Andrew Farley is the author of The Naked Gospel – by far the best book I’ve read so far this year. Andrew is a professor of Applied Linguistics at Texas Tech University and is also the lead teaching pastor of Ecclesia. As I said about him in my review of his book: he writes well, he supports his arguments with strong Biblical contextualization, and he has an ability to create helpful analogies that avoid being cliche yet allow you to see his point in another light.
Jeremy: Tell us something odd/unique about you.
Andrew: I grew up snowboarding, but when I was kid, it was “illegal.” We had to do it in our backyards and on farm hills. I learned to do jumps with a skateboard ramp that we covered in snow. Then, a few years later, we were allowed on only one slope at the local mountain. Then, the year after, they made us go to “school” to earn badges for the rest of the mountain. Then, finally, they let us integrate into society. I still snowboard every season. Taos is my destination of choice.
Jeremy: Why do you think the American Church (collectively) is so attached to the idea of hybrid Christianity?
Andrew: It appears that we, as humans, want to add something to the gospel. We are suckers for religion. And the most tempting religion for us Christians to throw into the mix is Judaism. It’s sitting right there in our Bibles – the law. We think we can grab some Leviticus (rules) and grab some Malachi (tithing pressure) and throw those into the New Covenant of grace and end up with a nice mix. Some argue the importance of the Ten Commandments for Christian living today. But just ask them, “What did you do last Saturday?” If they did Friday night emailing or Saturday mowing, they disobeyed one of the Ten.
“Well, we’re free from the Sabbath now,” they might say.
“So then, it’s the Nine Commandments that we’re under?”
We Christians dice up God’s law to get it the way we like it. But the reality is that the law is an all-or-nothing proposition. James tells us that even if we keep the whole law and stumble in only one point, we’re guilty of all of it. We don’t have the right to cherry pick, selecting the parts that are palatable and convenient for us. It’s 600+ Jewish commands and regulations, or it’s total freedom to serve in the newness of the Spirit. The choice is ours. But there’s no room for selecting from the law here and there and imposing a few on Christians. That makes no sense at all.
The Jewish Law, including the Ten Commandments, is perfect in every way. It’s so perfect that nobody can live up to it! It’s actually designed to allow sin to thrive in our lives, to convict us of that sin, and to point us to our need for Jesus Christ. But after we receive Jesus, all we need is Him. He produces the love, patience, and self-control we need for daily living. After salvation, any return to the law or a rule-based system is essentially “cheating on Jesus.”
Jeremy: Do you think people are born leaders or develop into leaders?
Andrew: I think there is natural leadership that we are born with, and then there is spiritual leadership that comes from a spiritual gift that we have through Christ. Spiritual gifts are different from natural talents, although they may look similar on the outside. Natural talents develop, naturally, over time and through practice. Spiritual gifts well up within us, become our heart’s desire, and flow from us as God himself motivates and animates us to express them.
I feel the church is going in the wrong direction in its disproportionate focus on leadership principles these days. I see key figures giving seminars to large groups of pastors on issues like leadership and “momentum.” And, honestly, it’s heartbreaking to watch as I think we could be touching the lives of pastors with what they need most – the message of grace. Once we pastors begin to absorb grace in a deeper way, we can pass it along to our congregations so that they truly get it.
According to a recent survey by the Barna Group, about 80% of people who call themselves Christians today believe that Christianity is primarily about “trying hard to obey all the rules.” This is true even among those who believe we get to heaven by grace. They still believe that waking up every day and trying their best to crank out Christian looking behavior is the way to go.
Since that’s the case, I believe we pastors need to be primarily focused on two things: (1) understanding the gospel ourselves and (2) communicating it more clearly and effectively to the 80% of Christians who are confused. Then, I believe the rest of what we call “church” will take care of itself. Instead, we seem to be focused on new programs, new marketing strategies, new ways to “create momentum” and “leverage” opportunities. Some pastoral training seminars I’ve watched come across like motivational speeches you could hear anywhere in the business world. We are off track in our imitation of the business world, in my opinion.
Jeremy: How can people put themselves into a position to influence culture?
Andrew: I don’t believe that we should make it our aim to influence culture. But trying to influence culture is certainly a tantalizing distraction for Christian leaders today. Jesus didn’t influence culture during his life. When he ascended into heaven after 33 years on the earth, both the Jewish and the Roman cultures of his day were alive and well, virtually unchanged by his presence.
Similarly, as we examine the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John, we don’t see any mandate or calling to change the culture(s) of the world. Instead, we see a simple focus: a call to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ to find personal transformation. Yes, this will impact individuals around us as they see the divine life of Jesus exuded through our character. But this is very different from “marching on Washington” or trying to influence or change American culture.
Jeremy: Why are you a follower of Jesus Christ?
Andrew: I’m not a big fan of the term “follower,” because I don’t think it captures the relationship we can have with Jesus after His resurrection. The term “follower” appears in the Gospels but never once in any New Testament epistle. Instead, what we find is that we’re united with Christ (Romans 6:5) and one spirit with Him. There’s an intimacy to our union with Jesus that is not captured by the term “follower.”
“Follower” implies that we’re looking at and imitating Jesus, perhaps via the Gospels. And all religions of the world have teachers, teachings, and followers. What makes Christianity unique is that we have the Teacher living within us, just beneath our flesh and bones. The Teacher indwells us and has joined Himself spiritually with us. The idea of simply “following Jesus” doesn’t capture the beautiful essence of what He’s done in making us one with Him (1 Corinthians 6:17).
Jeremy: What do you do personally to fuel your spiritual life?
