Monday, October 24, 2011

book review: God Without Religion

Title: God Without Religion: Can it really be this simple?
Author: Andrew Farley
Publisher: Baker Books
Date: 2011

"In God Without Religion" Andrew Farley invites the reader to step away from religion and enjoy the life of grace-filled freedom that God intends. At first glance, this is a very easy read. But as you get into it, you realize that this book is packed with sound theology and solid exegesis of scriptures that addresses many of the erroneous interpretations that have become commonplace in Christianity.  

As Farley sees it, and I think he is right, many Christians are trying to live a mixture of two different covenants — the Old Testament law and New Testament grace - which go together like oil and water. In reality, as followers of Jesus, we are called to live only under the covenant of grace in and through Jesus Christ. 

Farley takes issue with many of the practices that have become commonplace in modern Christianity such as tithing and following the Ten Commandments (of which he says in reality most folks only follow 9 because we don’t really keep a biblical Sabbath). Our tendency is to fall back on the law because we don’t fully trust ourselves to the grace of Christ to lead us into freedom and thus we end up with something far less satisfying than what God has for us namely a rules based religion instead of a grace-empowered relationship with Christ.

Farley rightly argues that the problem with religion is that it comes naturally to us. Instead of trusting in and relying on our heavenly Father, we lean on our religious instincts. Instead of walking by the spirit, we rely on our own judgment and willpower.

Farley says that four out of five Christians define spiritual health in terms of “trying hard to follow the rules in the Bible.” The punch-line of this book is that Christians should have no spiritual relationship with the 10 commandments or indeed any rules or regulations. Try to keep the rules and you’ll end up disillusioned and burned out.

Farley’s looks at Romans 5-7 as essential for understanding our new life in Christ. Like Paul, in Romans 7, many Christians find themselves struggling with sin and feeling wretched because of it. Farley argues that sin is what happens when we try to please God by keeping the rules. God introduced the law so that we might recognize the presence of sin. Sin thrives under law so the moment you start trying to live by law-based religion, sin is inflamed (Rms 5:20). You know what happens next: You fail, you repent, and you resolve to do better next time. In other words, you make a law for yourself that declares, “I must do better.” By the strength of your resolve you succeed for a time but eventually you fail again. Sin wins and back to square one you go. This ceaseless cycle of performance, failure and repentance is a surefire sign that you’re living under the curse of religion.

The way to break the cycle is to reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to God (Rms 6:11). You are not handicapped by a sinful heart and you don’t have a sinful nature. What do you have is an old way of thinking that needs to change. You need to renew your mind and start agreeing with what God says about you. He says you are a new creation with new appetites and desires. If you stop and think about it, you will find that sinning is actually something that you don’t want to do. As Farley says, this is significant:
“Now, I know what you’ve heard: sin is the stuff we want to do but aren’t supposed to do. What I’m saying is, that’s wrong. Sin is totally incompatible with who we are, and it’s the last thing we want to do… For the rest of our lives, we’ll continue to prove our new birth, one way or another. We’ll prove it by expressing Christ and being fulfilled, or by sinning and being miserable. Either way, we prove our true identity.” (pp.165-6)
Farley covers a lot of ground in this book, but his main emphasis is on works versus grace. He lays down a solid foundation on the difference between living under law-based religion and living free under grace.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group". 

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