I think its beautiful how the Scriptures tie together. Of course Farley says this one doesn't apply to us either. Because to apply it would mess up the theological deception he's presenting. Don't forget what Jesus himself said to us that I stated above ('my sheep hear my voice and follow Me' – 'teaching them to observe all that I have commanded' – 'if you love me you will keep my commandments')
Farley goes on to say we should not speak of Jesus' death as an “atonement” but rather he “takes away our sins.” Both are true; but our sins cannot be “taken away” unless they are paid for (atoned). This is beautifully pictured in the Old Testament types and shadows, like the passover lamb. And completely fulfilled in the work of Christ. So to downplay “atonement” would not only be wrong and dangerous; but very near blasphemous because it attempts to weaken the work that the Son of God accomplished on our behalf. It is an attack on the “blood payment” of Christ; while it is this very blood payment that cleanses us. (1 Pet. 1:2) While Farley claims to believe in this once for all redemptive act of Christ; his degradation of the word “atonement” is alarming and misleading.
In conclusion, I would say there is so much bad mixed in with the little bit of good; that I couldn't in good conscience recommend anyone read him. For a better understanding of our freedom in Christ as New Covenant believers I would recommend the writings of John Reisinger or Blake White; both of whom are readily found on Amazon.com. They don't have a massive following or a flashy website; but they know what they're talking about. And Farley clearly does not; in most areas. Even the title of this book “God Without Religion” is problematic. While he defines “religion” as man's attempts to appease God; the Bible actually uses the word “religion” in a positive way in James 1:26 where it says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” That's creepily ironic since Farley bashes “religion” and he teaches that the idea of keeping oneself unstained from the world is legalistic. Of course bashing “religion” sells a lot of books and draws crowds to your church. Being Biblically faithful usually does not.
On a separate note, I also found where Farley, along with his wife, wrote a book about the “truth” of Global warming. So he's got some (what I would consider) liberal leanings on other issues as well. As for this book “God Without Religion” - don't waste your time. The 30 minutes it would take you to read the book could be much better spent in myriads of ways. Rather than ending up with a “God Without Religion” you might end up with a “Religion Without the Bible” which can only lead to trouble. Beware.