Today I’m glad to welcome Trevin Wax to the blog to discuss his new book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope. Trevin is the editor of TGM: Theology – Gospel – Mission, a new curriculum line being developed by LifeWay. His “Kingdom People” blog is a must-read for thoughtful Christians.
A few months ago, I received an advance copy of Counterfeit Gospels.
At first, I was concerned about the title. It seems that many today are writing about “the gospel” and often doing so in ways I find unhelpful– taking unnecessary swings at other believers and demanding a definition that does not take into account the full teaching of scripture.
Yet, Trevin does not just write about the gospel from a church full of people who shout, “Amen” when he critiques others. Instead, he has lived it out, in Romania as a missionary, and today through his relationships and community. And, when I read the book, I saw his focus and I liked it– a lot.
I had this to say about the book in my “blub” of Counterfeit Gospels:
“What is the gospel?,” may seem an odd and perhaps unnecessary question. It’s not–it is an essential question that needs more, not less, discussion today. In Counterfeit Gospels, Trevin Wax has provided an essential tool for churches serious about the gospel and its implications.
Here’s a one-minute video clip that explains the three-legged stool analogy at the heart of Trevin’s book.
I got to ask him some questions to explore the concepts in the book further.
Ed Stetzer: Why a book on Counterfeit Gospels?
Trevin Wax: When Moody first approached me about writing a book on “counterfeit gospels,” I had mixed emotions. At one level, I was excited at the prospect of writing about the beauty of the biblical gospel. I had been collecting dozens of “gospel definitions” on my blog from Christians throughout church history. I was encouraged by the “gospel-centered” movement and the ongoing discussions about the gospel, particularly how kingdom, justification, Christ as Savior, Christ as Lord make up the good news at the heart of our faith.
At another level, I was a leery of writing a book that would be focused on what’s wrong with everybody else. I didn’t want to encourage the huddle mentality that says, “We’re the only faithful ones who’ve got a hold on the true gospel.” I don’t believe we ever completely get a hold on the true gospel; the most we can pray for is that the God of the gospel would get a hold on us. But I thought there might be a pastoral way to move forward.
So as I got to work, I had two goals in mind:
1. I wanted this book to present a compelling view of the biblical gospel so that common counterfeits would be less attractive.
2. I wanted to deal with common counterfeits that are attractive to me and the people in my local church. I wanted to look deeply into our hearts and root out those counterfeits that tug at us in some way.
ES: Your book is called Counterfeit Gospels, but you devote significant time to describing the biblical gospel. Why the positive approach?
TW: The best way to spot a counterfeit is to know the real thing.
When it comes to the gospel, the best way to spot a counterfeit gospel is to know the biblical gospel – not only to master it in a cerebral, objective sense, but to be captured by the beauty of what God has done for us in Christ. That’s the goal of this book. I want people to grow in their love for the God of the gospel.
ES: You write about the biblical gospel as a “three-legged stool.” How has that analogy been beneficial?
TW: For me, the three-legged stool analogy has provided “hooks” for me to place different aspects of the gospel and its implications. At its core, the gospel is the announcement of Jesus Christ. But that announcement must be made within the context of the grand narrative. And that announcement always births the gospel community, which manifests God’s kingdom. So we need to keep these three together – Story, Announcement, and Community.
Thinking within the framework of the three-legged stool has helped me rethink lots of areas, including missiology. When we witness to the gospel, we need all three legs of the stool. We need to begin with the big story of Scripture, make the announcement of Jesus within that context, and then invite people to witness the gospel community in action, as we provide an embodied apologetic of the truth of the announcement.
This framework has also made sense of my experience in times of suffering. When I’m facing a trial, the gospel story explains the fallenness of our world and reminds me of the future hope. The gospel announcement gives me the tools to deal with suffering, and also reminds me that my life has significance in relation to (not apart from) Christ as the focal point of human history. The gospel community has embodied the gospel to me during suffering by holding me up and reminding me of the promises I have in Christ.
ES: You chose to address six counterfeit gospels. Why these six?
TW: Counterfeits are usually not obvious; that’s why we have to be on guard. Matt Chandler writes in the foreword, “I am not a fearful man and passionately believe that, when it comes to doctrine and theology, a slippery slope is just that – a gradual slide toward what is incorrect.” Matt’s right. It’s that gradual drift that I’m warning against here.
A counterfeit gospel as a colony of termites, eating away at one of the legs of the stool until it topples the whole thing. Here is a handy chart included in the book that lays out the six counterfeits we deal with in the book and how each counterfeit affects the gospel Story, gospel Announcement, and gospel Community.
ES: How does our understanding of the biblical gospel lead to greater involvement in God’s mission?
TW: In the book, I write: “A gospel that does not lead to mission is no gospel at all, for the biblical gospel reveals the heart of our missionary God.”
If we think we are “gospel-centered” and are not compelled to share our faith, love the community of faith, help the poor, give to the needy, and so on, then my question is: what kind of gospel are we preaching? And what kind of disciples are we making? If our idea of “gospel-centered” is a large number of people in a church on Sunday grateful for personal salvation but unaware or uninvolved in the brokenness and lostness around them, then I wonder how gospel-centered we really are.
Being gospel-centered doesn’t mean we are obsessed with a factual truth. It means we are smitten with a beautiful Savior. And the more we love Jesus, the more we will look like Him.