Counterfeit Gospels

Another book about the gospel. We have seen the release of all kinds of books about the gospel lately–books defining the gospel, books preaching the gospel, books sharing how to live with the gospel at the center of life. Is there any room for another one? Absolutely there is, and Trevin Wax has delivered it in the form of Counterfeit Gospels: Discovering the Good News in a World of False Hope.

Wax is convinced there is crisis in the church today, a crisis created by counterfeit gospels–gospels that appear to have elements of the real thing, but which are, at heart, fraudulent. This crisis has 3 elements:

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  • A lack of gospel confidence – we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel to change life.
  • A lack of gospel clarity – we are unsure of what the gospel message truly is.
  • A lack of gospel community – devoid of confidence and clarity, our churches have begun to lose their distinctiveness. We’ve lost what makes the church the church.

Against this crisis Wax proposes that the gospel is like a three-legged stool with each leg absolutely critical to a proper understanding of the message; without each of the 3 legs, the stool cannot stand. First, there is the gospel story, which is the overarching grand narrative we find in the Scriptures. Second, there is the gospel announcement, which is that Christ died for our sins and was raised. And third, there is the gospel community, the people who herald the grace of God and spread the good news of what Christ has done.

In what becomes a very helpful grid that runs through the rest of the book, Wax first introduces one of the legs and then contrasts it with two related counterfeits. For example, in the book’s first section he writes about the truth, the story of the gospel and he then contrasts it with 2 counterfeits: the therapeutic gospel and the judgmentless gospel. Each of these is a perversion of the gospel story. The therapeutic gospel confuses spiritual symptons with our spiritual disease while the judgmentless gospel insists that there will be no judgment of hell against sinners.

In the second part he writes about the gospel announcement and contrasts it with the moralistic gospel and the quietist gospel. Then in the third and final part he looks at gospel community and contrasts it with the activist church and the churchless gospel. At the end of it all he circles back to where he began with a joyful celebration of the gospel and a call to tell the story, to make the announcement and to invite other people into this community.

Counterfeit Gospels has much to commend it, both in terms of content and in terms of structure. Wax has crafted a book that flows in an exceptionally useful way from the Introduction to the Epilogue, leading the reader past the counterfeits and to the beauty of truth. Through it all he presents the gospel in all its strength and power. His passion and love for the gospel is contagious. The danger of writing about counterfeits is that we risk being distracted by what is fraudulent; if we are not careful, the frauds can appear attractive. Ultimately, though, truth always wins and that is exactly the case here. The truth is shown to be beautiful while the counterfeits expose themselves as exceedingly ugly and vulgar. Ultimately truth triumphs.

Read this book to refresh your understanding of the gospel, to remind yourself of the fraudulent gospels that may have creeped into your heart or mind, and to rejoice in the beauty of the true gospel, the only one that saves.

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