Andrew: I read the Bible, focusing primarily on the work of Christ – what He did for me on the cross and what He did to me through the resurrection to make me new. I ask God’s Spirit to reveal the meaning of the words on the page, as I’m very aware that someone can even have a Ph.D. in Theology, and have the Bible memorized cover-to-cover, and yet miss intimacy with Jesus.
There’s more. As I realize the truth of my union with Christ, the behavior passages then become the wise, natural choice given my new identity.
Jeremy: What is your hope for the future of the Church in America?
Andrew: My hope is that the gospel will be taught in its fullness more and more throughout the country. Right now, it feels like we’re peddling a half-gospel that promises forgiveness of some sort (Catholic-style: only if you ask for it), a new destination some day (Heaven), and some self-improvement tactics along the way. My hope is that we’ll learn more about the reality of what it means to be raised and seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:6) as new creations that don’t really want to sin. Then, we can stop thinking we have “wicked hearts” and that we’re “dirty sinners like everyone else.”
We have new hearts, new minds, new spirits, and God’s Spirit living in us (Ezekiel 36:26). We’re not sinners by nature. We’re saints! Yes, we sin. But we are not what we do. That’s the whole point of the gospel. Through a spiritual DNA swap, we literally and actually become new at the core. We participate in God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
In writing my first book, The Naked Gospel, I invited readers to confront the double-talk and Christian jargon that I believe have kept us from understanding the depths of the New Covenant message. I attended numerous churches for more than a decade before I ever heard one single message on the New Covenant. We as the Church need to realize how different the New is from the Old, and what makes our relationship with God so incredible on this side of the cross.
Jeremy: Should we abandon the use of the word “Christian” for a better term? If so, what?
Andrew: I don’t think so. We don’t need new terms for ourselves. We don’t need to try to make things appear different or more marketable to the world. I think we just need to be ourselves. We’re not going to make Christianity more “popular” by changing terms. People still confront two questions: (1) who do I believe Jesus is? and (2) am I open to the forgiveness and new life that Jesus offers? I think the answers to those questions come down to the human heart. Our terms or how we package things don’t matter much.
Jeremy: What blogs/websites do you regularly check?
Andrew: I spend a lot of time interacting with readers who submit questions at TheNakedGospel.com. Also, I enjoy monitoring the Christian book world. I love to check out the new books that are releasing each quarter. I read Michael Hyatt’s blog on Christian publishing, and I check out various Christian publisher websites regularly.
Jeremy: Which books have shaped your thinking?
Andrew: Over the years, I’ve enjoyed books by Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee, Malcolm Smith, Major Ian Thomas, Oswald Chambers, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, to name a few. I’ve found these authors to be challenging, although I don’t agree with everything they’ve written. They minister the deep, meaningful truths of the gospel message. That’s hard to find today.
Jeremy: What music moves you?
Andrew: I enjoy the music of Caleb Jude Green, a friend of mine. He writes creative songs that move me. His style is different than most, and I love the thought he puts into his lyrics. I have another friend, Josh Sills, who leads worship for our church. He’s written some songs that are original and capture the heart of the gospel. Both of these guys have entered songs in The Naked Gospel Project, a nationwide songwriting contest. You can check out their music at TheNakedGospel.com.
Jeremy: Any other thoughts or advice?
I don’t know if I have advice, but I’ll say that there’s one truth that seems to be clearing up a whole lot for people who struggle with a performance-oriented Christianity. It involves drawing a line at the proper place as we distinguish the Old way of Jewish religion from the New way of grace through Jesus.
In my teaching, I constantly highlight this Great Divide. It’s not baby Jesus lying in the manger in Matthew 1 that changed everything for us. But with our “New Testament” divider page placed just before Matthew 1, we can lose sight of the fact that Jesus’ death, not his birth, initiated the New Testament era (see Hebrews 9:16-17).
Therefore, Jesus was born under law. And much of Jesus’ teaching was aimed at redeeming those who were under law (Galatians 4:4-5). He told them to gouge out their eyes and cut off their hands in their fight against sin. He also said to be perfect just like God. Pretty high standards, I think.
If we Christians were truly following those teachings, and not watering them down or dismissing them, today’s churches would look much like an amputation ward at the local hospital. Instead, we recognize on some level that Jesus was placing demands on his Jewish listeners that were just too great.
We see this with the Sermon on the Mount, and with the rich man too. Jesus told him to sell everything. Sell everything, really? Yes, Jesus said to sell everything in order to enter the kingdom. But today, we don’t preach this. You’ll never see an evangelist telling people to go home and list all their belongings on eBay in order to enter the Kingdom. Why not? Those are Jesus’ own words, aren’t they?
On some level, we all recognize that Jesus’ death, not His birth in Matthew 1, changed everything for us. There are sweeping implications of this dividing line for how we study the Bible – the teachings of Jesus – and how we relate to God and live life. I believe the truth of the New Covenant beginning at Jesus’ death (not his birth) as communicated in Hebrews 9:16-17 and Galatians 4:4-5 is largely neglected today. This neglect has led us to a confusing law-grace hybrid that we’ve accepted as the norm.
Here’s precisely what the Scriptures tell us: We’re dead to the Law. We’re free from the Law. We’re not under the Law. We’re not supervised by the Law. Christ is the end of the Law. The Old Covenant is weak, useless, and now obsolete. And, on top of that, even rules have “the appearance of wisdom” but “lack any value” in restraining us (Colossians 2).
We need to get back to normal Christianity, which is life lived exclusively under the New Covenant. It is a life motivated by grace through God’s indwelling Spirit. And it is a beautiful life.
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