Review of Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren

I loved Brian McLaren’s latest book, Naked Spirituality – A Life With God in 12 Simple Words. It was sent to me by The Ooze Network as part of their Viral Bloggers program. I am not required to write a positive review so know that these are my honest thoughts.

In truth, the book caught me my surprise. There wasn’t a lot of attention surrounding it, not much praise, no criticisms, not even a “Farewell Brian McLaren” tweet. In looking back on it, I think we all know why. Which in some way, it made the reading experience a little more satisfying to me.

The point of the book is about getting naked – not physically, but spiritually. It’s about stripping away the symbols and status of public religion – the Sunday-dress version people often call “organized religion”. There is a number of audiences this book could work for. The obvious one is anyone interested in spiritual formation. Second is the over-churched or those that are very discontent with the idea of “organized religion”. In the intro, Brian says he is also writing to the “Spiritual but Religious”.  And I’ll agree, especially for the “intelligent unchurched and seeking”  (Check out his video below).

Good books begin well (they should end well too) and I appreciated his introduction of why he incorporates the term “naked”. Frankly, I wince any time the term is mentioned in public, especially in a Christian setting. But Brian echoes Jesus here and says when the Lord taught his disciples to pray, he said go in your closet, where you are naked, and when you pray be “naked” before the Lord. Naked = void of all pretense, absent of all self-righteousness, completely baring your pure, soul to your Maker. In this sense, not only is the imagery not awkward, but the idea of soul to soul with God is quite beautiful and appropriate for prayer..

I was fortunate enough to hear this material on one of our Biblical Seminary retreats last year. Speaking for so many of us, we loved it. His insights on spiritual formation are fantastic. Years of pastoral ministry, his more recent work in traveling and writing and his personal seeking of the Lord offers so much wisdom that it’s a joy to read and reflect upon. It was interesting to read some of the points and illustrations he used during our time together.

Most people know Brian as a postmodern type who is vague and objectively elusive but in this book, he is reflective and very transparent. In fact, I’m interested in seeing the feedback here. My hope is that some of his critics will be moved by his God-fearing heart.

Anyway, here’s a summary of what I liked:

Among the reasons I appreciate Brian is his humility. I’ve seen him speak a number of times and read his books – even when I disagree with his points, I always appreciate the way he intelligently articulates himself with such humility.

The “12 Words” are pretty solid (wasn’t sure I would but It resonated very much with me). I’m rarely satisfied with any book/subtitle that claims to have “10 Steps for Better-living” but this worked for me. What I really liked were the double chapters that looked at each word from different angles. This not allowed for shorter chapters but allowed the reader to really appreciate the two angles on the same word. The twelve words he uses are Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, Yes and “…” (which is a cool idea).

He also divides the 12 words into the “4 Seasons of Life”. Thinking about these words with the backdrop of these seasons of life was an added feature as opposed to seeing the words “Part 2″.

His sources – Kempis, Rohr, Merton, Bruggemann, Lewis, Yancey. Need more of some, can’t have enough of others.

An excellent appendix too that includes a section on Group Practices, Body Prayers, Simple Prayers and Discussion Guide.

Appreciated his diverse inclusions from different religions but his central emphasis on Jesus. Brian is gifted at showing the reader God’s goodness found in not so obvious places. For those who appreciate the idea of natural law/grace, there’s some great anecdotes here.

For people who pray, this is a must read.

His reinterpretation of the Prayer of Jabez. Seriously, it’s about time someone wrote about this prayer that Bruce Wilkerson hijacked and made millions from.

I loved the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. He even articulates a great case for Pentecostalism. Now I’m not persuaded to be Pentecostal in the “traditional Pentecostal” sense but I did appreciate where he was coming from.

What I wasn’t sure about:
Brian always throws me a bit with his love for evolution. I’m all for micro-evolution and he always depicts God as the Creator and the Divine Hand behind it all but as an honest reader, I wonder if he credits too much to the theory of evolution (It’s still a theory, right?). Brian loves nature and I appreciate his insights but sometimes I find the evolution commercials to be distracting.

Only 12 words? I’m sure he had a list of 50 and many of these words were probably synonymous with each other. I would have been interested in seeing the words that didn’t make it – is there a B-sides project here?

My most critical point is I think he took it a little easy on “The Season of Spiritual Surviving” section. I found myself wondering if he was avoiding controversy or just a much godly person than me. Don’t get me wrong, it was honest, it was pastoral, it invoked hope, etc. but if I had to narrate my inner monologue, I think I was looking for some more anger and emptiness. I’m also a big Radiohead fan so maybe it’s unfair to project my presuppositions here.


For Gen-Xers who were moved by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, I think this book is perfect for you. It’s fresher. In comparison to Celebration of Discipline, one of the most influential books of my life, Naked Spirituality does an excellent job in reminding you that you are naked in your closet before the Lord. Your closet is still connecting to your home, your neighborhood, your world. You’re naked but in some sense, so is everyone else – they may just not realize that they are before God. This is my favorite feature of the book and I highly recommend it.



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