Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels
Article byFebruary 2012
Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2011).
If you asked ten different churchgoers to define the gospel, you may very well receive ten substantially different definitions. Increasingly, churchgoers are confused about what the term "gospel" means. Trevin Wax has written a helpful and timely book in Counterfeit Gospels that seeks to present a clear definition of the gospel while setting it apart from common deviations. The confusion about the gospel may be due in part to the word's new uses. "Gospel" has become a trendy mark of ministerial differentiation. Gospel churches now promote gospel living through gospel change via gospel ministry. Wax brings the discussion back to what the gospel actually is: the good news that Christ has died, been raised, reigns on high, and will return for his people in consummation at the end of days.
In providing a framework for his subsequent analysis, Wax describes the gospel as a three-legged stool in which each leg provides equal support. The three legs are the gospel story, announcement, and community. Each is important to understanding the overall gospel message. To begin, Wax speaks of the gospel as an "overarching grand narrative found in the Scriptures" (p. 16). He then moves to consider the work of Jesus to reconcile his people to God and their repentance as a response. Finally, the gospel community concentrates on the idea that the response in faith and repentance to the gospel transforms his redeemed people, incorporating them into a body of believers.
True to its title, the book explores several different counterfeits stemming from each of these aspects. Distortions of the gospel story often result in the therapeutic gospel, which inevitably treats symptoms rather than the underlying issue, or the judgmentless gospel that neglects the holiness and righteous wrath of God while failing to recognize the grievousness of sin. The gospel announcement perspective can refract into a moralistic or even a quietist gospel that mutes the gospel's universal significance. Finally, the focus on gospel community may become an activist or churchless gospel that misunderstands the purpose, application, and effects of Christ's work.
Wax details each of these counterfeits at length, describing its alternative story, announcement, and community. Much of each chapter is devoted to providing several practical examples for each counterfeit, which result in multiple opportunities for reflection. The reader is prompted implicitly to consider ways in which people tend to drift from the truth as it has been revealed in Scripture. As a remedy, the author offers ways to counter the counterfeits while describing their allure.
Though they provide a consistent structure for the entire book, I found the three main categories awkward. While reading the book, I often thought it could have been served well by using more familiar Reformed categories, such as those in the title of John Murray's excellent volume, Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Granted, the two books have different purposes, but the tested categories might have added more precision. For instance, I struggled to differentiate clearly between the gospel story and gospel announcement categories. The story told of God's redeeming work in history, while the announcement proclaimed that Christ had died and been raised for sinners. Is not Christ's death and resurrection the essence of the story? The difference between the two categories was not apparent to me. It seems more organic to the text of Scripture to consider the gospel in terms of Christ's accomplishment of redemption and its subsequent application.
Nonetheless, these categories do not hinder Wax from realizing his primary purpose. In fact, he demonstrates a focused view forward to the return of Christ. He helpfully moves from creation to fall and then redemption. But Wax's choice of terms truncates the gospel ever so slightly. At the risk of sounding pedantic, Wax concludes the sweep of redemptive history with "restoration." Perhaps "consummation" is a better term, since Christ does not return merely to bring things back to the way they used to be in the garden. This small substitution could make his point even stronger. For Christ returns to consummate all things--thereby moving creation to an estate higher than it had ever known, all to the glory of God. This is the glorious gospel fulfillment, which Wax could have used to differentiate further each counterfeit.
Overall, Wax's Counterfeit Gospels is a commendable effort. Nonetheless, if readers are looking for detailed treatments on the finer points of Biblical soteriology and its impostors, other books are more appropriate. Counterfeit Gospels should be of interest to those seeking a corrective to the general evangelical confusion on the subject. It also is useful for reminding us where the church is susceptible to drifting away from the Biblical message. In that sense, Counterfeit Gospels brings a valuable voice to the discussion. The gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ to whom the Scriptures testify, and this book faithfully reminds the reader of that simple, yet magnificent truth.
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