“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet."--Matthew 5:13

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Book Review of "Counterfeit Gospels"

How do you identify a precious stone from a cheap imitation? You have to know what the real thing looks like. There are many cheap imitations of the Gospel. But there is only one true Gospel: the good news of Jesus Christ. Trevin Wax discusses and compares the true Gospel to the fake ones in his book "Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope". Wax exposes six common counterfeit gospels that are common in churches today.

The "therapeutic gospel" teaches that human beings have failed to reach their full potential. But if they accept the truth about Christ's death, their full potential can be reached. This gospel uses the church as a mode for our quest for happiness and fulfillment. Wax notes, "We make 'pursuing happiness' the central goal of life" (p.45). We can spot this counterfeit when our decisions are based on our own personal happiness. The therapeutic gospel stresses man's worth, while the biblical gospel stresses God's worth.

The "judgementless gospel" focuses on God's goodness, rather than His response toward evil. This counterfeit gospel sees Christ's death as a victory over Satan, instead of the quenching of God's wrath and the need for a sacrifice. Personal evangelism and outreach is seen as unnecessary, since God does not judge. According to Wax, "the judgementless gospel alters the gospel story, diminishes the need for the gospel announcement, and eventually changes the make-up of the the gospel community as well" (68).

In the moralistic gospel, "Our sinful condition is seen as the individual sins we commit" (115). This fake gospel focuses on what we can do to win God's blessing. The church is seen as a place that helps keep the moral standards of the community. This gospel calls people out on their sins, but does not give them a reason why they need to repent. Wax notes that "life transformation is not the cause of God's grace, but the result of God's grace" (121). Wax suggests two ways to tell whether or not one has fallen for this counterfeit. First, how do you react to suffering? Second, check your own heart when someone benefits from God's grace.

When the gospel is seen as a personal and private message that is only applicable to individual hearts, not society or politics, this is what Wax calls the quietist gospel. Proponents of this gospel do not engage with different aspects of culture, but instead surround themselves with like minded thinkers. Wax encourages evangelism by stating, "When we share the gospel, we are not just inviting people to try a new religious experience. We are proclaiming news about something that has happened" (144). We, as Christians, should not hide behind the gospel, but should stand up for it.

The direct opposite of the quietist gospel is what Wax calls the activist gospel. This counterfeit gospel sees the kingdom of Christ advanced through a just society. The Gospel of Christ is seen through political, social, and cultural transformation. Churches of the activist gospel find unity through just causes. Wax suggests that the activist gospel can be overcome if preachers continue to preach on the doctrine of hell. Instead of uniting around a cause, the church should be active, but united around the gospel.

Charles Spurgeon once said, "The church is not perfect, but woe to the man who finds pleasure in pointing out her imperfections." Thus, the churchless gospel sees the community of beleievers as unnessessary. The Gospel of Christ is seen as an individual announcement. The church is viewed as an obstacle to spiritual growth. Proponents of this gospel typically state that they would like the church to be more like the early churches. Wax argues, "Which early church do you want to be like? Corinth? The church took pride in a man's incestuous relationship...Galatia? Paul was shocked to see that this church church so quickly abandoned the gospel. Thessalonica? This church was grieving in a worldly way, without hope that their loved ones would take part in the coming restoration and resurrection" (197). Every church has its problems. Wax emphasizes that the Gospel is for people who recognize their sinful condition. We need the church.

Trevin Wax goes to great lengths to explain why these counterfeits are so appealing, both to beleivers and to unbelievers alike. Time after time, he notes that only the true Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring salvation, happiness, and life transformation.

"Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope"
Trevin Wax
240 pages, Moody Publishers