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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review: "Counterfeit Gospels" (Trevin Wax)

TITLE: Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope
AUTHOR: Trevin Wax
PUBLISHER: Moody Press, 2011, (240 pages).

It is common knowledge that the gospel is under threat. What is not so common is the knowledge of how deep this threat is. Trevin Wax gives us a book that exposes what these threats are. Beginning with a story of how the Union in the North uses counterfeit money to defeat the Confederate South in the late 19th Century Civil War, Wax prepares the reader to wake up to the dangers that counterfeits can do to the Church. He lists three major threats to the true gospel.
  1. Lack of Gospel Confidence: that believers seek out newer packaging for the old story.
  2. Lack of Gospel Clarity: that believers themselves are not sure how to present the gospel
  3. Lack of Gospel Community: that believers fail to live out the true gospel
Wax goes on to present his thesis, that the gospel is likened to a three-legged stool. The first leg is the need to counter the lack of confidence with a bold declaration of the Gospel Story. The second leg counters the lack of clarity by the Gospel Announcement. The third leg is a call to get back to the Gospel Community.

Part One deals with the Gospel Story. It is important to understand the full story through creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Counterfeits work on the basis of tarnishing one or more of these four aspects of the gospel story. The 'Therapeutic Gospel' basically distorts the Fall by replacing it with a need for personal happiness, that we are all created to be happy. Once this premise takes root, the counterfeit wreaks spiritual havoc by raising unholy expectations of a Happy-Meal, 'Fill-er-Up' and 'Paid Programming' gospel that makes God look like a Customer Satisfaction representative to mankind. The key to fighting this counterfeit is to get our bearings right with regards to man fallen from grace, needing forgiveness and mercy from God. The second counterfeit to the Gospel story is the  'Judgmentless Gospel' which distorts the final chapter of the gospel story. Without judgment, it assumes a kind of universalism where everybody goes to heaven. One problem is the way people finds judgment repulsive, and chooses instead to see judgment as overly negative. The good news is that with judgment lies God's mercy too.

Part Two is the Gospel Announcement that needs four affirmations. It affirms "the good news of Christ's life, Christ's death, Christ's resurrection, and Christ's exaltation as Lord" (90). We need then to respond in repentance and in faith. Unfortunately, two counterfeits prevent that. Firstly, the "Moralistic gospel" fails to see God, dishes out advice rather than good news, turning grace into a law, and making the keeping of standards more important than the people. The key to fighting this is to learn that God's grace is sufficient, and there is no need to justify ourselves through works. Secondly, the "Quietist Gospel" distorts the Gospel announcement by making the Christian life too individualistic, sharing Christ too limited on 'evangelistic' methods, and a refusal to engage the world. If one practices the quietist gospel, then how can anyone be the salt and light for the world?

Part Three is the Gospel Community that states true community in terms of the embodiment of the gospel story and announcement.  A true gospel community is a body of Christ, a community of faith, Kingdom people, and a sanctified church. Two counterfeits attempt to tarnish the true community. The 'Activist Gospel' instead tends to unite people not around the gospel but over 'social action or political causes.' It tempts believers to assume too highly of their role in society, that only through them the power of the gospel can be distributed, and that they are only united when they are actively involved in the world. The 'Churchless Gospel' does away with institutional church, emphasizes individual spirituality and personal ideals.

My Comments

The book is clearly written, well structured, and presents the gospel with conviction. I like the way Wax presents the gospel as a three-legged stool. It makes the gospel presentation easy to understand, and more holistic in approach. The reader can easily detect two reasons why Christians are not witnessing effectively enough. The first is the presence of the six counterfeits that Wax eloquently describes. The second is not doing anything about it. Both are deadly.

Readers will appreciate the way Wax summarizes each chapter through 'Spotting the Counterfeit' and reiterating the real gospel story, announcement, and community. The table at the end of chapter 9 puts all the key points concisely. That page alone is worth the price of the book.

I highly recommend this book for its clear gospel presentation, as well as a necessary wake-up call for churches that have unwittingly ingested the counterfeits.

Book Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Although this book is first made available to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley, without any obligation for a positive review, I find the ebook edition not as readable. This final book review is based on a printed copy that I borrowed from the public library. Comments above are freely mine.

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