Book Review 17: “Counterfeit Gospels” by Trevin Wax

A book about counterfeit gospels, Trevin Wax writes a meaty, clear book called Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering The Good News In A World Of False Hope (dated in 2011). The Village Church’s Matt Chandler writes the foreward for this book (pp. 9-10). Afterwards, Wax gives an introduction that is on point. Specifically, he tells a story about counterfeit money to illustrate how counterfeit gospels have crept into the church (pp. 11-13). He rightly explains how Christians need to realize they “are at war” (p. 13). These counterfeit gospels are so dangerous that they can lead “straight to hell” (p. 13). Afterwards, he explains the threefold crisis in the church, explains how the Gospel is a “three-legged stool” (said legs consisting of the gospel story, the gospel announcement and the gospel community), and explains the relationship between the two aforementioned items (pp. 14-19). What follows are three well-organized sections that explain both each leg of the Gospel (represented by a chapter, totaling three) and two counterfeits that combat each leg (with one chapter dedicated to each of the counterfeits, totaling six). At the end of each chapter, Wax lists a plethora of “Scripture Truths” to recap the chapter’s subject matter. This is worth noting because this gives the reader an excellent plethora of Scripture to read to best understand each chapter.

PART 1: STORY

In this section, Wax uses Scripture to explain that the Gospel is a story (pp. 25-39). He then defines and explains the therapeutic gospel (pp. 44-61). Specifically he explains its evangelical versions, why it is attractive, its results and ways to counter that false gospel. He uses a similar organizational model (specifically the false gospel’s forms, what makes the particular false gospel attractive, how to counter it, etc.) for the other false gospels he refutes later on in the book (such as the judgmentless gospel in this part; pp. 65-83). Finally, as he does with the other false gospels, he gives a chart that briefly explains how the false gospel perverts the gospel story, the gospel announcement and the gospel community. This is worth noting because this consistency makes this book both easy to follow and very understandable.

One thing (among many) that blew my mind in this section was Wax’s explanation of one of the forms of the therapeutic gospel (p. 51). He describes it a bit, as follows:

            The most extreme form of the therapeutic gospel is what is often called “the prosperity gospel.” Put simply, it teaches that God is obligated to bless you for your obedience. God is the great bargainer. You do your part, and God will do His.
God is like a vending machine. You put in your token, and then you get your candy bar. Thankfully, many evangelicals see right through this counterfeit. But more subtle versions of this teaching permeate our churches.
Take tithing, for example. Some churches challenge their people to tithe for ninety days, agreeing to offer church members their money back if they haven’t felt God’s blessing during that time. Many tithing stories go something like this: “We decided to tithe, and now look how much money God has given us!” It may be a more subtle form of the prosperity gospel, but it’s still as if God is a vending machine. Instead of giving from a generous heart, overwhelmed by gratitude for God’s grace, our “generosity” becomes a way to get something from God.

Wax hits the nail on the head with this explanation. I have actually seen some churches do such a thing. Furthermore, I thought nothing of it. Heck, I thought it was good of the pastor to give the money back if necessary to show a) he was not about the money, and b) to follow through on his word. However, in light of what has been explained here, it is obvious that I did not understand this subtle form of the therapeutic gospel. God is NOT a vending machine. Rather, He is much greater than that (Psalm 115:3; Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; Isaiah 43:11; Hosea 13:4).

PART 2: ANNOUNCEMENT

In part 2, Wax begins by explaining the Gospel announcement (pp. 87-107). He rightly explains how repentance and faith sum up our response to the Gospel announcement (pp. 104-107). While I am not sure on his citing an Eastern Orthodox hymn to make a point (p. 102), I am sure Wax does an overall solid job in this chapter, especially with the chapter’s concluding page, a page that lists a plethora of Scripture for easy reference to some of its main points (p. 107).

