It seems that the flow of “gospel-centered” books has flowed without ceasing in the past couple of years. Thus, while reading more books about the gospel can hardly be a bad thing, I also must admit that I was not expecting much that was insightful when I began to read Counterfeit Gospels by Trevin Wax. To my surprise, I found the book to be helpful in a number of ways.
First, Counterfeit Gospels summarizes the gospel (the good news) in a fresh, though faithful way. He depicts it as a stool with three legs: (1) the gospel story, (2) the gospel announcement, and (3) the gospel community. “Each leg of the stool,” Wax says, “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” (17). While the traditional Reformed depiction of the good news is twofold (redemption accomplished and applied, a la John Murray’s book of that title), I found this threefold category helpful, as it keeps together many of the aspects of the good news that Scripture seems to hold together.
Secondly, the book is laid out in a clear and consistent method. The three parts follow the three legs of the stool, with each part containing three chapters. The first chapter in each part explains one of the legs of the stool in light of Scripture. The latter two chapters in each part evaluate a counterfeit gospel (six in total, the therapeutic, judgmentless, moralistic, quietist, activist, and churchless gospels), another message that masquerades as the truth in many churches and hearts. This structure provides not only a logical progression of thought, but helpful tools for evaluating the messages around us.
Thirdly, in each section dealing with the counterfeit gospels, Wax explains not only why the counterfeit “gospel” is in error, as well as how to respond to it, but also why it is attractive. I found this insightful, because he demonstrates that each counterfeit takes something attractive, something with a bit of truth in it, and thus draws people to it. But pieces of truth are not enough when it comes to the gospel.
Lastly, Wax frames some important issues in some helpful (and quotable) ways. Regarding the death of Christ and our response, he says, “Because Jesus was filled with horror and cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ we are filled with wonder and cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you accepted me?’” (98). Regarding the role of the law and grace in our spiritual growth, he says, “Life transformation doesn’t follow ‘but’; it follows ‘so now.’ You are saved by grace, so no you are free to live for God in this way or that. Life change is grounded in the gospel alone, not in the law’s updates” (113). On how the church should relate to efforts at social change, he says, “Stay centered on the gospel that brings social change, not the gospel of social change” (182).
As Wax says at the end of the book, this is hardly the final word on the good news of Jesus Christ. But it is nonetheless a helpful contribution to our understanding of the gospel in all its fullness.
Note: I was given a free copy of Counterfeit Gospels by Moody Publishers as part of their blogger review program. I was not required to write a positive review. See more information about the book here.