I’ve been following with great interest blogger Trevin Wax’s research and writing about the gospel on his blog, Kingdom People, for months. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of his new book, based on what he’s learned: Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope.
The premise of the book is that “counterfeit gospels”-ways of thinking and speaking about the good news that are diluted or distorted-are the biggest threat to the church today. These counterfeit gospels cause a gradual drift from the truth of Scripture that is less obvious, but no less dangerous, than blatant heresy, persecution, or a number of other threats. These counterfeits are like candy: pleasant to the taste, but leaving us spiritually malnourished. In extreme cases, they may lead to outright heresy, but in most cases, they either dilute the truth or teach it out of proportion. There’s often enough of a saving message to reconcile us to God, but as Trevin says,
“…the watered-down version never satisfies our longings. Nor will it empower us for service, or embolden our witness before a watching world.” (p. 13)
He goes on to define the gospel using the concept of a three-legged stool. The three legs are story, announcement, and community.
- Story is the “big picture”, God’s sweeping plan of redemption for all of Creation. We often see it referred to as “Creation–>Fall–>Redemption–>Restoration”. This is the overarching grand narrative told from Genesis to Revelation.
- Announcement refers to the announcement of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and our personal, individual response to it. This is the “God–>Man–>Christ–>Response” component, addressing our individual salvation.
- Community describes the embodiment of the gospel as we are shaped by it and live according to it’s truth as a community of believers in the world…a present manifestation of God’s Kingdom.
Each leg of the stool is essential. Cut one off and the whole thing tips over:
“Each leg of the stool is important because each relates to the other two. The gospel story provides the biblical narrative necessary for us to understand the nature of the gospel announcement. Likewise, the gospel announcement births the gospel community that centers its common life upon the transformative truth of Jesus Christ. Though the New Testament authors generally use the word ‘gospel’ as referring to the announcement of the crucified and risen King Jesus, a closer look reveals that they never separate the announcement from the back story which gives it meaning-nor the community that the announcement births.” (p. 16-17)
He goes on to say:
“The counterfeit gospels in the church today resemble the biblical gospel in some ways, and yet fail to incorporate and integrate all that the Bible says about the good news. Each counterfeit is like a colony of termites, eating away at one of the legs of the stool, and therefore toppling the stool and damaging the other components as well.” (p. 17)
Each counterfeit focuses on one leg of the stool, overemphasizing and/or distorting it. The rest of the book evaluates six common counterfeits, grouping them according to which leg each one targets. It explores the therapeutic, judgmentless, moralistic, quietist, activist, and churchless gospels. Each chapter addresses one of these, describing the different forms each one takes, what makes it attractive, and discussing what each gets right and wrong. Wrapping up each chapter, Trevin advises how to counter each counterfeit biblically, concluding with a list of Scripture references that address each aspect of that particular counterfeit.
I really loved this book. There are so many different “versions” of what is encompassed in the gospel, and each one has parts that ring true. How do we sort it all out and keep the main thing the main thing? I grew up in an environment that emphasized the “announcement” over the “story” and “community”, and for years I struggled with where those pieces of the puzzle fit…I knew they were biblical and important, but couldn’t reconcile exactly where they fit in to the picture. I have to say that Trevin’s three-legged stool concept is one of the most helpful models I’ve encountered…it really lays out very clearly what I’ve come to understand slowly over a number of years…that the gospel encompasses much more than just a set of facts to be believed at a moment in time to get you “in”, and each aspect is essential. In fact, I’m using this model in a family discipleship class that my husband and I are teaching when we discuss communicating the gospel to our children.
The way the counterfeits are categorized according to which leg they overemphasize or distort is well done. Everything is organized and laid out very clearly. The charts scattered throughout were super helpful. I especially like this one that compares all six counterfeits at a glance.
A couple more helpful links:
Counterfeit Gospels is an incredibly timely and needed book. It seems like in general, confusion reigns in today’s churches about the gospel. Counterfeit Gospels is just the prescription needed to clear through all the obscurity and bring clarity and understanding. In short, I think it’s a must read and give it my highest recommendation! It released on April 1 and I encourage you to get your hands on a copy!
Thanks so much to Moody Publishing for the advance review copy! All opinions expressed are my own. Also, since this was an unedited proof copy, I can’t guarantee that the page numbers cited will coincide with the published version of the book.