In explaining the moralistic gospel (pp. 109-127), Wax makes an interesting point about one of its versions. He uses the illustration of buying a computer with a new operating system (henceforth referred to as o/s; p. 112). He explains how the Gospel represents this new o/s. However, over time, updates are needed for an o/s. Wax likens these updates to when Christians revert back to a law-centered life (p. 112). He explains how we may think we need law updates in order to make life run smoother (p. 112). Once we get these updates, we then reboot and start again (p. 113). It makes me think of how Christians often “rededicate” their lives to Christ. For the longest time I felt I “rededicated” my life at the start of 2010. Could this “rededication” be similar to what Wax is explaining here as he describes one of the versions of the moralistic gospel? It sounds awful similar to me.

Wax concludes part 2 with a chapter on the quietist gospel (pp. 129-149). Like other chapters, Wax gives excellent information and a good amount of Scriptures. The methods he lists for countering this counterfeit are solid. These methods include demonstrating the gospel in your active concern for the poor and needy, maintaining a prophetic witness, being missional instead of tribal, and holding fast to the truthfulness of the gospel announcement (pp. 136-146).

PART 3: COMMUNITY

In part 3, Wax begins by explaining the gospel community (pp. 153-170). Specifically, he defines the church and explains “four truths related to the church that we should consider” (pp. 156-157). These four truths are as follows:

  1. The Church Embodies The Gospel (pp. 157-158)
  2. The Gospel Incorporates Us into a Community of Faith (pp. 158-162)
  3. The Gospel Community is Made up of Kingdom People (pp. 162-167)
  4. The Gospel Community Is the Place Where We Are Sanctified (pp. 168-169)

Wax concludes this chapter on the gospel community with an excellent collection of Scriptures to sum up the chapter, including some Scriptures on sanctification, an important doctrine (p. 170).

In explaining the activist gospel (pp. 173-188), Wax gives some methods for countering this counterfeit (pp. 180-185). One of those methods involves not confusing the Gospel with its effects (pp. 181-182). Wax explains that “The gospel is what drives our good deeds, not the story of those good deeds” (p. 181). This is true because the gospel is about Christ’s taking away the sins of the world since we are all sinners in need of a Savior (John 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:15; Isaiah 53:6; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 3:23; Matthew 5:48; 1 John 4:8; Exodus 34:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12; John 1:1, 14; Acts 16:31; James 2:19). In doing so, Wax refutes the false teacher Rob Bell’s Nooma video “You.” In this video, Bell tells his audience, “…you are the good news. You are the Gospel.” Bell is wrong because Jesus is the good news. We are sinners who cannot save ourselves (Romans 3;23). Without Jesus, we would all be damned for eternity.

Wax concludes part three with a chapter on the churchless gospel (pp. 191-209). Like the previous chapters, Wax gives great information and a plethora of Scripture. He concludes the chapter with a recap of all the charts that explained the counterfeit gospels. He then concludes the book with an epilogue, notes and acknowledgements (pp. 211-226). A particular section on Evangelism Explosion (henceforth referred to as E.E.) from the epilogue caught my attention (pp. 213). I learned how to share the Gospel from E.E.. Wax explains how E.E. and even the Romans Road have flaws because they do not provide the context of the gospel story (which is true). The entire epilogue makes me wanna rethink how I will share the Gospel in the future. I certainly would like to include the story in addition to the announcement and community.

SOMETHING TO NOTE

This book was published in 2011. Wax cited quite a few people in this book. These include Tim Keller, N.T. Wright and D.A. Carson, among others. Recent developments (check the hyperlinks) suggest each of the three have become questionable in some way, shape or form. However, it is unknown to me whether or not said individuals went questionable in some way, shape or form prior to 2011. Therefore, I did not list those in my review.

CONCLUSION

Trevin Wax’s plethora of Scripture citations make Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering The Good News In A World Of False Hope a meaty book. Furthermore, his clear organization make this book easy to read. While he does not name too many names or churches that may fit some of these counterfeits, one can easily make connections to the counterfeits. As a result of all of that, I would certainly recommend this book.

 

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