Counterfeit Gospels

Wax, Trevin. Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope. Moody: Chicago, 2011.

In the epilogue, author Trevin Wax states his goal of the book by saying, “I pray this book will not be seen as the last word on the gospel or on the counterfeits that vie for our devotion, but that it will be a helpful addition to the ongoing reflection on the gospel and its power to change our lives.” After reading the book, at least for me personally, Wax’s prayer was answered. It certainly won’t be the last word on the gospel. And, countless counterfeits have been showing their ugly heads in every culture since the fall of man. But, in page after page of reading, I must say that his reflections on the gospel with a particular attention on the idols (counterfeits) of our culture, have caused change in me as I was pleasantly compelled to consider practically the blessed gospel of our glorious God.

Wax begins the book by describing what he calls a “crisis” in the church (p. 14). He says our need is the gospel, yet we often settle for counterfeits. He organizes this crisis by describing three elements. The first he considers to be a lack of gospel confidence in that we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel to change a life. The second is a lack of gospel clarity. This element highlights the fact that many evangelicals are confused as to what the gospel is and why it matters. The third element of this crisis is a lack of gospel community. He says, “Because we are no longer confident in the gospel and have lost clarity regarding its message, our churches are looking for other things to unite around: politics, worship style, social activism, etc.” (p. 15).

With this crisis in mind Wax organizes the book into three man parts, picturing the gospel as a three-legged stool with each leg being crucial to understanding the gospel. If you take one leg away, the stool will fall. The three legs to this gospel stool are: 1) The Gospel Story; 2) The Gospel Announcement; and 3) The Gospel Community. The gospel story is the story of the Bible which Wax outlines through the grid of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. The gospel announcement focuses on the person and work of Jesus Christ  and our proper response to Him. Wax says we can’t simply tell the story which really deals with the question of “why” we need the gospel.  We must also announce to the world” how” we can have the gospel. We must invite sinners to come to Christ. The third leg of the stool is gospel community. In section three Wax says,  “the gospel story and the gospel announcement lead to the formation of the gospel community” (p. 155), without which we our stool will collapse. These three main elements comprise the doctrinal basis of the book.

The most amazing aspect of the book (in my opinion) is the practical considerations which he calls “counterfeit gospels.” For each of the elements of gospel story, gospel announcement, and gospel community, Wax describes two distinct counterfeits that diminish, and even destroy the essential doctrines of the gospel. Although subtle, his descriptions indicate spiritual adultery within our culture. These counterfeits include: 1) The Therapeutic Gospel; 2) The Judgmentless Gospel; 3) The Moralistic Gospel; 4) The Quietist Gospel; 5) The Activist Gospel; and 6) The Churchless Gospel. What an amazing way to organize such a topic that is so vital to the Christian church!

This book is saturated with the truths of the Gospel. It is doctrinal at its core. The applications are so relevant for our culture. Wax’s writing style is simple. He  uses personal stories that illustrate relevant points. Any church or individual that is concerned with understanding and exhibiting the gospel in our culture today should read this book. Please get it!

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